A Dom Ignored My Safeword. Now What?

No, the title of this post isn’t something that has happened to me recently, so please don’t worry! But it’s something I see shockingly frequently, from Fetlife to Reddit’s r/BDSM and many other places on the internet. “My Dom ignored my safeword. What do I do now?”

I hate how common this question is, and I wanted to address it.

For anyone who doesn’t know, a safeword is an agreed-upon word that clearly and unambiguously means “stop immediately”. They’re often employed in kink and BDSM situations, particularly those where words like “no” and “stop” not being taken at face value is part of the game.

“Red” is a common safeword (with the accompanying “orange”/”amber” meaning pause and check in). But your safeword can be whatever you want it to be. My first one was “canary”.

A safeword is an absolute. You should never play without one, no matter how long you’ve been together, and you should never, ever ignore one. Oh, and by the way? If you haven’t explicitly agreed otherwise, “no” and “stop” are the ultimate safewords in every context.

First: no, you’re not overreacting

When a Dom has ignored your safeword, you might feel a range of different emotions. You might feel angry, sad, betrayed, frightened, numb, or something else entirely. When a Dom ignored my safeword in a scene years ago, I felt scared first, sad second, and angry much later. Your experience might look very different.

Whatever you feel, and whether the harm is physical or psychological or both, your feelings are valid. You are not overreacting.

Seek support if you need it

Do you need to talk to a kinky friend or another partner, see your therapist, or yell into the void of an anonymous online forum? You get to seek support, whatever that looks like for you.

If the consent violation occured in a public or semi-public location such as a dungeon, sex club, munch, or even a private kink party, consider telling an organiser, team member, or dungeon monitor. They should make sure you’re okay and help get you the support you need in the moment. They may also remove the perpetrator from the space and perhaps even issue a (temporary or permanent) ban.

You might also have been physically harmed. If you have been physically injured or been sexually assaulted in a way that leaves you vulnerable to an STI or an unwanted pregnancy, please seek medical attention immediately.

You don’t have to confront them (though you can)

Your only job is to take care of yourself. You don’t have to confront the person who ignored your safeword and call them out on it. But if you want to, you’re also within your rights to do so.

If telling them that what they did was fucked up and not okay, have at it. If you’d rather stay far away from them, you get to do that, too.

You don’t have to decide immediately if you’ll ever play with them again

If you ask me if I think you should give a Dom a second chance after they violate your safeword, I will always say absolutely not. I can forgive a lot of things, but this is such a complete and total annihilation of trust that I would never let that person near me ever again.

But your mileage may vary. If you feel conflicted, you don’t have to decide straight away. You get to take all the time you need and you’re allowed

Also: you’re not obligated to give them a second chance, no matter how apologetic and contrite they seem. Don’t let them guilt you into it if you don’t want to.

Their reputation is not your concern

Choosing whether to speak out publicly in the community about your experience is a very personal decision. There are good arguments on both sides and ultimately, the best choice is the one that’s right for you.

Either way, remember that their reputation is not your problem. You do not have to keep silent to protect them. You also do not have to make excuses for them or downplay what happened if you do choose to share.

Sadly, when someone speaks up and says “this Dom ignored my safeword”, some people will accuse them of exaggerating or instigating a witch-hunt. You’re not. Keep speaking your truth if you want to.

Don’t blame yourself

You might be tempted to blame yourself. You might be wondering if you didn’t say your safeword loudly or forcefully enough[1], if you should have put up more of a physical fight when the Dom continued, or if you just safeworded when it wasn’t “necessary.”

Sometimes, the D-type in question will seek to blame you, too. One common tactic amongst abusive Doms is to say something like “I knew you could take more”, “I know what you need better than you do”, or “I told you I played hard so you should have known what to expect”.

No. All of this is bullshit. The only person to blame for ignoring your safeword is the person who did it, and there is never any excuse. Kink is about consent and without ongoing, active consent, it is abuse. You get to safeword at any point for any reason and have that respected.

If you take nothing else away from this piece, please take this: it is not your fault.


