Zeta (pseudonym) is a survivor of sexual abuse and rape both as a child and as an adult. She will be writing every now and then for Our Stories Untold, with a special focus on speaking to other survivors about everyday dynamics of struggle and peace that come with being a person who is living a life touched by sexualized violence trauma. Please join us in welcoming her as an intermittent and regular contributor.


On this solstice day, I feel like I will never be free of the repetitious shit trauma that ebbs and flows through my body, wrecking whatever it touches with no regard for how hard or long I’ve worked to knit myself a cloak of calm.

Today, after years of counseling and self-care and mindfulness and all the book knowledge that exists in the world on rape and trauma and shame and self-blame, I am sure once again that I am the exception. I wasn’t raped. It was my fault. I made him do it and then tricked myself into believing that I was a victim, because I couldn’t handle the truth of my own depravity.

I think: Maybe if I give in and go with this version of history I will finally have some reliable bit of rest from the constant struggle against shame and split narratives and ground that shifts whenever it pleases under my feet. If I choose his narrative, maybe the world will stop spinning. Maybe I’ll get some sleep.

My stomach is in knots. I’m hungry and I’d really love to order a bagel from the coffee shop where I’m currently perched, but the thought of food is repulsive. The thought of taking anything into my body, today, is repulsive.

I’ve been here before, maybe one or two thousand times. It feels like falling off the side of mountain right before reaching its peak. My foot slipped. That’s all. But now I’m hanging out at the end of a skinny rope over an unforgiving canyon, and I’m not dead – which is something – but I am devastated. Because I’ve been climbing this damn mountain for years and years and I’m tired and my muscles ache and the scenery is getting boring and I really don’t know why I keep struggling up this terrible rock when I’m pretty sure that after going to the incredible trouble of getting back to steady ground I will find myself here again: vulnerable, dangling, 300 feet below where I landed the last time I fell, and still in need of a bagel I can’t bring myself to eat.

Trauma is a relentless nightmare. A couple months ago a friend of mine was going through a hard time. She expressed a bizarre, sideways lament that the hard thing she was struggling with was only hard and not traumatic. If it were traumatic, she thought, she’d feel less self-conscious about how much of her energy it was taking. If it were traumatic, her emotional state would feel justified. In other words, if it were traumatic, it would be easier.

I stared.

Is this what people who haven’t been raped or shot or starved or bombed think trauma is? Experiencing an event so awful that it is impossible not to have satisfying clarity about who gets to feel pain and to what degree?

I didn’t correct her, because how could I? How do you explain that wet is not dry and up is not down?

I am not a trauma newbie. I am not working through the repercussions of the abuse and rape and violence in my life for the first or fifth or tenth time or year. My life is relatively good and stable. I have a toolbox overflowing with tricks I have developed over the years to calm and cope and ground.

And still. Here I am – having repeating nightmares in which I am accused of a murder I can’t quite remember not committing, sure in my waking hours that those dudes who I say took advantage of me were really just good guys who had the tragic misfortune of crossing my awful, evil path.

Trauma changes. It gets better sometimes. But this is its sting: it pops back into life on its own terms. It interrupts. It takes back control we put our all into grasping with our own hands. And no matter how long or short a time a person has been working through the repercussions of traumatic experience, that’s maddening.

I don’t think there is anything about the shortest day and longest night that fixes that. To be honest, I don’t think there is anything anywhere that “fixes” or erases the God-awful, exhausting, infuriating repercussions of traumatic harm.

I do, think, though, that there is something more than that harm out there. Something in addition. Something beyond the pain and fear and cyclical, maddening chaos. I have the sense that the something beyond might come in the darkness.

I don’t have any profound words to offer here. What I have is a feeling of calm when I think of a forest at night. The darkness, as I am welcoming it today, is relief from the certainty that threatens to deceive me. Darkness holds the power of undoing, of softening, of unmaking. When my hypervigilance kicks in and my mind is spinning and I’m dangling off the damn mountain and I’m just as sure as I could be that I am wretched and guilty, I need the blaring lights to soften. I need my senses to dull and my mind to be lulled into the stillness of night. I need the darkness to come and unmake my certainty, to release it again into its more honest form: fear. I need the quiet of the night to help me hear again the voice of that fear. When I can hear that the voice is, in true form, small and trembling – not the six-ton brick monster I am deceived into seeing by the sharpness of the light – I am freed to respond with care and comfort instead of bracing for a fight.

On this longest night, if you, like me, need relief from a relentlessly spinning mind, from fear that has grown into false certainty, from the judgments of a society or family that really doesn’t have a fucking clue what it means to struggle and live and survive and thrive after rape or abuse or [insert another form of violent hell here], I invite you to welcome the darkness. Let it still your mind and cover your vision. Let it show you which beliefs you hold about yourself that could be clarified by turning down the intensity of your gaze. Let it catch and carry your breath. Just for a night, let it give you some rest. You’re dangling off a mountain you’d rather not climb, and that stupid skinny little rope is all that is between you and a rather unpleasant fall.

But it’s there. And you’re held. And so am I. And maybe we decide to just hang here in the air for a moment and try our luck again in the dark, accompanied by the paler, gentler light of the moon that – who knows – might help us find a surer path.