People in damaging relationships often feel a sense of obligation, a fear of what would happen to their significant other if they left. This is what happened to me and to the author of this piece. I'm not yet ready to tell my story, but she is and I'm so grateful for her witness.
Don’t listen to me because you think I have everything together and know exactly what I’m doing.
Don’t listen to me because I know all about relationships or understand how boys’ brains work, or because __.
Listen to me, if you want to, because I’ve been where you’ve been and I’ve felt what you’ve felt, and I’ve made the same mistakes and had the same “that-was-stupid” moments. But now, I recognize it. I’ve been down and I’ve been up and I want to, if I can, help you up. Help you get up, help you stay up, whatever you need at wherever you are.
When I was in high school, I dated a boy and we broke up, like fourteen-year-olds do. A lot. Somehow, for some reason that I don't know and don't want to, really, know or understand, about a year after we broke up he became obsessive, emotionally abusive, manipulative, and volatile. For a while, it messed with my head a lot. I didn't want to be loved, because he'd twisted "love" into this sick and twisted control game; I didn't want to love because he would tell me that the fact I didn't love him made him want to die, and I figured if I loved someone else it would probably happen. I lived with a constant fear that he'd kill himself and it would be "my fault." Everything turned into emotional blackmail. He sat behind me in chemistry and I would find love notes hidden in the inner pockets of my backpack. He would text me, all the time. I had to answer- if I didn’t, I was afraid of what would happen. He would pass me notes in class about how he couldn’t live without me, how if I would just love him he would: want to live again, stop dating middle school girls, not need to do drugs.
I was just scared. I was scared for him, I was scared I didn’t know how to deal with the situation (newsflash: I didn’t), I was afraid that I would do something to set him off, and that he would hurt himself. I wrote a little post-it note that if anything ever happened to me, if I went missing or something, to question him. I didn’t really think he’d do anything to me- I was just terrified he would to himself- but I knew that if anyone in the world did, it would be him. I used to say to myself that I wished he would just hit me, really, just hit me or something that people would be able to see, that would give me a reason to not have to be around him and be afraid of him.
I was fifteen years old and, looking back, a face of abuse. You never would have known it to look at me, but that what was it was, plain and simple.
About 1 in 3 women has been the victim of emotional or psychological abuse. Think of all the women you know- think of how many that is. But it’s silent. Now, after having opened up and being able to talk to people about it, I realize that I’m not the only one. When I was fifteen years old, though, I had no idea what to do or say or where to turn. I felt completely alone. The whole time, no one would ever have been able to guess: when we’re emotionally abused, especially as women, we mask it. Only a very few girl friends knew what was going on, and barely any of them knew the full extent of the problem. I only cried twice, and no one ever saw it. I looked normal, I was normal, and I kept saying to myself: “I’m too normal for this, how can this be happening to me?” Abuse doesn’t care if you’re “normal”- abusers don’t discriminate. It happens, and it happened to me, for some reason, before I could even drive or buy a scratch ticket.
I took all the right steps and did all the right things that my doctor parents had drilled into my head: I told him to get help, I talked to the school counselor, I had a list of hotline numbers in case he ever called me with plans. Even with all that, though, he wouldn’t stop contacting me. I knew I was doing everything I could, but I was still afraid. I couldn’t lose the sense that I was somehow responsible, because “he loved me so much.”
On May 16th of sophomore year, he had a hospital bracelet on and I asked- well texted, part of this headgame was that he couldn't look at me or hear my voice, because "it hurt"- him what it was from, because I was scared, honestly. He said that the night before, he had tried to hang himself.
I left the classroom, punched the wall in the hallway and chipped a tile, and went back and played flute for 40 minutes with a throbbing hand. When I went home I closed the door to my room and screamed my lungs out into a beanbag chair so that no one could hear me. I went into my closet and punched things, absolutely annihilating my walls, only the thick layers of clothes I was hitting into saving the walls- and my knuckles- from cracking and breaking. I was more concerned, really, about the walls. If they were broken I’d have to explain, and if I had to explain I’d have to tell my parents what had happened. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to have to admit that I was a victim, that there were things outside my control, that it had hurt me. I had been terrified the entire time that I would make him hurt himself, that I had that kind of control over him. In a twisted reversal, I didn’t want to admit that the situation I was in had controlled me, that I was hurt.
During my junior year, I tried to not be effected by what had happened. For a while, it seemed doable, not necessarily easy, but possible. And it was. I only had one class with him, but he never looked at me. I started dating a friend of mine, but after about two months I broke up with him because he liked me more than I liked him. Maybe we weren’t a perfect match, but I really did it because I was afraid that he liked me “too much”. I was afraid that if I let someone love or even like me I would end up in the same situation I had before.
