Control and Empowerment: My Experience in an Abusive Relationship


By Alyssa Michener

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Abuse references

Ever since I was a little girl, I had these big ideas about what romance was.

As I grew older, I realized that most guys my age weren’t like the men in the movies, but I still had those idealizations about finding “true love” in the back of my mind. By the time I was 16, I had been in two typical high school relationships lasting a few weeks at best, and I was ready to give up on finding the “perfect guy.” But then a new student I’ll refer to as “A,” came to my school. He came off as a fun, entertaining guy and I was immediately interested in him. After weeks of exchanged smiles and small talk, he ended up calling me and asking me out on what would be my first real date.

For the first time in a while, I was really excited about something. He gave me something to look forward to at school and we spent almost all of our time together. We met each other’s parents and he invited me to his church, gaining the approval of my family.

However my best friend and him didn’t get along. She insisted that A wasn’t right for me after a few weeks of seeing each other. At first he played nice around her, but as he got more comfortable and I got more invested in the relationship, he started complaining about how annoying she was, even when she was there. He would find excuses for how she wasn’t a good friend, while she was telling me it was clear that he wasn’t treating me well.

But how was he treating me badly? He brought me flowers after my performances, he bought me jewelry, took me on dates. Sure he got angry sometimes, but that was fixable right? I justified it all.

When he started reading through my Facebook messages that seemed fine too. I needed to prove to him that he was the only guy I was interested in. Despite my efforts to prove my loyalty, he took the messages to mean more than what they were. It was my fault anyways. I shouldn’t have talked to any boys in the first place.

We were together a few months before he graduated high school, but he decided we should continue our relationship and be long distance as he entered college and I became a junior in high school. I spent my weekends visiting him or he would visit me and everything seemed really great.

A couple years later, I was a freshman at the same college he attended. I invited him to parties with all of my new friends and talked him up to anyone who would listen. His grades started dropping that year as his major got more difficult and his insecurities became apparent when guys started looking at me or trying to talk to me on social media. I had completely forgotten that he still had my passwords and he used my Facebook messages against me when I had a conversation with a fellow freshman. The guy had asked me to hang out and I told him I was busy, but maybe some other time. But to A, it meant I wanted to sleep with him, since I didn’t flat-out reject him. He took the conversation personally, and without talking to me first, had tracked him down to where he was working and threatened him, throwing glasses and making a huge scene.

As winter came that year, his depression set in, and with his sadness came anger. Eventually he was calling me saying he wanted to kill himself. When I showed up to his dark studio apartment, he was crying in my arms telling me I was the only person he had.  I was his other half, his “one true love,” the only one that could ever care about him, because he saw himself as unlovable. I spent day after day praising him and telling him he was perfect, while he spent his time obsessing over my hypothetical infidelities.

Still from “Eclipse” by Alyssa Michener

Every little move was scrutinized and there was this look in his eyes that always meant there would be a nice long talk afterwards, usually ending with me against the wall, him screaming in my face and crying until he eventually gave up. Even giving up on the arguments pissed him off, as he would force me to continue to fight with him, telling me I needed to stand up for myself, but would get mad whenever his character was in question. It was always my fault, everything was my fault.

Sure, there were still a couple of happy times, but they would come and go in waves, sewn together with the harsh realities.

By the time I realized that there were more bad days than good, it seemed as though it was too late. I was worn down to the point where it just seemed easier to stay, and I didn’t feel like I could do any better.

We had been together three years and I was progressively losing interest in him. When I lost the desire to have sex with him, he took it as an insult to his masculinity.  If I didn’t want to have sex it meant I was cheating, or that I thought he was ugly or inadequate. I would go back to his apartment late at night after being with friends or after working on homework, telling him I just wanted to go to bed. He insisted on having sex with me, so I would just lay there until he was done with me. He could tell I wasn’t enjoying it and that made him mad too. My pleasure was something he demanded, but my body and mind weren’t interested, all fuel to the ever-growing fire. It felt like I no longer had control over my sexuality, instead it was my tool to get him to stop yelling or my way of trying to prove that I cared about him.

I put up with all of it until June of 2014, when we went on a trip to go to my stepbrother’s wedding. My romantic side still fighting within me was hoping that I’d get to dance with my boyfriend, take some cute pictures together, and actually be happy for the first time in a while. It was the night before the wedding and we had all been up late for the rehearsal dinner. I was ready to go to bed, but A was just interested in having sex. I told him repeatedly that I wasn’t interested and I felt uncomfortable doing that in my father’s house. After asking me multiple times, he eventually gave up and I went to bed, cuddling with him and trying to sleep. I was starting to fall asleep, but he began taking off my underwear, and the world seemed to stop. My heart was racing as he attempted to thrust himself inside of me, groaning with frustration when it wasn’t working as he had hoped. I was shocked and completely frozen, I couldn’t scream, so I pretended to stay asleep. I faked sleep talking, thinking that maybe it would make him stop if he thought I was waking up, but instead he just whispered asking me to fuck him. When I was silent he decided to continue. Mad at that point, he stood up naked and tried to put himself in my mouth. When that didn’t work, he sat next to me. I turned over so he would think I moved in my sleep, hoping he would give up. He spent the rest of the night jacking off, while I was wide-awake trying to figure out what just happened.

My boyfriend of almost four years had raped me. He acted normal, like nothing had happened the night before. Asking me, “Hey what’s wrong?” I told him that we were going to have a talk that night because I didn’t want to ruin the wedding day.

That night, I waited until everyone was asleep and he sat down expectantly, anxiously waiting for what I was about to say. I gave him the opportunity to explain himself, asking him if he wanted to tell me what he did to me the night before. With a straight face he claimed he had no idea what I was talking about. Finally I said it, “So you don’t remember raping me last night while I was ‘asleep’?” His face fell, and the next thing I knew he was sobbing telling me how much he hated himself and how he deserved to die.

By the end of our fight I was comforting him, telling him that we would be okay.

Regrettably, I stayed. Maybe it was out of habit, but it felt like I had spent so much time crying over the relationship that there were no feelings left so I didn’t even care enough to leave.

He ended up getting kicked out of school because of his GPA, and then his anger ended with him getting an assault charge against one of the only friends he had left. He was forced to leave the city and I was over it.

It was honestly a really long road to become a whole person again and realizing what our relationship actually was. I realized he was just a fantasy that I had fabricated, taking all of my dreams of romance and trying to shape him into someone that he wasn’t.
Sure, I should’ve left when my friend told me he was wrong for me, or maybe when he slut-shamed me for having more sexual experiences than him, or when he made me feel worthless, maybe the second he raped me, but I didn’t and it took me a long time to realize that it was ok. By staying it didn’t made me weak it made me human.

As I’ve become stronger, I made the choice to volunteer to help others who have experienced dating violence, rape and domestic violence. I’ve dedicated my time towards tackling more challenging classes, taking on an internship, making art that I’m really proud of, and maintaining a wonderful support network of friends and family. I’m forever grateful for them, my mom, and my best friend, who knew A was bad for me from the start yet never said “I told you so.”

He may have had the control for four years, but I have control of the rest of my life.

Photos by Carly Harman