This is an anonymous submission received in response to our contest #YouGotMyBack
My partner and I have been in a relationship for the past 7 years and are still going strong. This incident pertains to the time when we were in college and were just taking baby steps towards cementing our relationship.
I had never been in a relationship before, a conscious decision on my part taken due to a traumatic experience of sexual abuse at a very tender age. Since it had begun in childhood and the perpetrator was a known person, I was easily led to believe it was my fault. A combination of childhood, gullibility (now I would also say foolishness) and a conservative familial background led me to internalise this and instilled in me a fear of anyone finding out “my” secret, which also led to a constant companion – shame. I was little when it started so I could not fully comprehend what was happening and consequently could not gather the courage to put an end to it. It was after many years, after understanding what was happening and why, that I could stop it. Although it ended, the constant shame and guilt also led to a lot of anger and hurt, as no matter how hard it tried, I could not undo or forget it. As a result, I grew up with distorted notions of self, care, respect and intimacy (emotional and physical both), due to which I did not feel comfortable in being in a relationship with anyone.
However, with my partner the resolve to not be in a relationship faltered and I decided to explore how it would be if I let my guard down. I probably did it because we had been friends for a long time, and I felt safe around him – which was a new feeling for me.
There was one dilemma which I faced in the beginning of the relationship. My past was something that I had never shared with anyone, and had tried to repress and forget. The heavy bag of feelings (guilt, shame, hurt, anger etc.) associated with the past was something that prevented me from allowing him into this area. There was also the fear of the relationship coming to an end before it could even start properly, as handling such a pressure (both the news and the person) at such a young age (he was 19) could be overwhelming.
I knew that honesty was non-negotiable for my partner, and he had expressed many times that he would appreciate it we could be honest with each other. Also, I thought it was not fair if I did not let him know of this part of me, as he had told me everything about his past. I had never spoken about the abuse out loud and I was also afraid of its impact on me if did say it out loud. So, after a lot of going back and forth and mulling over stuff, I realised that if it was me who was in his place, I would have liked to know, and so I decided to tell him.
It was a few days after the official beginning of our relationship. I knew that if I had to tell the truth then had to be done at the earliest, so that the other person had the liberty of deciding whether he wanted to go ahead in the relationship or not. Libraries had always been my place since childhood and that is where I felt most comfortable. So I took him to our college library.
It was there that I mustered up the courage and told him the truth. It was just a one-line about me being a survivor of child sexual abuse. I expected him to back off as this was a lot to take and deal with. His face was blank for a while, and without saying anything he asked me to come with him. We went to this terrace/balcony type place in our college, which overlooked the college lawns and the Delhi skyline in the distance. Both of us stood there for some time, without saying anything, looking at the sun setting in the distance. When he turned towards me, I was taken aback to see his eyes brimming with tears and his first words were “How have you managed to be so….good? How can anyone do something so horrible to such a wonderful person?” I was stunned, to say the least, as all my life I had wanted to be “good” but believed I could never be.
I had believed that he would be disappointed that he was with someone with such a past. On the contrary, he was sad and enraged at my suffering. I had never imagined that someone could care (or I was worthy enough to be cared for) this much for me.
After telling him the truth, I felt light for the first time ever. Saying those words aloud made me feel like it was out in the open, outside of me. We talked about it some more (him more than me) and his understanding of the experience and my feelings overwhelmed me.
My past had left my confidence shaken and had made me see myself as unworthy and somehow I felt responsible also (as we women are conditioned to believe). I had internalised all these misconceptions and believed in them, i.e. till my partner helped me to understand the truth. Not once did he say or express anything which meant that I was someone who had done something wrong, but explained that something wrong had been “done” to me. He kept explaining this to me in various ways (without overwhelming me) and kept at it till it finally got ingrained in me. He showed me the good parts of myself – which I had not noticed before, and how it made me a beautiful person. Slowly and gradually, he helped me understand myself and my past in a better manner which also helped me to regain my forgotten confidence. All the while, it seemed like it involved no effort on his part and I still cannot figure out from where he had such patience and resolve. We, and specially I, had not imagined we would come this far, but it has been 7 warm and happy years and till this day, I cannot thank him enough.