sufiana’s story: I’m a Victim, I’m a Survivor, I’m a Victim

sufiana’s story: I’m a Victim, I’m a Survivor, I’m a Victim

I think it’s fair to say that my abuse started when I moved to Delhi. At first, it was in the form of bullying. The school I was in, for all its super high ratings and great reputation, systematically broke me down in the first few years I was in Delhi. I say ‘systematically’, because it wasn’t just my classmates who were involved in the bullying, but the teachers too. There were teachers who turned their backs when other children bullied me, there were teachers who targeted me in front of these other students. Now, so many years later, I understand why; my bullies were class toppers and their best friends. And in our country, we clearly value marks, more than we do being good human beings.

So no friends in school, a family which was going through the same difficult transition, mixed with the impact of teenage anger…I was isolated. So I guess it would be no surprise that the boy I started dating around the age of 15, was basically everything to me for a while. His friends were my friends, and he was the only person who I spoke to, who I felt understood me. I had a few other people in my life, who I poured all my love into, and all these people, they were basically my life. And that’s what allowed me to be manipulated into insane levels of abuse.

The boyfriend cheated on me. I found out, broke his nose and broke up with him. Then somehow got convinced to get back together with him, because who did I have, if not him and his friends? The other friends…I loved them, but they didn’t make me feel the way he did. So I got back together with him. But I had hurt his ego, unleashed his crazy, unravelled his monster. And oh what a creative evil monster he turned out to be. I wanted to go back to being friends, after we had gotten back together. Build trust, and then build a relationship. Somehow that was his trigger. Next thing I knew, he was hitting me and telling me that if I didn’t let him do whatever he wanted to me, he would do it to my other friends. And he did enough to make me believe him.

The next few years, he abused me in every way possible. He beat me so hard, I don’t know how everyone around me didn’t notice. For whatever reason, my sole aim in those years was that my parents never find out. He knew this. He used it. My parents are lovely, supportive people. They would have helped me, and they would have made damn sure that he didn’t touch me again. I knew this. And yet, all I wanted was that they never find out. I’m still learning to explain that one to myself.

Now, it’s been many years. My abuser is dead. I’m glad. My abuser is dead, but I don’t know if the abuse is dead.

At the time, I dealt with my abuse, mostly through denial and passing out. I fainted more in those 4 years than most people have their entire lives. Sometimes I fainted because of the pain in my body. Mostly, I fainted because that was the only way my mind could deal. The result of all this denial and fainting, is that I have a lot of blackholes in my memory. Some, I know about. Unfortunately, there are some which I never even know existed.

A year or so before he died, I believed my abuse ended. I had confronted his parents, because I couldn’t confront my own, and his father had helped me. Tried to make sure that his son would never be in the same country as me, or any of my friends. Tried to get him psychological help. Though I’m forever grateful for his efforts, they also failed tremendously. Because he came back one last time when I was almost 19, and while I waited for his father to come and help me, he raped me (raped me with his penis, that is), for what I thought was the first time. Then his father took him back, and a few months later, he killed himself, and blamed me. My abuser is dead, and I’m glad.

Now here’s where the new chaos starts. It took me months to go from being guilty that he died, to being angry. His last words were that this was my fault, and that I would live with him forever. Once I let go of the guilt I felt at, what I thought was, taking a life, I was infuriated. I would live with him forever? Really? No way. I didn’t want my parents to know, because I wanted to live my life on my own terms, and not have their fears impact my life, or my fears. I wanted to live my life, without the constant terror I had felt in the last 4 years of my life. I would not be a victim. I was done being a victim. I was determined to be a survivor. I would not live with him for the rest of my life, I would not even think about him.

The problem with that is that I put waaay too much pressure on myself. I thought that my abuse has ended, so its impact needs to end too. But things don’t work that way. Maybe you can choose to be a victim or a survivor, but you cannot simply choose to push the abuse out of your mind forever. A few more months after his death, some of the blackholes in my memory starting opening up to show me that the abuse was far worse than I realised. It wasn’t just him. He recruited two more men to help him abuse me. Three men abused me together, two following his lead. I hear him giving them directions in my head and I want to scream to shut out his voice. Now I had new nightmares; it wasn’t just him touching me, him hitting, punching, kicking, whipping, wasn’t just him putting things inside me, tying me so I wouldn’t move. There were others. And he would tell them where to hit me, when and where to touch me, what to put inside me.

