The things I did while in an abusive relationship, (but no really, what the fuck was that, even?)

I’ve been having a resurgence of thoughts about my past experiences of abuse lately, for some reason. I think it is just that my life is at a major turning point right now, and things are unstable, and that is making me reflect on all of the things that have come before.

I am struggling to articulate more complete and cogent thoughts about boundary-setting, and my developmental history around that, and the ways that my experiences of abuse have developed strange coping mechanisms that sometimes work amazingly and other times are the literal worst possible thing I could do.

But for now, I just want to get a story out of my head (again apparently. I realized after writing this version that I already wrote this story down more briefly in this post. I’m going to post this one as well anyway, because it’s already written, and because I hope that seeing that I’ve managed to write the some thing so similarly more than will help remove my generalized sense of unreality from the whole thing. Because it’s something I still don’t really even understand, and I can barely believe happened.)

It’s one of the moments where I first started to admit to myself that this shit was fucked up. It’s a moment where I did something to prove it to myself, even. And it’s surreal as fuck.

[Trigger warning: abuse, rape]

By the time my abuser and I had been dating for a year, I had already given up the ghost. I no longer bothered thinking about whether or not I wanted to have sex with him, let alone what kind of sex *I* might want if we did. When it became clear that was where things were going, I had a solid auto-pilot mode that I could run through the things I knew he wanted, so that I wouldn’t need to actually be present for any of it. I could just vacate my body while he got what I owed him for simply existing in a way that made him want to do those things.

I didn’t even think about it really. It’s just what started happening, all the time. It wasn’t worth it to try and figure out what I wanted, because I had already learned it wasn’t worth it to try and stop what he wanted from happening, anyway.

But there is this thing that I did, I think twice (maybe three times? Definitely not more than that, but definitely more than once), in the middle of him having sex with my body.

I said “No.”

Specifically, I said “no no no no no no no”. I don’t know how many times. Maybe about a dozen times, on each occasion.

I said it without affect, totally dispassionately, without any intention of making him stop. I didn’t move or do anything else different from our usual pattern. Just this inexplicable word, coming out of my mouth. Rhythmic gibberish. Or it might as well have been. He didn’t react at all, just kept at what he was already doing. Nothing changed.

I did it twice. Or three times. Over the course of less than a week, probably. And then I stopped doing it.

It came up at some point, in a conversation/argument about something or other, months later. All he had to say about it was that it had made him ‘uncomfortable’, apparently.

I didn’t say anything about it, really, I don’t think.

I remember deciding to say it. It wasn’t involuntary. I don’t know where the idea even came from. I just remember being vaguely curious about what would happen. And I remember needing to do it again because I didn’t want to believe that the answer was “nothing”. I remember deciding not to do it again, too. Because it was too painful. Because it made it harder to stay outside of my body. Because it threatened my ability to keep a distance from what was happening. Because I was not yet prepared to face up to the reality of that “what was happening”, of what “him having sex with my body” really was.

And I still have trouble calling any of it rape. Somehow I can know it’s important to include the word in the trigger warning without internalizing it as an actual description of my experience.

But these things are real. They actually happened.

And this leaves me with the question I ask myself over and over:

“So what the fuck was that, then?”

I really don’t have any answers, still. But it doesn’t seem to matter as much how I categorize it specifically, as long as I can hold strong to the fact that whatever it was, it was fucked up. It was not ok. And I didn’t deserve it.

And I’ll write it as many times as I have to, I guess.


  1. I’m sure the question was rhetorical, but one word to describe some of that is disassociation (the leaving-yourself thing), which I experience a lot in situations I know I don’t have the choice to escape from. I’ve gotten the impression that it’s a fairly common part of personal narratives of sexual violence.

    And jsyk: I definitely think it’s okay, if and when you want to, to describe this as rape.

    1. Yes! Thank you; it is for dissociation. I’ve been working on writing something about how I still have really strong instincts to dissociate during sex when certain kinds of things happen, and how it makes it difficult for me to communicate sometimes since I don’t even realize things aren’t quite ok until I’m already gone :/

      1. I’ve heard of that being a not uncommon experience as well, unfortunately. I personally don’t know of any resources on it, but I’m fairly sure they’re out there, if you wanted to look. Then again, I figure they’d probably be very het-centric and fully of compulsory sexuality.

        But I’m getting off on a tangent. What I meant to say was, that’s really understandable, and I have some similar tendencies (which may or may not be related to having experienced a ??? thing).

  2. 1) I am so sorry this happened to you. That another human being treated you this way. That you must now live with this.

    2) Words are hard, in these situations. Naming things in a way that helps you, and feels honest to the experience as you perceived it, is hard. Writing out trigger warnings can get jarring and weird. I don’t know anyone, myself included, for whom the words we use always feel properly and comfortably in place. Certainly not when we go back into the memory itself.

    What matters — all that matters — is you speaking out the truth, as it is the truth to you in that moment.

    3) Be well. Please feel free to chat me up anytime, if that would be at all helpful.

    4) I am so sorry this fucked-up, not-okay-no-way-no-how thing happened to you.

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