Sara’s Story: There is no “Grey Area”

Sara’s Story: There is no “Grey Area”

She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom. – The Scarlet Letter

You truly don’t know how much pain you’re in until you’re on the road to recovery. This statement couldn’t hold more truth than it did under my particular circumstances. In the summer of 2014 before my final year of high school, I became involved with a long time male friend I had met at summer camp. For me, summer camp was a safe space, and I felt as though I could trust all of my peers. For the next few months this boy and I engaged in what could only be described as an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. He was constantly tearing me down, compulsively lying, man handled me when he didn’t like what I was doing and on top of that, cheating on me continuously. By the end of our relationship I felt drained. I was always a relatively non confrontational person, therefore I blamed myself. I told myself that I allowed him to treat me like this and it was my fault because I never stood up for myself when I should have. One time, I had fallen and hurt my leg on the swim docks. His response to me hurting myself was to constantly dig his fist into my bruise. I cried, and I could tell he enjoyed it. My best friend even witnessed it once, to which I told her it was all a joke. I made light of it because I was afraid of what would happen to me if she confronted him about it. He would be so aggressive with me when we were in private and I felt like no one would understand if I spoke up. I was 17 and I barely understood myself. I had to tip toe around him, so I didn’t set him off. This boy asserted a form of dominance over me usually by grabbing me by the throat (to him asphyxiation was hilarious), and I let him because I didn’t want to have to deal with the alternative. The summer came to an end and we went back to our separate lives, mine in Toronto and his in another province. We remained together on the grounds that he could do whatever he wanted but I had to remain faithful to him. He did this because the thought of me with anyone else enraged him. This went on for awhile until a close friend aired her concerns to my mother and our relationship came to a dead halt a few months later. By then, my self esteem had crashed to zero. I know people say not to let a single person dictate your emotions, but unfortunately for me, it had. I was never someone who needed validation from anyone to feel special but after being berated so many times by this boy my insecurities took hold and I started to believe it.

As my grade 12 year went on I tried my best to remain happy. I occupied my time with friends, went on a lot of vacations, even went to Coachella, which easily ranked as one of the best times of my life. I did this because when I was alone, I felt a heavy weight. Between the pressure of getting into university, and my extremely low self esteem, staying motivated became increasingly difficult. I had deleted this boy off of every form of social media, but still his name and the damage he had caused seemed to follow me everywhere. At the time, I would jump whenever someone got near my throat or neck and used a ton of cover up to hide my discolouration. People didn’t know the extent of the damage he had caused. People would tease me about him constantly because of his bad reputation with girls and told me I was stupid for trusting him in the first place. It seemed as though everyone else was in on the secret that he was insane, except for me. I felt stupid once again and of course, this didn’t help with building my confidence.

For the remainder of grade 12 I stayed away from boys for the most part. I had been pretty good at keeping my secret until my annual doctors visit after the summer. My doctor had noticed this weird discolouration on my leg. I had told her about the fall at camp, but of course not about this boys actions toward the bruise later on. She proceeded to tell me that this type of discolouration means the blood vessels were popped, and would most likely not go back to my normal skin colour. When I asked her why she responded with “are you sure you didn’t hit it again? This only happens when pressure has been applied to a bruise over and over again”. My eyes welled with tears and I knew I had to come clean to my mom about everything. Soon after, I began seeing a therapist who helped me gain tools to help with my self esteem, working on my triggers and being able to speak up when necessary.

Fast forward to the next year and I was almost a new person. I had been in therapy for almost a full year, I had met someone that summer, whom I fell in love with, who helped me see that not everyone was going to treat me the way my previous boyfriend had. He broke down that wall I had spent so much time building and helped me feel like me again, and I will always be thankful for that. I had started my first year at university, was meeting new people and was finally starting to feel like myself again.

I still had my battles from time to time, but I had learned that I was worth so much more than this previous person had led me to believe. Although the idea of seeing this boy again terrified me, I was safe in the knowledge that something really bad had happened to me, but I had come out the other side. I did not let him win.

