I owned a set of fridge poetry magnets when I was 15. They were stuck on the fridge in the house where I lived with my parents. When I was 15, I wrote this poem with fridge magnets about being sexually abused:
Alone with thy soul
There is always my body.
I smile at nothing
Fire craving winter.
Take when you want.
I could never
Disdain it enough
to break your heart.
the truth is hard.
In my 15 year old mind it was clear what the poem was about. It was direct, it wasn’t even thinly veiled. The double meaning of the word “hard” was intentional. To me it was a message, it was a cry for help. It was an attempt to communicate that all was not well.
Reading back to my journal from 1996, it was clear that I knew something was wrong. I can hear myself trying to justify X’s actions, trying to defend him, trying to believe that everything would be alright. I can hear myself blaming myself for not being comfortable.
Less than 1 month into the relationship with X:
May 2, 1996
“He moves very quickly though, and is very persuasive when he wants to be. That worries me a little bit, because he’s very forceful. I think that if I said no and meant it he would respect my choice…X turns into this totally different person when we are alone. He talked me into going under the covers. At first I felt really uncomfortable…he can be so different, his different personalities are very drastic. Like Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde…it worries me a little…the intensity of it scares me.”
May 7, 1996
“I’m not sure I understand X. He can’t seem to behave in public. He always wants to be physical with me, even when it isn’t appropriate. I’m going to have to tell him that holding hands and kissing are OK in public, but anything farther isn’t. He also doesn’t always stop right away when I ask him to. It’s as if he doesn’t believe I actually want him to. Then he apologizes a lot after and seems to feel guilty, but he does it again…I’m sure after I talk to him he’ll act more appropriate.”
I wrote a lot about how it was my fault that I wasn’t comfortable. I wrote about being too worried about other people’s opinions of me. I wrote about being seen as “Ms. Perfect” and struggling to live up to those ideals, especially when I didn’t see myself as perfect at all. I wrote about the sexual relationship as a conflicted way to challenge people’s ideas that I was perfect, but really I was filled with guilt and shame about what was happening. I couldn’t possibly be “Ms. Perfect” because if people really knew what was going on between X and I in private, they would be ashamed of me and hate me, the way I hated myself.
Looking back on it, I blamed myself for the abusive behavior of another person. I thought that I was doing something wrong. I thought his parents would hate me, my parents would hate me, my friends would hate me, and that generally everyone would think of me as a slut if they knew the truth.
So I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell anyone for 5 years after the abuse ended. When we broke up, we started being “friends” and I fell into the deep abyss of anorexia. The whole trauma which set this into motion was essentially erased, my hurt abused self was replaced by a frail skeletal figure, drifting though the halls of our high school, detached from everyone. In order to make the abuse disappear, I tried to disappear. I almost succeeded.
5 years later when I met my ex-husband, I fell into the same patterns. I convinced myself it was my fault. It was my issue that I wasn’t comfortable with the sexual stuff. If I tried harder and was less depressed he would change his behaviour. I blamed myself a thousand times more than my abusers every blamed me. I abused myself a thousand times more than all of my abusers combined. This is what trauma does to a young person. By the time I even considered talking about the abuse, I was already caught in a second abusive relationship. I never really had a chance to heal.
It wasn’t my fault. I believe that abusers see vulnerable people like me a mile away. They see us and they target us. They know that we are less likely to fight back. They know they can exploit our tendency to blame ourselves. They know they can build empires of abusive lies on the backs of our low self esteem and desire to please.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know I was uncomfortable. It wasn’t that I didn’t know I wanted the sexual abuse to stop. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize that my boundaries were being pushed past and ignored.
It was that I blamed myself for the transgressions. This was due to a mixture of the abusers gaslighting and confusing me, and my own lack of self confidence and self esteem. My desire to please others was pre-existing and abusers knew they could use it to their advantage.
I didn’t scream or fight back because I believed it was my fault. I felt so much shame, that I didn’t want to create a fuss. I wanted to disappear and be invisible. I turned to anorexia as a coping technique and a way to take up less space. I tried to shrink my guilt and shame. I tried to decrease the dirty feeling, by decreasing the size of my body.
I blamed my body because in my teenage mind, if I didn’t have a body I wouldn’t have been sexually abused.