the hardest story to tell

The hardest story to tell

This is a guest post from my friend, Trish. All comments will be moderated.

I have never written about this experience before and I probably never will again. If there were some way to print this off, burn it, and have it completely disappear from my life, I would.

My last roommate and I liked to come up with nicknames for the Couchsurfers we hosted. It was hilarious and we never bothered to keep it a secret from them. Some of them have tried to come up with their own nicknames but we kindly reminded them that WE would be the judgy ones and THEY would cook us supper. Couchsurfing can be lots of fun and being a host is a laugh.

Dunny Overdose, who never actually overdosed on anything, liked to make up his own lyrics to songs. They were never very good but we loved him anyway. My friend and I took him to a touristy location in St. John’s, Newfoundland and I literally couldn’t even. He slipped and fell on the ice so many times that I was in constant chuckles walking behind him just waiting for it to happen again. Do people from Ireland not know to SLOW DOWN when walking on ice?

BraBra was a heartbreaker. Yes, he was attractive and charming but he broke my heart in other ways. Steve quickly became like a brother to me and we chatted about past relationships, current emotions, and travel plans. He is such a genuinely kind person with a passion to see the world and share his light with the people he meets along the way. That is how he broke my heart. He reminded me that people are good and he chipped off a little of the ice layer I had built up around my ticker.

Robin’s nickname was “I’m in!” because anytime we invited him to do something he would look up all cute-faced and say “I’m in!” before you could even finish your sentence. Robyn came for a week and stayed for two months and nobody ever complained about it because we all adored him so much.

Other nicknames that are appropriate enough to include are, “It was a great Tom”, “The Grind”, and my personal favorite, “Salute, Beivenue, Mais Oui, and uh huhh huhh.” (Uh huhh huhh is our way of sounding French when we laugh. I dare you to come up with a better spelling.)

I stayed with a Scottish brother/sister duo once and cried when I left because I wanted to live with them and feed their bunnies forever. I accidently shrunk one of Bobby’s sweaters when I was doing the laundry. Lucky for me, he wasn’t mad and let me keep it. I still wear it.

One Couchsurfing experience, however, wasn’t so much fun. Okay, it was awful. It was the worst. It’s the day I blame for everything bad that’s happened to me since whether or not that has any logic to it. It shook me. The aftershock, though it fades at times, still shakes my world with the same ferocity when I least expect it. With so many good experiences and one truly awful one I still believe that Couchsurfing is an amazing way to help travelers help other travelers, make new friends, and learn something new about the world whether you’re traveling or hosting.

This story isn’t about all the good times, happy travellers, and new friends. This story is, unfortunately, about those people who take advantage of wonderful organizations like Couchsurfing and people like me.

A nurse living in East Ham sent me a message on Couchsurfers a few days before I left home. Having nowhere to stay in London at that point, I jumped at the chance to have a host. He was friendly and we texted back and forth for a few days.

In this story, we’re going to call him Nick. Why? Because his name is Nick and fuck him, that’s why.

I had already purchased tickets to see Les Mis, which included a dinner at a fancy restaurant beforehand. Cute. I was wearing the same yoga pants I put on two days ago, sneakers, and a hoodie because my luggage got lost somewhere between Toronto and Iceland (I AM telling you this because there’s still a small part of my brain that says ‘TELL THEM WHAT YOU WERE WEARING’ as if it matters).

Wanting to get settled and drop off my carry on bag first, I headed to Nick’s house.

Something was missing… something that most Couchsurfing hosts have… Oh, that’s right. A couch. He told me that, as a nurse, he worked a lot of night shifts so I would have the bed to myself.

Feeling as though I had no other option and being someone who truly wants to see the good in people, I decided to wait it out and see if my gut feeling was wrong.

After dinner and Les Mis I was feeling a bit more positive about my situation. I kept telling myself that I had never travelled alone before so I was probably just unnecessarily nervous about being in a big city by myself for the first time. I arrived back at Nick’s house only to be told that he wasn’t there and have the door shut in my face by someone else who lived in the building.

I knew I wasn’t in a great part of town. My first clue was when the customs officer at the airport said, “East Ham? That’s rough, Miss. Why are you staying there?” I mean, did I really need another sign? Apparently, I did.

