It takes a week this time. It takes almost as long for me to wash myself. I don’t remember if that is the average amount of time for me. I wait before I attempt to wash away any trace amounts of him left behind – skin cells on my bed, imprints of him pressed against my back while I sleep. There are so many steps to forgetting the muscle memories built into my body from having him near me. I re-teach my fingers not to text him in moments of quiet. I stop my ears from itching to hear his latest opinions and thoughts on news and shared pop culture indulgences. I train my eyes not to look for him in spaces that he once was – waiting for me outside work, next to me on the train, sleeping in my bed as I leave early.
I often wonder if I have it all wrong. He broke up with me because he didn’t love me. We had only been dating a few months and I didn’t love him yet either. I didn’t think we had to yet. I had love for him, as I do for anyone who I opt to spend that amount of time with, but the preposition “in” was not part of the equation. Mostly, I felt possibility, a deep commitment to letting him know me, and a desire to know him. And for me that was more than enough for the present, it was more than I had ever experienced before in a romantic relationship and I enjoyed the gradual nature of my attachment and affection. He didn’t feel the same and he didn’t love me, but he thought he should. Sometimes, I think I’m wrong in what that word “love” means in the romantic sense. I’ve never fully experienced it in a mutual way. The scales are always unbalanced and I end up alone, wondering where it leaves me when they choose to leave.
In the myriad of moments where I hate myself I believe this means I am unlovable and that the patience, care, and effort I willfully put towards my relationships will never be acknowledged or reciprocated with romantic love. I wonder a lot why I try and ultimately why I care. I find true joy in friendship, family and life and rarely feel unfulfilled when going about my daily life as a single woman. Especially in these turbulent times there is a lot else to focus on outside of personal relationships (of course this ends up being depressing and tiring for a whole host of reasons these days that I’m sure to explore at another point).
In my worst moments I convince myself that I know the answers to all of my questions, but I hate the answers. I hate that every time I find a level of desired intimacy with a partner and he chooses to leave me without warning before ever truly trying to know me, I am ultimately left in conversation with my rapist and I allow him to answer the questions for me.
Why am I alone? I am not worth the effort. Why did he leave? I am unlovable. I am ruined. I am broken. They can see it. Everyone can see it.
These become the dangerous refrains I must beat back daily. These are the inner voices that I’ve worked to dispel for years, but they never fully leave me and break ups always offer the ultimate opportunity for them to rise up at full volume. Good memories of my previous partner are destroyed by these mantras. Moments when I felt love and compassion are distorted by the reality that he didn’t love me, didn’t see me, didn’t respect me enough to be open and honest with me during the relationship. If what I was reacting to with him was a lie - simply a play at relationship constructed to see if his feelings would ever catch up to mine - my willingness to believe I was worthy of any amount of goodness feels like a lie as well. Something I simply wanted to believe was possible but nevertheless something that I cannot and will not ever actually experience.
My truth becomes that the only man I have ever had a relationship to is my rapist and the emotions built into my body from his violation are the only ones I am easily able to validate. Seeking out romantic relationships becomes a game I play with myself to find someone who allows me to believe that there could possibly be another way to feel towards men, sex, love and my body. It boils down to a call and response every time I enter a new relationship.
This is different. He is not you, I call out to my rapist.
He is me. This is all me, because I created you, my rapist responds.
I know in the deepest and most honest places that hide inside of me that this is not the truth. I was much before and I am much after, but I have never been able to fully stop this conversation from happening, even if slowly I am able to beat it back into submission and find my self-worth at times. But every time it feels like it will be impossible that I will find it. I feel too tired to try again. The usual refrains that “He doesn’t deserve you” and “Break ups are hard,” aren't always enough when I feel broken from countless violations that all feel the same as that first one. It’s too difficult to continually pick up the pieces I am constantly sewing back together. After the bombardment of yet another body that promised care, affection, and respect finds it impossible to truly see a place for these emotions in relationship to my body it’s hard to believe there will ever be one who will.
I will do it anyway. I will stitch and glue myself back together even if I don’t know what for beyond self-preservation and the ability to fully invest my time into my work and the causes that deserve attention. But I will continue to do this all the same. If I could wash all these out of my sheets and feel back to normal I would. I think that's why I try. But I know it is a lot harder than that.
Disclaimer: to all friends and family ready to write that I should feel “x” or don’t feel “y,” I know. I have a therapist and I know that my worst insecurities that I've outlined here are not true. I just felt like sharing since I think it is important to know some of the thoughts that plague a survivor’s mind at various points in life. It’s not always and I know I’ll be fine again someday, so thank you for any love and support but I’m okay, I promise. <3