Content Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and abuse and may not be suitable for all readers.
How the end of my abusive relationship has helped me change my internal narrative.
On July 13th, 2017 myself, my then boyfriend, and his friends went to an outdoor concert. He was upset with me. I was feeling anxious and tried to express that to him, but that just made him more angry. He pulled me aside out of the crowd, in public, surrounded by people at the outdoor festival enjoying the music. He eventually got my back up against a wall and began screaming at me. I wasn’t saying anything other than “please, stop, I can’t breathe, I need space” – I was having a panic attack. He got closer and closer. The more I asked for space the closer he came. I was at a point where my hands were in the air, hyperventilating, gazing beyond him as people just stared and watched me pressed up against that wall. He closed his fist and landed a punch on the wall, an inch away from my face. I stood there, frozen.
His friends came up to him, laughing, acting as if they just hadn’t seen him do this to me. They pulled him away as a security guard came up to me asking if I wanted him to be removed from the festival. I said no. I was still in shock. I was staring blankly until my friend came up to me and I collapsed into her arms and let out a cry. I was shaking. This should have been the end for us, but I stayed. I was convinced that somehow, it was my fault.
I had gotten concussed during one of our fights last year. I don’t remember how exactly, but I was drunk and babbling on about something silly. My mom came into my room after she heard the thud and asked him to sleep on the sofa downstairs. All I remember is him storming out of my house and then refusing to tell me where he went for hours after. I ubered around the city for hours, trying to find him and make sure he was alright. I ended up on my Dad’s front steps crying, begging my dad to call him and make sure he was okay. My dad called, and he was fine.
The next day I was terrified. I knew he would hold the previous night against me, and say it was my fault my mom had “kicked him out”. I was right. The way that he phrased the situation made it seem like I put him through hell, and that my actions caused him to wander the streets alone with no regard for his feelings or well-being. At the time, I believed him.
I agreed to do a few things to make up for putting him in that position – one of them being Dry January. One night I caved and had a beer… with him. It seemed fine in the moment and we actually had a really nice night together. But then, weeks later, it was brought up as an example of me not being able to follow through with things. This was simply not true. I know that now. But this was the beginning of another negative narrative in my head controlled by him.
Because of my concussion I couldn’t work out, couldn’t attend classes, I was tired all the time, and my motivation was gone. He would encourage me to stay active and would get mad when I didn’t. He would tell me it all related back to my inability to make changes in my life. I would try so hard to explain how I was feeling, but I never felt like I was being heard. No reason that I had was ever valid enough for him to see my perspective. This negative narrative continued, and still continues on today, even after the relationship had come to an end. Any time I start something that I can’t finish, no matter what the reason, I feel like I’m proving him right.
I know what consensual sex feels like. Unfortunately, I also know what non-consensual sex feels like. Most of the time, sex with him felt like something in the middle. An obligation, something that was expected as often as possible no matter what mood I may be in or what else I had on my plate… If it wasn’t given, he was upset.
I thought it would be best to open up to him at that point. I shared that I had been sexually assaulted during my second year here at Queen’s, and that comfort during sex had become really important to me. That feeling of being violated sat with me for a while and it still does every now and then. He seemed to understand, but I would be taunted with phrases like “well I guess I’ll just have to be some sexually frustrated 21 year old” whenever I wasn’t in the mood. It’s frustrating thinking back on these moments, because it’s clear that I was not being respected, but for some reason, in those moments I just couldn’t walk away.
Eventually his passive-aggressive comments fed into me, and I truly believed that I was the problem. The level of aggression that he would use when talking about sex only contributed to my lack of desire. It got to a point where I was almost forcing myself to have sex with him just to appease him and to avoid making him upset. The highs and lows of our relationship were so strenuous that I would’ve done anything to keep us in that high when those good moments came, but it seemed like he liked it when I was low. He liked it when I was apologizing for something, anything at all.
Coming out of this relationship, the way I viewed intimacy changed. I didn’t feel comfortable around anybody new. He had judged me so much for the relationships I’d had with men in the past, I truly felt ashamed. I didn’t know how to approach other people and for the longest time, I didn’t want to.
This was a huge indicator that he still had control of my thoughts. He had engrained these things into me that I was what he thought I was. With every person that I met and liked -and had sex with – there was his I told you so in my head. My thoughts surrounding sex were no longer my own. He brought my confidence to such a low point that I couldn’t even look at my own body without feeling disgusted.
This narrative of not being enough when it comes to sex was only heightened when I learned the details of his infidelity.
The discovery of his infidelity only made my insecurities and self-doubt worse. Last spring, we had a really good month. I finally felt like he was understanding where I was coming from. After feeling mistreated for quite some time, it was a relief to see that he was putting his best foot forward and showing, with his actions, that he was ready to do better. I was genuinely happy for the first time in a while.