[1] I want to acknowledge that there might be rare incidents where a Dom genuinely does not hear a safeword. This might happen in a loud environment like a play club. But in those circumstances, they will be mortified and apologetic and go out of their way to take care of you the moment they realise what has happened. It is also the Dom’s responsibility to ensure consent is ongoing in those environments, whether through clear non-verbal safe signals, regular check-ins, or even just choosing to play somewhere a little quieter.

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Feelings Aren’t Emotional Manipulation

I’m a very emotional person. I cry a lot. A short and incomplete list of things I’ve cried about semi-recently include: someone with a gorgeous voice singing at my friend’s birthday Zoom party, a Cats Protection ad about a rescued kitty finding his forever home, a pitch (that I wasn’t even all that attached to) getting rejected, a near-stranger’s story of surviving abuse, and the mushy ending of my favourite TV show. My emotional nature means I’ve been accused more than once of emotional manipulation.

I’m a cryer. It’s how I process feelings, both good and bad. Fundamentally, I’m a very emotional person.

My ex hated it when I cried. Which was unfortunate, because he was very good at making me cry. I don’t know if he expected me to be an emotionless robot or if he just didn’t like to be confronted with the consequences of his behaviour. But if he yelled at me and I got upset, he’d just yell at me more. If he called me a horrible name and I cried, he’d call me something even worse. When I tried to express how he was hurting me, he’d tell me I was being manipulative.

This isn’t an isolated experience. It’s not even unusual. Spend any time in the hellholes of places like Reddit Relationships, Quora, or Facebook groups dedicated to relationship advice, and you’ll see it:

“She cried in front of me and now I feel manipulated!”
“I was upset and he said that I was manipulating him.”
“She started crying and now I feel guilty!”

“Why do women turn on the tears to manipulate men?”

This is also an incredibly gendered phenomenon. In 99%+ of the examples I’ve seen, the person being accused of being “manipulative” is a woman or someone read as a woman. It’s also usually in the context of their (usually male) partner having done or said something that a reasonable person is likely to be upset by.

But here’s the thing: having feelings and expressing them isn’t manipulation.

Some people are generally more emotional than others. Some keep their feelings under wraps while others wear their hearts on their sleeves. But to dismiss someone’s genuine emotional response as a trick or a ploy is incredibly cruel.

Is my partner manipulating me with their emotions?

If your first response to your partner or loved one’s distress is “but what if they’re manipulating me?”, you have a big problem. You either don’t trust this person at all, or you have little to no regard for how your behaviour makes them feel. Either way, you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship with them.

If someone is upset about something you did, you should at least consider that maybe you did a shitty thing. If you’ve upset someone, your first response shouldn’t be “how dare you be upset about what I did/said?”. Doing this can be part of a tactic known as DARVO: deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender. It’s a particularly insidious and dangerous form of gaslighting.

This won’t be true in absolutely all cases, of course, and sometimes it will be a grey area. It’s possible to acknowledge that you made the right decision for yourself AND acknowledge that it’s reasonable for the other person to be upset about it. You might or might not have the ability or capacity to support them through those feelings, but don’t write them off as nothing but a calculated emotional manipulation tactic.

Is it possible to use feelings in a manipulative way? Yes, absolutely. But simply having them and expressing them, even strongly, isn’t manipulation.

Am I manipulating my partner?

As one very smart person on a Reddit thread about this topic said: “manipulation is about intent.” If you fabricate or exaggerate an emotional reaction to persuade someone to do what you want, you might be being manipulative. If, on the other hand, you’re just expressing what you feel, that’s not a manipulation tactic. That’s part of being a person.

Dismissing someone’s feelings can be a form of emotional abuse or emotional manipulation. So if your partner routinely tells you that your genuine feelings are manipulative, that’s a huge red flag.

Your feelings are real and valid and you’re allowed to feel them. People who love you will make it safe for you to express your emotions, including the difficult ones. You’re not manipulating anyone by feeling sad, angry, disappointed, frustrated, or any other emotion.

What to do if you’re being emotionally abused

Again: emotional dismissal can be a part of emotional abuse. This form of abuse can be extremely hard to spot and even harder to extricate yourself from.

If you feel unhappy or unsafe in your relationship – including emotionally unsafe – you are always within your rights to leave at any time for any reason. Please consider telling a friend, family member, or other trusted person. They can help you get to safety or start making a plan to leave the relationship.

