[TW: sex & abuse mention ]. By Julia Rose
When I was 15 years old I met a boy. I wasn’t particularly interested in him, but as a very needy teenage girl, I felt like I was in no position to turn down male attention. We began dating shortly after the first time we met in person and our relationship lasted almost a year exactly before we broke up. During the aftermath of dealing with the breakup, my initial reaction was a sigh of relief so much so that I literally threw my hands in the air and probably yelled something like “THANK GOD!” This was great until I unexpectedly became emotionally numb. It felt like it came out of nowhere and I began ditching classes because I felt so disconnected from everything. But even though my emotions felt absent, I tried my best to convey to the people around me that something bad happened, unfortunately, without bluntly saying, “something bad happened to me”. However, that didn’t stop me from talking. The only way I could communicate the series of events that had unfolded was by talking about them like I was reading them from a script. From what I can remember, there was no emotion, no inflection in my voice, and not even a hint of prosody in the way I talked about the events. It was like the equivalent of pointing at the sky and saying, “the sky is blue”, and then waiting to see a shocked look on the other person’s face. At the time, the only thing I was able to do was to continue to retell the story of what happened to me, waiting and hoping for some kind of reaction both in myself and the other person, but I never did get that sense of relief. Eventually, their responses went from being somewhat sympathetic to, “why aren’t you over this yet?” and “how is this still bothering you?”. I knew something felt off but given the responses I received, I thought that maybe nothing was actually wrong with me. It was confusing, to say the least.
Time went on and I began dating again, and I had high hopes for that story to be recorded over like a VHS tape. Unfortunately, trauma doesn’t work the same way as recording over an old episode of Full House. I began spilling my guts once again to my future boyfriends, hoping they’d somehow be able to further asses the damage for me and maybe even fix it. But despite my openness in such an intimate setting, I still found no relief. What I failed to understand back then during all of my attempts of communication wasn’t that the other people were to blame at not being able to put the puzzle pieces together for me, it was my own inability to access my emotions. It was a huge blow to allow someone so deeply into my life and then for things to go so wrong on so many levels, I didn’t know how to exactly heal from it. So in essence, I was walking around for years with a gaping emotional wound trying to make other people close it. It wasn’t until recently (not in my late 20’s) where I began to really understand the concept of healing and its painstakingly long process. While talking about my traumas and other issues may have seemed like a death sentence back then, I now understand they’re apart of that healing process.
One morning fairly recently I woke up feeling ready to enter this space of allowing my story to be told. This time, it wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility to fix it, nor did I feel broken from it anymore either. I finally felt like it was time to release it from the story vault and to allow myself to move on and so I began to write about it. I withheld my impulse to judge whether things were accurate or not because after ten years, honestly, who even cares. Either way, it shaped me in ways that I never thought were possible and I wish mental health was a prominent thing back then as it is now. I hope that by releasing my story into the public domain will allow someone to find solace in their own story and a glimmer of hope for the future.
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(Just to preface this story a little more, I was completely unaware of my own mental health issues at the time. I had severe self esteem issues, anxiety, lack of boundaries, probably some mild depression, abandonment issues, and a lot of overall emotional problems. Also the timeline is a little fuzzy but I tried my best to recall them in chronological order).
Over the course of a year, it seemed like our relationship went from 0 to 100. While this was sort of a natural progression of things when you’re an inexperienced teenager, it still felt a little fast but I ignored any sort of weird feeling I had. The boy and I lived in different cities about an hour apart and the two of us were too young to drive, so the only time we could really see each other was on the weekends. So for the duration of our relationship, we spent those weekends alternating between staying at each others’ houses. Be it the hormones or the whole concept of “distance makes the heart grow fonder”, it was like we couldn’t bury ourselves under each others’ skin enough. Looking back at it now, it was even unhealthy for “typical teenage relationship” standards. We shared passwords to every social media account, we had access to each other’s cell phones, and we even spied on each others’ conversations. There was basically no privacy whatsoever. While I can’t speak for him, I thought this was completely normal. It seemed only natural in my mind that a couple would share everything with one another- we were no longer two separate people but a single functioning organism. This was a lot for my first “real” relationship and it became codependent very quickly.
