"This is my story ..."

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And as the end of the month approaches, we wanted to hear from a survivor, who shares her story in hopes of bringing awareness ... Me.

If you feel empowered to share your own story, we encourage you to email us at [email protected].
(Entries will be anonymous.)

*Disclaimer: The following story may be triggering or hard to read for some. Please read with caution.
Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time—this includes online spaces.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673.*

*This story was written to be shared explicitly on the Our Community Now website and should NOT be reproduced.

I was sexually assaulted and verbally abused by a former partner.

I'd been in a relationship with this man for nearly a year and a half when I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college. The beginning of our relationship was fun and sweet. We became fast friends after meeting at a local event and felt comfortable with one another, so we took that step and began dating—and at a catapulting speed.

Things seemed to be going well. We got along well and enjoyed spending time together. My family, however, had been fairly vocal about their ill feelings toward him from the start. And he wasn't shy about his hatred towards them either. There was always this underlying tension whenever they were around one another. At first, I intentionally chose to ignore all of that in favor of being with someone who "understood me," rather than listening to those who actually did.

Then, as time went on, I thought that I loved this man. I thought that he loved me.

I was wrong ...

A smooth talker, he slowly manipulated me into thinking the absolute worst of my loved ones. I was completely blind to his charm and wit, his deceptive phrases and words. I continued to ignore my family's advice (and warnings), not seeing any of the countless red flags.

He kept me isolated in this fantasy world of his. I was trapped.

And because I was essentially alone—away from those who actually cared about me—the easier it was for him to convince me that I needed him to see my value in order to "feel special." His own insecurities took over, and I became a shell of my former self, willing to bow to his every request—even at the cost of my family, my friends, my sanity, my identity.

"Your family doesn't really care about you," he'd tell me. "They don't want what's best for you. But I do. I'm the only one who values you."

It was as if he needed me to feel worse about myself in order to elevate his self-worth. He'd then get angry at me for not being confident enough—even though he repeatedly told me that, without him, I was nothing.

After hearing so many lies for so long, it became harder and harder to hear the truth. I started to believe his words. What I perceived as the truth was warped and molded by him. I thought (hoped) all of those hard days would somehow be outweighed by the few good days. That this was merely a roadblock that we had come across in our relationship and needed to work through it.

So, I stayed. Those problems never went away, of course. He suffered from terrible mood swings, his emotions an ever-changing rollercoaster. He'd yell, throw objects at me, and storm out without another word. Then he'd come back some odd 20 minutes later and start spewing out apology after apology, excuse after excuse as if it'd make up for the horrible things he said and did. His behavior seemed erratic, going from skyrocketing highs to crashing lows in minutes.

Things only got worse as the months went on. And unfortunately, it would take a series of traumatic events to get me to realize the depth of his hold over me.

On social media, we had what people would call a picture-perfect relationship. Behind closed doors, though, it was another story. He verbally abused, chastized, and took advantage of me any chance he could get.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, he had started to present the early symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, of which he was diagnosed less than a month later. He suffered from awful manic episodes, and the two of us were alone for nearly all of them. His controlling, demanding behavior got magnified to an extreme—and I was caught in the tidal wave.

Sparing many of the harsh and horrific details (a story for another time, I suppose), he eventually got the help he needed and stayed at a mental health facility for a brief period of time, and was prescribed medication to help manage his symptoms. I couldn't bring myself to visit while he was away. But, one day, I was persuaded by his family to go see him ... and he was back to his old self. I felt, for what seemed like the first time in months of suffering his verbal abuse, that this could be our "reset."

So, I stayed with him.

Despite all of the pain he inflicted, I still cared for him and wanted our relationship to go back to how it was at the beginning, or at least try to mend things.

Of course, that decision to stay would be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Less than 3 weeks later, he suffered a more severe manic episode. (I later learned that he had stopped taking his medication for a week.) Things got heated at a time that I was attempting to deal with a family emergency—I got a phone call that an aging relative was in the hospital—and he got angry that I was upset and frantic over this news, that I wasn't focused on him instead. There was no sympathy for my situation, at all. So, he lashed out in aggression and pinned me down. I'd been forcefully immobilized, unable to break away fast enough before he had his hands all over me. I couldn't find my voice to scream for help, completely paralyzed and in shock.

I've no idea how, but by some miracle, I found the strength within me to push him away and off. I'd just been sexually assaulted.

I haven't talked to or seen him since.

That same day, I had to go be with my family at the hospital, acting as if I hadn't been severely violated a mere hour before.

To this day, I have no idea if he remembers the assault or is even aware it happened in the first place. I, however, remember everything in excruciating and vivid detail.

In the following days, weeks, months of the assault, I began drinking excessively to cope with the pain, anger, guilt. I lost a ton of weight and sleep was not something that came easily. My anxiety and depression shot through the roof, as I kept reliving those horrible moments over and over again.

But, I hid it as best I could whenever I was at work or while I was trying to mend those relationships I'd broken. I put on a façade to conceal my anguish.

My friends and family would constantly ask me, "Why'd you break up? It seemed like you guys were okay?"

It wasn't until about 7 months later that I finally told my sister and mom the full story, having only previously told them that I'd ended things and nothing more. I'd been carrying this burden on my shoulders, alone, for months. Over that course of time, I experienced every possible emotion in the books: more pain, more anger, more guilt, and even fear and denial ... I figured that nobody else needed to get hurt by this like I did, so why thrust that upon them if I didn't have to?

I'd tell myself that it was my fault, that I should've listened to my family and friends, that I should've left before it got worse ...

It's an easy thing to think in hindsight, sure. It's a whole other beast when you're in it, living that life every day for so long. Leaving didn't seem like it was possible. Not until I actually did it, when I had no other choice.

This experience and the trauma have taken a lot of time and work for me to heal as I continue on the road to recovery, but because of the incredible people in my life, I know that it's okay to share my pains and that it doesn't make me weak. In fact, it makes me just the opposite; strong.

Now, I know what love is and what a blessing it can be—and I choose to love. I choose to not let these events define me. I choose to talk about my mental health openly and honestly. I choose to speak out and not let my perpetrator have a hold on me any longer.

This is my story. This is my truth.