Resources

If you’re a woman in the UK, you can call Refuge on 0808 2000 247. Men in the UK can call the Respect Men’s Advice Line on 0808 8010327, and LGBTQ+ people can use Galop’s helpline on 0800 999 5428.

If you’re in the US, no matter your gender you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1800 799 SAFE (7233).

For those in other countries, there’s a large list of resources here.

You Need to Listen to Survivors. Now More Than Ever.

TW: this post is about sexual assault, harrassment, and violence against women.

This has been a hard week to be on social media as a survivor of sexual violence. I was tempted to step away from the internet entirely but, well, I can’t really do that thanks to my job.

So I stayed. And I read the stories. And I sent love and solidarity to my fellow survivors all over the world, even as I felt increasingly hopeless and increasingly retraumatised.

I was 12 years old the first time a boy grabbed my breasts without my consent. I was 13 or 14 the first time I can remember having something obscene yelled at me in the street. The first time I felt creeped out by an adult man’s behaviour? I was 9. The first time a boyfriend pressured me into a sex act I wasn’t comfortable with? I was 15.

None of this is unusual. In fact, it’s heartbreakingly common. It’s practically ubiquitous.

All the stories that are pouring out on social media right now, in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard? If you’re not a survivor, I want you to listen to those.

If you’re not a person who experiences misogyny, I want you to sit with this and listen to it. Not because we think you’re to blame for the actions of all men. The point isn’t that all men are perpetrators, or even that only men are perpetrators. Obviously that’s not the case. The point is that virtually all women – probably every single woman you know – has been on the receiving end at some point or another.

Maybe someone walked a little too close to us as we walked home at night, or maybe someone yelled something disgusting from a passing car. Maybe we were raped or assaulted by a man we trusted. Perhaps we convinced ourselves it wasn’t really assault, it wasn’t really harrassment, it doesn’t really count. Perhaps we didn’t report because we felt like no-one would believe us, no-one would care, it wasn’t really that bad.

Or maybe we did report, and maybe we were gaslighted into believing we imagined it. Maybe we were told not to make a fuss, not to ruin his reputation, not to go out at night or wear that dress or have that second drink if we don’t want our bodies to become public property.

Many of us were children the first time this happened.

If you don’t experience misogyny and you’re not a survivor, I need you to hear this. We don’t need self-congratulatory posts about how you’re such a good guy and feel ashamed to be male because of what others of your gender have done. We don’t need to hear “I would never do that.” Instead, we need you to listen to us. To ask how you can help. To talk to your fucking friends and to stop asking that one creepy, gropey, rapey guy to your parties. We need you to step in and stop being a bystander.

I want to stop hearing about how people don’t think they’re part of the problem, and start seeing them be part of the solution.

But first I want you to listen.

And I want you to believe us.

I Wish I Could Ask You…

TW: abuse

I will never see or speak to you again. That is, undoubtedly, a good thing. I do not want you anywhere near me, now or ever. After I left you, even being in the same city – with 150,000 other people – felt too close.

There are so many things I want to ask you, though I know I will never get the chance. Things I still don’t understand, can’t make sense of. It’s six years since I left, and I am still picking up the pieces. Still unpicking, untangling, rebuilding, relearning. You could give me answers, but we both know you won’t.

I want to ask you what you were thinking. I was so young. A legal adult, yes, but far too young and far too broken to fully understand what I was getting into with you. I want to ask you why you couldn’t be the responsible fucking adult and walk away.

I want to ask you why you laid so much responsibility at my feet. When you made my youth, my body, my adoration a salve for your bruised ego, did you know what an impossible corner that put me in?

I want to ask you if you ever believed the things you said in the beginning, or if you only placed me on the pedestal so you could blame me when I inevitably toppled off? I’m not sure which would be worse.

I want to ask if you ever heard a word I told you.

I want to ask you who you thought I was. You always told me I might be able to be something extraordinary, if only I’d let you shape me like an artist chipping away at marble. What I understand now is that I always had that potential inside me, and it had nothing to do with you. Did you see that, too? Did it scare you? I want to ask you if you always knew I’d grow up and outgrow you and walk away someday.

