A Letter To My Abuser

trigger warning: abuse and sexual abuse

Laura Frances Heitzman is a Manchester based digital illustrator, mural artist and all round creative gal. To celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls 2022 and in partnership with the egalitarian, Laura has released a limited edition print with all proceeds being donated to Trafford Rape Crisis.

To My Abuser,

I will never forget the feeling I had when I logged into twitter to find #metoo trending for the first time. I was both grateful that people were given a platform to be able to share their stories, and equally as heartbroken that so many people had these horrendous experiences to write about. I stayed up for hours reading people's stories. The sheer honesty blew me away, but I wasn’t ready to share my story just yet, so like many others I just shared a simple yet incredibly impactful ‘#metoo’.  

I knew as soon as I entered a healthy relationship that what we had in the past was extremely toxic. The first time I slept with my now partner, he asked for my consent multiple times throughout, and made sure that I was ok with everything that was happening. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d struck gold with such a wonderful, caring and considerate man. And although he is all of those things, I came to realise that asking for consent is the bare minimum to expect from a partner, and what me and you had was so far removed from that, anything else felt impossibly out of reach. I began to see that what we had for all of those years, four of those when I was still a child, was not consensual. The power dynamic was so imbalanced that I was hardly even on the scales at all. Not only did I have to deal with non-consensual intimacy, I had to deal with irrational outbursts of anger, gaslighting, guilt tripping, shaming and emotional manipulation. 

It wasn’t until years later that I finally went to therapy and opened up about what happened to me. The trauma that was unlocked in that therapy room week after week was overwhelming. I’d come home after every session and cry myself to sleep. Therapy unlocked memories I had buried deep  inside me, deep enough to suppress for years, but never deep enough to fully disappear. I never thought it would be a quick fix, but I convinced myself that each week I’d get better until I was cured. I was so wrong. The can of worms it opened was far too much for me to handle and I spiralled and spiralled until I hit rock bottom. Eight years of trauma spilled out of me in a matter of months and I was suddenly left to deal with everything all at once. New memories unlocked every session and for days after I would feel numb. This triggered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, and for a long time I have blamed you for all of it. I have been so frustrated and upset that you did this to me that I can’t help but wish you could feel this too, just to know how it feels to want to end your life over something you can no longer control.  

There is a part of me that is always filled with pain. Even on my best of days there is still a sadness that hangs over me like a shadow. It reminds me that I am not worthy of any kind of happiness and always seems to take me back to a place where I feel like I don’t matter. I often wake up in the night heartbroken after nightmares of being back in certain situations with you, unable to escape. I have flashbacks multiple times a week, sometimes every day, and I am unable to go to certain places because I am triggered so badly by the memories there that I can't revisit. I wonder how you would feel if your life was impacted so greatly that you were stopped from living your life freely, and the lengths you would go to make me suffer for it. 

Not only am I angry at you for causing all of this pain in my life, but I am also angry at myself. I have been through years of questioning myself on why I let you do these things to me and why I let you speak to me the way you did. I didn’t matter. I never mattered. All that ever mattered was you: your emotions, your pride and your ‘needs’ as you put it often. But I allowed this dynamic to take place. Why didn’t I leave? Why didn’t I say no and stick to saying no even when I was manipulated to change my mind again and again? I have been to several domestic abuse support sessions and every single woman there had the same experience as me - it took them a long time to leave. You were everything I’d ever known, you did your best to convince me that what we had was absolutely normal, and I believed you. I believed every word.  

I stayed after the police were called, after you’d pushed me to the floor and continued to verbally abuse me in the street as I sobbed, holding my bleeding arm. I stayed after you threatened to hurt me. I stayed after you emotionally manipulated me into doing things I had told you I didn’t want to  do. I stayed after you harassed me for hours and left me eighty missed calls when I was trying to work on a deadline. I stayed after you body shamed me. I stayed after you forced me to take multiple nude photos of myself. I stayed when you sent one of these nude photos around our school. I stayed after I caught you recording us being intimate in secret. I stayed after you stopped me from seeing those of my friends you didn’t like. I stayed even though you treated me like my life didn’t matter, because I truly believed I didn’t deserve anything better. I believed I was worthless, and that was exactly what you wanted. 

