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I was assaulted but I blame myself.
"But I can't forgive myself, Sophia. I cheated, even though I technically know I didn't."
A SWEETIE PIE:
Backstory: When I was a teen, my first relationship was an abusive one. I was sexually abused every time we met up, and was told it was my duty as a girlfriend to please him at all times. My family, unfortunately, taught me that this was the correct way of thinking, so I didn't question it until I got to college and made some secular friendships with some amazing people. During college, I left him, and made other friends. Eventually, I met my now-husband, who is amazing and wonderful and all the sweet romantic things you love so much, and we're very happy.
On to the problem. In January, my male friend ("friend"?) of many years, had me stay at his house. We were going on a trip that my husband wasn't going on, and I thought nothing of it when we shared a floor to sleep on. (I mean, it's a floor!) My husband was told, and he was okay with it, because he trusts me, and said as much.
Well it was a big effing mistake because said friend ended up groping me and other things in my sleep. I woke up to being grinded on, and he was whispering all kinds of things to me. He was awake. I was--not. Sort of.
So the backstory comes into play here. I was "awake", but I was essentially having a flashback? So I was "consenting" to everything because I was back in 2008 with my shitty ex-boyfriend who abused me on the daily, and the quickest way to get that to stop was to play along. When I *really* woke up, I freaked out, berated him, and went home. I cried to my husband who threatened to castrate him, and told me that it was okay, and that I did nothing wrong.
But I can't forgive myself, Sophia. I cheated, even though I technically know I didn't, and that I was in my head in the terrible flashback land, and that for someone who knew exactly what I had been through, that "friend" knew what was happening, too. But now the friend is apologizing, swearing he was half asleep and went with it because he's been so lonely, and that I'm going to throw away a friendship of almost a decade over some silly, horny mistake. And my husband is trying to let me make my own decisions, but has made it clear that this is unforgivable. (To note: My husband had a shitty controlling father, and so the only reason he hasn't been clear on his own boundaries are his own fears of being controlling.)
Either way, my feelings are STILL about pleasing everyone! Not throwing the friendship away, not ruining my marriage, not feeling sick whenever I see "friend"'s face, but fuck my own feelings. Why do I feel this way? Why don't I have the self esteem to tell him to go drown in a lake? Why do I feel so guilty about cutting off someone who took advantage of me?
My therapist said it was a "trauma bond" that I acted that way that night, and that it continues to make me feel like I'm the problem. I believe my doctor, but how do I move forward?
First and foremost, I’m so fucking sorry that you’re in this situation. You are in this situation entirely because of someone else’s actions, too, which is part of the pain. Despite what your brain is trying to tell you—and no offense but she’s a big BIG BIG liar!!!!!!!!!—there is nothing that you could have done differently that would have changed what happened. You didn’t do anything wrong, foolish or unsafe. That’s the fucked part of it. Or one of the many, many fucked parts of it. It’s not like you were walking in the middle of the highway and got hit by a car. It’s like you were in your house making breakfast and a car crashed through the wall and hit you. And now your brain is trying to be like, “Well, maybe if I had just not made breakfast that morning none of this would have happened.” Which is technically true on some extremely irrelevant level, BUT WHY WOULD A CAR CRASH THROUGH YOUR HOUSE AND HIT YOU??? Why would you expect that? Are you supposed to not ever make breakfast because a car might crash through your kitchen and hit you? What if it had happened during lunch? What if it had gone into the living room instead?
Your brain is trying very very very very very very very very desperately to figure out what you did wrong because it’s horrific to discover that you can do everything right— which is what you did— and still get hurt. It’s a terrible truth of the world. Ultimately, a car can crash into your kitchen while you’re making breakfast. It’s not in any way your fault or about the actions you took before or after the crash. Your brain is trying to figure out if you’d done your hair differently that day would the car not have crashed through the kitchen.
Obviously that metaphor is imperfect because there are a lot more layers to what happened to you. Actually let me rephrase that so we make sure to use precise language. There are a lot more layers to your “friend” assaulting you. I do not want to even type the word friend in association with this person. Not in quotes. Not next to the word former. It makes me want to throw up thinking that the word would be applied to that person. I’m going to thus call him Harvey from here on out, for obvious reasons.
So let me be clear: Harvey is not your friend. He assaulted you. Equating being assaulted with cheating is unfair to you, to your husband, and to everyone else who has been assaulted while in a relationship with another person. (Not that you need to worry about other people!! I’m just trying to get you to imagine other people in this scenario and what you would want for them).
There are a few lines of your letter in particular that stand out to me, but one that I need to address is this: He said “[you’re] going to throw away a friendship of almost a decade over some silly, horny mistake.”
Let’s break this line down a little, taking a closer look at some key words:
1) “You.” This is a real fucking curious framing of an assault. YOU did not throw away a friendship. He did. You would have chosen one million times out of one million for him to not assault you that night. No matter how many chances you could be given, you would never ever ever pick for that to have happened on ANY LEVEL. How on earth is he framing the consequences of him assaulting his friend as them throwing away a friendship? NO FUCKING WAY. NOT IN MY HOUSE. FUCK HIM TO HELL!!!
