#MeToo: Confronting my Trauma

This is a story I have told to only a few people in my life, but never in detail. I’m not going to lie - I'm scared of making this public, but I think it is an important step that I have to make to empower myself, and maybe even prevent someone from walking down the same path.

I suppose it’s not so much a confession on my part but a venting of a deeply traumatizing event that took place in my life. 

I am a victim of sexual and emotional abuse by an ex-boyfriend – someone I now refer to as my abuser. He does not deserve the respect to be known as anything but a violator of my autonomy.

Please avoid reading any further if you are triggered by sexual and/or emotional abuse. 

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It all started in 2013, when I was 18 years old. My senior year of high school left me depressed and suicidal. On top of that, I was heartbroken about an online romance that came to a screeching halt. I was just trying to enjoy my summer and keep my head held high. I had reconnected with a childhood friend and started spending a lot of time with her. She told me about her older brother who I had never met before, and how he was very serious about Buddhism. We were introduced briefly, and after that day my friend started telling me how her brother couldn't stop thinking about me. Being naïve and wanting to move on from my heartbreak, I decided it would be a good idea to see where this would go, so I started spending more time with them. One thing led to another and we started seeing each other. He was not like a lot of the boys I knew – he didn’t want to have sex or even kiss me for the first month. I thought it was a sign that he was respectful and wanted me for the right reasons. I was wrong.

Within two months of knowing each other, we started a long-distance relationship as he moved halfway across the world to immerse himself in Buddhism. I was also moving to a different country to start my university course. This is what eventually brought out his abusive side that I didn't think he was capable of. He gave me the silent treatment if I had a few drinks or decided to go out. He would yell at me over Skype if I came back from class 30 minutes late. He’d even get upset if I prioritized my education over talking to him. The constant berating and punishment for living my life gave me panic attacks so severe that I would find myself curled up in a ball, hyperventilating under my desk almost every day. The anxiety made me lose my appetite, and I became severely underweight. I couldn't make any friends because he expected me to spend all of my free time talking to him. He managed to break down any semblance of self worth that I had despite being halfway across the globe.

The manipulation and breaking down had gotten to the point where I didn’t want to be in University anymore if it would make him angry. So, I quit after one semester. I decided to move to where he was living, because I thought being close to him would mend things. Again, I was wrong. He continued to control me and be upset at trivial things, like me looking at an actor on TV a certain way. Sometimes he would be apologetic and told me he would change and be a better boyfriend. That never happened.

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He wanted sex from me more than I was willing to give. It started to feel like he was with me for pleasure over love or companionship. Whenever I rejected him, he got angry with me. He would guilt me into having sex, saying that it was my duty as his girlfriend. This being my first actual relationship, I broke and let him do what he wanted. I remember days where I would be on the brink of crying, not moving, while he was on top of me. I remember days where he would force me to participate, and not being able to wash off the feeling of being filthy off of me after he was done. I still feel as if germs are spreading all over my body whenever I recall such incidents. Every time we entered the bedroom, he led me in like a sacrificial lamb, ready to use me as he pleased for the sake of his own pleasure. I did not realize at the time, but I was coerced into having sexual relations. My consent was squeezed out of me through guilt and manipulation.

I remember one day, his anger at my refusal to have sex caused him to have a tantrum. He knew that my previous sexual encounters were merely one-night stands, and used that against me. He sat up on the bed, pointed his fingers at me, and shouted, "at least I haven't f*cked you and left you like all the other guys." I burst into tears as he stomped out of the room to pray (I suppose this was his way of repenting his non-Buddhist actions, as if that made it any better). By the end of the night, I was begging for his forgiveness. He slut shamed me, and I felt like he had every right to do it. I accepted it because my self-respect was practically non-existent at this point. I thought I deserved the berating.

The abuse was not just sexual. He consistently tried to break down every stable relationship I had. He claimed my parents were bad people despite never meeting them. If I Skyped a friend, he would look at me in disgust and tell me there was something different about me after the conversation, as if they had tainted me. I stopped Skyping my friends as much, out of fear that he would dump me. Considering the fact that I was alone in a foreign country, far from my family and friends, it was easy for him to isolate me from my source of stability and make me more dependent and malleable to his desires. It was a big red flag that I was blind to.

He was a master at gaslighting. Whenever I had a reason to be upset, he turned it around on me. He would claim that he never said the things he said in an enraged state, and that I was over reacting. He would not touch me or look at me for days at a time, making me crave his affection more and thus giving him more power in the relationship. It made me feel worthless, and his attention and forgiveness was all that I wanted in those times. When I did the same, he would throw a fit, and again, make himself the victim. The constant manipulation tore me down. To this day I still question my reality and my emotions.