Looking back, I was socially conditioned into believing that to stay safe in this world, I had to keep others happy, especially men and people in powerful positions. Watching my Dad rule over our whole household, including my Mum, as if he was the king and we were his servants eventually meant that when we started our relationship, it was quite natural for me to fit into a people pleasing role, where your feelings were always the most important thing, and my voice was never heard. I used to look back and wonder how I didn’t know I was being abused, but this dynamic was so normalised in my world that I truly believed this role I had taken on was destined to be mine. This wasn’t just my future - it was every woman’s future. 

I often wonder if you knew what you were doing. Do manipulators know they are manipulating? Or is this just normal? Is it innocent behaviour to you? I was assured by my therapist that you did know. How could you not? You saw I was hurting and you repeated the same behaviour again and again. You convinced me I was the problem again and again. You knew I didn’t want to be intimate but you made me again and again. You knew exactly what you were doing, and that's the hardest part for me to understand.  

Why am I telling you all of this? I have asked myself the same question for a while. My therapist was concerned that whatever I say to you, and however I say it, I will never get the reaction I desire. I find it hard to believe that you would ever take accountability for any of this, I will never get an apology from you, and that is something I have come to accept. But this is my truth and I have every right to tell it. I am filled with regret that I never told you all of this when I left, but of course, I didn’t know until the cloud of us was lifted, and I saw everything for what it truly was. I need you to understand that I know what you did and I see you for who you truly are. You are an abuser. 

Although therapy unlocked all of the trauma inside me, and has caused me to experience PTSD, I am so thankful that I took this step. I couldn’t go on my whole life without addressing any of this, and it’s set me on a path of self growth that would not have been possible without it. I know that one day I will be ok. One day, I will be able to travel to places I am currently unable to face. One day, I will be able to go to sleep without the fear of seeing you in my nightmares. And one day, I will be able to find the courage to forgive you. But for now I am on a journey, a journey I never asked to be on, but a journey I am looking forward to healing from. I know that through the experience you put me through, I will be able to help other women, and to me that is an incredible gift that you have given to me. 

I am who I am because of all of my experiences, including the eight years you cast a spell over my life. As I am learning how to love myself and discover who I truly am, I am slowly starting to realise that I’m a good person who deserves to be loved. I am a kind, loyal, bright, bubbly, loving person, and I am all of those things, not because, but in spite of you. I am much more than the box you put me in, I am strong, creative, caring, empathetic and fun. I’m a victim of sexual and emotional abuse, but I am so much more than that.  

I always looked to the future with you. I wasn’t happy and I believed that everything would be ok once we had reached our ‘happily ever after’. Once we got married, everything would be different and you’d treat me right. Even though I chased the feeling of wanting to be loved and accepted, and receive the baseline respect from the one person that was supposed to love me, it was never going to be the case. Now, I know that my happily ever after always started and ended with me. Learning to love, accept and respect the person I truly am has always been my road to happiness. 

I naturally gravitate towards the past when my trauma takes me back to times I’d rather not relive, but I know that although healing isn’t linear, I will be able to focus more on the beautiful future I have that awaits me, without you in it. Never again will I experience the fear that rushed over my  body when you started to kiss me, knowing what would happen next, even if I tried to pull away. I will never be left tearfully apologising to you for going out in clothes you didn’t approve of, and I will never have to choose safety over comfort by abandoning the word ‘no’ to protect my heart again. For this, I am eternally grateful, and I have faith that eventually my heart will heal and I’ll be at peace with the past. I’m still mourning the loss of a childhood without abuse, and the person I could be now without it hanging over me, ready to take over at any moment.

But the future can only ever be better, and I truly believe many wonderful things are waiting for me. Although it may be far away, I can see a future where I am thriving in my career and living in a beautiful place where daily walks on the beach aren’t out of the ordinary. I’ll be married to the love of my life, with beautiful children that will be taught the importance of consent and respect as soon as they can talk. I long for the moment I can close my eyes, breathe in the fresh sea air and cry with joy and relief, overfilled with emotion because I’m finally at peace. I’ll know that not one moment of my life should ever be regretted, because everything that happened took me to a beautiful place, surrounded with love, light and acceptance. That day will come, and I can’t wait. 

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