2) “Throwing away.” Excuse me. I take extreme umbrage at the idea that he thinks you’re just scrapping this friendship rather than being actively hurt by its horrific ending.
3) “A friendship.” WRONG-O. He revealed to you—in possibly the cruelest way imaginable—that what you two had was not ever a friendship to him. You were someone to try to fuck. Against their will. That’s not a friendship. That is not a friendship. WHAT HE DID MADE IT CLEAR. That is not anything close to friendship. To call his relationship to you friendship is to denigrate the entire concept of how friends treat one another. You did not have a friendship with this person and you need to do a lot of real mourning around that. That fact carries a ton of grief. How dare he try to say that ten years of friendship earns him a little assault? Does 20 years mean you get to take a sledgehammer to his toes? Does 30 mean you get to hit his dog with a car? What fucked, warped view of friendship is this?
4) “Silly.” Using childish dismissive language about you being assaulted (BY HIM) makes me very very sure that Harvey is a cruel piece of shit who will never understand the harm he’s done. And even if he did understand, he wouldn’t care.
5) “Horny.” We are absolutely NOT going to pretend like assault is sexual. Rape and assault are not sex. That’s like saying drowning is a type of swimming.
6) “Mistake” NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. A mistake is when you’re holding a coffee cup and your phone and you accidentally throw your phone in the trash instead of the coffee cup. A mistake is when you put your shirt on inside out. A mistake is ordering 30 pairs of underwear instead of 3. You can not chalk assaulting your friend up to a mistake.
Enough about his bullshit, now for the part about cheating. I hear your concern and I am so so so sorry that your brain is telling you that you had any complicity in this. You did not and it really breaks my heart for both you and your husband that what this person did is harming you both like this. Please hear me: you did not cheat even 1% even .000000001%. Please please please keep working on understanding that. Please keep trying to do work to not only forgive yourself, but someday understand that there was nothing to forgive. You did your best with the horror handed to you. Give yourself some grace, please.
Something catastrophic and violent happened to you and you’re comparing that to cheating. What happened is as similar to cheating on your husband as breaking your leg is. THEY AREN’T FUCKING CLOSE. A bad thing happened—someone violated you—and you’re trying desperately to come up with a reason and if you can blame yourself then there you go, there’s your reason. Your brain is really trying to get you on board with the idea that you caused this in some way because, again, it’s scary to imagine that you had no control. But you didn’t.
You did not have control over Harvey assaulting you. Harvey had control over assaulting you. He wanted to assault you and he did. It is NOT—let me be so fucking clear on this—NOT because he was lonely or horny. I have been lonely and horny and never once in my life have I even briefly entertained the idea of assaulting someone. He assaulted you because he wanted to assault you. Because he is an assaulter. That is the beginning and end of this. There is no friendship there. NONE. NONE. If someone shot your husband in the leg on purpose would they be your friend? Would you support your husband staying friends with them? Would you want to be around that person ever? Would you ever feel safe around that person? If Harvey had shot you in the leg on purpose would you be wondering if he was your friend? NO BECAUSE HE INTENTIONALLY HARMED YOU. And that is also the same thing he did when he assaulted you. He was awake—you do not assault friends in your sleep, and you certainly don’t dirty talk while you assault friends in your sleep— and aware and fully cognizant of what he was doing.
I know your husband doesn’t want to be controlling and I get that, and that’s very lovely of him. I would strongly, strongly, strongly recommend that you cut Harvey out of your life forever — NO communication with him!!!—due to your past trauma and how this is currently affecting you. I am obviously not in charge of how you handle your trauma, though. If you have a method that you think will help you feel better faster, great. You have my full support from afar.
I know you said you’re a people pleaser. I am, too!!! (Despite my online persona of being kind of a bitch). If you’re struggling, instead of trying to please your friend or your husband—or even yourself, which can be impossibly hard—feel free to try to please me. I know! Sophia! How self-centered. But really. Imagine pleasing me. What would please me the very very most is if you never spoke to this piece of shit again. If you found ways to process this trauma without him. If you kept going forward looking for moments of grace for yourself. It would please me a lot if you tried to take care of yourself. If you asked your husband for what you need and want right now. If you kept going to therapy whenever possible. If you bought yourself a little treat like an ice cream or a new face serum or whatever it is you like every once in a while or if you went on a long drive or had a bubble bath or held a puppy. That would please the shit out of me. If you can’t get to pleasing yourself yet, just focus on pleasing me, your friend from afar. Don’t worry about your husband or Harvey right now. Your husband will be ok, I promise. And Harvey is a disgusting cockroach so we don’t have to worry about him.
Take it slow. Try to be easy on yourself. Reach out again if you need to. I’m here. You did nothing wrong. Your brain is being a liar and it’s easy to want to be mad and her for that (you can be!!!) but you have to be gentle with her because she’s convinced she did something wrong. There will be healing. I promise you. I promise you.
Have a question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.