Before we begin:
This decade has been completely transformative. In 2010, I entered into what would become a three-year long abusive relationship that would shake my life and my identity to the ground. I was 15. The process of rebuilding and unlearning would happen slowly, in waves that built and broke in various ways throughout the years. My love for writing has always been present as a tool to help me express myself and work through what I’m dealing with at the time. I thought now would be an appropriate time to reflect on this decade through the lens of what I have written. All written words and photographs are mine.
I share this story of a decade with the focus on my abusive relationship and the trauma it resulted in. As I use actual writing I did throughout the years, this is the closest I can get to telling the whole truth from my perspective as it was happening. This is not an exhaustive story. There were many beautiful moments in between and through all of it with so many wonderful people. But I want to focus on my real lived experience of my trauma in an attempt to process it and help other people who have experienced abuse by sharing my story.
It may be difficult to read at times. If you feel triggered or upset, you can always stop reading. Take care of yourself first.
On that note, content/trigger warnings include: rape / sexual abuse, verbal/emotional abuse, self-harm, substance abuse.
Thank you for being here and being a witness to my survival. I appreciate it so much.
2010: 14/15 years old.
When 2010 began, I was a “normal” freshman in high school with a loving family, close friends, and a healthy amount of hobbies and activities. I was enthusiastic and funny, loved cooking and reading, and excelled at school with an instinct to not accept failure and always try my best.
June 1st, 2010 (the day we started dating)
“You are worth it.
You have always been worth it. Today has happened countless times in my dreams. now i know that sometimes dreams can be real. you are real, and this is real. i missed you more than anything in the world. but you are here. i have you again. i’m whole again. thank you.”
It’s like I wrote this knowing I’d be reading it 9.5 years later to break my own heart. When I wrote this I was open hearted, yearning for love and a sense of wholeness. The reason I talk about missing him is because we also dated in 2007/2008 (7th grade), and when he broke up with me then I was sincerely heartbroken for a long time. I was so ready when he walked back into my life and wanted me again. I had no idea what I was in for.
July 27th, 2010:
“i foggily remember so many horrid months of pain. the hurting that ached from the inside like no physical injury ever could. and i remember thinking, can i please forget you like you forgot me? please? and then i remember forgetting, little by little, day by day, until you were like a dream to me. that scared me more than anything else. because now it was hard to remember us without it feeling like i imagined it. it was hard to think that we really happened in a world outside my mind. i struggled with the question “was it worth it?” for so, so long. was what we had worth the pain and nostalgia and being so numb? because now when i saw you, i felt nothing. i came home and i felt nothing. i was numb to every feeling because i was forgetting what love felt like and i had blocked myself off from the pain. time was wearing down on the sharp edge of heartbreak. i tried to think of times when i was truly and honestly happy, and all i saw was you. i kept the smile on my face at school, and it felt almost real. i kept it on to show my parents that yes, i am all better, and they had forgotten my pain by then or maybe they had never known. but when i was left with my mind alone, the facade of happiness came crashing down around me and i was left with the questions i had pushed down under my skin. all i could think was “why do i still care?” and “what happened?” and “why?” and i was alive but i was a ghost. i was living always in the past and i couldn’t move on. there was “before you” and “with you” and “after you”. i needed something to wake me up from the dream, this endless nightmare. i was on the edge of something to snap me out of “after you”. i needed something big to make the pain stop.
and that something was you all along.”
Holy. sh*t. I was SO vulnerable. It’s honestly really hard to read this and know how easy it must have been for him to manipulate me, as someone who was so desperate for love and reassurance and a sense of worth. Wow.
August 5th, 2010:
“people ask “are you okay” and i don’t know what i’m supposed to say. because, no i am not but in an hour, in a few hours, i will be. i will be happy and there will be nothing wrong. and there is no explaination for my pain because i have no reason. you insist there must be a reason, that something is wrong, and you don’t fully believe me when i tell you there is no reason. i can’t figure out myself so don’t bother trying. i am tangled and i am hurt and i don’t know why. nothing is wrong. everything is fine. i am sad. give me my distractions, they take the pain away. give me my distractions and i will be okay.”
This must have been when the abuse and subtle gaslighting began. He was probably beginning to treat me poorly, but only in ways I couldn’t catch, name or identify, so I pushed them inward. I began to think something was inherently “wrong” with me, because I felt pain without having an traceable explaination for it, because he was sneaky enough to make me think the abuse wasn’t real. Because how could someone that loves you SO much as they say they do, hurt you at the same time? It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve been in relationship with a narcissist you will understand. You think their problems are your responsibility, and the abuse is your fault and wouldn’t happen if you were “better”.
August 18th, 2010:
“everything is always perfect until i fuck it up”
This was my mantra for so so so long. Self-blame became my constant companion to try and cope with what was beginning to happen: being treated like trash, and then treasure, in endless cycles that were impossible to predict.