The next two years were spent meeting new people, exploring my education and growing up the way any average teenager would. In the summer of 2015 I had jaw surgery to correct my underbite. This was a procedure with a looooong healing process, which included braces, a swollen face and a lot of pain. It was hard to stay positive. Being a second year university student with braces wasn’t ideal and my self esteem once again took a huge hit. I became depressed and severely uncomfortable with my appearance. I hated being in photos, I wore more makeup and rarely looked at people directly when I spoke to them. I knew this was temporary but it was hard to feel confident when you didn’t like the face staring back at you. My parents and friends noticed this change in me. They had encouraged me to try and be optimistic for the future and remember that in the long run I will be happier. I know this all sounds very superficial, but imagine for a second, looking in the mirror and genuinely not recognizing the person you saw.

As the months went on, the swelling started to go down, the pain was less frequent and I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was supposed to get my braces off in October and have a fresh face for Halloween that year. Unfortunately, my orthodontist decided to be safe and keep them on for another month. I was ready and excited to go to Montreal for Halloween like I did every year to visit close friends, though this really set me back in that dark hole. Due to my braces and insecurities, made me want to cancel my trip. After a lot of persuading from family and friends I decided to try and leave my troubles at home and have a fun weekend in Montreal like I always did (this would be my third year going).

Every Montreal trip, as exciting as it was, triggered something in me. This boy who had previously torn me down to nothing, was from Montreal. Every time I went, the fear of seeing him again was always prominent. It had been a couple years since I’d seen him, and although I wasn’t entirely feeling like myself this year, I tried my best to stay confident. I kept in mind everything my therapist had taught me about holding my own.

I arrived in Montreal on the Thursday of that weekend, anxious but also excited to go out that night. The friend that I stayed with every year was aware of this previous boy, therefore cognizant of the fact that I would be nervous. It was comforting that she understood, meaning we could have fun tonight without me having to feel guilty about my nerves.

We arrived at the club that Thursday night. I had dressed up as a skull with dark makeup, tipsy and was ready to enjoy the night. Standing at the circular shaped bar with friends, I looked across to see a tall figure staring at me. It was him. My stomach dropped to my knees and I instantly started to panic. I ran to the washroom, called my mom and had sat there for 15 minutes until she calmed me down. I remember her clearly telling me that I was okay and to stay close to my friend. I look a deep breathe and walked to meet my friend by the bar once again, I tried to hide my face. Maybe he didn’t recognize me? I had braces, my hair was shorter and I had dark makeup on. But of course, I was wrong. He approached me, put his hand on my shoulder making me jump. “I don’t want any drama I just wanted to come over and tell you that you look amazing, that’s all.” He smiled at me, and maybe it was my inebriated state, but he seemed genuine. I gave him my best fake half smile and said thanks before my friend pulled me away to the patio.

I wanted to forget about him and enjoy myself. I could tell my friends were getting aggravated with my anxious behaviour, so I continued to drink and dance. As I continued to drink I slowly felt my nerves slipping away. A little bit later on he approached me when I went outside for air. He just wanted to talk. It had been so long, and part of me wanted an explanation as to why he treated me the way that he did. The 17 year old in me was curious, and although I was hesitant, I agreed to sit and hear him out. I don’t remember entirely what we talked about, but I remember him telling me that he loved me and asking a lot of personal questions. He was a master manipulator and although its foggy, I can assume that I reverted back to 17 year old me and listened.

One of the biggest “issues” in our relationship had been sex. I think even though I was so brainwashed by the things he used to tell me, somewhere in my subconscious I knew that losing my virginity to him would have been a bad idea. He was always so aggressive and always pushed for it. After our relationship ended, a big thing that kept me going was that despite everything that had gone on, I had put my foot down and trusted my instincts. It was one thing that he hadn’t taken from me.

This boys presence made me so anxious, but I was tired of allowing him to dictate how I was feeling, so at the bar I continued to drink and drink and drink some more. No, it was not a good idea, this was out of character for me, I was NEVER someone who drank to the point of blackout. In that moment, I just didn’t want to feel anymore, I wanted to be numb. The rest of the night was a big blur to me. How I had ended up in his house, how long I had blacked out for. The next thing I knew, he was on top of me and I couldn’t do anything about it. My adrenaline kicked in when he grabbed me by the throat, something he used to do when we were together as a form of dominance. I knew that I needed to get out of there. I shoved him off of me in a panic, told him the friend I was staying with needed me now and I had to go. I managed to call myself a cab and get the hell out of there. I remember looking at myself in the tall mirror in his bedroom and thinking “don’t you cry, don’t show him you’re afraid.” My thoughts were going a mile a minute and I knew that if he saw I was afraid or upset there was a potential that he wouldn’t let me leave. My cab arrived and I ran out of there without looking back.

