Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which victims express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their abuser. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their abuser for an act of kindness. Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which describes strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.
Humiliation, degradation, mind control, harassment, stalking, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, drug facilitated sexual assault, rape.
This is my story.
I was 18 years old and in love with a man who didn't want me. Severely depressed. Battling Bulimia. Spending every minute of every day in anxiety over my appearance, as I did every day since I was a young girl. I was completely consumed by obsessive thoughts. I wanted to be loved more than anything. I wanted people to like me. I wanted people to notice me—men to notice me. I wanted to be beautiful. I believed that by attaining these things, I'd finally achieve happiness. My abuser came into my life at the perfect time. I was utterly broken, young, vulnerable, naive, and desperate to feel loved and wanted. He was the first man to show interest after my recent heartbreak, the first to really pursue me. That was all it took. There wasn't anything about him in particular that intrigued me, he wasn't kind or charming. I remember being disgusted by things he would say, he was cruel and disrespectful. That was my first impression. Regardless, I still felt a strong pull towards him in which I had no control. I knew that he wanted me, in some way. That's all that mattered.
Our relationship began just a couple weeks after meeting, the abuse was immediate but I wouldn't come to that realization for another 12 years. I didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like, what love from a man felt like. I watched my mother get abused by more than one man. I didn’t know love. On our third night together, I lost my virginity. I was ashamed, shocked that he so easily took it from me. It’s not what I wanted or what I intended, but it happened. I cried and I told him I wanted to go home. He was quiet while we walked out to the car. Once we were inside, he started asking me why I was crying, and I told him. I’ll never forget the look in his eye. Like something snapped. He didn’t believe me. He thought I lied about being a virgin and he was never going to let it go. He slammed on the gas pedal and we sped out of the driveway in a way that scared me more than I’ve ever been scared before. He started calling me a liar and a whore, he yelled at me the entire drive until he dumped me on the curb in front of my house. It was around 3 a.m. I sat on my porch alone for hours, frozen.
Over the next three years, there would be an array of events that I’m now struggling to gather. The complexities and the level of psychological and sexual trauma that ensued is even too much for me to wrap my head around. How can I put voice to this crazy story? How can words alone describe this man? I know that to some people my story will raise many questions. Why would you ever get involved with someone like this? Why did you stay? Why would you go back? Why didn’t you get help? The answers to these questions are painful, and the thought of judgment is even more painful. Some things are near impossible to see unless you’re the one standing there.
He simply terrified me. He was powerful and relentless. He would buy me flowers to make it all better, buy me the puppy I always wanted, tell me he loved me and used other false words and tactics to lure me back each time I tried to run. I was his. He drove a friend of his and I into the woods to build a fire one evening. At the time, I had never had a drop of alcohol, nor did I have any interest. He kept pressuring me to drink all through the night. I remember lying on my back as he literally poured alcohol down my throat while he laughed. I could tell his friend wasn’t okay with what he was doing. I could sense that he was too intimated to interfere. It was humiliating. Terrifying. Surreal. I felt powerless with no fight left. What is happening? Why am I letting this happen? I was completely paralyzed.
During that time he shared a house with two other roommates, he had the large room in the basement. Anytime I stayed the night and he left for work, he told me to stay in the basement until he got home for whatever reason, then years later explained it was because he was embarrassed of me. He once found laxatives in my purse—I’d been addicted for almost a year. Instead of helping me or showing sorrow for my illness, he laughed and said that I stink and told his friends.
My mother fell very ill and left to live with her parents. My sister and I were left with very little options and I didn’t feel like I had anywhere else to go. After a few months, we moved in together. The thoughts of leaving him were immediate, but it never seemed like a reality that I could grasp. You’re not going to leave. You’re not strong enough. You’ll be all alone. Where will you go? He won’t let you leave. I was trapped.
He was a broken man himself, of course. His story about his mother abandoning him as a baby left an ache in my heart that somehow made it easier for me to see past the darkness. He absolutely hated women. He believed them all to be liars and whores. He often told disgusting misogynistic jokes and sick racist one, too. Said the n-word often. He hated homosexuals and the fact that I had friends who were. He joked about pedophilia, "joked" about putting his penis in a baby’s mouth. He called me a sperm receptacle and a cum dumpster. He regularly insulted and degraded both my body and genitals. He showed me pornographic images one night to punish me, while he pointed out everything that he liked better. He regularly told me there were things that I could do to make myself more attractive. He said I was only friends with people that made me feel better about myself. He talked about how ridiculous it is for a woman to claim they’ve been raped by their husband or boyfriend, that it's just not possible. Proposing the idea that once you’re in a relationship, the man owns the woman’s body and can do whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases.
