I went through absolute hell in the psychologically and sexually abusive relationship I was in throughout the majority of my time in sixth form. I became depressed, and eventually suicidal, and have been struggling with my mental health ever since.
No one ever enters into a relationship with an abuser knowing that it is the intent of their partner to abuse and manipulate them later down the line, once the abuser has gained your trust. I was no different. When I first met my boyfriend at the time, I was very naive and still believed that people who claimed to love me really would have my best interests at heart. I was also very accustomed to patriarchal ideals which placed the wants and needs of the boys in my life far, far above my own.
My ex-boyfriend’s behaviour was at unpredictable and erratic. He spoke to me about the ways in which he would hurt himself when drunk to prove his own invincibility: he joked about drinking petrol and carving initials into his skin. He, at first, turned me away from just a couple of my closest friends who he claimed didn’t really care for me; meanwhile, it was with these people that he made the biggest effort to get closer to. But, a mere few weeks into our ‘partnership’, this was just the beginning of the journey into my total isolation from all of my friends and even my family. Critically, without the benefit of a lot of prior experience with boys (platonically or romantically), and with the rose-tinted glasses of a young girl falling in love for the first time, all the red flags I was seeing only looked like flags.
Over the next two years, my ex’s treatment of me worsened dramatically. Although, at times, he showered me with so much affection it felt as if I might drown, this was very heavily interspersed between periods of intense stonewalling. (This is actually a mental manipulation technique that is referred to as “lovebombing”.) Oftentimes there would be no obvious reason behind this, and I would be left second-guessing what I’d said or done to make him freeze me out; other times, it would be my ‘punishment’ for spending time with male friends who my ex believed only wanted to sleep with me, or for spending time with female friends who he’d decided were no good for me. To go against his ‘advice’ was a sign of disrespect and distrust, and the consequences for this were severe. At times, my ex would purposefully induce my panic attacks when in public spaces via physical restrainment, inciting in me a feeling of entrapment and total alone-ness; this only contributed further to my growing sense of helplessness when no stranger would come to my aid. Similarly, he would push me or trip me up while I was walking down flights of stairs, both in public and in private. I still have a scar on my ankle from one occasion when this happened and I got hurt. My lack of external aid solidified the notion that I was the ‘crazy’ one; I had no right to complain about my situation, because my situation was ‘normal’. Even in my home environment I felt trapped: my ex had convinced me that my parents didn’t truly care about me, and that they were demonising him and his family. It was decided that, after school, I would estrange myself from them, and become a mother and perhaps a primary school teacher: these were the only two roles my ex said I was capable of fulfilling.
Sex became a part of the ongoing punishment process. My ex would often touch me sexually and non-consensually in front of his friends when we were at school; again, no one ever said or did anything to help me. This included on the day after one of our peers committed suicide. I had been a wreck all day and as a “distraction”, he’d decided to put his hand up my skirt in front of his friends and attempt to put his fingers inside of me.
He would frequently taunt me unprovoked regarding sex he planned to have with female friends (who I was aware he’d already slept with in the past). He would then belittle me if I got upset: this was, in his eyes, further evidence of my distrust and lack of love for him. When I was sexually assaulted while I pretended to sleep in the bed of my good male friend, my ex refused to help me after I texted him, begging him to call my parents and ask them to come and pick me up. After the assault happened, he claimed it to be my fault, and that I’d betrayed his trust by allowing it to happen.
On a handful of occasions, I was sexually assaulted by my ex himself via forcible sodomy: he only stopped after – on the last of these occasions – I physically retaliated. Consequentially, he got a nosebleed from the shock of my retaliation, bled on me, laughed at the bloody scene, and took photos of me, naked and afraid. (This was not the only instance wherein he took photos of my naked body without my consent: I discovered this when walking with his friend, who referenced an explicit image of me that my ex had sent to him one time.) Even the first time we had sex, which was when I lost my virginity, that was rape. I told him I wasn’t comfortable having sex with him and to go slowly, but he rammed his penis all the way inside me and didn’t stop masturbating into my body after I’d completely frozen until he saw how the blood had totally drained from my face. Again, he leaped up and took photos of the incident. He was practically giddy, exclaiming how my “allowing” him to do that meant I really did love him. This has significantly warped and permanently damaged by relationship with sex and love and I can no longer have sex with anyone new without feeling immensely dirty and disgusting for the next couple of weeks afterwards – as if everyone knows how tainted I am. When I expressed my anger at the situation at the time, my ex mocked me and retold the event to all the boys in school as a “funny story”, which I was then expected to laugh along with.
I’d like to emphasise at this point that this was all treatment I believed I deserved at the time; I was certainly miserable, but I genuinely believed that I was being treated well. It’s all too easy to ask: “Why doesn’t he/she leave him/her?” when you’re not the person at the centre of the abuse. When you’re in the eye of the hurricane, it feels quiet. As far as I was concerned at the time, my ex loved me more than anything in the world, and I loved him: why would the person who loves you the most ever want to hurt you? It’s a very long and confusing process recognising abuse for what it is. For me, it took months after the relationship ended to realise that it had been abusive at all. I just thought I was unhappy. When you start to see abuse for what it is, it’s very natural to turn the blame towards yourself at first: Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? What is it about me that means that there’s an invisible target tattooed onto MY back? The thing is, abuse of this nature is so rarely a reflection of your character: it’s a reflection of your abuser’s. And it’s a reflection of the environment that created them.
Although I’ve come a long way in terms of recognising the abusive nature of my past situation, sadly for me, the resulting trauma does still significantly permeate my life: perhaps most prominently via my symptoms of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m hypervigilant and largely untrusting in my relationships: when with friends and when meeting new people especially, I’m constantly analysing ways in which they could possibly be trying to psychologically hurt me. I struggle periodically with feelings of emptiness and monitoring my emotions, and enormously with feeling permanently damaged – as if no one will ever truly be able to understand me or what I’ve been through. I fear that I may never be able to function in a way that makes people feel comfortable again. During my first semester of university, I spent most of it in states of dissociation and derealisation; nothing felt real, and I would frequently break down and call my then-boyfriend at the time out of fear of arising suicidal thoughts. As a result, I lost a significant amount of weight, and eventually also that relationship in attempts at self-flagellation: I didn’t believe I was worthy of the nutrition, nurture and love I was getting. I obsess over faults and mistakes I make: it’s as though an ex-like presence follows me through my interactions and undertakings of projects, awaiting the chance to invalidate any and all of my efforts, if and when I fail to attain perfection.
In addition to this, I still deal with suicidal cycles that are a direct result of my two years of very intense trauma experienced at KEGS. Even on my good days, I wonder what my chances are of making it to old age. Therapy helps, but therapy can only try to provide healthy coping mechanisms for the abuse I have endured. It can’t burn away the scars that will stay for me for the whole rest of my life.
I wasn’t wrong when I met my ex: he really is as fiercely intelligent as he is very damaged. School failed both of us. I should have been far better protected from this behaviour and been educated enough on sex and relationships to know that what I was experiencing did certainly constitute rape and abuse. His conceptions regarding what an acceptable relationship should have been ironed out of him by means of open discussion surrounding consent and relationships long ago.
As long as KEGS fails to address my experience and so many other similar ones, the school will continue to farm out broken individuals: ones incapable of forming real connections and ones incapable of experiencing healthy love.