(TW: The first part of this post talks about the word victim, the second is a personal recollection of a non-contact abuse situation. A second TW will follow before the second half.)
Abuse in general can be hard to sort out.
I remember a friend who was experiencing domestic abuse, the physical and verbal kinds, denying what it was and downplaying it to the point where even I bought the story that friend kept telling, that it wasn’t *really* abuse because she wasn’t *really* a victim. But, it was, and she was victimized.
Really, I felt (feel?) the same sort of denial about my experiences, except they’re even harder to sort out.
Honestly, I’d like a different word than “victim” when it comes to this experience, because I feel like I’m just a person with an experience, a negative and unfortunate experience. Though I suppose I, thinking technically and realistically, was a victim (am? I’m never sure about the grammar).
Perhaps that lack of wanting attachment to the term is a product of hearing the cruddy narratives on victims our society pushes, which talk about victims as if they’re not people, with lives outside their experience, with hopes, dreams, desires, and passions, all their own. That they can have parts of their life which are unimpacted by their experience.
Also that to be a victim there isn’t really a bar you measure up to which says “you must be this traumatized to count”.
My brain thinks there is a bar though, and as though to call myself a victim would insult victims; I felt like my experience just isn’t “bad enough to matter”, or I feel rather, since it’s still where I’m at emotionally.
Also because my life wasn’t entirely torn apart by it (though it was affected negatively in a lot of ways) it feels like putting my experience in the same category as other systemic abuses is kind of… I don’t know, to use a cooking simile: I feel like I’m the water that would be a poor and tasteless way to thin a cream soup.
I want to write a more general post on our preconceptions of victims, and our misconceptions of the varieties of abuse, but this is not that post, so I’m going to stop rambling about it now.
The rest of this post will be a personal one on my experience with non-contact abuse.
The rest of this post, will also be rather hard to write. I guess I’ll just do my best.
So TRIGGER WARNING! If you are triggered by discussions of youths in the context of abuse, I’d suggest you tred carefully or skip the rest. If you are bothered by discussions of abuse which discuss sexual themes, likewise tread carefully or skip this post. If you are bothered by discussions that include talk about depression and suicide, be advised that is also a part of this post.
So now that having read my trigger warning has given you a whole bunch of hints at the aspects of this, I’ll just say I was 13 and since this is a case of non-contact abuse I wasn’t touched physically or harmed physically, nor did I harm myself within the confines of this situation. I was very depressed though, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
So the context is very important in this situation, because it lets you know what my mental state was like, and also why this situation was unpleasant, and even frightening, beyond just it’s direct impact.
So, when I was 12, I was deemed old enough to go visiting people by myself, and this included going for a week to see a family friend in our neighboring country, the states. That first visit went splendidly to the best of my recollection at this point, and a second slightly longer visit was planned for the following year. The family friend was a man close to my parents, and about a decade younger than them. I believe he was 31 at the time this happened.
Two months before I was due to leave, a friend of mine died of her own will, at the time I considered her my best friend; we talked on the phone most nights and hung out every school day, we had a lot in common, including our depression.
It hit me very hard.
My grief engulfed me, and my depression found new depths of despair. I felt guilty, and sorry, and culpable for her loss.
To be truthful that loss seemed to so far out-shadowed the brief abuse that my negative emotions about the abuse were utterly lost in the other negative emotions I was wading hip-deep in at the time. It’s possible it may have made the loss all that much worse, but it’s frankly really hard to know because I can’t compare me with it and me without it side by side.
So I’m 13, shook harshly by grief, and honestly I strongly considered canceling on the plans because of just how cruddy I felt, but my parents convinced me that a vacation from thing would be helpful so I got on the plane by myself, a mixture of trepidation, excitement, and sadness, and went to try and have fun. The first few days were in fact quite fun.
I don’t know how to approach this, if I should like just stick to points of things that happened or try to tell it like a story. I’m frankly not sure so this may be a mismashmangle.
So I’m a very inquisitive person, and in general I love having conversations about everything, so I didn’t mind talking to him about lots of things. Which included human workings. Which includes sexuality. I have always found human sexuality to be an interesting topic, and my parents always kept an open dialogue about it so I wasn’t super shy talking about it.
It happens that I don’t have a good sense of boundaries, and am compulsively honest, which means that I’ll answer any question, about almost any topic, especially if it’s asked of me directly, and this was all even more true when I was 13.
Which led to us discussing some questionably appropriate topics like, my opinions on his ex-wife’s choice to phone him(the man I was staying with) and give details about her current sex life with her new beau, what I thought about expectations (especially of sex) in relationships, and if I masturbated. We of course talked about lots of other things, but these are the ones which were probably illsuited to discussing with a 13 year old. Notably also one who has some aversions to personally-oriented questions about sex, but I hadn’t known how to express that back then, and blamed myself for being weird…
So I answered all his questions, and only the last one I remember feeling awkward about. I said I did not (which was the truth). He found that odd, and though I can’t remember the specifics of the conversation he seemed to suggest that it’s normal (which it is for many people, but not all) and that many people do so (er, yes that’s true) and that many people start around my age so it’s nothing to be ashamed of (which is also true, and I knew that my mother had mentioned that of herself.) and that he did regularly. (Which, whatever, I guess?)