I remember I wanted to go for a walk after a disagreement, he locked the door and held my hands behind my back and wouldn’t let me leave. Another night, I remember crying, him yelling at me to relax while he forced anal sex on me. I remember him using objects and his fists. I remember him forcing me to perform oral sex for over an hour. I remember when I thought he was going to drown me. A monster. I knew he was a monster but I couldn’t escape. The process of traumatic bonding had taken a strong hold.
He was incredibly paranoid, questioned my every word and action. I rarely saw my friends and family, he didn’t like me to be out without him and when I was out, I made sure I returned on time. I remember getting out of bed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, he shot up and snapped at me, “Where are you going? What are you doing?!” On another occasion, I went to visit my mother, to ensure that I was being truthful he made me take his tape recorder and record our conversation. He never trusted me, he never gave me a chance.
Drinking became a big part of our relationship, we did it very regularly. I was completely ignorant in regards to the effect alcohol had on me or the effect it had on the majority of people. I had no idea of normal. One morning he woke me up to play an audio clip from his tape recorder of me, sobbing in the bathtub, pleading for help. It absolutely terrified me. I had no recollection of any of it. What is this? What is he doing? Why is he recording me like this? How often are these things happening? What else do I not remember? Blacking out from drinking was common—the norm—and happened on almost every occasion that I would drink. How was I to know if that was normal? I remember finding a large sex toy hidden in the closet that I had never seen before and a horrible feeling washed over me. Something was very wrong.
In every way imaginable he tried to convince me that I was crazy, called me a sociopath. Constantly gaslighted me. He was smart and extremely manipulative. He knew exactly what he was doing and he knew that I wanted out. He was trying to instill self-doubt so that I would never leave, never question, so nobody would ever believe me and nobody else could have me. I remember when I was able to get away, my family came to help me move out while he was at work. Little did I know the years to come would be filled with relentless stalking and harassment. I remember walking out to my car on campus after class one evening, he jumped out from behind a vehicle and forced me into his truck. He wouldn’t let me out and he just kept driving. I was terrified and sobbing. This was his time to gaslight me even more, he just kept talking and yelling at me until the long night was over. On another occasion he followed me all the way to my house and chased me to the door. On another, he made me walk all night with him on the streets, more yelling and ridiculing, shoving and pushing me along as I cried begging him to stop. The messages, emails and phone calls didn’t stop. It became very clear that he was trying to destroy me.
He went as far as emailing my sister who lives in New York pretending to be me, telling her that I was in a ditch somewhere on drugs and needed help. I remember running into his father at the gas station, whom he had told me died a few months prior. He had a whole story of the funeral, the speeches and everything. He sobbed in my arms as he told me. All a lie. All a show. All an attempt to get me back and fool me again. Unbelievable. He made fake profiles of me online with my face photoshopped onto nude bodies of other women. I had to change my number several times, but somehow he always found me. One day he spotted me driving, pulled up next to me and tried to run me off the road. He constantly attacked my body, my worth, my intelligence, my upbringing, my friends and my family. My inbox constantly overflowing with the most degrading words you can imagine. I felt completely dead inside. Who was I to think I could escape this?
I decided to get a restraining order, which is a long and arduous process. After hours of documentation and organizing, spending hours on end at the courthouse, I was finally granted my restraining order against him. However, it doesn’t work until the papers are served to him in person. Of course he knew, and he avoided the cops and anyone that came to his doorstep like the plague. Meanwhile the harassment continued and the restraining order expired. The justice system failed me. I felt so very alone and couldn’t see an end.
After two years of harassment, the messages started showing up less and less, until one day it all ended. The next several years were a whirlwind, finally free but so damaged and unaware of what really happened. I often said to people, “Oh he was just crazy, just a crazy relationship.” “He was controlling and possessive, out of his mind, but I’m glad it’s over.” Instead of, “I was severely abused” or “I need serious help.” I couldn’t see. I ran away from it all. I spent years dwindling in alcoholism and promiscuity, because that’s how I was microchipped at this point. It wasn't until I met my husband that I learned real love. Having our daughter brought the brightest light into my life that I didn’t know I needed so badly. Each year pushed me closer to the truth that I didn’t want to see, that I didn't know was there.