I approached some guys on the street to ask to use their phone. Oh my sweet baby Christmas did I ever not want to talk to them. They tried to get me to go partying with them at first but after calling Nick and getting directions to where he was the party boys’ want to party morphed into a slight, but real, concern for me. Picking one stranger over the other, I thanked them and got on the bus.

My English friend had told me that during my time in London I absolutely had to go to a proper pub and have a proper pint. On the phone, Nick told me that he was at a “proper pub” waiting for me to come have a “proper pint”.

I’m from Prince Edward Island, Canada (Google it) and had spent the past two years in Newfoundland, Canada. If you’ve ever been to the east coast of Canada you’ll know that we have pubs. We have many, many pubs. So I was a little surprised to hear Nigerian dance music while greeted by two very large bouncers asking to check the inside of my purse before I entered.

It was not a pub. It looked fun… but it was not a pub.

Nick offered me a drink. By this point I was well aware that I was in over my head and was fully prepared to keep myself safe (sounds easy enough, right?). Have you ever felt like you were in danger and thought “Oh well. Fuck it, I suppose.” Me neither. I wish I could make myself sound wiser but… oh well. I suppose.

I got a clean glass and he poured a drink for me. I watched (TELL THEM YOU WATCHED!). This was the kind of place where you could order bottles of liquor for your table. It’s called bottle service. (I say that as if I even knew that service existed beforehand. I did not. Have I mentioned my hometown? It is small). After finishing my drink, I told Nick I was going to the washroom. He walked me there, which, at the time, I was very grateful for. The club was a little overwhelming but I’ll admit it was a little exciting!

I came back from the bathroom and Nick offered to pour me another drink. There was maybe half a sip left in the bottom of my glass and I watched him pour my second drink. Nick started introducing me to the people around him. This guy was a retired gang member. That guy was still in a gang but don’t worry, we don’t think he’s ever murdered anyone.

Thank you. That’s very comforting.

Let me tell you something else about the East Coast of Canada… we drink. (Why, yes! We have now reached the point where I stress that I only had one drink at this point and, hell, while I’m at it, I might as well remind you that I was wearing yoga pants, a hoodie, and sneakers.) Gang-guy started talking to me about his watch and handed it to me. I put it up to my ear and the last thing I clearly remember is the ticking sound of that Goddamn watch.

That’s it. I cannot and will not say anymore about that night. There’s A LOT that I don’t remember and what I do remember has never, and probably will never, pass my lips or be written.

I can’t.

I don’t know how these drugs work. I’ve done a hell of a lot of Google searches since then but the scientific facts can never explain the complete mind fuck of waking up. I was not scared when I woke up. I was not sad. I was not panicked. I was numb.

Nick texted me to say he was at church and would be back soon.

He. Was. At. CHURCH.

I left for the day. No, I didn’t take all my stuff and yes, I went back. Why? Because I didn’t have a handbook giving me step by step instructions on what to do in this situation. I didn’t have a backup plan. I didn’t have a friend. I didn’t have a clue. I spent the day sightseeing, visiting art museums, taking pictures of guards outside Buckingham Palace, watching the Horse Guards Parade and getting lost in London. I know these things happened but I don’t think I’ll ever fully remember that day meaning I’ll have to go back to London and OWN IT.

I went back when I knew he’d be at work and had a bath. As I was soaking in the tub, I could no longer push it away. The marks on my body and the physical pain I felt were right in my face begging for my attention. So I did the only thing I knew I could do. I had a break down and called my parents.

While on vacation in Trinidad, my parents stayed online to talk to me and help me as much as they could. I can only imagine how worried they were about me and how much sleep they lost while clinging to each other and feeling helpless. They must have been so scared. Knowing that I did not, and at the time could not, allow my parents to stay in the dark, in the safety of the unknown, kills me. The insane mixture of love and guilt will probably stick with me forever. I kept in contact with them a lot for the rest of my three months in Europe. There were so many times that I wanted to give up and go home but I’m so glad that I didn’t.

