The following is written by Robert Tennent, a young man who is sharing his story of emotional healing after sexual assault through an exhibition and book titled ‘Come Back To Bed’. He hopes that by sharing his story it will provide awareness as well as offer a source of comfort and courage for those going through similar experiences.
I don’t remember much but I do remember how I felt afterward. I remember getting home that night, confused about everything. I knew that I couldn’t be intimate with anyone for a long time.
I felt like I didn’t know myself. Questioned my sexuality a lot. Extremely confused and pushed people away so I could be alone. I lost a lot of myself during that time. I developed an eating disorder and put my energy into something negative. I chose to remain celibate until I was sure about what I wanted to do, and also to accept what happened to me.
I met a man who was a total dreamboat. We clicked instantly and I don’t think I will ever forget him. I had it all planned out in my head about how the night would go, and that was the first time I had thought seriously about having sex with someone again. We finished our drinks and decided to walk back to my hotel. We didn’t end up having sex but I knew I wanted to. I asked him if I could see him again soon and he said,“I’d like that”.
He made sure I was comfortable. He told me he would stop if it was getting too much. He held me and kissed me to make sure I was okay. It was too much for me. I was getting flashbacks and my body rejected it. I told him I couldn’t do it and he stopped straight away. We fell asleep next to each other.
A few months later I saw him again and we spent the weekend together. It came so naturally and we had a great time with one another. And this time we had sex. And I was okay with it. I had my camera on the side table next to his bed and asked if I could take a photo of him. He said yes so I snapped one picture of him covering his face. I took another one of his legs crossed. I developed them and saved them on my phone.
I started doing this to everyone I slept with after this. I asked them beforehand and some were hesitant but most were fine with it. I wanted to make sure they were comfortable with it. I wanted to capture the intimacy in the images. I wanted to be able to remember every detail of my time with them. I wanted to be in control of the situation. I knew this was helping me. I had to go through this in order to move forward. I had to rediscover sex again. I knew this was something I wanted to share with the world.
I began to write about these men. I wrote about how I felt about them. I also wrote about the man that assaulted me. But I decided to exclude that from my book. I read through it again today and I am choosing to share it. I am holding nothing back anymore.
‘A pain I would feel many more times in my life.
But this pain lingered
I felt as though my body had been tampered with. You cut the wires that went to my mind and switched off some parts of my body.
I became a stranger in my own body.’
I live in New Zealand and I rarely hear about these topics. We don’t speak about them in schools. New Zealand has the highest amount of teenage suicide worldwide. Everyone I spoke to about this had no idea, and I’m sure people reading this didn’t know. New Zealanders tend to look at the outside world and we hear these stories going on in the world but there is almost a ‘thank god it doesn’t happen here’ mentality. I have heard the sentence ‘it is worse in a lot of places’. This is not an excuse for us to ignore it in our country.
To be able to hold the exhibition in my city was a blessing. I wanted to bring people together to talk about this and to bring survivors together to celebrate surviving. The book was a way to get people to speak about the topic. I used every opportunity I could to promote my story and the importance of healing and looking after yourself.
I want the conversation to continue. There will be people out there who have no idea who I am but they know about my story and my book. That’s enough for me. If someone is speaking about assault and healing, then I have done what I wanted to do. If this conversation was around when I was going through my assault, I think it would have helped me. I want people to be able to know that there is a life after an assault and that it is hard at the time, but you can get through this.
‘Come Back To Bed’ is available online.