A Time to Open Up

Content warning: This post discusses assault, rape, abuse (physical and emotional), toxic behavior, and codependency. Please take care of yourself while reading and please reach out if you need to talk.

After getting involved in the CTC boycott, I’ve sat with the idea of opening up and sharing my experiences of being an assault survivor. I’ve continued to argue with myself about timing, if this is something I really need to share, if it’s appropriate, and so on – all the techniques that have kept me silent until now. I know I don’t have to share but I want to in the hopes that it will help someone – a survivor trying to take action or cope, or someone who is struggling to understand how what happened at CTC doesn’t just disappear.

When I was quite young – likely no older than four or five  – I stayed over with my grandmother while my parents went to a concert in another city. My grandmother had remarried (my grandfather having died long before I was born). Her second husband’s name was Ed. He lived on a house on a lake and I remember him having a seaplane. I have always remembered this lake, long before I remember where this memory was from.

My memory of what happened is fuzzy and jumbled. I remember a bedroom in a wood-paneled room and lying on the bed with someone beside me. I remember wearing a faux-denim dress with no back and someone’s hand resting on my bare back. I remember a pink sparkly bikini swimsuit and taking it off in a bathroom. I remember suddenly refusing to wear both of these clothing items later on and feeling sick and revolted at the sight of them. I remember a figure standing in a doorway at night, silhouetted by light behind them.

This is all I remember. It’s more than what I could recall a year ago. In fact, I would have never remembered much of this except for a series of events that unfolded over time – my parents mentioning rumors from my aunt that Ed had been to court due to allegations of pedophilia, which confirmed some fear I’d had of a name of a person I’d all but forgotten. That I had always ben Ed’s “favorite.” Hearing my grandmother relive her experiences of abuse at the hands of her second husband. And then the sudden intense end last year – my grandmother dying a week after my then-boyfriend broke up with me, citing a return of repressed memories of familial abuse as to why he couldn’t be in a relationship. Later that summer, I met up with my ex for a painful night (in more ways than one). The following night, while celebrating the end of grad school, I had the worst panic attack of my life, triggered no doubt by not being sober but also from events the night before. In between thinking I’d been drugged or that I was going to die, I had cyclical memories return about my ex and about Ed until I fell into the arms of one of my friends, screaming.

Here is what I know:

  • I will probably never remember entirely what happened at Ed’s. I was young and whatever occurred is deeply buried somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. Whatever did happen, it was bad and my mind is still fumbling to understand it.
  • I have struggled with body image – from my weight to body dysmorphia to feeling like my body is not my own to feeling like I didn’t belong in my body/sort of dissociation. This came from somewhere. And given that I refused to wear anything that revealed my back until late in high school and didn’t wear a bikini again until after college, I have drawn the conclusion that whatever happened with Ed planted this in me.
  • I have had some questionable encounters and made questionable choices in my life. I have felt inferior to every partner I have been with, whether through their treatment or my own treatment of my body. I have had encounters that became nonconsensual at some point and I continue to struggle at how to describe them. As people discussing these issues continue to say “nonconsensual encounters are not a thing – just call it rape” – I feel like a terrible feminist for not wanting to use that word. I also feel like it is not mine to use – that some how it is a far worse thing than what I have experienced. But at what point, when something starts as consensual and becomes nonconsensual and you never feel that you can or should speak up to stop it, do I need to stop worrying about how to describe the experiences and care more about how I felt and how to move on from them? Or do I need to know how to define them? How much do my words matter if I only share these stories with myself, running the narratives over and over in my mind until I feel like I can’t breathe?
  • None of my partners know about my past trauma or about my feelings of nonconsensual activity with them. I never got the chance to discuss it with any of them, though I planned to with my recent ex and never got the opportunity.
  • I am still recovering from all of this, especially the break-up in what I now see was a toxic and codependent relationship. He is going through is own experience with trauma but, at some point, his dealing with it was harmful for me. It is a difficult situation and one I still struggle to discuss openly – perhaps because I fear what words can do, what talking about something had so many ambiguities might do. Some memories cause more pain than others – perhaps the one I continue to struggle with is a conversation is the first night we met up when he discussed a scene in a Fringe show he’d done a few years back, describing a scene people thought was a rape scene. He argued it didn’t depict rape, that instead it showed when things go too far between couples. At some level I think I knew this wasn’t right but I made myself agree, thinking that maybe I didn’t understand, didn’t know enough. And I made myself believe this for too long.
  • I don’t have answers. I only have my experiences, trying to open up about this, and more questions than I know what do do with.
  • Certain pop culture elements in my life have made me realize what kept me in a place of toxicness and what helped me wake up. “Jane Eyre,” “Twilight,” and and other Gothic romantic narratives gave me poor expectations as a teen, but now read like warning signs I didn’t quite see. “Jessica Jones,” the book Goodbye, Sweet Girl, and the poetry of Amanda Lovelace helped me realize the trauma that lived beneath the surface and gave me a place to sit and feel all the emotions I had buried beneath the surface.
  • I have learned that abuse doesn’t always look the way it does in film or TV. Sometimes it’s dark and insidious and hard to see in the moment. It’s hard to talk about now, because the narratives of Ed and my ex are so intertwined, with both “waking up” moments (so to speak) in my mind occurring at the same time. They are very different experiences and yet they mirror each other in an abuse of trust. Ed is now dead (he died a good ten years ago or more) so I have no fear talking about him. But talking about my ex – and issue I continue to dodge and avoid, for fear of sounding like a broken record who can only harp on about the same issue, for fear of what happens when people learn who he is and what I think, for fear of repercussions, of not being believed, for being criticized for not knowing better, not speaking up … the list of fears go on and on.
  • I have waited too long to talk about these experiences. I wanted to wait until I would feel comfortable, trying to write them in diary entries and deleted blogs and plays I never finished. There are numerous nonfiction pieces and abandoned novels sitting on my laptop that I can never return to because they’re just too painful. I was never going to feel comfortable talking about this- I decided today to dive in and do it, because it’s been a year since this all came to light in my mind. And it’s time to get it out of my mind and truly find a way to move on.

I would be lying if the moment I hit the publish button on this post, I won’t shake and panic. Talking about this is the scariest thing I’ve done. I’ve tried to make this post more readable, make it clearer, more concise, less jumbled. This is not a story or a set of experiences that can be made clear. I can go only so far to share my experiences here – this is so much left unsaid, so much I haven’t described, only because some details are too much for the online world. And they’re too much for me for what I’m ready to tell. If anything, I hope that this gives a better understanding for what kind of struggles survivors carry with them. I have only recently begun to understand how trauma has shaped my life and framed my experiences. I have only recently begun to resist the expectations my anxious mind has made for itself. I hope that if anyone out there reading this is a survivor, it gives you the confidence to keep fighting and to know that you are not alone.

2 thoughts on “A Time to Open Up

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