Trigger warning: This post discusses sexual abuse in detail under the cut.
On Wednesday I had my first appointment with a new counselor. It was by telephone as last time I used italk (UK NHS counseling service) I ended up having trouble fitting my appointments around my counselor’s available hours and my work timetable. So far I already feel confident that I can trust her. But because it was a session where she had to get to know more about me, something happened that I wasn’t expecting. She asked me ‘has anyone ever…hurt you?’ And the way she said it, I knew what she meant. I felt a sudden overwhelmed feeling. But I said yes, and gave a short explanation about R sexually abusing me. I’ve never told any of my previous counselors about this, but then again none of them directly asked me that question.
So, that wasn’t in itself a bad thing, even if it made me emotional and it was awkward and I was on some level worried that I did something wrong (this is a common theme for me when talking about any of the times I was sexually abused tho, so normal for me). But the fact that I was already emotionally raw about R made what happened that afternoon more affecting. I’m moving out of my parent’s house in a few weeks to a tiny room in a shared flat so I’m doing a lot of tidying on my days off, throwing things away and generally dealing with the fact that in the past I never wanted to get rid of anything, I haven’t cleaned in several years and I haven’t tidied in about a year. Wednesday afternoon I was tidying my safe box (actually a briefcase with a combination lock) where I keep important things like passport and cheque book, not-so-important things that I still feel like I shouldn’t get rid of like bank statements from several years ago, payslips from jobs years ago, and also private things and things I want to keep like old diaries, handwritten letters and cards. Basically I was sorting it all and getting rid of a good deal of it, but the letters and cards kept coming up. A lot of it was lovely, and very special to me. I have letters from my deceased Grandparents, a card signed by everyone from a job I had years ago, a card from an old school friend, all the letters my sister wrote me when she was studying abroad, and the letters my best friend from college wrote to me after he left our city to start a new life. I don’t have many friendships any more that are working, and I have very low confidence in my social life, so these things made me very happy.
But the were a couple of things I never realised I kept, which were letters from R. A couple were worthless and went straight in the bin, torn up. Not because they were offensive in some way but because they were just inane. Our friendship was very inane a lot of the time. I was just as bad. No, the upsetting ones I wanted to keep. As evidence to myself that this shit really was bad.
One of them, which must have been sent after we had a falling out because he was treating me badly, said this: ‘I am irrational and I have absolutely no control over my emotions I am too proud to admit I was wrong’.
Hmmm, absolutely no control over your emotions eh? Not just sometimes, not just some lack of control, but absolutely none. That’s a lot of no control! And obviously not true. Ok, this one is just annoying really. I kept it because it’s such a perfect reminder of everything that was wrong with our farce of a friendship.
There was another letter written years after we sort of started to make contact again, in I think January 2013. I’ll probably write about it in another post, there’s nothing in it that’s inherently upsetting but it’s very hard to deal with for me and I’ll explain why some time.
The third one is the worst. It’s not really a letter, it seems to be a piece of paper we were using to talk to each other by writing on it. It says ‘[Moss] can I ask you a question? Do you luv me? Do you want me? Do you like what I do to you?’
We must have been 15 (me) and 14 (him) at the time. He was already touching me sexually, even though I said no. And by the way, I can’t actually remember doing what all the books said to do. I had read a lot of books about being a teenager that my mum got me and a lot talked about what to do if someone tries to sexually assault you. The problem was they were all about an older man who approaches you and does creepy things. None of them talked about sexual abuse among peers. (Though the books did say you will probably know the creepy man in some way, which is statistically correct, and one did say it could sometimes be a woman doing this. So I guess not a total dead loss but still crap.) The books said to say no, keep saying no, and say no with your whole body by going tense. And they didn’t even need to spell this one out but get out of the situation as swiftly and safely as possible.
Combine that with messages about sex in the same books (the question of whether to have sex with your boyfriend that you will definitely have will come up one day! In the future, far away! Make sure you’re ready!) and Christian messages I had going on as well (no sexual things before marriage, not even sexual fantasies about a celebrity, yes that means you have to fantasise about marriage even though you’re a kid who doesn’t give a shit about marriage because you’re too young and you just want to dream about sex with the hot lead singer!) and I was well and truly messed up and confused. Nothing, and I mean nothing, not even the fact that R and I talked about sex all the time, could have prepared me for the fact that my best friend would start fingering me unexpectedly. Did I say no, keep saying no, and say no with the whole body? Well, I probably did say no. I can’t remember, I really can’t. But I didn’t do any of the other stuff. You see, when the person is already emotionally abusing you, and when your no is simply ignored, then you start just going with it in case you upset them and have to deal with the fallout. You see, I could have left at any time. This wasn’t a violent situation. I could have done the thing you’re supposed to do with creepy older men. But you would have to understand something: even before the sexual abuse I never, ever left R’s house before he was done hanging out with me. The emotional fallout would have been too great and was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. This was no exception. So to distract myself from being subjected to unwanted sexual touching, I grabbed a book from R’s bookcase and tried to read it.
That’s the image I bring up, when I’m not sure if I showed that I said no clearly enough, that I really didn’t want to. The image of me reading a shitty parody of Harry Potter to try and be distracted from what was going on. Later, when I was clear that this was not going to be a one off, I tried to get R to listen to me. I said ‘Look but don’t touch!’ And the idea was that I would say ‘LBDT!’ when R showed signs of wanting to touch me. Guess what, it didn’t fucking work. In the end I gave up. And I know I gave up, because the next line of the letter is written by me. It’s the answer to the question if I liked what R did. It says ‘???? I don’t know. It’s OK.’ And later ‘I have to admit I do sorta like it!?! :)’ And after I tell R I’m just confused he writes ‘don’t worry I’ll always be here for you in every way! ;)’
I feel so gross. Time to lock these decade-old letters away once again, only keeping them as some sort of accountability for R, a reminder that this really did happen. Until next time, this is a message to all the young people who weren’t sure they communicated their lack of consent properly:
First of all, I love you, very much. Secondly, I’m sorry our world communicates consent to teens so badly so even though it wasn’t your fault you still feel like you should have done something differently and it would never have happened. Thirdly, to everyone who enjoyed a non-consensual encounter, who told their abuser they liked it to stay safe, who doesn’t have the clear cut survivor story that non survivors want to hear- my heart goes out to you, every day. Every single day.