As time moved on, the lines became even more blurred between us and this also affected our intimacy. At some point, we began sleeping together. Every other weekend, I would be at his mom’s place in San Pedro. There, we shared a mattress on the living room floor. We didn’t do much on those weekends besides watch TV and walk around the city. Sometimes we spent the entire day inside, just enjoying the ocean breeze blow through the small house. It was like an escape from my house, something I desperately needed at the time. It was like a little vacation, a home away from home, until it wasn’t.
Maybe it was the reality of being in a “long term” relationship at such a young age, or the fact that I somehow convinced myself I had to marry every guy I dated, I I knew around the 6-month mark that I didn’t want to date him anymore, but I felt like I couldn’t leave. I was afraid of falling apart without him, I was afraid of hurting him, and I had so many abandonment issues I felt like there was no way out. I also knew that if I were the one to break up with him, I’d go crawling back within a few days, so I needed him to to break up with me. At the time, the only thing I could think of was to try and date his friend. Somehow this made sense to use another guy as a landing pad to ease myself out of a relationship while still maintaining that level of male centered attention. Even though this was a really destructive way to leave, it felt like my only ticket to freedom without falling apart completely. Not so surprisingly, things did not end well. For a while, the three of us were in a weird love triangle thing and it caused a lot of tension and drama. Things settled down eventually while my relationship was still somehow intact, but hanging on by a thread.
After that mess, I felt absolutely guilty for the pain I had caused and I felt even more compelled to stick by him and help mend his wounds. He was pissed though, understandably, but that anger toppled into something more. He became extremely controlling. Soon, I “wasn’t allowed” to wear makeup, skirts, hang out with my guy friends, or let alone talk to boys on the internet. I got the silent treatment for not performing sexually and I even got woken up in the middle of the night with his hands down my pants (probably more than once). It’s safe to say a serious boundary was crossed, yet a big part of me still felt like I deserved all of this because of what I had put him through.
While I have seen him a handful of times over the years, my body and mind both have not forgotten the trauma he had put me through. The memories have replayed on a loop since first happening and I can still sometimes feel his fingers crawling around my skin as if they’re still there. This type of trauma, no matter how many times I’ve tried to convince myself it “wasn’t that bad”, was clearly bad enough to cause some damage. While I might not have had the confidence to stick up for myself at the time, I can confidently say now that it’s never okay to touch someone without their consent, without their permission, or while they’re asleep. It’s also never okay to minimize someone’s experience or trauma. After the night I woke up to him touching me (and himself), I reached out to a few people in my inner circle but received little to no support. Instead, they took his side and couldn’t comprehend why I was so jostled by the event. With the numbers against me, I caved in and went against my gut and allowed things to carry on. So while my mind and heart continually said “no” to the things he wanted me to do, I continued to do them because I thought that’s what people considered “normal”. I felt like a part of me had broken off and hid somewhere unreachable, as if it was waiting for it to all be over. My intense need to be loved, to be wanted by someone, to be a little less lonely overshadowed my need to be a healthy, autonomous person with boundaries. But even by the end of our relationship, I began to feel sick at the sound of him saying “I love you” because it usually came after or during sex, which only made it worse. I felt those words losing their authenticity as they became more associated with performing than caring about me as a person.
As I mentioned earlier, in the years following the relationship I pretty much recited the events to anyone and everyone who would listen, but it grew tiresome for everyone involved. At one point I even wrote a letter and gave it to someone prominent in my life but was instructed to keep quiet about it in order to protect his safety. They were afraid of what might happen to him if the truth came out. This was an incredibly damaging thing to hear, but once again, I complied with something I didn’t agree with. I still feared upsetting people, even at the expense of my well-being.
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This is my first time telling my story public without filtering things. I believe our traumas deserve to be heard, not only for our own piece of mind, but because more than likely, there’s someone out there who also resonates with it. All of this happened to me between 2005-2006, before social media really took off and before mental health became a well-known topic. It’s something I’m finally choosing not to be ashamed of because while sexual abuse may feel shameful to talk about, it’s important to talk about it. According to The #MeToo movement, “17,700,000 women have reported a sexual assault since 1998”. I wish I could’ve told myself back then that I wasn’t alone in my experience, but now I’m at least able to tell other people that. You are not alone.