Books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Looking for Alaska shaped my adolescence. Filled with pithy quotes that appeal to angst-ridden teens like I was, they provided an escape from the depression I felt in high school.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was particularly relatable for me. It chronicles Charlie’s freshman year of high school in which he suffers the loss of his best friend to suicide, dates his first girlfriend, and ultimately, remembers being sexually abused by his Aunt Helen at the end of the book.
Charlie is, much like myself, a typical wallflower. He comes out of his shell a little bit when Sam and Patrick, a brother/sister duo take him under their wing and introduce him to drugs and alcohol. Patrick is gay and Sam is a beautiful girl (played by the gorgeous Emma Watson in the film adaptation of the book) who Charlie pines for all throughout the novel.
One of the most memorable quotes from the book is, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” This quote stuck with me for years to come.
I struggle with the concept of “deserving.” In the months after I was raped in 2016, I wrote pages upon pages in my journal about how I deserved to be raped, about how I “had it coming.” I was angry at God. If I was a good person, why did bad things happen to me? Everything was black and white; either I was good and deserved good things, or I was bad and I deserved bad things.
The truth is, I made some bad decisions. My rapist had no business in my life, and I had no business trying to forge some kind of haphazard relationship with him. I met him at a bus stop. I have never ridden public transportation in my hometown in my life. I have a car. What was I doing at a bus stop anyway?
Well, I was chain-smoking, another bad decision. I should have been in class, but I needed that nic fix, and my college is a nonsmoking campus, save for the bus stop which is technically off-campus.
I was an emotional wreck even before the rape. I had just gotten out of a relationship with a woman I cared deeply about (despite the fact that we weren’t exactly a match made in heaven), and she quickly got engaged to her new girlfriend. I lost my posse of friends in the process; it was a pretty nasty breakup, and I acted very immaturely. Then, I promptly went off my medication, fell deep into psychosis, and further alienated those friends. I don’t know where they are now.
Self-hate is a powerful, angry emotion. For years into my eating disorder treatment, I denied being angry. I had no one but myself to be mad at. It took a very long time for me to realize how angry I really was, but that anger was misdirected inwards instead of at the proper target.
Because I hated myself, I felt like I didn’t deserve anything good. I felt like a bad person. So I felt like I deserved to be with a piece of shit like Tim, someone with no job or education, or any means whatsoever, someone with a serious drug dependency, and violent tendencies. It wasn’t the first time I’d been with someone who met that criteria, but it would be the last.
If you have been sexually abused, it is likely that you have questions that can’t be answered. “Why me?” “Why then?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why did God let this happen?” “Is God even out there at all?”
I have a rocky relationship with God. I am angry at Him for letting me suffer the consequences of my bad decisions, for not protecting me. My roommate Colette and I attend church at New Church Family, an LGBT+ affirming congregation, and last week the sermon was on forgiveness. Reverend Donna, a kindly butch woman, told us that God sees everyone as equal in His eyes. Everyone. Even Tim. I wanted to get up and leave, and I would have if I hadn’t had Colette with me, depending on me for a ride home. I walk out of AA meetings when forgiveness is the topic and people mention praying for the people who hurt them deeply. “My father was an alcoholic, and he used to beat me black and blue every night until I was nine,” the stories go. “I started drinking when I was twelve and never stopped until I got to AA. Then, I did a Fourth Step and started praying for my father. We have a great relationship now.” Hearing things like that make me sick to my stomach.
Maybe it’s different when it’s a parent or a sibling, people who can’t be dodged as easily as a meth-addicted ex-boyfriend. I don’t know. But I am telling you this: you do not have to forgive your abusers. You do not have to pray for them, wish them well, make excuses for them.
What Tim did to me was inexcusable, unforgivable. I am not the same person I was before he raped me. I may never be the same person again. Yes, it made me stronger. Yes, it showed me that I can survive pretty much any kind of emotional torture. But these are lessons I shouldn’t have had to learn, at least not like this.
You do not have to tolerate someone who treats you badly, someone who thinks they own your body. Tim tried to make things out like I was the bad one, as if I initiated all physicality, which was far from the truth. I am begging you, if you don’t feel safe with your partner, get out now. You deserve better. You don’t have to be anything special to deserve real love if that’s what you want. You deserve that just by being a human made in God’s divine image.
At my bat mitzvah, Rabbi Barry gave me a special word that I remember to this day: אור, which means “light.” We all carry a little bit of God’s light within us. Some people, like Tim, choose to turn away from that light and do heinous things, while others follow the light for their whole lives.
I no longer live in darkness.
One thought on “The Love We Think We Deserve: An Open Letter to Survivors of Sexual Violence”
Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re a very brave woman and I am glad to hear you that no longer live in darkness. I’ve been through abuse as well and know how easy it is to just sink into a world of darkness. I agree with you that we don’t have to forgive our abusers. Maybe it’s helpful for some people, but everyone finds healing through their own path. I wish you nothing but the best – speak766