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I have never met anyone as misogynistic as my abuser. If I wanted to cut my hair, he wouldn’t allow me because I would be less feminine. I was not allowed to learn how to drive a car, or even have a job because he would feel emasculated as an unemployed man baby who couldn't drive a car. As a present, he bought me an iron with a balloon attached to it…so I could iron his clothes for him. When I walked in front of him in a public place, he made a scene because passers by would think I was the dominant partner in the relationship. My worth was in my role as an obedient female partner, fulfilling his outdated and repulsive ideas on gender roles.

To borrow from Chloe Dykstra’s essay, “I believed that […] if I kept digging I would find water. And sometimes I did. Just enough to sustain me. And when you’re dying of thirst, that water is the best water you’ll ever drink. When you’re alienated from your friends, there’s no one to tell you that there’s a drinking fountain 20 feet away. And when your self-worth reaches such depths after […] being treated like you’re worthless, you might find you think you deserve that sort of treatment, and no one else will love you.”

This was exactly how I felt.

If I were to tell you all the ways in which my abuser turned me into his victim, this piece would be the length of a thick novel. In the end, I decided I would not give in to his pressure for me to please him sexually. He tried his last hand at trying to manipulate me, and gladly it did not work. When he realized his sexual advances would not be accepted, he decided to become a monk. I was sad for the first week or two, and admittedly I cried a lot at the thought of losing him. But I accepted that this was what he wanted to do, so I should let him pursue it. I expressed this to him, and in that moment he backtracked. He took back the idea of monkhood and decided he would rather be with me. He didn’t get the emotional response he wanted from me, so he gave up. I saw right through his stunt.

I flew back home a few weeks after this incident and we broke up over the phone after ten months of dating, but not before he called me a ‘materialistic b*tch’ who was being manipulated by the West, whatever that means. Since then, it’s been a long journey of trying to build myself back up. I chopped off my hair like I wanted to, and started to enjoy the duality of femininity and masculinity within me. My relationship with friends and family is much deeper and more honest than it was before. I reapplied to university that same year, and I’m happy to say I’m almost done with my degree after four years of hard work.

Seven months after the break up and enjoying the shaved head my abuser wouldn't let me have, aged nineteen.

However, I did not realize I was in an abusive relationship until almost a year after we had broken up. I had unknowingly developed PTSD. I could not sleep and if I somehow managed to, I was plagued by nightmares about him. I had at least five anxiety attacks everyday because of flashbacks and triggers, and could not participate fully in the lectures at my current university. I was paranoid every time I left the house even though we were not in the same country anymore. The slightest thought of him would manifest into bigger, more terrifying thoughts which made me nauseous to the point I would heave. Life was still not stable. He'd even make new accounts on Facebook after I blocked him and send me delusional messages. I contacted his sister to please ask him to stop, and she called me a "self-victimizing martyr b*tch." That name stunted my ability to move on, because I believed everyone would see me that way. I had to cut ties with a friend I absolutely adored because he was a close friend to their family. I could not have any connections with them as long as I wanted to deal with my recovery seriously. I felt bad, and I still do – but it was a necessary step in my healing process.

I hated my sexuality and still do for the most part. This experience made me believe that it was the only attractive aspect of me as a woman. I tried to use my sexuality as a weapon to empower myself, but it did not work and left me more resentful of the body I was born into. I could no longer approach the idea of romance or sex in a healthy manner. I was just so desperate to prove him wrong and that I could be loved by other people. However, every time I started to develop feelings for someone, I would either ghost them or become overbearingly clingy. It's terrifying, trying to get back into dating when you're made to believe that noone else could love you. I was unable to maintain proper communication skills with potential love interests for a long time. I was ready to be alone for the rest of my life.

Even then, after four years of counseling and therapy I feel like the worst of it is over. I can talk about it in depth without crying. My current partner has been incredibly understanding and patient in my journey, and I opened up about it to my parents, too. After all this time, though, I can’t help but feel like I should have protected myself. There were countless opportunities for me to stand up for myself, to leave, but I didn't. I should be glad that it was only 10 months. I need to remind myself that it’s OK. It doesn't matter how long the relationship was, because the damage was done. I was blinded by the manipulation and the abuse. I was alone in a foreign country, far away from home. I was young, I was depressed, and I thought being in a relationship would help me. I couldn’t have known.

I do not have any desire to forgive my abuser. He was (and probably still is) an insecure man who lacked emotional maturity and got pleasure from controlling a young and naïve girl. Most of all I need to forgive myself. The fear lies in allowing the trauma to define me. While it may have shaped me as a person, I will not let it determine my existence. I will not let my anger and fear keep me from flourishing into a better person.

 

I have never shared my story with people outside of my close circle. I was scared of speaking out and being called a liar. I am not scared anymore. This is the truth, and it happened to me.