Disclaimer: I want to respect those that might be triggered by particular subjects and say upfront that this post covers the topics of sexual assault and abusive relationships.
Big news since last I wrote…
In four days I move to Florida. This fresh start has been years in the making. I can’t even count all the failed attempts at leaving I’ve made, all of which brought me back to Nashville. So many times I lacked the courage to permanently leave behind what was flawed, but familiar. My life so far has felt very effortful as I try and try and try harder to erase, rewrite the story and move on from one thing or another. “Fresh Start” is a phrase that I attached to multiple new jobs, new living spaces, new boyfriends, new friends, new artistic projects… but I never got what I wanted for very long. I realized on the plane back to Nashville after visiting my parents for Christmas, that the only way to truly get the fresh start I want and deserve is a proper, permanent change of scenery. I’ve been stuck in the yearning-for-a-new-adventure mode for too long without taking any action. I’m the last remaining D’Arco in Nashville– this place that, for my family, was always intended as a “for now” dwelling spot. With my brother living in Japan and my parents recently relocating to Florida, I just thought, “Why am I still here?”. So I had the idea, it manifested into a burning desire, it transformed into a fervent prayer, and now in a few short days, reinventing my life in the sunshine state will be my reality. I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be back in Tennessee, but I’m completely okay with that.
As I sit in my nearly empty apartment and write, there are boxes piled high in all directions. The art has been taken off the walls, the clothes are in suitcases and the memories of the last six months spent in my first-ever apartment now live in photo-form inside an app on my phone. It would appear that I’m completely ready to go, but before I turn the page on the fifteen years of my life spent in Nashville, I need to put something to bed. There is a memory that has haunted me for years… a memory that has impacted many of my decisions when it came to relationships, a memory that has many times attempted to soil my self confidence, and a memory that I need to leave 600 miles behind me when I start my new life in Florida. The memory begins like this…
I don’t know what time it is, but I’m unimaginably tired. I’m wearing some ridiculous costume that makes me feel uncomfortable, as if I’m wearing some else’s skin. I don’t dress like this. I’m holding a cup of I don’t know what– something sickeningly sweet with an intense kick of foreign, forbidden and wrong. I don’t act like this. The music is loud, the tv is blaring, this place is a mess with abandon cups and snacks littering the floor. Everyone is talking all at once as if they aren’t really listening and responding to the same conversation. A group of people are shouting annoyingly over a game of beer pong. I don’t want to be here. I feel dizzy and I turn to my friend who has fallen asleep on the couch. This is probably the second time I’ve tasted alcohol and I don’t like it. This is probably the second full month I’ve been dating my current boyfriend and I’m not sure if this is what love is. I remember him asking me if I want to go upstairs. I felt dizzy as I walked up the stairs. I’m pretty sure I tripped. I remember thinking, “I want to go to bed”.
When I woke up I remember blood. Blood soaking through the sheets, blood in the toilet, blood dripping down my leg and onto the white tiled floor of his bathroom. I remember pain– excruciating pain. I remember thinking “no, no, no, no, no, no” when I realized, disoriented and alone at perhaps 4 in the morning, where the blood was coming from. I don’t know why I forgot. I don’t know what I forgot. My boyfriend was completely passed out in bed, my friend was still asleep on the couch downstairs and the rest had left. I thought about waking up my friend, I thought about driving home, but I simply stepped into the shower, and sat in the tub until the scolding water ran cold. I didn’t feel like it was my body that I was inhabiting as I tried–but couldn’t–to cry. Eventually I turned off the water, dried myself, and went back to bed.
When I woke up I got dressed and brushed my teeth. I didn’t know what else to do other than go to school like normal and I had an 8am Movement class that I couldn’t afford to miss. My boyfriend woke up and complained about a headache. He kissed me and said something to the effect of, “last night was fun, right?” He said he loved me. He said it was so “us” for our first time to be unplanned and spontaneous. When I got to movement class, the friend who had fallen asleep on the couch asked me how the rest of the party was. In that moment I chose to rewrite the story. I told her a tale of a girl who was giddy with love and the excitement of exploring new territory. I stood there, looking her in the eyes and told her with a mischievous smile that made me feel unrecognizable, about how happy I was… all while the pain from the previous night continued to secretly sting. As my friend went on to push me for details that I couldn’t give for lack of memory, I considered backtracking and telling her the truth. But then a few facts rang loud and clear in my head:
Fact: I was 20 years old and the night before I had been intoxicated.
Fact: My boyfriend was the son of the Chair of our university’s theatre department.