December 9th, 2010:
“i’ll just piece myself together and forget”
I start losing my long writing pieces around this time, because he was reading and beginning to belittle my work. I had a tumblr where I’d write long posts about what I was going through but deleted the whole thing when he told me it was stupid or something worse. He was never happy with the public eye having any idea about what was going on between us, for obvious reasons. All that’s left are little snippets like this on my flickr captions. But that fall is when I started to self harm and post pictures about it on the internet as a cry for help. It’s when I started trying to figure out how I was going to deal with all the pain I was going through on my own, because I was convinced (by him) that it was all my fault, and I was eager to believe.
2011: 15/16 years old
In 2011 I had fully accepted that I was in deep, and no matter what happened or how I was treated, I wasn’t going anywhere. I was addicted to our relationship, to the high it gave me to feel loved. I could withstand anything because I believed that what we had was true love and I thought that meant loyalty above all else. I lived empathetically with him, riding the waves of whatever he was going through, searching for the high of reassurance to remind me that this is what love was. He taught me how to drink & use substances to erase feelings, and I eagerly jumped in, believing that’s what fun was. I thought I was very cool for all the “adult” things we were doing. I thought that’s why no one understood us, that we were beyond it all.
January 29th, 2011
“we were in the farthest back seat of my dad’s truck. i had fallen asleep alone but then you were right there, laying next to me. i was so happy because last night you were mad at me, and you never called me back, but now it didn’t matter because you were kissing me and you loved me again. you weren’t mad anymore, and i wasn’t sad anymore. i had missed looking into your eyes, my favorite thing in the whole world, and memorizing your face. i couldn’t believe i was with you again like this when i thought i wouldn’t have this again for a whole month. everything was back to normal. everything was perfect.
and then i woke up.”
What I thought was love was clearly codependency. I NEEDED him to love me to feel stable. Because when he wasn’t happy with me, bad things happened. When he treated me poorly I sincerely believed I did something to deserve it, even when I knew I hadn’t. That’s why abuse is so insidious; it teaches you to not trust your own lived experience because someone is continuously denying your reality. So it’s easier to just blame yourself. At the time, I would change anything, carve away every bit of me, until I was someone that was worth his love.
February 28th, 2011:
“and everyone will think ‘she’s so young and naive’ when they read this, but it’s how i feel, wholly and completely
without a doubt in my mind, i want to be with you forever. i want to be the stereotypical highschool sweethearts, i want to live wherever you are, i want to get married and travel to europe. i want to look back at these days we have right now and think “remember when..’ i want to push past every problem we have because i am in love with you. the real love, the kind that keeps me hanging on no matter what fight we’re in, no matter what pain i feel. and they shake their heads and wonder, how is this worth it? but you will always be worth it. i knew that from the start. i’ve known that for 3 years. you are the sun in the sky, you are the feeling of security, you are my best friend. and i know, from the farthest inner space of my being, that i will never leave you. i will never leave the one that makes me feel important, makes me feel like i matter, that makes me feel beautiful. it has always been you, and it always will be you.”
Obviously, this is incredibly painful to read and post, as it was written about someone who was verbally, emotionally, and sexually abusing me and has been my source of fear and pain for YEARS now.
I was so, so sick. The reason I share this is to show how twisted abusive relationships can be. How you can be actively harmed by someone and still be so deeply in “love” with this person that you can’t imagine a world without them. People love to ask survivors why they didn’t leave sooner, and I think this kind of demonstrates why that doesn’t happen. You are sick. You are under a spell. You are addicted to the “love” they give. You think this is what you were made for, what you deserve. You cover up everything they do and deny it to yourself because you think you are DESTINED to be with them. So when someone shares with me how much they love the person that has harmed them the most, I can say I’VE BEEN THERE and you can get out of this. No more shame.
July 27th, 2011
“it’s weird how bad things can get, and you don’t even really notice how far it’s gone until it’s too late. until you remember all the things we used to tell each other, and how you feel the emptiness of the gap in the air where they used to hover, creating smiles and optimism and hope. how you no longer patch yourself up easily and rebound to the next day like you used to. how things hurt more since there was someone else. how alone you really feel.”
For a little while he became interested in another girl he worked with and we broke up. Of course I was devastated from feeling rejected by someone that supposedly loved me so much and wanted to be together forever. This was written in the aftermath.
There were a lot of un-captioned photos for the rest of 2011. He started to become more interested in monitoring what I was posting so I stopped writing on the internet. I didn’t keep a journal. Most of what happened went unrecorded. But he started being on probation for theft and soon going in and out of jail and rehab largely for failing drug tests. I stood by him, defending him to anyone. At one point he “borrowed” my dad’s car while I was in class, stole a bottle of wine, drank the whole thing and crashed the car. I “had” to lie to my parents and say it was me. There are so many anecdotes like that but this one stayed with me because of how obviously horrible it was.
2010 was the beginning and 2011 was the middle. Things were getting progressively worse, but I was committed deeper than I can explain. I was under a spell. I thought it was love, and I thought it excused all the pain.
Thank you for reading Part 1. I promise, it gets better! To continue on: Part 2, 2012 & 2013