TW: This post talks about relationship abuse & sexual abuse, and contains some foul language.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about past relationships.
Not just my most recent ended relationship, but my marriage, and a particularly abusive relationship that I endured for two years in college.
But, mostly, I’ve been thinking about that abusive relationship and the many ways it changed the way I view love, relationships, trust, and intimacy.
I’ve been thinking about that abusive relationship and how my drinking problem started immediately after I broke things off. By the time I was free from that man, I was sharing a jug of Carlo Rossi with my new boyfriend (now ex-husband), which we would manage to finish within a weekend. We went from that to sharing a handle of vodka over the course of several days–mixed with diet coke, of course. We drank into the late hours, having nowhere to go the next day and no one to see but each other. We drank in excess, together, for four years. Alcohol latched hundreds of tiny tendrils onto the foundation of our marriage and eventually pulled it apart.
After the divorce, I drank more. And more. I drank entire bottles of wine by myself in half an hour or less, just to fall asleep. I went to seedy bars by myself late at night and downed two or three 22oz. craft beers, before driving home to have a glass or two of wine before passing the fuck out.
That abusive relationship left me fucked up. Really fucked up. For a long time. I would argue that the effects of that abuse have had residual impacts on my life, even to this very day. The dysfunction I learned and internalized during those two years of hell haunted my marriage and crept into the corners of every relationship I’ve had since my divorce. I have not been able to outrun its shadow, as much as I’ve tried. It’s not going away.
Even after leaving a toxic marriage. Even after getting sober. Even after getting myself into graduate school. Even after starting the process of accepting the full extent of the abuse I experienced, it has not let go of me–rather, I haven’t managed to process and re-organize my life in a way that allows me to set that demon free.
In those two years with my ex, I endured emotional abuse and manipulation, physical restraint, intimidation, resource control, stalking, sleep deprivation, sexual coercion, a rape, gaslighting, invasions of my privacy, and accusations of infidelity, all littered with threats to break up and promises to be better.
I had cigarettes ashed on me. I had my phone looked through while I was sleeping, my emails read, and social media privacy taken away from me. I was held down by the shoulders, shoved off of beds, and often blocked from leaving a room when I needed to take a break. I was once kicked out of his car without my phone in the middle of the night out in the middle of nowhere, and he drove a quarter mile down the road in order to “see what I would do.” He dropped me off at school and made sure to pick me up again right when class was over. He told me my friends were bad influences and that I shouldn’t see them anymore. I almost lost most of them. He accused me of cheating with his own friends. He coerced me into making a sexual video with him, and then made me sit and watch the old videos that he made with his first girlfriend. He convinced me to move out of my dad’s house into his mother’s home. When I finally made the decision to get my own place, he pushed me to move in with his close female cousin.
Towards the end, I was passively suicidal. I felt hopeless, like it would never end. I prayed someone–anyone–would notice me slipping deeper into the void and save me. My parents sent me to see a therapist, which made my ex feel threatened, like I was plotting to leave him (which I was). I spent every session desperately trying to find reasons to leave, yet feeling too scared to make the move.
At one point, I literally jumped out of a moving car in an effort to get away from him; someone called the cops, I had my way out, yet I folded and told the police that everything was OK and he could take me home. These days when I tell that story, I’m often laughing despite the agony I felt at the time.
Love was weaponized. Intimacy was violated. Trust was as fragile as an eggshell made of paper-thin glass.
I hate admitting these things to the people in my life because it’s such a stark exhibit of a time in my life when I lost all control. Just like I hate admitting that I developed an alcohol problem immediately–and that the problem persisted for years until I finally made my way to sobriety–I hate admitting that this shit human being took such great advantage of my young heart. I hate admitting it so much that to this day, I have a hard time stamping out my anger toward him and the pain I feel from that time in my life. I am ashamed of how deep-seated my issues are, because of him and the time I spent with him.
I hate admitting that I was raped by him because that is the ultimate form of loss of control–for so long, I was in the camp of, “well, he was my boyfriend, and I didn’t say no, so I don’t think it was really rape.” But that’s exactly what it was. He used his position and manipulation to overpower me and render me unable to say no, unable to feel like I had the right to deny him access to my body. It was humiliating. And it happened in his aunt’s basement, while everyone else was sleeping upstairs.
Since that relationship ended in 2010, I have had no shortage of problems feeling safe enough to make a real, honest connection with my romantic partners. I cannot say that I fully gave my heart to my ex-husband. To me, it felt like my greatest offering to my husband was my sexual self, and because my sexual self had been so thoroughly violated over the course of those two abusive years, I felt stunted, unattractive, insecure, and unable to connect on a genuine level.
To this day, I often catch myself feeling simultaneously that I have to give my full physical self to my partners in order to keep them happy, all while experiencing a disgust and frustration with my body. After the dust of infatuation has settled and I’m faced with the idea of baring myself–mind, body, and soul–to my partner, I freeze. I get anxious. I withdraw. I find fault with my partners and retract myself so that I don’t need to feel so exposed.
All at once, I fear being alone and I fear getting too close. I often feel like the only way I can keep someone’s interest in through sexuality, and then I run too fast into the fog of it all and end up feeling lost.
I’ve had a hard time in the past making and keeping platonic friends because closeness without physical intimacy is so foreign to me. What am I, if not a physical offering to someone? Being sober has made this a bit easier, partially because of the solidarity I find among the sober crowd.
But this feeling of inadequacy, this fear of getting close–drinking made it easy to tolerate some of this dissonance, but not for long. As a drinking person, I was aware of feeling “off” but could never place my finger on exactly why I felt so dysfunctional.
I don’t know that I have, still, but I think I’m getting closer.
What happened in that two years of abuse has followed me for the last 8 years. I’ve dipped my toes into the pond of processing here and there, but have never fully jumped in and gotten into the dirty work of figuring this thing out. I know it still affects me because even writing about it gets me feeling angry, choked up, and ashamed.
I know what he did to me wasn’t my fault.
I know I cannot continue to live in shame about being raped or emotionally manipulated into staying for as long as I did.
I know I need to own my story in order to heal.
I’m just scared of what I’ll uncover in the process. I suppose that’s a clue to me that it’s more important than ever to at least try. If not for my current partner and relationship, then definitely for myself. It’s finally time to heal and move on.