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Chapter 3

Living in an Altered Reality

As victims of abuse we get good at altering our reality. We feed ourselves lies to help things look normal. I became so good at lying that it was like second nature to me growing up. Obviously this isn’t something I’m proud of but it was a defense mechanism.


After college the lie I led myself to believe was that moving in with a guy that I just met was a good idea. I’m not sure how I ever convinced myself of this because I’d always said that I wasn’t going to give up my virginity until I was married. I also believed that I never was going to get married. At that time I wanted to become a minister and pastor a church. I didn’t want to get married and I definitely didn’t want to have kids.


Even though I was able to convince myself that moving in with a guy was a good idea I should’ve known better than to move in with Charles. This is because the abuse started the second day I was at his place. I remember it so clearly now.


We were standing there making spaghetti for dinner when I went into the bedroom which was just behind the kitchen. Charles pushed me onto the bed, tore off my clothes and raped me from behind. He told me that was what I wanted so he was giving it to me. Not only was this something that I didn’t want, it was something that I wasn’t even prepared for. I wanted my first time to be special. Rape is far from special but it does happen too often.


The strange thing is I didn’t try to stop it or leave. Why did I never stop things at this point? This is a question that I still ask myself to this day. I should’ve known that this was rape but for some reason my brain didn’t equate it as such.


It wasn’t like couldn’t have still gone back home but I chose to stay with him. I know that being in college had taught me that I both wanted and needed to be out on my own. After college, I even went so far as to leave Pittsburgh and move to Philadelphia as an AmeriCorps member. It was there that I had what I’d consider to be my first “real” friend. While she and her boyfriend tried to help me learn how to be on my own (something that my parents had never tried to teach me) I just couldn’t figure it out.


At that point I still didn’t realize that my parents were abusive (I’m not sure why I hadn’t truly figured this out by now after all I’d been through) but I did realize I couldn’t live with them. I also knew that they were going on vacation to Hawaii for a week so while they were away I made a fatal decision: I moved in with Charles.


It was during this time with Charles that he showed me that my parents were abusive. In fact, he had me convinced that they were the abusive ones, not him. This was the classic case of an abuser separating the person being abused from other people outside of the relationship so that they can abuse them even further - something that he definitely did.


You’d think that somewhere along the way I’d have been taught about abuse. Living through my parents clearly wasn’t enough, but I didn’t realize that they were abusive. Remember, I thought that they were “normal.” I thought the bubble that they had me existing in was how all parents treated their children and that punishment always meant the belt. To me, the way that Charles was acting and treating me also seemed “normal” which is why I chose to run into another abusive situation. 


College certainly didn’t teach me anything about abuse. Instead, I found ways to seek the same attention as I always had at home - being the center of everything that was happening. It was easy to be with people. There were activities galore, people readily available at mealtime in the cafeteria, and frat parties every weekend. Honestly, I wasn’t in college to learn about things that textbooks could teach me. I was too busy trying to figure myself out.


As I look back on all of these things now, the fact that Charles was able to so easily start the chain of abuse isn’t really so surprising. He fed on the vulnerability that life inside of a bubble had created for me. I was like prey for him. In other words, growing up in an abusive situation made me susceptible to domestic violence.


I truly believe that this is how it goes for many children who grow up in households where domestic violence is the norm. They learn that they have to be perfect in order to please those around them. Oftentimes, they also see their parents are abusive to each other too. It takes a giant shift for most children to recognize this violence once they become adults.


For me, the sexual abuse wasn’t the only thing I endured from Charles. Once separated from my family it was easier for him to move from being my protector and start verbally abusing me. I was now separated from anyone else that I could otherwise depend on, being left completely dependent on him.


Eventually the abuse got so bad that he started blaming me for why he couldn’t maintain a job. This is when the cycle of moving us from house to house began - another step in the cycle of abuse as he was then able to keep me on my toes constantly. By achieving this Charles, like other abusers, was able to maintain complete control over my ever move and thought. He was also able to make me feel uneasy as if they were in a constant state of flux or unrest. 


For me all of this looked and felt normal somehow. I was fine with how life was going until Chuck decided to cheat on me. The first time I was willing to buy into his seeking forgiveness. Unfortunately, that only lasted a short while until he found someone else to cheat on me with. This time he didn’t only cheat on me but he decided to move them into a government funded house that was in my name. Eventually, all of this became too much and I decided I was done. I wanted out. The hard part was actually getting out.


Honestly, looking back on it now I feel like when you don’t know what abuse is it looks normal. Of course, this is the way that it should never look. The sad fact is I never knew what a healthy relationship looked like. Starting with my parents and now continuing with Chuck to me it was all “normal.”


Part of my problem was that I was always the center of attention - both with my parents and with Chuck. I had a hard time realizing that I wasn’t meant to be the center of attention. This was a lesson that I’d learn later in my life. A lesson that’d be just one of the many things that living through abuse would teach me.

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