***Trigger warnings apply to this post. Please read at your own discretion.
My recent post about my time in Lincoln has got me thinking about a lot of stuff that happened back then. It’s things I’ve touched on elsewhere, previously, but not really something I’ve gone into detail about to any great extent.
I want to go into it now.
At some point, I want to really delve in and talk about my childhood as there’s: A, a lot to say there, and B, it gives so much context to all of this. For now, though, I will preface by saying I had very limited experience of life and/or the “real world” when I went to uni. I had very few social skills and even fewer social graces. It’s not that I wanted to be rude, or anything, I just literally didn’t know any better. Having had just one friend in high school can kind of leave you blinkered to what’s acceptable. But anyway, the point is I was fairly clueless. So there was a steep learning curve.
About a year before I went to Lincoln, I had my first ever boyfriend. At the age of seventeen, I had my first kiss and my first sexual experience. It was also around this time that I joined the church. This made things complicated for me, because sex before marriage was very looked down upon. I felt guilty, so I broke up with the guy. I still felt guilty, even then. I thought I was was a bad Christian. A bad person. An impure person.
I wanted to change, but part of me still wanted to date and do the things that went along with it. I felt torn.
I left for England, a lot of this stuff still going on in my mind. (I could go on a massive rant here about how I feel the church does a lot more harm than good with their take on sex and relationships, but I’ll leave that for a different time. For now, the basics will suffice.)
Summary of my first year in Lincoln: a lot of that steep learning curve with regards to social situations I was talking about. I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends, but I also, unwittingly, upset and offended a lot of people. I had a second boyfriend, made some more mistakes, and plowed on.
In the summer between my first and second years, I returned to Northern Ireland and spent most of my time at church events. I repented of my sins and went back to uni in September vowing to be better.
My second year wasn’t too bad, all in all. I made a lot of those great memories I referenced in my previous post, and I started my third year feeling pretty fantastic. Then I met a guy (can you see a pattern here?).
It was between my second and third year that I moved into a less desirable part of town. I didn’t know it was less desirable at the time, but hindsight has shown me that living in the dark streets off the lower end of the High Street was one of many factors that led to the big heap of trouble I was headed into.
Lincoln isn’t all that big, comparatively speaking, but when I was living away from the main student accommodation I came to feel really isolated. I had two housemates, but they weren’t around very much.
One night, near the start of term, I was walking back home when I met a guy who asked for my number. He was attractive and I was interested, but I was also wary. I didn’t know him and I had made a vow to myself not to make the same mistakes as before. Again, I was torn.
Because I was feeling lonely and I really wanted someone, but I was also feeling strong and determined not to be impulsive, I went for a compromise and gave him my email address instead of my number.
Satisfied with this supposed clever solution, I finished my walk home. The next day, I had a message. We chatted back and forth and he invited me out for a coffee. This seemed acceptable to me – it was just a coffee. We were meeting in a public place – so I agreed with the intention of getting to know him better.
I had no intention of rushing into anything.
He, as it turns out, had other ideas.
At the time, he seemed charming and kind. He asked to walk me home and I agreed. When we got there, I invited him in for a cup of tea. He agreed. He wanted to spend some more time together and watch a movie. Fine, I thought. Movies were innocent enough.
…I guessing you can see where this is headed. Everything that happened next was a whirlwind.
From those few emails to a cuppa and a walk home, this guy started telling me that we were in a relationship, that that meant we were having sex, and that 50% of everything I had now belonged to him. This was the very same day we’d met up. I thought he was joking.
He was not joking.
I think I was with this guy for like three days – four days at most – but, within that time, he had told me to change how I look, change what I did, and cut ties with all of my friends. That probably sounds ridiculous, because it was, but it was also scary because he meant it. He wanted to control everything about me. I was so out of my depth it was unreal. And I was kicking myself, because it was all my fault, right? It didn’t matter that I’d made my boundaries clear to this guy, because he’d decided to move them. He was in charge.
On the third or fourth day, he went home. I broke up with him via text message. He didn’t seem particularly surprised or angry about it, which was a huge relief. I could put it all behind me and go back to feeling guilty.
Spoiler alert: I could not put it behind me. In those days, mainly because of the guilt, I could not let anything go. Within the space of a week, I went from feeling super strong in my faith to feeling worthless. And I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because all of my friends were church people who would focus in on the fact that I had sex and not on the part where I was seriously feeling hurt and betrayed.
I bottled it up. I got drunk like twice and convinced myself I had a drinking problem – because getting drunk is a sin, right? I started to spiral, feeling more and more guilty.
Then I met a guy who was super lovely who I genuinely really liked, and I held him at arm’s length. I would hang out with him, but I wouldn’t let him call it a date. I would kiss him but not admit we were in a relationship. He told me he loved me and I ran a mile. He wasn’t a Christian. I couldn’t let myself have him.
So, after a while of batting him back and forth like a ball – sending him a bunch of mixed messages – he walked away and I felt even more shitty and alone. And guilty. I have to keep reiterating the bit about the guilt, because it was such a constant in my life it had begun to take it over.
There were other things and other factors going on at the time, too. I’m glossing over those, because this post could easily become ten-thousand words long. Brief recap: depression grabbed hold of me like never before. I alienated a bunch more friends. I was failing all of my classes. I dropped out of university.
And then, after all that, came another night where I was walking home in the dark. Alone.
And I was raped.
I didn’t call it rape at the time. In my head, I labelled it as just another mistake. Because I blamed myself. It didn’t matter that I had said no, I told myself. It didn’t matter that I tried to push him away. All that mattered was that, when I realized what was happening, I let it happen. I couldn’t overpower the guy, so I lay back and waited for it to be over.
This was my rock bottom.
I stayed on that rock bottom for maybe six months.
I hated myself. I started cutting myself again. I started drinking more, and smoking. I tried to burn myself with my cigarettes. I put myself in yet more risky situations because I didn’t value my safety.
I left Lincoln feeling like a total failure of a human being. I had screwed everything up. I didn’t know what to do next.
Situational factors forced my hand and I moved back to Northern Ireland and the toxic environment of living with my parents. I tried to explain to my mum a little of what I’d been through, but she didn’t get it.
To stop feeling alone, I went back to that very first boyfriend of mine, but it wasn’t the same.
So, I went back to back to church and got so deeply involved with everything there that it made Lincoln fade in my mind and heart a little. I didn’t have a job, so I focused all of my energy on writing and God.
That pretty much takes me up to the time I went to Oxford, but that’s a different kettle of fish and, indeed, a separate blog post.
I’ve been wanting to write this particular blog post for such a long time, but I didn’t have the words (or the bravery). It’s been the best part of ten years since I had the breakdown I’ve described here, but it’s only about one year since I’ve come to understand that what happened to me was rape and that it wasn’t my fault.
Do I regret going to Lincoln? No. Like I said before, I had some of the best times of my life there. But as you can see, I also had some of my worst. If I was to do it all again, so much would be different.
Of course, we can’t go back. We can only go ahead, carrying these things with us and dealing with them the best we can along the way. That’s what this post is for.
For anyone else who was with me for parts of this journey at the time, I hope this explains things. I’m sorry it took so long to confess.
Thank you for reading.