Trigger warning: Bullying, Sexual abuse, Mental health, Trauma
I have always been taught not to speak about these things. Being from an upper caste, middle-class household, I have had enough privileges on my hand. People say I should know not to complain about ‘small things’ in life that happens to ‘everyone’. I am not ignorant of how lucky I have been to have supportive family, friends, and acquaintances. But do these prerogatives render me unsuitable to write a survivor story?
After years of reading theoretical texts, essays, angry rants and stories of people from all spheres of life, I should know better. I shouldn’t think twice before writing this, but I do, and the only way to let go of the doubt is by going ahead with it. I don’t know which trauma I can link this incessant self-doubt to, people have this tendency to use ‘trauma’ and ‘histories’ to explain various character traits of a person, I do not think that is liable. A therapist once asked me “What happened to you that you have this deep-seated insecurity?“, my friends jokingly exclaim, “Who hurt you, buddy?” I don’t have an answer, on one hand, nobody hurt me; on the other, it seems like everyone did. Does it matter? Would anything change if I can find a clear cut objective answer?
A therapist once asked me “what happened to you that you have this deep-seated insecurity?“, my friends jokingly exclaim, “who hurt you, buddy?”
My favorite pastime is to ask my mom stories of my childhood. I don’t remember it too well, psychiatrists believe it is because I have repressed most thoughts, I think I just have a really bad memory. From what I remember, I didn’t have many friends because I was always sick and at home due to a medical condition. Someone texted me a year ago, claiming that we had been really great friends as children. I am sorry, we probably had a really great time but I don’t remember you. My mother does, so I pretend I do. I nod my head and smile hoping it mirrors yours when we reminisce old days.
I changed schools and started regularly attending it in fourth grade. I ended up becoming “that” thin girl in school. I was clumsy and would fall too often, lose my balance and, couldn’t carry my bag on days we had more books to carry than usual. I became the brunt of laughter as people walked behind me and looked at my stick-thin shadow. My parents had a hard time helping me navigate my friendships which were never stable, I was either too close to someone, too hated, too loved, or, too misunderstood. I cried every single weekday and dreaded going back. My parents were reluctant in admitting that this was unusual behavior. I, on the other hand, felt guilty for being different than everyone.
I was skinny shamed, yet at the same time told that I am pretty. I started developing issues with my body. My first anxiety-attack was because I couldn’t set my hair right. That’s when my parents took me to a child psychologist. With being diagnosed with depression and anxiety and the start of child therapy, I started creating two lives for myself. School life and life at home. I couldn’t control what personality I would become and where. I tried every day to mold myself into one personality type and consequently hated myself for not being enough of the silent one, or the cheery one, or the emo one. I was all of them, and none of them.
At home, my sister would beat me up. To be fair, I was annoying, yet it traumatized me. Subsequently, I always wanted to be liked and sought validation from everywhere. In school, I would do other people’s homework, follow whoever gave me attention and do whatever they asked me. Each friendship had an ugly power dynamic which my parents tried to stop me from divulging in but I never listened. I couldn’t help being dominated by someone.
The shift from being bullied in school to being sexually abused on the daily is not clear in my head. The timelines are blurred. I had a math tutor who gave me individual classes in sixth grade. I used to be very good at solving grade seven questions with ease. I had just started my period around that time. One unfateful day, I solved a difficult question and was extremely proud of myself for it. I showed it to him and he didn’t give me a star like usual so I asked why. He said he would give me something else. Then he came forward, kissed my cheeks and grabbed my tiny breasts that weren’t even fully formed.
It took me a while to tell my mother what happened, but after I did, he never came back, and we never talked about him either. The books he gave me disappeared from my cupboard. I remember telling my friend I was ashamed of my breasts a few days later. I never looked at math the same way again.
It took me these many years, support from my family, a loving boyfriend, wholesome friends and a lot of courage to act in accordance with the belief that I deserve better.
I was in an all girls school and the cliques were forming by the time we reached middle school. I became friends with a group of seniors and they accepted me lovingly. We were all hitting puberty and our hormones were all over the place. Seeking recognition from boys, Facebook became an avenue for us girls to connect with them. The seniors added me in a group with some boys they apparently knew. I was the grammar nazi there and people respected me. I was always included. One day after an outburst, I wanted to delete everything. Perhaps looking for attention, I posted on the group that I am leaving. Some boy from the group sent me a message, asking to stay.
That’s how another part of my life started, the internet. The boy called me all the sweet things. He named me his princess. He would make me feel special and listened to me when I talked about school, friends and, how I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I didn’t know how old he was and he refused to tell me. It didn’t matter to me as long as I was being listened to. He would also tell me at times about his family, his abusive mother and emotionally distant father. I did not understand it but it felt good to be trusted with the ‘real’ stuff of life.
I can’t clearly remember how the abuse started. It was probably because for the longest times I believed this wasn’t abuse, it was on the internet. How can anything on the internet be real? However, I started feeling suffocated while talking to him. He started asking me for sexual pictures. He would guide me on what to do and if I protested he would say he loved me. Whenever he was sad, he needed me to send a picture.
There were many times when I thought of deactivating my account and changing my number. I kept going back though, I think that is where I blame myself, my inability to leave. However much I read and hear that an abused takes at least 7 tries before they finally leave their abuser, the guilt doesn’t leave. It escalated from photos to video calls, from I love you’s to suicide threats. I once pretended my parents caught me texting him and I can’t talk. I think he knew I was lying, or not, but he sent me a picture of his wrist, bleeding. I knew it was out of my control, it wasn’t just the internet anymore, it was real life.
I started harming myself, in different ways. It became a routine for me. It happened for four years, I shifted from school to home, to the internet. In eleventh grade, I decided to move cities to pursue PCB. That was my chance to get away from him. I told him it was inevitable. I couldn’t stay in contact, I changed numbers, deleted every social media account. I was scared that he might try to blackmail me in different ways, more conniving maybe, say that he’d put my pictures on the internet. But I left that fear for later and finally let go. All this while, I never let anyone know. Neither did I let the three parts of my life ever collide. I blamed myself for all of this. A part of me still does.
Even though my abuser was out of my life, the consequences of the abuse haunted me. I left home so I had more freedom to harm myself in different ways. I was depressed when my parents for the first time saw my scars. Throughout the horrifying course of the two years since then, my mother and I kept moving from one city to another, going from one recommended therapist to another, in order to ‘fix’ me. My abuse story came out, my parents were supportive. However, the mental illness still wasn’t getting better. I took matters in my own hands and self-diagnosed myself with Borderline Personality Disorder. The therapists said it’s not a good thing to call myself that, they never denied but never diagnosed me either.
I gradually found ways to manage my mental health, got myself admitted into a good college and thought I was in control of myself finally. I was wrong, there was another lesson waiting for me. The first year and a half of college, I started abusing substance. It became a part of my everyday life, and then it became my life. My decisions revolved around it. My self-hatred increased and the tendency to seek legitimacy from others led me to not take my sexual life seriously. Every time I was inebriated and indulged in sexual activities, I had a panic attack, worse than the one before.
It took me these many years, support from my family, a loving boyfriend, wholesome friends and a lot of courage to act in accordance with the belief that I deserve better. I cannot say if I do believe it yet, but I know I should. For now, that is enough. To all the traumas I have lived till now; Thank you, I accept your existence, I love you from all my heart, but it is time to leave. It is time to be liberated.
Featured Image Source: Sharmelan Murugiah