This one should probably come with a Trigger Warning. It features abuse. Not very graphic, it’s about someone I once knew, a long time ago, but if you’re in a particularly sensitive state in relation to stuff like that, then maybe now is not the time to read it, so it may be best not to read on.
I think it was my first week as a member of a Therapeutic Community and perhaps as a baptism of fire, in the weekly psychological education slot, we were covering sexual abuse.
So there I was, about 44 at the time, sat in a group of about 17 people mostly with trauma, watching a therapist write some words on a white board. These words, were the definitions of sexual abuse. Aside from the subject matter being understandably anxiety provoking anyway, as I read the words, a wave of severe anxiety, almost panic, rose up from within me.
The specific wording, I cannot remember, but what read was something like “You don’t have to have been physically abused, for it to be sexual abuse”. I felt very ill and started to wrestle with myself over this, minimising my own feelings, comparing them to others, but this was a point of very profound realisation for me, which right now, sitting here writing this without my support network, I struggle to put into words but what I realised was, that by this definition, I had been sexually abused.
When I was 17, I a girlfriend who introduced me to a man called Leon. Leon was, I think at the time, a 41 year old, self proclaimed ‘old’ hippy, who lived on his own, he sold drugs (cannabis), and had fairly regular visitors, like me, and even some who were younger than me.
I was by this time, used to hanging out with older people, I was very immature, quite socially awkward, I had mental health problems, along with alcohol and substance abuse. Like many teenagers, I thought I was wiser than I really was and my personal boundaries were very poor, almost non existent at times. I was also still in the midst of discovering my sexuality, starting to accept that I was bisexual, at least internally. Also I was discovering my gender, but gender simply meant biological sex at the time, I had no good language to realise what my gender really was, it was mixed up with my sexuality, and I think, looking back, that I not only projected myself as a young girl, but I was treated in a similar way to other girls.
I was much more introverted in those days, hiding behind my long hair, still a child really, with so much anxiety, I felt paranoid a lot, but I have come to realise that mostly I think it wasn’t paranoia, it was my intuition. My self esteem was so low that I didn’t trust my intuition, or at least listen to it, and I didn’t really have the language to describe my feelings, or anyone I felt comfortable with talking about them.
I became friends with Leon (or so I thought). He was full of anecdotes about living in London in the late 60s and 70s, how people were very free with themselves, having sex in the park, being around famous musicians, taking drugs and that whole seemingly liberated lifestyle.
I started to look forward to going round to visit Leon. I felt noticed, wanted. I would go round, sit on the chair at the end of his bed, he always sat on his bed. We listened to his record collection, smoked, drank lots of tea, he might even make me food, so I kind of felt looked after, I felt special for a change.
Mostly Leon dominated the conversation, actually not just the conversation, but he dominated me. He sometimes made seemingly nice comments about me, I think he may have complimented me on who I was, but actually I am not sure, because what I do remember are comments on my appearance, for example, him telling me I had that cute strip of hair on my stomach below my belly button (while waving a finger towards it, pretty close to me).
‘Compliments’ on my appearance, weren’t the only comments he made though. Leon frequently showed annoyance, or even anger toward me, perhaps for turning up late, not doing some small thing, making me feel like I’d let him down. He started to pass comment on my friends, telling me that they were no good. Generally he built the relationship up to be an older man, acting ‘parental’, teaching me his way of thinking. He was person of rigid routine, and order, in control.
Sometimes mutual, young friends would also come round. There were even a couple of ‘group massage’ sessions.
The cat was very much out of the bag (and among the pigeons) when he offered my free drugs in return for him giving me a blowjob. I just froze, sat that dumb. I think he attempted to protest a bit, then fortunately shut up about it.