Not a single one of us can say that we’ve never wanted to hurt another person. If you have never wanted to hurt anyone before, I applaud you and your unrealistic kindness. I looked around Nick’s room for things to steal. I looked around for things to break. I considered keeping his house key or writing “FUCK YOU” in sharpie on his wall or burning his mattress (I don’t really know how I would have managed that one, in hindsight, without burning the whole house down). In the end, I took my things, placed his key where he kept it outside, and left.

I try to consider myself lucky. I could have never woken up. I could be stuck with remembering the exact events of the night. I could remember the pain, been aware of my thoughts while it was happening.

“Oh, gee! Well thank you for at least drugging me so this little event could go as smoothly as possible.”

How messed up is that?

A week or so later I contacted Couchsurfing. The woman I talked to handled the situation so well. She asked where I currently was, asked if I needed help from the police, and made sure I was somewhere safe before taking any action. They deleted his account and banned him from Couchsurfing.

What did I do? I went to Limoges, France and fed bunnies. I went to Celles Sur Belle, France and pointed walls in a Gite and took lovely lunch breaks in the sun to eat bread and cheese. I went to Paris, I went to Dublin, and I met my friend in Croatia and lived on a yacht for a week. Why? Because fuck Nick, that’s why.

When I finally went home, after my three month Euro-trip, I was terrified to see my parents again. There’s something completely world shattering about your parents knowing that you’ve been through a horrific experience. When I was a kid with the flu they probably held my hair back when I threw up. They knew when I skipped school, when I got drunk, and when I lied to them. This is completely different. I didn’t do anything wrong but I felt so ashamed and disgusted. Despite the years of encouragement, love, and support that they had given me, I still worried that they would never see me the same again. I worried that their vision of me would somehow change and I would be forever pitied and broken. Apparently that’s not the case. A parent’s love for their child is boundless and I’m sure I’ll never understand it until I pop out a little tyke of my own.

I don’t want anyone to pity me. I don’t even know if I want anyone to read this.

This is NOT a warning to never travel solo. The rest of my Euro-trip was hard, of course, but the people I met were loving and safe and I HAD FUN! The rest of my trip was a blast! Sure, I had some awful moments and sure, it kind of turned into a soul searching “what do I want from life?” kind of trip instead of the “where’s the next party?” kind of trip that I thought it would be but I’m in a good place right now and that’s what’s important.

The people I stayed with in France, after leaving London, unknowingly got me back on my feet and taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things. I’ll probably never have the strength to thank properly thank them but I will always love them for the kindness and security they gave me.

I couchsurfed in Paris, which may sound crazy given the circumstances (but I must add: DO NOT VICTIM BLAME! It’s all over the goddamn Internet, guys. This isn’t new. We all have those Facebook friends who constantly post about victim blaming and slut shaming and rape culture and good on them! Someone has to do it! Yes, I still couchsurf. Yes, I still host couchsurfers. Get over it). Paris was an overwhelming push to stand up for myself and act quickly in situations. A week on a yacht in Croatia taught me that I’m not a 19-year-old supermodel but… I already knew that. It also taught me that making new friends and making time to have fun is important. Dublin? Well by the time I got to Dublin I was mentally and physically exhausted. Dublin taught me that sometimes it’s okay to just want to go home and have a nap.

So, am I okay? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. No, I wasn’t for a while. As soon as I got back to Canada I began my year of getting drunk, making other bad party decisions, putting myself in dangerous situations, and not giving a fuck. I failed out of University, was prescribed depression medication that I took semi-regularly for a few weeks before my anger and denial took over and I gave up on that as well.

The guys I dated in those 16 months of hell sucked. These men either saw me as a damsel in distress who needed to be fixed or were told no details of my life and saw me as a fun, carefree party girl. This made me wonder what my future life in dating looked like. Controlling jerks that want me to need them? Superficial relationships based on how late we can stay out at the after bars?

It got to the point where I just didn’t care anymore. I no longer wanted a shoulder to cry on. I no longer wanted to feel better. I no longer wanted a friend to help me onto my feet. I simply didn’t care. I would spend every spare nickel I had on making sure my mind was too dull to properly function. I remember thinking “This is really dangerous. Maybe I won’t even wake up tomorrow.” That’s a terrifying thought now but at the time I just thought, “Oh well.”

