“I was raped.”
One small sentence, at times, was difficult to say or think.
Even before I knew what happened to me, before I was cognizant that what happened to me was considered rape, I put up this wall. The wall forced out all thoughts or feelings, leaving only actions. “Walk, talk, breathe’ was how I survived after for many months and then years. Don’t think about that town, don’t think about that feeling, don’t even go near that memory. It took months of shaming myself, my body, my mind, my entire being before I came to terms with those three small words. I was raped. And even then, it often didn’t seem real for years thereafter.
I felt alone. I felt lost. I felt ugly. I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. There were many times I thought things would never get better, I would never get better.
Things got better but, for me, before they got better, they had to fall apart.
There are tons of articles, books, and movies that show rape as an action, the physical part of someone forcing a sexual act on another person without their consent. What is so difficult to articulate unless it happened to you (Thank you, Lady Gaga, for such a lovely, poignant song which pulls at so many survivors’ heartstrings, speaking feelings we did not know had words) is what the act of the rape takes from you. For me, it took a sense of safety, a sense of self, self respect, self confidence and sanity far beyond the physical act itself.
Following the assault, I used alcohol to self soothe my anxiety. It took years later of fact finding and fact facing to see that I would not find solace in a bottle.
I sobered up, went to graduate school and became a therapist. All was quiet for a while. Every now and then I would have a date with a guy who reminded me of my attacker, it would throw me into panic attacks for a 24 hour period and I would be okay. But, for the most part, I seemed to be a functioning young woman in her late 20’s.
It was about 9 years after the rape when I started having violent flashbacks. I went on a few dates with a mutual friend of mine. As he shifted in his seat I saw him, my attacker, instead of the man I was out on a date with. The rest of the date I could not shake this panicked feeling. I did not feel safe, and I wanted to run from the restaurant and hide under my bed. I felt off for the next week, I had nightmares, I cried. I decided to try to go out with him one more time. At this point, I did not realize I was having such intense flashbacks and my body was telling me something. Now, in hindsight, I see it as the universe sending me a message.
I went out with this man again, dinner and a movie. . All night, I was flashing in and out of my past with my attacker. There were multiple times I wasn’t sure where I was or who he was. I kept excusing myself to use the bathroom to escape the nightmare. I will never forget the kiss; my body reacted similarly to the night I was raped. My body was simply acting as if I was 9 years younger; I was back in college with no voice and no way out, even if that was not my truth today.
I knew I needed help. Being a therapist, it requires a certain mental energy to listen, give strategies and sift through a person’s thoughts; it was not realistic for me to be panicking right before a 5 year old walked into session. I looked up trauma treatment, trauma therapy and what could help. I found a wonderful therapist who has been working with me through each memory in a safe, guided way so I can reprocess the trauma and move forward. This I am continuing to do today.
My biggest issue has been allowing myself to have feelings about what happened to me. At first, I blamed myself, considering myself as a “slut” or a “whore”. Over the years, I pushed it down, deep down into a place where I thought I couldn’t touch it — until something triggered it. Now, I have embraced it more. No, this does not mean that every day I am happy about my trauma, but I accept that it is such an important part of who I am and the strong person I am. I also know that it is okay to not be okay. Do yourself a favor—be honest with your feelings and, if you feel comfortable, open up to someone you trust. . This has helped me tremendously. It is uncomfortable, scary even, but when I am vulnerable with the right people, I feel better.
I hope anyone reading this takes hope from my story. I don’t need to be happy or perfect all the time to know that things can get better. I still have bad days sometimes, and that is okay. I have learned to work slowly to calm down, do some calming techniques that my therapist taught me knowing that it will get better.
The smallest things can be exhausting, like spending time with friends at a concert and trying to stay present. I don’t want fear to control my life. Life can be so scary, but it is sacred. My goal is to enjoy it despite my scars. The goal isn’t to live perfectly, but to live. Know I am out there, trying to do it the best I can, just like you.
Anonymous lives in the New York City area, and currently works in the mental health field. Anonymous has two dogs which keep her smiling and loves cookies.