I want to ask you how you got so quickly and so completely in my head. Was it intentional? Calculated? Was it a challenge, or do mind-games just come naturally to you?

I want to ask you if there have been others. How many? Do you have a replacement for me, some other naive young woman you can seduce, ensnare, tame, blame, destroy? What have you told her about me? Am I the devil incarnate, the one whose name you’ll throw at her as a comparison when she steps out of line? Am I the one who fucked you up? Do you blame me for the way you treat her?

Most of all, I want to ask if you regret any of it. If you have any sense of the havoc you wreaked, the damage you caused, the scars you left. I want to ask you if you enjoyed breaking me as much as it seems like you did.

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You Can Be Both Abused and Complicit in Abuse: A True Story

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
– Hans Christian Anderson

TW: this post is about abuse

One late afternoon in spring of 2015, I went to meet my then-metamour in a coffee shop. Talking to her was a last resort in a tangled, confusing mess of a situation that I couldn’t find my way out of. Our shared partner had become increasingly unstable, volatile, and verbally and emotionally violent towards me, and I had simply no idea what to do.

She called me her sister, and in some ways we were closer than close. We shared not just a partner but a coven, a plan for our little polycule’s future, and sometimes even a bed.

In other ways, though, there was always a wall between us that we could not scale. That wall was made of a lot of things. Of the fact that we both knew that, if push came to shove, he would choose her. I simply did not compare, as I was told frequently. Of the fact that I was a kind of human shield to her, someone who took the worst of his heat and terrifying temper away from her. Of the fact that I was afraid of her, because I knew she too could yell me into submission if I did anything she didn’t like.

Still, I turned to her because I thought she might be the one person who could get through to him. I’d seen how, sometimes, she was the only person in the world he’d listen to. So we sat across from each other, at a quiet corner table, and I quietly told her, in as few words as possible, that I’d realised I was in an abusive relationship with her husband.

I’ve never forgotten, and I doubt I ever will, the icy chill that ran through my body when she met my eyes, sipped her coffee, and asked calmly, “am I supposed to be surprised?”

That might have been the moment that I realised I was on my own. She was the final ace I had to play, the one person I thought might actually be able to help me. Instead, she told me that she’d known for years that he was abusive. She’d learned to live within it, she said, so I should too. I should be stronger, be better, be more loving. Remember everything he’d been through, his painful childhood and his fucked up family and all those girls who rejected him.

I didn’t have to be another source of pain for him. I didn’t have to be another brick in his wall of hatred and distrust of the entire world, especially women. Instead, I could help heal him. I could be one of the good ones. All I had to do was be quiet, be good, be better. Swallow my needs and my feelings and just smilingly let him be what he was.

That day, that conversation, was one more little step in my journey towards the inevitable end resolution of I cannot do this any more. Less than a week later, I left. Even as she counselled me to stay, what she inadvertently did was give me another of the series of little pushes I need to leave. Because I realised I had two choices: live within the system he’d built for me, or get out of it. It was never going to change.

No longer satisfied with just surviving day after day, I decided to get out.

Even after I’d left him, she struggled to retain access to me and piled on the pressure for me to stay. “How could you do this to us?” she asked me, even as we held each other and cried in her living room. “How could you choose someone else after all this time?”

What I wanted to say, and didn’t, was that it wasn’t about choosing someone else. It was about choosing sunlight and freedom and flowers over an oppressive cave where I could barely breathe and there were rocks just waiting to fall on my head. I didn’t say any of it. I just told her I was sorry, got out of that house as quickly as possible, and didn’t look back.

What I realise now is that she – my metamour, my friend, my sister – was both complicit and a victim. I do not doubt that he behaved abusively towards her, probably for most of their two plus decades together. I also see now that she behaved abusively towards me. She directly enabled him, counselled me with variations of if you could just be better he wouldn’t hurt you countless times, and did her fair share of yelling and threatening and intimidating me herself.

In the classic, endless, fucked up circle, the abused became the abuser. There’s a part of me that left because I didn’t want to end up an abuser, too. I do not forgive her, but I also hope that she will get away from him someday. I still feel guilty sometimes because I couldn’t save her. In the end, all I could do was save myself.