A few months ago I got really drunk. Like, black-out-don’t-remember-a-thing-hurt-the-people-you-love-then-end-up-in-rehab kind of drunk. I said, out loud, in front of some of the people I love most in my life that I wanted to die.

I don’t want to die.

When I woke up I decided I wasn’t done. I wasn’t done chasing after happiness and dreams. I wasn’t done being healthy and proud of myself and I certainly wasn’t done letting love into my life. Things have been better since then.

I decided to move back to my hometown for a little while. It’s a place where I feel safe. I can go to family dinners to remind myself where I come from. I can hang out with my friends’ kids and younger cousins to remind myself where I’m going. I can explore this beautiful Island where I grew up and remember who I am.

So no, I haven’t been okay but yes, I will be.

When we hit rock bottom, whether it be from alcohol, drugs, or the actions of someone else inflicted upon us, there always seems to be something or someone to remind us that things are good. To the people who have supported me, watched me tear down everything I ever believed in, and most importantly, didn’t stop loving me when I fell down on my knees begging for help to pick up the pieces… thank you. I love you.

People are good. I am good. We are good.

  • January 15 2016
    Lesley

    This is a gut wrenching read Trish, but yet it manages to be beautiful at the same time. Thanks for sharing ❤️

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thanks for leaving a comment lover. <3

    • March 06 2016
      Trish McNeill

      Thanks, Leslie <3

  • January 15 2016
    Roberta

    Jesus. I had no idea. Sorry to hear it, but happy to see your outlook.

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thanks for commenting Roberta!

    • March 06 2016
      Trish McNeill

      Thanks, Roberta! <3

  • January 15 2016

    This had me in tears. I’m so glad that you have the strength to recognise that there’s also plenty of good in the world and that you have loads to look forward to.

    Things that happened to me last year made me realise that in life we have a choice: a choice to either make a bad situation worse, or to turn it around and look for the positives in life. I now make the effort to chose the latter, even though even that feels difficult at times.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Trish. I’m sure it will help others who have been in similar situations and are searching for answers.

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thank you for your kind comments, Andrea!

    • March 06 2016
      Trish McNeill

      Choosing to look at the positives can definitely be tricky. I’m glad to hear that you, like me, are making an effort to focus on the positive. Thanks for your kind words.

  • January 15 2016
    Cassandra

    Thank you Trish. Thank you for your honesty, thank you for your bravery and thank you for telling this story.

    I was sexually assaulted while at a party two years ago by someone I considered an aquaitence and the ghost of that haunted me for a long time too.

    There were very few people in my life that I told, mostly my female friends and very few of them cared. I don’t consider those people my friends anymore.

    Your story is heartbreaking, but I love that you have found that part within yourself that can keep stepping into the future, that your trust with strangers is not broken. It is a beautiful thing to learn your own value, especially after such a traumatic experience. The experience will not define you or who you are – only you can do that is what I had to reteach myself.

    This is the first time I have told my story in a public place. To you and to anyone else who has ever been in this situation, be kind to yourself, find people who love you and support you, those who would find for you and those who would cry there with you. The hurt will pass eventually, I promise. It did for me.

    If anything the experience created this insanely passionate fire for others, for protecting others and standing up for those who have ever felt powerless. I surprised myself with my own strength. That was the best part

    Thank you.

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Wow, Cassandra, I’m so sorry you had to deal with this as well. I hope you ladies find some comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

    • March 06 2016
      Trish McNeill

      Cassandra,

      Thank you so much for sharing that. One of the main reasons I was hesitant (and terrified) to share my story is because I couldn’t see what good it would do. Your words touched me and validated my decision to share this and I sincerely thank you for commenting.

      All the best to you.

  • January 15 2016

    I’m so sorry you went through all of this. I’m glad you made the decision to live though. Thanks for sharing your story, I’m sure other people will feel less alone after reading your story.
    Ali recently posted…Berlin Christmas Market Round-Up

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thanks your kind words Ali!

    • March 06 2016
      Trish McNeill

      Thank you, Ali!