I made the decision, consciously, that a lot of people just slip into by accident. I took love out of the equation, and said- on purpose- I do not want to feel. I do not want to think. I don’t want to be needed. Want me, don’t need me. People slide into this a lot; we let a series of small wounds build up and gradually numb ourselves, until one day we realize that we’ve cut ourselves off to feeling and to real, authentic love. I did it all of a sudden and on purpose, our of fear of losing control.
If what had happened to me was love, I said, I’m done. I’m out. Screw that- I didn’t want to risk hurting anyone by having anyone care too much. I decided it was better not to be cared about at all- I turned scared into scarred, really.
May of my junior year, a year after the abuse exploded, I sat myself down and said “I am not thinking about this. I’m not dealing with this. I’m not remembering. I’m not letting this ruin my prom. I will not think.”
Thinking is good. It’s quite important, actually, and now I always make a point to do it. Then, I made a point not to, and had an idiotic three weeks. The thing is, it was a cry for help, but the things I did didn’t seem that abnormal to the people around me in our hookup-happy group; I was the only one who could help myself.
There’s no good name for a period where you’ve actively made a decision not to think. To rephrase that, there is, but nothing I could say in a church. The most appropriate way I can put it is that it was a shit-stupid decision.
On May 8th, after my junior prom, I sat in my friend’s basement as one of two sober people in a party of over thirty and felt eyes on the back of my head every time I spoke to a boy and knew I was being watched.
And I said screw it. I need to not care. Not feel. So the next time the drunk boy I was feeding water to aimed his lips at my face instead of the Acadia bottle I just went with it. Screw it, I would show everyone I was over all that other boy drama. And that’s how I ended up making out with my friend’s date, who I barely knew, on the floor of her basement after junior prom.
The next weekend was a year to the day- May 16th- and I went out with the intention of turning my brain off. I had planned on staying in after that disastrous afterprom, but I got a call that my friend Jake was having a party and I didn’t want to sit at home and be afraid I’d get a horrible text or phone call. I didn’t want to have to think enough to let myself admit I was terrified something would happen again, and after I got there and turned my brain off I didn’t care when the shirtless drunk boy I had never met pulled me into his lap and started kissing me. Whatever. The next morning, when he friended me on Facebook I was surprised that he remembered my last name. I heard a ping and my chat window opened... He wanted to know “how far I would have gone if we were alone”, “just out of curiosity.” I was offended- what would have given him that impression of me? I wouldn’t have, I informed him. I’m not having sex 'til I get married, actually, I said. I don’t think he replied. I sat there wondering if everything I said was true, why then, did I have to be surprised this boy I’d kissed, or let kiss me, knew my last name?
After that, I swore up and down I wouldn’t hook up with anyone the next weekend. When a boy I had known since kindergarten trapped me on the couch and wouldn’t let go of me until I kissed him (literally), I fought him. By that, I mean that he had his arms wrapped around me and I was trying to get away from him, to the point of grabbing my friends as they walked by and begging them to physically remove his arms from my body and walk me away. They laughed it off and thought it was funny- some friends, right? I ended up giving up and just making out with him so he would let me get up and leave.
Looking back on it now, I can see that my fear of losing control of emotions and getting hurt made me put myself in situations completely out of my control, where I could have really been hurt- and I wonder how I could have been so stupid.
I ended up dating the guy who had held me captive on the couch until I kissed him, in a large part because I didn’t want to have three random “d’oh” hookups in a row. Two and a pointless relationship seemed like a much better option. Maybe my motives for dating him weren’t the best, but I do credit him with helping me discover that I wasn’t going for the right kind of guys at all. I was just dating jerks. It wasn’t a horrible relationship or anything like that- he was funny, and we’d always enjoyed having fun, not-very-constructive debates about everything- but it just wasn’t really a relationship, it was basically just an extended hookup with him trying to get me to go further and me saying “no”. I was terrified of hurting someone if they started to love me, and you can’t hurt someone who’s being a jerk, because they don’t care. I had shut myself down from caring, so I didn’t really care if someone else did.
About a month and a half after we started dating, I went to his house late one night after I had just got back from a Steubenville youth conference, a giant, weekend-long teen retreat. I just went by to pick up my forgotten iPod, but when I got there he was having a party so I decided to stay for a while. Everyone else was partying, and I was sitting on the couch with him trying to explain the conference and the amazing faith experience that it is for me every year. He said I sounded brainwashed. I said I had to go, and he tried to kiss me goodbye- I just left.
I drove home from his house, yelling the whole way, finally saying the “screw it” I needed to- screw it to all that ridiculousness, to jerky guys and not caring. I made a list, yelling it out my window and listening to Tenth Avenue North: what had I been doing? “I want a MAN. I want a man, not a boy. I want a man to respect me, to cherish me, to value me and listen to me. I want to be LOVED, not wanted, to be adored and looked at as a pearl of great price. I want honesty and respect and sharing, I want to give my heart and get a heart in return and I want a good, holy, and loving man. I want love, respect, dignity and honor!” All of this, just to remind you, was yelled out the windows of my car while I was driving, windows down, music blaring, the five miles home from his house to mine.