There were incidents with other young people as well. I turned up and knocked on his door one day, and a stranger answered the door, a young boy, younger than me, maybe only just a teenager, answered the door. “I don’t know what to do, Leon is having a fit on his bed”. So, Leon was epileptic, he made sure I knew it, and what to do if he had a fit, move objects out of the way, make sure he couldn’t harm himself, and just wait for it to pass. He did however, also make comments about him being a good fuck by sitting on his cock while he had a fit. We went upstairs to his room, and there he was, on the bed, seemingly having a fit. However, I’m pretty sure, I heard the words “fuck me” come out of his mouth. The boy looked pretty shook up, the fit ended, everything returned to normal. I never saw the boy again.
Clearly by this point I knew what was happening, and that’s where my feelings of shame took over. I knew it, but felt out of control, and I started to consider what I knew he wanted. I slept over a few times, slept on the floor, but I was only a very short step away from something happening, but it didn’t, I felt dirty, wrong. I think that annoyed him because he’d worked hard on me but was getting nothing back. He was I am sure, only a short step away from taking what he wanted, but I think he knew it’d be too risky to just go for it, because despite everything, there was still a risk I’d tell someone. Later in life, during therapy, I recognised this pattern as grooming.
I think all of this happened only over the space of a year or two, but it felt like longer to me. I even spent my 18th birthday with him, which word got around about, and comments were directed at me. I remember someone in my presence talking about “someone” having their 18th birthday at Leon’s house, probably clearly knowing it was me. I said nothing.
I continued to go off the rails, practically living like a hobo. One day I was went to see a friend, a girl who also knew Leon, and we decided to hitchhike to Glastonbury Festival, which we did, jumped over the fence, spent the £15 I had to my name virtually as soon as I was in, ended up begging for food, wandering around in a daze in the heat. I think there were problems between me and my friend, I had feelings for her, I had a lot of hormones racing around, and although she was around the same age as me, she was also more mature, and sexually active. Actually though, I think I just wanted affection, from someone my age, who felt safe.
After we got back from Glastonbury, I went round to see Leon. I was slightly drunk, which was pretty normal by that time. I sat down in the chair at the end of the bed, he sat on his bed. He started talking about Glastonbury, he had a disapproving, annoyed tone about him. Clearly he’d seen my friend before me, and he started having a go at me about how I’d been difficult with her.
That when I kicked off. I had enough, and I bit. I just got up out of the chair, annoyed with Leon, with being got at. That’s when it happened. Leon quickly got up off the bed, rushed toward me, and before I knew what was happening, he had me pinned up against the wall by my neck, growling in face. He must have released his grip, I was terrified.
I ran out of Leon’s house, and I never looked back. I bumped into him in the street one day, maybe a year or so later, where he tried to tell me *I* had problems. He had found a broken mirror that fell out of my pocket when he’d attacked me, and was probably telling people that I had tried to use it to stab him. I hadn’t, it was just a piece of mirror. A broken mirror, reflecting a broken person, me.
For years after, I minimised what happened to me. I even blamed myself. I was ashamed. I hadn’t been sexually assaulted, so how could it be sexual abuse? How could my experience be valid trauma, compared to others? I asked myself this, because I felt invalidate, and a big reason why I felt invalid, was because I had been a young person dominated and groomed by an older man, who enticed me in with stories of free love, with promises of drugs, and who used invalidation, isolation, shame to abuse me, to break me down, to control me. When I fought back, the moment I showed that I had an opinion of my own, that I might be able to take back control, he assaulted me, and at that point, he lost, but I had already lost, and this was no win for me.
How I truly take back control though, is to be the better person that I am. I am older now than Leon was then. He’s been the subject of one of my psychodramas in therapy, where people played back some of what happened to me, so I could be me, now, the adult, and look back on myself and him then. As part of that psychodrama, I went into the scene in the bedroom, before anything happened, and I spoke to my younger self, and I told that child, that they were ok, that they were loved, and valid, and this man was wrong. My final act, was to have the person playing Leon, try to talk to the adult me, and I chose to completely invalidate him, but ignoring him, making him irrelevant, instead focusing on the younger me, telling myself to get out of there now and don’t look back.