  • January 15 2016

    Hey Candie, I’m so sorry this happened to you. That guy was a scumbag and should not have been on Couchsurfing. Good for you for continuing to travel and making the most out of your following few weeks. Thanks for sharing
    Michelle @ Mishfish13 recently posted…2016 Travel Resolutions

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thanks for your sweet words, Michelle! :) It wasn’t me though, it was my friend Trish that went through this. But I agree, so glad he’s removed from Couchsurfing.

  • January 15 2016

    Trish, I really have no words other than to say thank you for writing this. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been but I do know it was incredibly brave and important. So thank you.
    Sky recently posted…Why I Always Travel With My Kindle Fire

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thank you for your words of support, Sky!

  • January 15 2016
    Sam

    This mirrors so much of my own story. It happened almost 10 years ago and still haunts me but I’ve moved on and am stronger for it. When the doubts come, remember you did NOTHING wrong. Don’t let those thoughts penetrate your mind and your healing.

    Thank you for being brave enough to write this and share this.

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Sam, I’m so sorry you had to go through this too. It’s heartening to hear that you were able to move on.

  • January 16 2016
    Suzy

    It took courage to write about it and it’s part of healing. Personally I think this could have happened no matter where or how careful you were. A similar thing happened to me, drugs weren’t involved but I understand the feeling of finding yourself in a bad situation and just trying to keep yourself safe. It doesn’t always work out. You have to keep living and not let these monsters take your spirit.

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      I’m so amazed by how many people have come out on this message thread to say they’ve experienced the same things. Wow. Our world is messed up. But you’re right, it’s never your fault

  • January 16 2016

    What a powerful read.
    Caroline Eubanks recently posted…Travel Writing Round Up [January 2016]

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thank you, Caroline

  • January 17 2016

    I honestly don’t know what to say… I wanted to say I am sorry but I totally understand you don’t want this.
    All I have to say that you are a strong, brave woman. It’s great that you think about this situation this way. It’s Nick and his friends who were bad. But you are right, most of the people on this world are good!
    All the best to you and safe travels in the future :)

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thank you for your kind words Karolina!

  • January 18 2016
    Aleta

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure this was an incredibly painful time for you and reliving it was difficult.

    • January 18 2016
      Candice

      Thank you for your kind words, Aleta!

  • January 18 2016
    Mike

    Trish, my dear friend, I’m happy that you love and trust yourself to share this story us all. You deserve all the happiness in the world and that starts from within. Know the warm and comfort of your own hug before you give it to others. This is you squeezing us all with reassurance.

    Candice, thank you for providing her with an outlet to share.

    Much love. Many hugs.

    • January 21 2016
      Candice

      <3 <3 <3

  • January 21 2016

    This reminds me of a couple of situations I was in about 15-16 years ago, around the time I joined some hospitality networks, pre-Couchsurfing.org/com. There were no photos back then, hardly any references. It was the Wild West of couchsurfing. One of my first hosts was someone I would not surf with today (I ended up leaving partway through my stay because I thought the situation would escalate), on a network that doesn’t exist anymore. Another situation wasn’t through couchsurfing, it was with an acquaintance and I never did learn the truth about what happened that night.

    Some of those early experiences are why it’s important to me to remain a host, to offer a safe option to other females travelling solo.

    Trish, your story is horrific and I’m deeply sorry this happened to you. I commend you for reporting him, for sharing your story, and for not letting this stop you from being who you are.
    Gail recently posted…Late Autumn Vignettes of Porto

    • January 21 2016
      Candice

      “Some of those early experiences are why it’s important to me to remain a host, to offer a safe option to other females travelling solo.” That’s actually a great point. And I love that attitude about the Couchsurfing community — I think people stick together to help surfers in need.

  • January 21 2016

    A beautifully written story about a horrific incident. Thank you for sharing and, as can be seen by the previous commenters, your sharing has allowed others to do the same and not feel so alone about their own experiences.