The next night, I called him and dumped him. I would say “broke up”, because it sounds classier, but I really just dumped him. I explained my reasoning, let him say what he wanted, and boom. Just like that, I was single- and glad.
During senior year of high school, I took the time and made the choice to be single. To not date, not make out with some boy at some party, nothing. You can’t know who you are and what you need in relationships with friends, with boys, with anyone, until you take the time to figure that out by yourself. I knew who I was, or at least who I wanted to be. I’m damn stubborn, and I hadn’t ever let anyone change that. I was grounded in my faith- without it, I don’t know how I would have ever got through my sophomore year- and I knew what I should be doing. To the outside, it looked like I never changed. I just had to make who I was inside match who I looked like; I could give my friends advice, I knew all of the theory about respect and love and how women should be treated, and I was someone people came to about it- but no one had any idea of all the stuff I had built up and refused to deal with. Lesson, I guess, to learn from this: you never know who’s hiding some invisible wound. No one ever would have known it, but then, I was.
So, I took the time to rise above the time-wasting I’d been doing and just live for myself, and I learned a lot.
Do I want to be with him, or do I just want to be with somebody? Put the space in there: some body.
When you date someone just to be dating or hook up with someone just to hook up with someone, you reduce him, and yourself, to less than what you are. Some body.
Don’t give yourself away! I didn’t want to matter, to believe I could have any emotional effect on people-I tried to prove that to myself by just kissing anyone who wouldn’t care. I deserve someone who will care, who will know that my kisses have value.
Don’t reduce yourself to something you aren’t. Don’t let a boy, a failure, a bad self-image, a family situation, anything, prevent you from seeing yourself as you are: whole, beautiful, and a daughter of God. You’re not the sum of your mistakes or the things that have been done to you, but the product of all the small moments that we almost forget. You’re the way the sun hits your face when you sit at your favorite thinking spot, the time your little brother said you’re not thaaat bad, the love God had for you on your birthday, and your first communion day, and every day.
Ladies: Why do we tell our history, so often, in boys? That is not the point. That is not the crux and focus of our lives.
When you read the story of that year of two of my life, told in boy, it sounds terrifying. And broken, and disturbed. And yes, in some ways, it was. Now that I can look back on it calmly, I realize more and more how unsafe it really was. But it wasn’t my entire life- we can’t let ourselves be the sum of our lowest moments!
The summer after my sophomore year, I went to Guatemala for the first time and fell in love with the possibility for growth and change I saw there. This summer, I lived there on my own for a month and worked at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
As a junior, I saw a retreat that we had started with thirty people my freshman year grow to over one hundred.
I won a poetry contest, I taught first-grade CCD, I had baby cousins born and went to BabyGap with my mom, I learned to drive, and caught some fish with my dad, and watched my brothers play some hockey.
You know what I did after my senior prom? Stayed up all night at my friend’s afterparty and walked to seven am daily mass after watching the sunrise. My math teacher was extra-surprised to see me that day, that I can say with certainty- he actually did a double-take from the ambo.
These are the moments that shape us, these are the moments that define us, these are the moments we need to tell our lives in. This is why we need to take the time to know ourselves, to love ourselves, and to define ourselves before we can let another know, love, or try to define us. Don’t let men tell you who you are, find yourself in God and let Him tell you who you are. Give up control- even though it’s scary, let yourself open up and be vulnerable- and let God write your love stories.
Someone reading this has been hurt, someone reading this has been abused, someone reading this feels broken. When you are sitting searching for any little bit of strength within your self, and looking at all the pain you have wondering how you can ever draw strength from it, reach out to God. He will not fail you, He will not ignore you. He will show you the strength He has given you, and help you and heal you. God gives you the strength to get through, if you only reach out to Him. You can do all things through God- you are His princess, and He will sustain you and bless you. You are stronger because of Him.
The author is a junior studying in Washington, DC, who prefers to leave her name off of her submission just because she still has relatives at the high school she attended. (But, let's face it, the likelihood of students at the high school hanging out in the Catholic blogosphere are... slim.) She's from a small, one-of-a-kind town near Boston, MA, so she's a Boston sports fan and Boston Bruins fanatic, which happens when you have no sisters, and she spent part of a summer working in the only Guatemalan domestic violence shelter, and will never forget the women and girls who lived there. And by now, anyone reading this bio would know who I am so... Hi, I'm Patty. An estimated 1 in 3 women will be the victim of some kind of physical, emotional, or psychological abuse in her lifetime, and no one here has anything to be ashamed of.