It wasn’t a conversation that posed concerns for me, it was relatively comfortable even if a little personal, but it does represent the first pushing in the direction of sexual themes.
A few more times the topic of masturbation came up, and at least twice he encouraged me to try it. He offered me the bedroom with the lock to do so if I wished, his room, I declined and found it only mildly unsettling. It wasn’t like he was trying to press me for any kind of touching of him after all, and so 13 year old me determined a line hadn’t been crossed.
Evenings were spent watching shows after day time outings to lots of cool places. I have a general trust that people share their likes ‘in good faith’ and so that includes in the quality of shows they like. We watched a whole bunch of varieties of shows, especially lots of animes because he happened to really enjoy them just as I did. Many of the things we watched had cute love stories, very allo oriented a lot of the time with sex references a plenty, but some of them had very distinctly sexual themes which were quite overt, and as he owned quite a few of them, they were on the rack for selection.
We’d talk about which shows to watch, so it wasn’t entirely out of my hands, but the back covers never really gave an accurate depiction of what the content was actually going to be they focused on the basic story lines, which were often either love stories or dramas. He didn’t seem to be discerning, so we watched whatever, including some which were basically soft core porn with some nudity and a lot of sexual situations but nothing super-explicit. Most of the things we watched were ecchi, but there was stuff that was definitely beyond cute ecchi things.
I’d seen shows with nudity before, but I avoided it and sexually oriented shows, both because I was young, but also frankly because I can’t recall a time I wasn’t averse to strong sex-themes, and this situation may have encouraged that discomfort to develop further.
The situation was kind of weird for me, of course partly because I was in an unfamiliar place, but also because the only tv in the house was in the bedroom, so naturally that’s where we’d watch shows. I felt very awkward any time he asked me what I thought of the show, and sometimes I’d ask about something in it only to learn it was more implied sex stuff which was also quite awkward.
I was uncomfortable with some of the content, namely the sexual stuff, but I didn’t feel like I could really complain, especially the times I’d picked it myself, I brushed off each pick like a gambler does a bad spin on a roulette wheel. I didn’t yet feel a line had been crossed.
So I didn’t have a bedroom of my own while staying at his place, but that wasn’t really concerning as I had the alcove of the living-room, and was able to feel some modicum of privacy because of the position of the computer desk, also he’d close his door at night and since the bathroom had an access both through his closet and from the hall he told me he didn’t need to open it til morning so I’d have some space.
Just in case you forgot, I was feeling bloody miserable because of the loss of my friend, and though I was enjoying myself during the daytime and trying to put my grief aside, I was always hit hard by it when I tried to go to sleep. A few of the nights I’d cried myself to sleep. I wrote in the journal I’d taken along, and one of the things I’d written in it were the names of my friends, to try to remind myself that there are good things in my life. But also wrote about all the bad qualities I thought I had, and did a lot of self depreciating.
I’m an insomniac, that’s always been true, so sometimes I’d have a really hard time falling asleep, and I am generally a light sleeper. Unless I was completely exhausted, such as from crying myself to sleep, I’d usually wake up at the mere sound of feet moving nearby. I think this was a cry myself to sleep night.
I didn’t wake until I saw the light, it was a mistake to use a light, but really it was a mistake to do this at all. He peeped at me when I was sleeping, but ‘peeped’ makes it sound more innocent, let me put it blatantly: He had lifted up my sheets and blanket to look at my bare legs, and genitals, which I was suddenly self conscious of probably not being covered entirely by my nighty.
As I woke I was confused, confused by the situation especially, I considered my options, and decided on asking him what he was doing. He immediately moved away from me, and at this point I definitively remember feeling a line was crossed: He lied.
I suddenly felt profoundly unsafe and awful. I actually genuinely might have been able to brush even his invading my personal space to look at me in an inappropriate way, while I was helpless and sleeping, except that he lied about it.
Lying is something I dislike to the core of my being, I have a visceral negative reaction to lying which I why I avoid lying myself, and from others there is that same negative feeling but also the deep sense of betrayal.
I won’t tell you the lie he gave because it’s triggering to hear it, and I don’t want to give anyone but people I deeply trust that kind of power over me. It’s bad enough that people could say it by accident. But it was not a smooth lie.
He went back to bed, and I put on pajama pants and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
Visiting people in other countries poses unique problems, because you don’t know where anything is, but that includes not knowing where or how to get help should you suddenly need it. 911 is the number for emergencies in both Canada and the States, and I could even have looked up the non-emergency line on the computer I had access to.