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5 Things I Used to Believe About Myself (That I Don’t Believe Any More)

I’m writing this as part of the Smutathon 2020 writing challenge in aid of Endometriosis UK. We’re coming to the end of hour number 10, with two more to go.

This one is inspired by this week’s Quote Quest prompt:

“Change your conception of yourself and you will automatically change the world in which you live. Do not try to change people; they are only messengers telling you who you are. Revalue yourself and they will confirm the change.”
– Neville Goddard

I’ve done a lot of work on changing my perception of myself over the last few years, particularly since leaving my abusive partner just over 5 years ago.

So here are some of the things I used to believe about myself but don’t believe any more.

I have a low sex drive

Turns out I DON’T have a low sex drive – if anything, my libido is on the higher side (depression notwithstanding). I just thought I had a low sex drive for a long time, because I was in relationships where I didn’t feel empowered own my sexuality.

The first two men I had long-term relationships with both conceptualised my sexuality as something they could – should – own. They both placed a high value on “purity” and “innocence”, expecting me to stay a timid, shy creature forever. They wanted my availability, but my actual desire was somewhere between “irrelevant” and “mildly distasteful”.

I don’t have a low libido at all. No – I just need to be with people who value it.

I can’t leave a relationship

This is probably the most toxic and harmful thing I used to believe about myself. I believed this one for years. Prided myself on it, even. However bad things got, I told myself, I wouldn’t be the one to leave.

Loyalty and commitments are values I hold very close to my heart and take very seriously. But loyalty and commitment have limits. Eventually, even the most devoted person will be pushed too far. It wasn’t actually a virtue to stay in a relationship with someone who continually harmed me. It was a symbol of a profound degredation of my personal boundaries and self esteem.

Now, I know that if I am not being treated well, I will leave. And as a result, I’m in healthier relationships.

I’m too difficult to love

This was another narrative my abuser put into my head. He convinced me that I was inherently difficult to love because of my mental illness, trauma, and – frankly – my reasonable and sane negative reactions to the ways he treated me.

Another part of the reason I stayed so long? Because he convinced me that no-one else would love me the way he did. That I was “poison” and “cursed” (his words) and that he was doing me a huge favour by putting up with me.

The reality? I’m no more difficult to love than anyone else. We all have our “stuff” and in any long-term, commited relationship it will sometimes feel challenging. But no-one is too difficult to love. Especially not due to things like illness or trauma.

I’m defined by my trauma

It would be a lie to say that my trauma hasn’t changed me. Of course it has. No-one can come out of a long-term abusive relationship unscathed. The fact is that I do not know who I would have been without that experience.

But that doesn’t mean I am defined by my trauma. It is a part of me, but it is not me. I’m many things, and a survivor is one of them – an important one. But not all there is. Not by a long shot.

I’m straight

Lol.

Yeah, this is something I really used to believe about myself at one time. Seems strange now.

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The Me Who Never Met You

TW: abuse, suicidal ideation (in the past, am safe now)

There is a version of me who never met you.

In another life, I am whole. In another version of the story, the ending is different. Somewhere in that parallel universe, I am different.

In that life, I do not jump at nothing. I don’t have walls six feet thick around my heart. I don’t have nightmares about the goofy, charming smile I fell in love with, the smile that hides the monster that terrifies me. The monster I cannot tame with pleasing and placating and fucking and offering myself up as a sacrifice, even though I’ve tried.

In that life, I have not spent thousands of pounds on therapy just to stay alive. I have not been medicated and hysterical and within an inch of slashing my wrists alone in a random hotel room because of all the times you convinced me I was nothing.

The me that never met you might have had a chance to be alone for a while. That girl could have spent the best years of her youth travelling and learning and fucking and fucking up and spending all that energy on literally fucking anything else but trying in vain to meet your impossible standards.

The me who never met you might have kept more of her softness. Gentleness might have still come naturally to her, rather than being something unfamiliar and alien she had to relearn piece by piece. She might not have had to forge steel psychic armour just to survive.

There is a version of me who never met you. I wish I had been able to know her.

