No one fully appreciates the trauma of a sexual assault unless they too have experienced it.
I remember when I trained with Victim Support and I heard people who were the victims of house burgleries feel violated, stating that they felt almost like they’d been raped. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting into a ‘who has it worse’ scenario. I’m not going to trivialize a home invasion, and I completely understand, although not having experienced it, that it would be extremely frightening and traumatic. In America, you can shoot someone while trying to defend your property. And of course, people have worked very hard to accumulate these items. So I’m not putting that trauma down AT ALL. BUT, yes, the inevitable but, items, aside from sentimental items can be replaced. They can be insured, they can be, well, effectively lived without. No, I wouldn’t like it if someone stole my phone, my TV, my laptop, my jewellery, or waded through my personal effects. No I wouldn’t feel safe for a long time after.
But how can that compare to someone forcing themselves onto your most intimate, private and irreplaceable body? I couldn’t fight the man off of me, he didn’t care what I said or did, he didn’t even care that people heard, he was taking my body and using it for his own gratification irrespective of anything else. I can’t replace the virginity that I lost, I can’t forget what he did. I can never feel entirely clean of him either. My body still reacts to flashbacks, triggers, even medical exams. I lost a piece of myself that I will never get back. And in that, I will never be able to feel fully safe in my own body again. For the rest of my life, I will always know that someone is fully capable of forcing themselves onto me, despite my protests – physical and/or verbal, despite the chance someone could catch him, despite my best efforts to avoid certain situations – as victim blamers and rape culture tends to denote that there is. I will always know that this CAN happen because IT did happen. It’s not the stuff I read on the news and thank god it wasn’t me. Its not the stuff people can joke about and I can impishly smile and ignore it because they’re talking about me. They’re joking about me. I can’t live in a world where bad stuff happens when you’re in the wrong place, wearing the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, etc. I know that it can happen when you’re barely a teenager, when you think you’re in a safe place, when the world is a big and beautiful place and bogeyman live only in the darkest corner of nightmares.
So when a trauma, as physically and as intrusive as rape occurs, there is no fix. No cure, no healing balm. No number of therapy sessions, no special words, no magic pills.
You learn to live with this horrible awareness, this painful notion that the world goes on, even though part of you died that night. Even though your brain can’t fully appreciate the depth of the horror, the pain of the horror and permanent reminders of the horror.
My subsequent relationship was an unhealthy one. I trusted this person with my past experience, and he used it to gain power over me. The person I trusted, physically held this power over me. Knowing he could break me, mould me, control me, scare me, own me. But to me he wasn’t the rapist. I didn’t know the rapist, but I knew this guy. I shared his bed. I had sexual relations with him, I ate dinner with him, I knew his family and friends. He was my protector, my provider and my partner. I showered and bathed with him. Celebrated with him. And yet he was able to push me down and take what he wanted, until the pain was so unbearable that it was hard to walk. To squeeze my throat, to threaten to end me, to demean me and degrade me. To ‘permit’ toilet breaks, to take my clothes, to hide me from the world. But he was my partner. I loved him and I thought I needed him. I was young, he was my saviour.
Only leaving when a knife nearly took my choices away.
Only YEARS later did I begin to question the relationship. Its validity, its impact, its power and control cycle. For so long, he had been ‘just a boyfriend.’
I have since been married (to a different man), had my beautiful kids and now I am separated. And I take stock of my life, I consider the impact of all of my years on this earth. The pain and suffering. The lack of support. How the only way I knew how to survive was to travel. Alone. To avoid people, to avoid relationships. To avoid hurt.
I could play a role of wife to my ex husband, not really encompassing all that is involved in that duty. Not fully ready to commit, or trust. But to engage in an otherwise healthy marriage, or what I deem to be considered healthy and raise my children in a family full of love and compassion. No fear, open communication and honesty.
In my separation I am left wondering who I really am. Not able to trust, thrust often into the past. No one to discuss these fears or concerns with – my choice – I get that.
But essentially after leaning on another man for so many years, I feel like I am left to grow all over again, dissect things, consider things, feel things, grieve for things.
My body doesn’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe. No home, no car, no person can change any of that.
So I don’t think anyone can place a time frame on trauma. I don’t think anyone can have expectations or work along a linear healing process.
I am blind in my healing. I always have been. Wanting to move away, move on, not talk, not discuss the pain, the memories, the trauma. Not acknowledging the nightmares, the triggers, my own limitations.
Who I am today is part moulded on the traumas of what I have experienced. The fears, lack of trust, negative self talk, inability to talk out loud about my struggles, the fact that it has taken SO LONG to come to terms with any of it. To process it, to accept it.
I make no excuses for my anxiety, I make no excuses for my mental health and I make no excuses for the way I am wired.
I will manage my mental health – that is, not ignore the advice of mental health professionals, and I will try not to blame the entire world for my pain.
But make no mistake, I have been wounded so deeply that I deserve my good days and my bad days. My scared days, my down days, and my anxiety.
I am not entitled to anything from my marriage, but I will always have my voice.