Something had happened, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth calling anyone over. I wasn’t sure if I needed to, or should, tell anyone at all.
I got up and wrote in my journal, next to each of my friends names I wrote a reason why they might hate me, and about how useless and unimportant I felt. I felt not just grieved but like I wasn’t sure I wanted to be alive.
The rest of the journal doesn’t have this tone, so I am pretty sure the sudden wave of suicidal ideation came straight from my stress and fear and discomfort with that situation.
I can’t remember if it was the morning or the evening the next day, but I pressed to go home. I said that losing my friend had just been too hard on me, and that I felt like I needed to be with my parents. I was telling the truth, but omitting a serious source of fear and distrust, even from my own thoughts.
When I called my parents they tried to convince me out of it, but I cried and insisted I needed to come home I was too depressed and not doing well.
He agreed to pay extra to bump up my flight so I could go home early the next day. I was relieved, and thanked him. Although it was really like thanking someone for releasing you from the awkward and unpleasant situation they have caused.
In retrospect I guess he must have felt I transparently was trying to escape from the thing with him, and though that was part of it, the truth is that I had just barely been clinging to feeling okay to begin with, and his actions opened the waiting can of worms which I’d been keeping a lid on. When I could no longer feel safe the chance to relax ended, and feeling even slightly happy however briefly flew out the window along with it. The flood gates were open again to all my prior sorrows, which overwhelmed me even more completely than they had before, and had their weight added to by the situation.
When I get triggered I go back to that place emotionally. That dark place I was at, as a little 13 year old who had just lost her best-friend, hated herself, was in a foreign country far from home, with no place to run, and no one safe to talk to, having just had someone cross a boundary which left her feeling nauseated from anxiety, confused and angry at having her trust broken by someone not even having the decency to tell the truth about their actions, desperately wanting a way to fix things while not thinking they can be fixed. It’s profound helplessness with a hefty dose of depression and fear.
When I get triggered I feel suicidal all over again, even if it’s quite out of place with everything else I feel and think prior to feeling triggered.
It took me years to realize that’s why I felt inexplicably suicidal and all those other awful sensations just all of a sudden when something tripped me up. I didn’t know what it was relating back to, but when I think about where I was emotionally then, it makes sense. It makes an awful kind of perfect sense. (Though there isn’t such a thing as perfect, except conceptually, but forgive me my little pedantry on that.)
For the ace readers who are interested in the sex-aversion aspect: I would have to say that the same things that trigger aversion sometimes trigger me about this as well. The two seem to be tied. It’s not always the same, but it’s very hard to pull them apart, and many things it could be either or both. Something like game of thrones for instance can make me want to hide in the bathroom and not come out at times. It’s why porn is out of the question.
It’s why I’m only okay with discussions of sex that are more ‘clinical’, but I’m careful to shut out all my own emotions when discussing the topic, because if I think of how I feel about it, it’s not good. It’s why flirting can sometimes make me have that same on edge sensation of ‘this is about to cross a line and make me feel awful’ rather than ‘this is fun’.
I’m 26 now, double the age I was when it happened, and I still don’t know how to process it.
I don’t hate the person who did it, I think he made a profound mistake, one that impacted me in ways he clearly wasn’t considering. I still don’t feel like I’m exactly a victim, but I am scarred, I am someone who had something happen which impacted them profoundly negatively. I do think it was abuse, though I think that it wasn’t done with malicious intent.
And I also think that the lack of malicious intent doesn’t matter, in point of fact it still impacted me really poorly, and I’m the one who has to live with that, despite the fact I don’t want it to be a big deal my brain reacts of its own accord remembering that shitty situation, and that sucks. It’s going to keep being sucky for an indeterminate amount of time because that visceral association and reaction, in the form of being triggered, is not something I get to choose. (If I did, I’d pick not to react.)
My parents don’t know, and their friend cut of contact of his own accord afterwards. My parents blamed me for that, thinking it might have to do with my demanding to come back early, and I likewise blamed myself for not sticking things out no matter how much cognitive dissonance that blame created as my brain screamed ‘You couldn’t have stayed!”
Perhaps he felt guilty?(I think, frankly, that he should!) I don’t have a means of knowing what he felt. Even when I talked to him on the phone after the fact I don’t recall him ever having brought it up, and I know I didn’t.
Maybe he cut off contact just didn’t want to deal with the fallout if I told someone? Impossible to guess, too many options.
I don’t know if putting this out there will help anyone to understand the ways in which even non-contact sexual abuse can be truly scarring, but perhaps it will. I hope so.
It’s still something I feel awkward about, something I’m still not sure how to feel about really, and though I’m putting it out here on my blog, in person I’ve only ever told two people about this.
My nervousness about posting this is outweighed by the hope that breaking my silence will make someone else feel better about their own situation.
One request: Please, please, please, be nice to anyone who bears their heart about a trauma. It’s scary to do.