Three years ago I watched my brother die—excruciating pain, agony, despair. It awakened and changed so much within me that it simply cannot be explained. A conscious shift. A catalyst for more to come. Transformation beyond comprehension. Rebirth. In the wake of my brother’s death, I found myself pregnant with my second child. It was a long and difficult pregnancy. Morning sickness intensified by grief. Suicidal thoughts. An attempt to admit myself into the psych ward. Something below the surface was getting ready to meet with me face-to-face. After 76 hrs of labor—the hardest 76 hours of my life—my daughter was born healthy and alert at home. I didn’t realize this at the time, but birth rings truth inside of you. Old memories resurface and old traumas show their colors. It’s nearly impossible to birth a child naturally when your soul needs birthing, when there’s trauma in your womb space.
I remember sitting on my porch two years ago, my daughter just a few weeks old. My mind started to go places it hadn’t been in years and I couldn’t make sense of it. I started thinking back on that time, on everything that I had buried and everything that I had experienced. One memory in particular, the scariest, was what came to me first. All I remember from that night was that it was dark and cold, I was alone in the woods, naked and screaming for help. I was trying to run. it was so dark I couldn’t see my feet and I kept stumbling, the branches scratched my legs. I could barely see the flicker of the campfire from where he was. I could hear a faint taunting laugh in the distance. I remembered the time I locked myself in the bathroom with his gun in my hands, sobbing, trying to gather the courage as he taunted me outside the door.
I remembered all the times I turned to alcohol—indulging heavily and often—after I would get away. It was then, in that moment, I realized. After all of my later experience with alcohol on my own, understanding limits and tolerance, blacking out after nearly every night of drinking wasn’t normal. Especially with the amount I used to drink. I knew instantly, he drugged me. He raped me. All the time. I had a panic attack, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t stop shaking. He raped me more times than I will ever know. He did things that I will never know about. Why would I be naked in the woods screaming for help with no recollection of how I got there or what happened after? Oh my god, oh my god! Why didn’t I get help?! Everything started to become clear and that’s when my journey of healing truly began.
I did a lot of research on Stockholm syndrome and traumatic bonding and was finally able to make sense of it all and put a name to it. As painful as it was to come to these realizations, it feels good to have understanding as to how I became captive to such a monster. It feels good to know it wasn't my fault. I gave myself permission to let go of all of the guilt and shame I’d been harboring for 12 years. I began diving into my healing process. I started doing holistic reiki sessions with a local healer, talk therapy, reading, writing, started focusing on nutrition and conscious eating, went on women’s retreats, began daily meditation, self care practice, acupuncture and taking herbal medicines. I started putting my passions first, pursuing them everyday. Dancing and movement, yoga, art and photography. I did nude figure modeling for professional artists at a local library with the intent of therapy, that experience was overwhelmingly empowering and healing. Freeing.
I started spending more time with those whom I love, those who see me, those who lift me up instead of those who enjoy bringing me down. I’ve become a passionate advocate against human trafficking, domestic abuse, sexual violence and sexual exploitation. I’ve also become a strong advocate against pornography, because my abuser was an addict and it’s very clear that porn strongly influenced his actions and his perceptions of women.
Sharing my story in this light is a big part of my journey. It’s so important that stories like this are heard and seen. We can never become whole otherwise. We can never reach out to give hope to those who’ve been silenced otherwise. It was extremely difficult for me to write this, EXTREMELY. I started last year and I cannot express how light I feel writing the end. Thank you, Taylor and Taylor, from my depths for creating this safe space where I can share so freely and fearlessly. Thank you to all of the other survivors and truth-tellers that so bravely put voice to their horror. I’m crying now as I continue to write, because I’m filled with so much gratitude for all of you. Thank you again. Your stories have truly moved me. I also hope to inspire and remind others of their own strength and power.
“Find the positivity. Find the grace. Find it and hold it and cling to it like it is your lifeline and only breath of air before everything sinks. Find the silver linings. Hold them in your lungs and search for them in the bubbles and rubble of all that pours down around you. Find the bright spot in the dark clouds, listen for the sounds of the birds when the winds pick up and tear down the house around you. It is there, shhh, it is there, it is always there and it is waiting for you to reach out with both hands, bloody and shaking, and hold tight to it like it is the last thing you will ever learn how to let go. Find the glory, the glory through the ache, and understand that it is what we can endure that defines who we become. That it has never been about the punches we can throw, but the punches we can absorb and still stand up from. It is the standing up, it has always been the standing up and the refusal to lie still and quiet as the numbers count towards ten and the knockout becomes complete. Rise my soul, rise through the flame and the ash, rise through the waters that fill the spaces under your arms as the crawl towards your throat. Rise and find the grace, for it is all around you. Find it. Find the grace.”
–Tyler Knott Gregson