I had already transferred schools once and I didn’t want to transfer again. I didn’t want to be ostracized from the theatre department, which was my world. I didn’t want to tell anyone that could potentially help me because sex was bad and I was stupid. I knew that if I told someone of authority, I would also have to admit that I was drinking and at a private Christian university, I thought maybe that was enough to get me kicked out of school. My boyfriend’s mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer not even a month ago… he had also recently been prescribed medication for bipolar disorder… how could I leave him?
Fact: I felt stuck.
So, I fabricated the details for my friend and I spun a web of lies– a web that I wouldn’t see myself out of for two and a half more years when we eventually broke up. (For more details on this, read my post, Mind Monsters)
I’ve given away so much in my life— from letting go of old clothes and used books at garage sales to letting go of my identity to better fit into someone else’s life. I’ve given away a lot and sometimes I still miss those things. I’ll turn my closet inside out looking for a pair of shoes that would be perfect for my outfit of the day and then it hits me— “oh, I took that to Goodwill a year ago”. For a time, I went through an obsessive phase of giving stuff away in order to make me feel light and burden-free. With only two suitcases worth of possessions, I was unencumbered and could go anywhere I wanted with a moment’s notice. I regret a lot of those things I gave away. I especially regretted one very precious thing, but after years of managing excruciating shame, I’m finally able to acknowledge that the thing I most regretted “giving away” at that Halloween party seven years ago wasn’t surrendered by choice, but stolen.
If we’re being honest, I did want it to happen… just not like that. I was waiting. I wasn’t religious at the time so I didn’t exactly know what I was waiting for or why. I just thought I would feel in love. I thought that it would be a magical, unifying experience unlike anything I had ever felt before. I wanted candles and flowers and sweet whispers. I wanted sensitivity and caution and gentleness. I wanted to be sure, but mostly I would have settled for having remembered.
I’m not the first to think that what happened was my fault. I’m not the first to say that I felt trapped into silence because I felt I would be punished or not believed if I told the truth. I’m definitely not the first to live in a state of denial and refuse to accept victimhood. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of undergraduate females and 5.4 percent of undergraduate males experience rape or sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. But even with the knowledge that I wasn’t alone, when the realization of what happened came tumbling down, I chose to ignore the facts and rewrite my own fiction. I told myself I deserved it because I guarded myself so carelessly—so carelessly that what was stolen could be taken with eyes closed. I told myself that because this person was my boyfriend, that he loved me… who would ever believe that he would hurt me? When I woke up every morning after, I told myself that I wasn’t a victim. I was just a normal girl and I was in a normal, healthy relationship. My 20-year-old brain simply could not see a way out other than to pretend.
Looking back, I wish I had said something. I wish I had told my parents, the Dean, the police… I wish I had known that I had options and that what happened was not normal, it was not okay and I didn’t have to accept it. When I was finally able to label my experience as that ugly R-word that I hate to say, I completely and utterly hated myself for staying silent. The weight of self-hatred I carried was so unbearably heavy that I tried to shove some of it onto the shoulders of new boyfriends. Needless to say, that tactic did not serve me well…
It’s been seven years and I’ve only just recently started to lean into grace and felt equipped enough to forgive. And let me be straight with you– when I say “forgive”, I mean forgive myself for not coming forward with the truth at a time when something could have been done. Even as a Christian who will admit that it is by God’s glory and unfaltering love alone that I’m brave enough to share this story with you, I cannot and will not forgive my college boyfriend. I understand that withholding forgiveness is not “the Christian thing to do”, but I simply can’t do it. God has proven to me time and time again that even in the depths of my self-hatred and despair, that He IS good– that His plans for me are beyond my wildest dreams. If He can change my life and make this dream of moving to Florida a reality, I know He can do other seemingly impossible things too. So, maybe. Maybe there will come a day when I can forgive the one who hurt me. But as it stands today, I’m not going to lie to you and say that I feel guilty about not extending that particular olive branch.
With this new chapter in my life I want to be honest. I’m tired of hiding this ugly side of my history that has, like a domino effect, led me to make so many decisions that were unhealthy attempts at healing. The time for change is on the horizon. As Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance says, “No one wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They only want to show you what they’ve become”. Well, I want to show you my “becoming” and this is part of it. This experience scarred me whether I want to admit it or not, but this experience will no longer impact who I will become. Starting Thursday when I drive towards Florida with the sun setting on Nashville, starting today when I finish editing and click publish… starting now.
When I wake up tomorrow, this will be left behind.
If you or someone you love is suffering from an abusive relationship, here are some helpful resources… You are loved and you are not alone.