I learnt to deal. I thought I acknowledged, accepted and moved on. Every few months, a few new blackholes would open up. I remembered him hanging me from someplace and literally using my body as a punching bag. I remembered him rating different parts of my body. I remembered the three of them staring at my bruised body, matter-of-factly discussing and debating on the ratings. I remember the other two leaving and his rage just being exponentially worse, because I was his to do whatever he wanted to, and the other two had also seen me.

And I felt like a victim. And then I’d get furious with myself, because I had decided I’m a survivor, and in the definition I had imposed on myself, survivors don’t feel like victims. The hilarious thing is, that this definition, I only imposed on myself. With others, I would always understand why a trauma could still be traumatic years later. With myself, I felt like a failure.

So I worked harder, and almost 3 years later, I thought I was doing fantastically. I was immensely proud of myself, because I could see, that for the most of it, I had managed to bring myself out of the abuse; not just physically, but mentally. My life wasn’t controlled by it, and the only impacts which remained were some nightmares, which I could handle, and a whole host of positive impacts like the determination I had to work with other survivors.

And then, I’m 23 and another blackhole opened up and tilted my world off its axis. Remember how I said that he raped me with his penis for the first time when I was almost 19? I remembered wrong. I always wondered how, when he tortured me in so so so many ways, assaulted me in so many other ways, used my body for his pleasure in almost every way, why he didn’t rape me. Because I used to think that rape= penis penetration. He had put a LOT of other things inside me, but I hadn’t seen them as rape. Now I differentiate them in my head as rape, and penis-rape. So I used to wonder why he didn’t penis-rape me. When the blackhole opened up, I got my answer.

On his 18th birthday, when I wasn’t even 16 yet, he did penis rape me. I just blocked it out of my memory. The next time I had to meet him, I knew he would do it again, so I went into the medicine cabinet in my house, and just started popping pills, any pills. I remembered this part even before the blackhole opened, but I just didn’t remember what preceded it. The mind and memory is a funny place, especially for some who has been abused. I swallowed at least 30 pills, probably more, and I did it right before I had to meet him. So when I finally stood in front of him, I was woozy, and before he could even touch me, I threw up and then passed out. But before I could, I told him that I had done it because it was the only way I had. He understood. He understood that penis raping me was the line I had drawn and if he did it again, I would kill myself and he would lose his favourite punching bag/plaything. So he didn’t penis rape me again till years later, but he did get a lot more creative in ways to torture me. It was his retaliation, his punishment for taking penis rape off the table. Sometimes I wonder how I survived at all, forget how nobody ever noticed.

I found it unacceptable that at 23, four years after he was dead, I was suddenly a bigger mess than I had been in a very long time. He was dead, and I was letting him win. That’s what it felt like to me. Suddenly, after I had managed to not think about him every single day, for so many years, now my thoughts couldn’t escape him. I wasn’t just thinking of that night, on his 18th birthday, but I have been consumed by images and thoughts and nightmares and flashbacks. I was feeling like a victim again, and I found it unacceptable.

Theoretically, I know I’m being too hard on myself, and that you can’t just will trauma away. Hell, I’m studying to be a therapist. I know you can’t just will trauma away. But somehow, I am not able to apply that to myself, I’m not able to believe it for myself. All I feel is, that I was a victim. Then I made myself a survivor. And if I start feeling like a victim again, I’m going backwards, and I’m letting him win. I know that that’s not the way it is, but I don’t feel it. I feel weak, stupid, and like I’m just clamouring for negativity and bad things, and the attention which comes with it. Of course the fact that I rarely talk about it, and hence don’t really allow for any attention, I ignore.

I imagine many people who have been abused feel this way. And to them, I will always say, believe and feel that it’s okay. I just need to believe and feel it for myself. I need to believe that it’s okay to feel like a victim, and it doesn’t take away from my strength, or my struggle to be a survivor. I need to believe that just because I feel like a victim, doesn’t mean I’m not a survivor. I can be both.

So. I was a victim, then I was a survivor. Now, I’m working to be both, and let that be okay.



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