THE HEART YEAR
- December 12, 2019
- Denise Lee
When I thought about how to begin this piece, a million things raced through my mind. This year has been all kinds of strange and I don’t quite know how or where to start. Instead of trying to curate and filter everything that I had to go through, I am going to be as raw and real as possible. There were countless ways in which I wanted to tell this story – I even considered telling it through a video. But writing has helped me through the hard days and the days when all hope felt lost. So it seemed only natural to tell my story in the medium that is ingrained in my bones. I don’t want to leave anything unsaid and I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. I want to undo the twisted knots that I have been keeping inside of me. This piece is going to be long and painful so buckle up.
You made it through those terrible nightmares and flashbacks. You made it through the last 8 years alone. But you are no longer alone. Many stand behind you because they love you. I am behind you too. I promised you that someday I will tell our story. That time is now. Don’t be afraid. I’ve got you and I’m holding on tightly to your hand. Let’s go.
A year I experienced the highest high and lowest low. At the same time.
I’ve met the most amazing human being who loves me so unconditionally simply because he does and yet, all I’ve had to deal with is trauma.
One morning in September, in the middle of my storm, I wake up feeling like my world is crumbling and every fibre in me wanted to stay in bed and wallow. Then a soft whisper reminded me that when all this is over, I will tell my story. Everything is made beautiful in its time. The time for my story has come.
The truth is, I have been keeping a secret for the last 8 years.
A secret that has given me countless nights of terrifying flashbacks and anxiety.
A secret that has taken so much strength to overcome alone.
A secret that I thought God had “dealt with”.
A secret that has unravelled me in such a profound way this year and changed the course of my life forever.
The truth is, when I was 17, I dated a boy who never respected me and who forced my first kiss away from me even when I said no. The truth is, we broke up after only a few months of dating because he didn’t respect my physical boundaries and my dad caught him grabbing my ass at a youth camp – I was cleaning the backyard of the location we were at after a game when he came from behind me and did what he did. The truth is, this boy told me that he used to masturbate to my picture while we were dating. The truth is, one year after the break up when I was 18, this same boy sexually assaulted me in the train on the way back from a Jeremiah School reunion in Penang, while I was asleep. The truth is, I knew what was happening to me but I was too terrified to do anything, so I pretended to sleep until I could no longer stand the sensation of his fingers under my pants. The truth is, he tried to force himself on me a couple of weeks later when we were volunteering at a children’s camp, on a pew in the church sanctuary. The truth is, I was paralysed but I mustered the strength to push him off because I knew if I didn’t I would have been raped. The truth is, I had to see him almost daily after these incidents because we went to the same college and it was torture. The truth is, I had to pretend that I was fine.
The truth is, when I wanted to get out of this church, I had no escape plan because I could not tell my parents. The truth is, the only way I knew how to run away was to leave the country. The truth is, when I finally got accepted into the University of Sheffield, I was overjoyed. The truth is, I did not realise that I had been sexually assaulted until I studied Criminal Law in Law School. The truth is, I never thought that something like this would happen to someone like me.
The truth is, this same boy had the nerve to tell me that I would lose my virginity in the UK because sleeping around was a common thing. The truth is, during my summer breaks home, he came up to me asking if I was still a virgin. The truth is, after I graduated and came back to KL for good, I finally was able to leave. The truth is, I am so grateful that God never made our paths cross, that I never had to bump into him even though we lived in the same suburb. The truth is, I’ve been keeping all of this to myself and struggled with finding someone who could love me for me because I saw myself as damaged and used. The truth is, early this year, I made the decision to tell the next man I date that this is what I am going through.
The truth is, my beautiful friend JJ, was the first person to know about this secret and she cried with me as I opened my heart to her in my living room the night before my first date with C. The truth is, when I met C, my biggest fear was him walking away from me after finding out the secret of my past. The truth is, he chose to stay, he chose to love me, he chose to be with me despite of.
The truth is, I saw the boy who caused me so much grief at a wedding earlier this year. The truth is, he acted like we were still friends; like everything was okay. The truth is, when he walked over to me to give me a hug, I was paralysed all over again. The truth is, I just wanted to kick him in the balls and never see his face again.
The truth is, over the last 8 years, I have suffered flashbacks and dreams that left me waking up in cold sweat. The truth is, I felt like I had no voice. The truth is, I blamed myself for allowing such a terrible thing to happen to me. The truth is, I could not look at my body from the neck down in the mirror for so many years because all I felt was disgust. The truth is, I’ve been suffering from panic attacks this year and I questioned my emotional and mental state more times than I can count my fingers and toes. The truth is, I could not stand myself for a really long time.
The truth is, the journey has been so hard and there are no words to describe it.
The truth is, everything that I’ve been going through has made me question my very belief of God’s love for me because I cannot figure out what I have done wrong to deserve this hell. The truth is, there are days when I just don’t want to speak to Him. The truth is, I also know that there is a greater purpose for my suffering.