I remember that initial conversation about him treating me better felt like it was coming out of nowhere. It was as if he woke up and realized that he was treating me horribly. I didn’t question it, but I should have. The month of happiness came to an end when I got a DM on instagram. Not from the girl that he was cheating on me with, but from his ex-girlfriend’s friend. She sent me hundreds of text message conversations between him and a girl that he had been seeing since we dated the first time in high school, a girl who he also cheated on his other ex-girlfriend with. I knew that they had been together, I just didn’t know it was when he was with me.
The conversation I read consisted of him trying to convince her to continue to sleep with him, even when she was trying to end things. How he would speak, with such vulgarity and disrespect, felt like I was being shown a completely different person. It wasn’t so much the vulgarity when they spoke to each-other that got to me, it was how he would speak about me to her. As if I was just a body that wasn’t serving him anymore, not the person who has cared for him so much over the years. The fact that he was trying to convince her to continue this affair into the next year, after a summer that we were planning to move in together, made it clear that I was nothing more than a toy.
After reading those texts and hearing from other women, I found out that there were more than just her. He had a second Snapchat and a collection of naked photos from girls hidden on his phone – something that he continuously shamed me for not giving him. He claimed that my feelings for him and my trust of him were not proven because I didn’t want to send them. It turns out I was right for not wanting to.
I think the most painful truth to come out during all of this was that he was sleeping with my friend’s girlfriend throughout our whole relationship. They met at work, which was funny because I met my friend through work, so when we found out that we were all connected, we went on double dates. On his way into Kingston, he would drop off weed at her house. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but later I found out that’s when he would sleep with her, 30 minutes before coming to my house and trying, sometimes succeeding, to sleep with me. Almost every intimate moment we shared was minutes after he had been intimate with her.
Through all of this, he had reduced me to not just a body, but an undesirable one, one that could be replaced. He needed more than just me to keep himself satisfied. I was not enough, and in my eyes, I never had been for anybody. I have never felt more violated in my life. Knowing that I was treated as nothing more than a body by someone that I loved is something that I still struggle with.
My mind went to a dark place for a while. The thought of being touched by someone made me wince – it would take me back to moments with him. Thinking of intimate moments with him would take me back to that moment in second year. That moment where I had no control. I slowly started becoming numb to it all. This is how I felt the day he punched the wall, and anytime I tried to tell him that he was hurting me.
When we broke up the first time, I remember wishing that he had actually hit me. I know that’s a fucked up thing to say. After all the nights of me crying and not knowing what I did wrong, feeling like everything was my fault, I wished I had something concrete and physical that I could blame him for.
The cheating was something tangible. Finally, something tangible. Every other confrontation I had with him was perception-based; he could manipulate what I perceived into having a different meaning. He could change what I believed to be true. The fights about sex and me not being enough, my motivation, were all something that he could manipulate – something that he could convince me that he didn’t mean or that I took the wrong way, something where he could make me the problem and make me the bad guy. Not with this.
Finding out about the cheating brought me out of my haze and validated all of the feelings that I’d had since high school. It validated all of the thoughts that kept me up at night for the past four years. I was not crazy, I was not selfish. The only thing that it did not reassure me of was that I was enough. I still felt half empty. Logically, I felt like I should’ve been able to rationalize everything now that I had the answer to all of my doubts, it only made my mind spin more. I found myself defending him, coming up with reasons as to why he did the things he did, even continuing to blame myself, feeling like I drove him to the point of acting this way – even though I knew that he didn’t only act this way with me.
One particularly challenging moment came after our relationship had ended when a close friend of his told me that he had never seen him love or care for someone the way that he had for me. In some ways, this was comforting – some of those moments that we had shared together were real. But then, what am I supposed to do with that? If he did love me, why did he love to watch me hurt? Why did I allow myself to be used? Why was he so malicious? Why did he always have to control me? Why didn’t I have the confidence to listen to myself and walk away? Why wasn’t I enough? These are the questions that kept me up at night.
It’s incredibly hard to think about how you can open up to someone who has seen you grow through phases of your life, seen all the challenges you have faced, the highs and the lows, and still proceed to hurt and violate you in such a way that diminishes not only your sense of self, but your entire perception of the relationship that you held so dearly. I remember when I was able to take a step back and look at everything that happened, my heart just sunk for a moment because I could not imagine doing that to him, or to anyone, really. It blew my mind. I don’t know the reason why he did these things, and honestly, I never will.
I needed to learn how to accept the things that I didn’t understand by constantly reminding myself that his actions didn’t have anything to do with me. I spent so much time trying to understand him and his motives, that I didn’t take the time to reconnect with myself. The best way that I was able to reassure and validate myself was by going back to my roots and the things that I lost while being with him. Through that reconnection I was able to regain some confidence and understand what I want and need in my life, and what I don’t.
Of course, it doesn’t all go away once you have these realizations. There are still days where I beat myself up over my flaws and get back to that dark place of feeling used and worthless. Everyone has flaws, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about. It was about differentiating between what negative thoughts were coming from me and what negative thoughts were coming from the experience I went through. Healing takes time and it’s hard work, but at the end of the day, I walked out of this situation learning so much about myself and becoming stronger in ways that I didn’t think I could. I really didn’t want him to be a lesson, but that’s what he was, and there are probably many more to come.