From Editor Rachel Halder:
Sharing a story of personal abuse, rape, or sexualized violence is an incredibly difficult, yet courageous, undertaking.
This entry is a re-post of a recent anonymous submission in the Our Stories Untold “Stories” section of the Web site. Typically I don’t include stories within the blog, but this brave story struck me and then stuck with me, and I didn’t want readers to miss it. So many truths were shared within this; truths that survivors of all forms of sexualized violence and rape most likely relate to.
An especially important aspect to note is that this young woman was raped by her “best friend,” an all too common occurrence. In fact, statistics show that 80% of rapes are committed by someone who knows the victim. When “acquaintance rape” occurs it makes reporting and processing of the event even more difficult. Fears of harassment, retaliation, future harm, and embarrassment all exist, as well as victim-blaming by both the victim herself, and those closest to the victim.
This story reiterates a question I ask too often: Why do young men and boys in our communities seem to think raping, dehumanizing, and violently hurting women is okay?
I was 15 when it happened. I would be 16 in about a week. Or maybe two weeks. I have a sense that it happened at the end of November, but it’s really not more than a sense.
None of my story is much more than a sense, actually. It’s easy to convince myself that it never even happened, which I successfully did for a few years. I do know that the end of November is the hardest part of every year. Nightmares, insomnia, and long days of struggling with the blah-ness of everyday life are more likely to occur in November.
The end of November also happens to be my birthday. People around me want me to be happy. They want me to celebrate, want me to go to the very places I want to avoid. They want me in bars, they want me to drink. Where there are men who are drunk, who are always easier to hate. Where I can have a few drinks and numb away the memories of that night.
I was gang-raped by one my best friends and a few of his close friends at a college party my sophomore year of high school. They were drunk, they were violent, they were laughing. There are parts of the night I have no memory of, either because I became unconscious at some point or my mind has just mercifully blacked it out since then. The friend apologized the next day, saying he had been resisting doing that for a long time, but he was tired of suppressing the urge. Didn’t I know I was a beautiful girl? I was just too hard to resist in his drunken state.
I have seen a therapist. I’ve done the right things. I even facilitated a support group for women survivors of sexual assault for a year. In so, so many ways, I have healed. The nightmares and the fear are still there, but far less frequent. I can have semi-healthy relationships with men, both romantic and otherwise. I no longer live every day in a fog of fear and hopelessness, which characterized the two years of my life after it happened. It’s been nine years, for Christ’s sake. When does it all go away?
The answer is never. It never goes away. Just last night the guy I’ve been dating pushed my legs over during sex in a way that triggered something that I didn’t even know was a trigger. I immediately shut down and started shaking all over. I felt so empty and void of life. But worst of all, I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and frustrated for reacting in this way. What happened to the sense of security and safety I had felt with him just minutes before? That sense vanished with one completely innocent and well-meaning touch. This is now my life.
So what happens now? What happens when well-intentioned partners accidentally touch me in some triggering way? What do I do with the insensitive and sexist comments that men in my life I have worked so hard to trust say? How do I decide which men are “good” and which are “bad?” Who do I trust? What do I do with the sea of sadness that envelopes me when I see someone who looks like one of my assailants? What do I do when I’m at a party and the song comes on that I was listening to while being violently raped by a good friend and his friends?
I get angry. I cry. I run home and lock myself in my bedroom. I sob. I run to the bathroom, throw up, come out with a smile and return to the dance floor. I pretend. Because who wants to be friends with someone who is always sad? Who is constantly triggered by sights, sounds, smells of things around her?
Healing is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Telling people I love is harder than I ever imagined it would be. Sexual assault does not just hurt the victim. It hurts everybody.
My parents were the hardest people to tell. My parents and I cannot be separated. No matter the tension, the disagreements, the differing lifestyle choices I choose to make, they will always be a part of me. I cannot pretend that my sufferings do not cause them to suffer. I wanted to keep them away from the pain. I had spent years going through therapy, telling friends my story, volunteering as a sexual assault support group facilitator. I was healing and accepting the ugliness of my past, and learning to love myself and accept it for what it was. I felt that telling them my story would force me to start all over again in my healing.
But that’s what happens every day regardless of who we choose to share and not share our stories with. We are constantly starting over. Healing is an ebb and flow; it’s cyclical. It’s two steps forward and one step back. Some days I need to dig deep into that painful night. I need to write about it, replay it in my mind, and feel what I felt that night. There are nights where I need to spend a whole night with a box of tissues, and sob uncontrollably for the loss that occurred that night. The loss of innocence and youth, but also a loss that is so inexplicable, so tied to the whole of humanity—when one or more people do harm to an innocent, blameless person. Sometimes I need to allow myself to feel that pain. But there are other days when I need to forget, and I need to feign strength when I’m not sure it’s there, and go on with my day. I need to go out with friends, dance, drink, be reminded of that night, and then push it far back in my mind. I need to remember that it doesn’t control me. I need to practice numbing it all away. Most importantly, I need to have patience with myself and forgive myself when I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. The worst thing I can do is judge myself for how I deal with the pain, the fear, the memories. It is a journey that takes courage, patience, and bounds of strength.