The truth is, though, I wish it didn’t happen to me.
When I first told C about this secret, he looked me straight in the eyes and told me that nothing will change. When I first told my mum about this secret, she cried and it broke my heart. When I first told my brothers about this secret, they were filled with so much anger – something that I had never seen before. When I first told my dad about this secret, he didn’t know how to react because he wasn’t the fiery man he once was and all he could do was hug me. When I first told friends about this secret, there were so many reactions to a point it felt like I was sitting in a bag of multi-flavoured gummies.
I thought that telling people would finally set me free from this pain. But it only manifested as anxiety, panic attacks and mild depression towards the end of September. One moment I would feel completely fine and the next, I’ll be trembling on my living room floor. There were mornings when I could not bring myself to get out of bed but forced myself to try and function at some semblance of normalcy. There were days when all I wanted to do was sit in a corner and cry. Each day was an emotional roller coaster and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I felt guilty asking for help, asking for love. I felt like I was a burden to my family, my friends and my boyfriend. People who love me and would give the world for me. But I could not escape the demons in my head.
Eventually, I decided to begin therapy. And she has been helping me gain back some of my sanity. It’s still a journey I’m on and I don’t know how long this will take. It has helped me tremendously to think more clearly. She told me that everything that I am going through is completely normal for a victim of sexual assault. I don’t know whether I was relieved to hear that. But it’s a process of trying to remind myself that I am not broken and I do not need to be fixed. It’s a process to see myself as a survivor and not just a victim. It’s a process that I am still struggling through because the voices in my head are relentless. Good days and bad days, I tell myself that it’s okay to feel. I try. And I try. And I try.
When I was lying next to C on the couch one week into our relationship, he told me loved me and he has never wavered. Even on the days I want to push everyone away, he comes and he holds and he loves. My mum has travelled all the way from Subang to stay with me on nights when the anxiety threatens to keep me awake. My dad in his own quiet way has given me space that I need to grieve the innocence of my youth that was lost. My brothers (and their girlfriends) have made me dinner, comforted me and handmade me gifts to remind me that I am loved and I deserve to be happy. My friends have made time to let me go on and on in my rambling ways about all the shitty things I feel. My colleagues have sacrificed and taken on more so that I can function better in the office. Everyone in my life has given above and beyond to me – even though I must admit, that sometimes in the cloudiness of my emotions, I cannot recognise their sacrifices. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such love. I try to appreciate and I try to get better but the truth is, this journey is still lonely and nobody can ever truly understand the battles I have to go through every day. But the point is that I try.
And. I. Try.
We’re not here to fulfill our potential but rather to fulfill our purpose.
(Miles Toulmin, HTBB)
The process of accepting the cards I’ve been handed is ongoing but I have one thought.
If I was born to tell my story just to help another person going through a similar experience, then it is worth the suffering I’ve had to endure.
And I’ll keep telling myself that life will stop being so bad.
We’ve come full circle. December will be a reminder of my freedom and this
person thing no longer holds a place in my life.
And to the person born on the 31st of this month 26 years ago, your existence has caused me the deepest grief I have ever experienced. There are so many mean and nasty things that I want to say to you. But I choose not to waste my breath and energy because you are nothing but a speck of dust on this road I am journeying on. All I have to say is that this is not your story or narrative. It is mine. You have no voice in this. And now that I have said everything I need to say, I am setting myself free. You are in every sense of the word, an asshole, and a disgusting human being. For all the pain, anxiety and hurt you’ve caused me. We are not friends and you are someone that I hope to never ever have to bump into or see again. You have done and taken enough from me. So let me make this crystal clear – don’t you fucking dare try to reach out to me.
You have come so far this year. You were strong and brave. You fought hard. You survived.
I can’t promise that this will disappear completely. But I can promise you that it will get better. I want you to know that you are safe.
Even though you will still have bad days, don’t let that engulf you because there is still so much beauty and good.
Some days, it feels like you’re on the road alone but you never have been. There will be beauty where beauty was ash and stone.
You are not alone. There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know. And He has NEVER left you. He has always been good.
So live the rest of your life fearlessly.
Dear family and friends,
Whether this is the first time you are learning about my secret or you’ve heard it before, please don’t feel like you have to do anything. It took me a long time to tell my story because I needed time to process everything and I needed time to get better. I still do. Pray for me because on some days, I cannot even pray for myself. But if I can have one request, it would be this – please don’t tiptoe around me because I am not made of glass. I will get better and having you on this journey with me means the world. And in the words of Kristoff, “My love is not fragile.” While I’m in a vulnerable stage in life, my love for all of you will not falter and wither.
You, who is reading this, who may have had a similar experience, who feels like your voice is being drowned by the waves of doubt in your head, who needs a little extra love and care. You are not alone. You are strong and brave and loved. I hear you, I see you, I want to connect with you. Please send me an email ([email protected]) and let’s chat.
Let’s start fresh, 2020. I’m ready to leave this one behind.