Time to Talk
*Trigger warning: This blog post is about intimate partner violence*
Over fall break, my mom made an unexpected visit from California to New York City, where I go to school. She had been called the night before, told that her daughter was expressing suicidal thoughts, and asked to please come pick her up from the Metropolitan Hospital emergency psych ward as soon as possible.
"You know," Mom began, "you didn't really look scared or angry or anything when you were in there."
A good observation. I wasn't scared or angry. I was mostly just tired.
"You looked like you were thinking, 'One day, I'm going to write a book about this,' and like you were already writing it in your mind," she said.
In a way, I was. That night, I decided to end my silence and start talking. After four months of post-traumatic panic attacks, spirals of self-deprecation, and isolation from almost everyone, I felt like I had some explaining to do.
He was my first boyfriend. I didn't know anything about relationships, and I was cynical about them after my parents' divorce. I liked him because he was, like me, a little angry at the world.
But it made it harder to draw the line when his anger turned into threats, and his angst turned into depression. I didn't know how to respond when he said he would kill himself if I didn't do what he wanted, when I would Skype with him and he would hold a knife to his throat.
On Halloween night of my senior year of high school, he told me about his plan to run away from home. He wouldn't listen to me when I asked him not to, and I became scared when I read his increasingly violent texts.
He only stopped his threats when I agreed to have sex with him. I didn't have any other choice unless I wanted to feel responsible for both his escape and planned suicide.
That was the first time I had sex.
"But the first time is never good, right?" I told myself as I wiped my tears on my drive home.
He knew how to get what he wanted after that. If I said no, he'd threaten his life.
I told myself it had to get better. It never did.
He exploited me not only sexually but also emotionally. The night before my AP Spanish exam, he ran away. I drove until 1 a.m., when I found him two miles from his house, running. He focused on my flaws, appealing to my deepest insecurities. I was forced to filter every word I spoke around him. A minor slip of phrase could be cause for a new threat.
My work slipped and my friends watched, confused. "Why don't you just break up with him?" they would ask. "This isn't your job."
But it's more complicated than that.
When you convince yourself that you're in love, you'll do anything to keep that feeling alive. You might convince yourself that crying in anticipation of, during, and after sex is normal. You might think it's okay for your partner to say demeaning things about you on a daily basis. This is the danger and the power of an intimate partner in a violent relationship. We dated for two years.
A year after I graduated and escaped to New York, the effects of ignoring the truth hit me with full impact. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety destroyed my appetite, concentration, and self-esteem. Fearful of judgment, I kept everything to myself.
It was only a few months until I found myself in the psych ward, circling the thought that I had landed myself there by trying too hard to save another's life and crying with nothing else to do. The woman in the bed next to me whispered, "They'll keep you here longer if you keep crying." But I don't belong here, I wanted to say. I didn't ask for this.
Nobody ever asks to be a victim of sexual violence.
Sexual assault comes in many forms, and intimate partner violence is often overlooked as one of them. As a survivor, I face questions like, "But how could it be rape if he was your boyfriend?" The answer involves a redefinition of the concepts of coercion and sexual assault that immediately come to mind. But this definition is just as legitimate and destructive as the one that most people recognize.
My silence, fear, and instability lost me most of my friends, took a severe toll on my physical health, and almost cost me my life. The idea of sharing myself intimately with anyone terrifies me to this day.
This month is dedicated to sexual assault awareness. Starting a conversation, and feeling comfortable having it, is a step that has a huge effect in reshaping rape culture and promoting an atmosphere for survivors where they can feel safe and supported.
As someone who had my ability to speak for myself taken away from me, I value these conversations. As I regain my voice, it comes back stronger each time I tell my story.
Though this is not the book you predicted, here you go, Mom.
Originally posted on the Columbia Daily Spectator
More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Feminism, Gender-based violence, Girls, Health, Violence against women
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Title IX, Sexualized violence, Sexuality, Rape, Domestic violence, Identity