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Five Lessons I’ve Learned About Reclaiming Pleasure After Sexual Violence

Pleasure is complicated at the best of times. And reclaiming pleasure after you’ve experienced sexual violence can be an absolute minefield.

The first, last, and most important thing I want you to take away is this: your journey is your own. There is no correct way and there is no set path. To that end, this is not a how-to guide. It’s just a set of lessons I’ve learned.

Trigger warning for abuse, trauma, and sexual violence

Reclaiming pleasure after trauma is not a linear journey

It’s not a straight line. You won’t just get better and better each day until suddenly, you’ll find that you’re fully healed. At least, I don’t know any survivors whose experience has been this way.

You’ll have good days and bad days. Sometimes you might feel like you take two steps forward and one back. All of this is normal. It’s complicated, multi-faceted, and messy. You don’t need to berate yourself because it’s harder today than it was yesterday.

Be where you are today. Wherever that is, it’s okay.

A healthy sexual relationship with oneself can be immensely healing

“Sex” doesn’t have to involve another person unless you want it to. In fact, masturbation can be a really important part of healing from sexual violence and trauma.

Masturbation and solo sex is something you do entirely for yourself. You don’t have to perform or worry about pleasing someone else. You don’t even need to involve your genitals at all, if you don’t want to.

Self-touch is a wonderful way to get to know ourselves, to be kind and loving and gentle with ourselves. Pay attention to your body and what feels good. Do you just want to run your hands over your skin for now? Perfect, do that. Does using a wand vibrator through your clothes help you access pleasure in a way that feels safe? Amazing.

Your healing is for you. You don’t owe it to anyone else

I hear a lot from survivors who are anxious to recover or “get over” their experiences because they want to be able to give their partner a certain kind of sex. Sometimes this pressure comes from the partner. Other times, the partner is completely supportive and this pressure is internalised.

What I want to say to these survivors is this: your healing is for you.

Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to share awesome sex with your partner(s). But ultimately, it has to be for yourself first. No-one has the right to access to your body. Not even if you’ve been married for fifty years. You can’t heal for somebody else, and you don’t owe your partner(s) a certain kind of recovery.

There is no one correct version of healthy sexuality

Pleasure is many different things, and a healthy relationship with your sexuality means something different to everyone.

There’s a sadly very common narrative that says that promiscuity after trauma is by definition a sign of dysfunction, damage, or lack of healing. For me, it was the opposite. Having lots of hot, filthy, consensual sex with lots of different people has been tremendously healing, validating, uplifting, and a massive part of reclaiming pleasure and my relationship with my body after the abuse I went through.

Find what works for you. Monogamy or polyamory or singledom. Vanilla or kink. Masturbation or partnered sex. All the sex, or none of the sex. It’s all valid and there is no script.

Some things might never go back to the way they were

This was perhaps the hardest thing to learn when I started healing from my abuse experience and reclaiming pleasure and sexuality.

Abuse changes us. It has a deep, profound, and lasting impact. I know that the things I’ve experienced will, in some ways, be with me forever. I’ll never go back to the way I was before – not completely.

But that’s okay. Nothing stays the same forever, and every experience we have shapes and molds us. So no, I’ll never be the person I was before. But I can grow into someone else – informed by my experience, but not defined by it.

If you need crisis support after sexual violence, please contact RAINN in the USA and Rape Crisis in the UK.

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Being Believed Changes Everything

Trigger warning: abuse and survivors not being believed

I logged into Fetlife this morning for the first time in a few days, to find a message from someone I haven’t seen in years. I regarded this person as a friend and I think I even had a little crush on them! But I met them through a community I was brought into by my abusive ex. A community I left behind when I walked away from that relationship. I cut every tie I had with everyone who was connected with him, because I had to.

I won’t go into detail about what my friend said to me in their message, but there was an underlying theme that immediately leapt out at me. That theme was I believe you. Lots of us believe you. We see him for what he really is.

It made me cry, because being believed isn’t something survivors get to experience very often.

Being believed changes everything

This is actually, coincidentally, the second instance recently of someone reaching out to me with a message that amounts to “hey, I believe you”.