When I arrived back at my friends apartment, I noticed he had ripped a huge hole in my tights. I quickly ripped them off, and threw them in a garbage outside before heading into the apartment. I made up a lie about where I was when she asked, she was already mad that I was so late and I was still in a state of shock and I couldn’t wrap my head around what had just happened. The rest of the weekend was hazy. I was moody, didn’t want to go out and was afraid that he would be around any corner I turned. Sunday morning couldn’t come fast enough. I eagerly hopped on the bus and finally made it home where I could be alone.

I spent the majority of that ride sitting in a corner and sobbing. That’s pretty much what the next few months of my life consisted of. I suffered in silence. I went over that night in my head a million times and continued to blame myself. How could I have been so stupid? Two years of progress down the drain. I felt defeated, I felt like he had now won.

Once again I sunk back into that dark hole of depression I had spent so long clawing my way out of. The funny thing about depression is that sometimes you can feel entirely okay, and the next you feel like you want to crawl into a hole and die. I was moody with my friends and family, pushed people away, slept a lot, and stopped going to class. A few weeks later I had got myself a job at a club so I had an excuse not to go out on weekends with friends and drink. I had perfected this facade that I was okay, so nobody asked questions or noticed a change in my personality.

Over the next few months I became an entirely different person. My face healed, I got my braces off but I couldn’t even enjoy it because I wasn’t my happy self anymore. The me that I once was, wasn’t there anymore. I had buried myself under this big secret, and became so good at pretending to be someone else, that to everyone, I was this facade. I allowed this shell of a person to go out with friends, some guys, even pretend to trust them, but never get too close. I would talk about guys with my friends and pretend everything was normal, but the truth was, I was numb inside and had just stopped caring. I felt worthless again. I couldn’t come to terms with what had happened to me and it was eating me alive.

I began to blame others for what happened. I blamed my friend in Montreal for not staying with me at the club, I blamed the club for not realizing I wasn’t in the right state to continue ordering drinks, and of course I blamed myself. I didn’t know how to feel toward the situation, my coping skills were lacking and I felt like I was drowning in all of these things I couldn’t control.

This past year has been a big year in the media for sexual violence and rape awareness. The Brock Turner case, The Hunting Ground etc. I read these peoples’ stories and scared myself. I identified a lot with what these women were going through, and how they expressed themselves so openly. I had never allowed the word rape into my brain before. I couldn’t let my mind go there because there was no way that something like that could happen to me. You hear about it on TV and in the news but you don’t think it would happen to you. The statistics on rape and sexual assault in North America are absurd. One in four women have been raped or sexually assaulted. The fact that I was now that one, terrified me. I couldn’t say the words out loud and I refused to let myself feel the pain of the incident all over again. I had spent too long repressing it that bringing it up made me feel ill.

After doing all of this research on rape and sexual assault, it began to anger me. It angered me how so many women stay silent out of fear of there assailant, fear of being judged/blamed or an abundance of other reasons. The stigma that is often put on women who are raped or assaulted is heartbreaking. This really fired me up because I began to realize I was one of those silent women I was getting so angry about. I can’t pin point the exact moment when I decided it was time to make a change, but at some point after this past summer I realized that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t remember who I was before all of this happened and that needed to change. I wanted that person back.

Before school this year, I told my mom which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We cried, hugged and she promised to support me in whatever I wanted to do. That alone, was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I started speaking to a therapist again, spoke to my doctor and was put on antidepressants. I continued by opening up to my closest friends, who still continue to be there for me through my heeling process.

It took me almost a year to be able to talk about what happened to me.I know now that I am no longer alone. Yes, this is still very much an uphill battle, but I don’t want to hide anymore. I shouldn’t be ashamed of what happened to me because it wasn’t my fault. There is this idea about a grey area when it comes to consent and alcohol. There is no grey area, if someone is unconscious, or not in there right state of mind this is NOT consent. Unless someone gives you full consent to proceed, you don’t.

Writing this very piece still terrifies me because it reminds me that this is real and it happened. I will no longer let this experience define me. This is just a very small piece of my life, a scar that I will carry around with me but it does not make me who I am. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. I will heal, I will get there, and I hope I can inspire others to do the same.

Author

WYR

WYR

When You're Ready.org is a community for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories.

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