    Candice, you are a gem for providing the space for Trish to write this. I think part of healing from such situations is to speak up and, even beyond that, to be HEARD. Trish has definitely been heard and has revealed what cannot be taken away: her resilience, courage, spirit and fuckin awesomeness!
    Lori Henry recently posted…Ice Climbing in Banff, Alberta: A Photo Essay

    • January 25 2016
      Candice

      Thanks, Lori! For your kind words for Trish, and for me. Writing has always been my outlet as well, so I completely understand the need to get it all out there.

  • January 27 2016

    Thank you for sharing, Trish. You are brave. You are an Amazon. And yeah, seriously, fuck him.

    <3
    Jessica recently posted…January Book Discussion: Life in Outer Space

  • February 04 2016

    Thank you so much for sharing Trish’s story. It breaks my heart to see so many similar stories in the comments. But I’m also encouraged by what a supportive community we have in the travel world.

    • February 09 2016
      Candice

      No kidding eh? Awful to hear people have had similar experiences, but I’m so grateful for the supportive community and the fact that everyone presses on, regardless.

  • February 04 2016

    I just cried a little bit. Thank you for having the strength to write this. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

    • February 09 2016
      Candice

      Thanks for commenting Jeremy. <3

  • February 04 2016

    Thank you for sharing your story Trisha and for being brave, courageous and strong.
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted…Think David Bowie! Think Alan Rickman! Think the British Shorts Film Festival!

    • February 09 2016
      Candice

      Thank you for your comment, Victoria!

  • February 13 2016

    Bless you for carrying on with your trip and not letting fucking nick ruin the whole world for you. It’s so shitty that as women in the world we have to be hyper attuned to our gut feelings all the time. I’ve couchsurfed several times and recommend it to anyone I can, There’s only been maybe one time where I really didn’t have a backup plan so I guess I was lucky.

    Thank you for sharing <3
    Lauren recently posted…Nerja: My Unexpected Paradise

  • February 28 2016
    Rachel

    Trish, you are so brave to write this! In doing so, you’ve shared the warning signs with others so that we have a safeguard against the same situation.
    What Nick did wasn’t simply wrong or illegal, it was evil. Sharing this takes us a step closer to prosecuting criminals that use the web as a cover-up.
    I cried with you, as most of us who read this likely have.
    Keep on living your beautiful and unique life. You’re not a victim or a survivor, you are a thriver.
    Thank you for sharing your story–feeding bunnies, and Paris and Croatia and sleepy-Dublin included
    love<3 Rachel

  • March 03 2016
    Sheila

    Thanks for being brave enough to share your story Trish. I had a couple bad experiences in my youth and subsequently embarked on a path to self destruction. I’m 52 and on a great path now.

    It’s counter intuitive to people who haven’t had this kind of experience but people don’t always react in a logical manner. When cases of abuse are reported in the news I get so sick of the comments suggesting that the victim is lying. “They would have reported to the police and prosecuted if it really happened, not waited years to tell.” “They would have withdrawn rather then putting themselves at further risk.” The FACT is that many people never tell. They just try to find their way out of the dark vortex and regain their life.

    So thank you for sharing your painful memories. It’s the steady drip of truth on the public consciousness that ultimately changes misperceptions. Sending lots of love and healing thoughts to you, brave girl.

  • March 03 2016

    This is horrific, heartbreaking and so well written. Sexual assault is such an ugly thing to experience. I’m so glad Trish is on her way to a better, healthier place. Sending love and support. xoxo

  • March 07 2016

    Trish thank you so much for sharing your story. Im really sorry you had this experience, and even more i am so proud of you for choosing to not be done chasing happiness and your dreams. Everyday won’t be easy, but keep at it. Sending good vibes your way.

  • March 13 2016

    It’s not something that will ever leave your conscience….
    so don’t ever expect it to. EVER. No matter how old you get. Or what the circumstances were. It happened and it happened to you. And if your lucky you won’t become a man-hatter. But I doubt it. The only men than will pass will be those directly related to you or yours. All the others…..need adult supervision

  • May 30 2016
    Marie

    Trish, thank you for sharing your story. It is heart-breaking what happened to you, and I am sorry that you had to go through that. No matter what you were wearing or how much you had to drink, you certainly did not deserve what happened. Sending you my support, and my thanks for having the strength to share your story with the world.

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