When you’re a survivor of any kind of abuse, being doubted and disbelieved is something that comes with the territory. You speak out, and people question you, interrogate your story, or outright accuse you of lying. It’s painful, and it sucks. Maybe you keep speaking out and harden yourself to the world’s hostility, or maybe you shut up, retreat, keep quiet, watch your abuser continuing to have power and influence.

Imagine how different the world would look if we believed survivors as a matter of course. Imagine how much more effectively we could tackle the problem of abuse if our first reaction to it wasn’t to brand survivors as crazy, as delusional, as liars, as attention seekers.

If you do one thing for a survivor, believe them

You can’t rescue them, nor should you try. Inserting yourself into the narrative as a saviour does more harm than good. You can’t push them towards a specific path, like pressing charges. You can’t make the pain or the trauma or the fucking heartwrenching, eviscerating reality of what they experienced go away.

But what you can do is believe them.

The times in the last few years that someone has reached out a literal or virtual hand to me and said, “I believe you”? Those meant everything. They broke through the fog of doubt and guilt, the occasional intrusive thoughts that still pop into my head, saying but what if it was you all along? What if you were just too crazy, too broken, not good enough for him to love you properly?

Because being believed changes the game.

This one is for my fellow survivors. I love you and I believe you.

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[Quote Quest] It’s Never All Bad

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
– Brene Brown

TW: abusive relationship, mention of suicidal ideation

I don’t understand why you didn’t leave.”

I’ve heard some variation of this question dozens of times, if not hundreds of times, since I left my abuser a little over five years ago.

It’s an understandable question. Anyone who has heard me talk about what living in that relationship was like could be forgiven for wondering the same thing. Hell, I’ve asked myself the same question countless times.

The truth is nuanced and complicated. The truth is partly that I was so young – still a teenager when I met him, and he was so much older. I had precious little power to begin with, and he robbed me of the rest.

But the piece that’s always been hard for me to face is this: it wasn’t all bad.

It would be easy to leave an abuser if they were all bad. Very few people would even enter into, let alone stay in, a relationship with someone who treated them like shit right from the beginning. Abusers show their true colours over time, once you’re already invested. Or they temper their explosive outburts with moments of behaving like the sweetest, most loving person in the world.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about how I sometimes wished he would hit me because then I would feel confident naming it as abuse and be able to leave. Would I actually have left if he had done that? I don’t know. I might still have justified it, excused it, run logical rings around us until I made it somehow my fault.

He wasn’t all bad.

I still remember the first time I saw him. A shock of long hair and a cheeky, charming grin, brown eyes that sparkled mischievously when they locked with mine. The first time we kissed, by still water on a chilly November night, when I thought my heart would stop. The first night we spent together, when we stayed up talking and fucking and talking until we fell asleep sometime past dawn.

Later, too, the lows that made me want to kill myself were interspersed with highs that felt like dancing on a cloud. He’d scream at me and throw things while I cowered away from him, wondering if this would be the time he’d lose control and throw a punch. But later, he’d shove me against a wall and kiss me and the incredible sexual chemistry we undeniably had would rush to the surface, and I would be powerless to say no.

One day he would tell me I was poison, a curse who destroyed his life the day he met me. The next, he’d tell me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known, a goddess who had him under a spell. From day to day, I never knew if I’d be an angel or a demon.

The man who reduced me to calling my best friend, sobbing and suicidal, in the middle of the night was the same man I waited for in airports at dawn, just to throw my arms around him when he came through the barrier.

Even when I was in the middle of it, I recognised the rollercoaster. I remember telling friends, “we never do things by halves. It’s either incredible or it’s terrible, there is no middle ground”. Every time a low was low enough that I almost left, a new high would suck me back in. It was like almost dying and then taking a gulp of oxygen. Over and over and over.

It wasn’t all bad. And I wish it had been. Because then I might have left much sooner… or never got involved in the first place.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this piece, it’s this: maybe don’t ask survivors why they didn’t leave earlier. Our reasons are personal, complex, nuanced, and our own. We don’t have to justify it to you or to anyone. For me? I stayed for so long because it wasn’t all bad. Until the day it was.

The Quote Quest badge, for a post about my abusive relationship and how it wasn't all bad

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