This topic may make people uncomfortable or cause triggers by those affected. Please read with caution. As far as being uncomfortable, the discussion is necessary. Your moment of discomfort, becoming squeamish, feelings of shame or misunderstanding, is only a glimpse of a moment that some victims live with for a lifetime.
I hate the word victim. It brands a person. It labels a person as somewhat weak or fetal. It’s hard enough learning how to grow after a traumatic experience. The aftermath of the relentless moments of self-destruction combined with the remorse of others, it exhausts a human extensively.
I don’t blame the loved ones of rape victims. I mean, I wouldn’t know how to act either. I still don’t know how to act. There is a constant uncertainty on what is right and what is allowed. I know a lot of people don’t want to talk about it. They don’t know if they should talk about it. There’s always a time and a place. It depends on my mood, it depends on how I’m feeling. I know once I begin to have a conversation about it; the memories that flood my existence, don’t just take over me mentally, but physically. A subtle glow of moisture gleams on my skin and my voice begins to shake, and I have a hard time holding eye contact with my therapist or those around me. I hate going to the therapist. The moment I walk into their office I instantly feel myself drop into a depressed mood, regretful of having scheduled the appointment in the first place.
I didn’t want to get raped. I didn’t want the label that follows, or the mental exercise techniques that I would have to do daily to keep my insanity. The preparation and self-talks to get me through the day. I hate to say, I do play into the victim role from time to time. Not intentionally, but sometimes when you are constantly struggling to move up Mt. Everest, you will slip. And I’ll admit, I do slip at times. But like most of the outsiders and shrinks I’ve seen, I need to just get back up and dust myself off. And, I am learning how. Slowly but surely.
To start, I wish I could tell you that there was a rule book about the feelings you’ll have after getting raped. For me, the loss of dignity and self-respect began shortly after the incident. I felt dirty. I felt betrayed, and confused. The perpetrator was someone I knew. Someone, that before, I called a friend. I say before because the warning signs were there. I just didn’t trust my gut. Always trust your gut.
I was confined to a small place where hiding was merely impossible, and telling someone would only get you ostracized. I kept to myself and performed the tasks that were placed upon me every day. I was on my first deployment to Iraq and a lonely private of only 19. I left my home, for what I thought was a great cause, but only to find in return I would be violated, grow to hate myself, and hate the people I served with even more.
He began stalking me. Writing me letters while I was out on missions only to welcome me under the door when I returned to my CHU. He knew my every move. My work schedule, when I awoke, when I went to the gym, even when I did laundry. He knew what was going on when I was out on missions, and would brief me on the experiences I lived in real time but he only saw through a log at his work.
And then it happened. After constant nagging on his part, and paranoia on mine, I went with him away from security, away from people, lights, and sounds. I went with him to free myself from the embarrassment I saw from my peers.
“I’m your friend, and I deserve it. We deserve it.”
I’m not writing this as a heroic endeavor to be the voice of rape victims. I have shared my story from time to time, not for people to empower me, or to feel sorry for me. I have shared it as a disclosure for those who I get close to. As a warning sign to possible relationships. You could call it the small print at the end of a contract. It was a warning of what’s to come. I felt that my sharing, not so much the story, but the fact that I had been raped, would bring the understanding of why I am the way I am. Just tear the band aid off, right?
For years I didn’t identify it as rape. How could a friend, someone you know do that to someone? Wouldn’t you just call that sex? At the time, I didn’t understand what fight or flight was. I didn’t understand that it is not normal to freeze so intensely during sex. That even though you are conscious you are unconscious inside yourself. Intense fear will bring on this reaction. Laying as stiff as a board only to find yourself unable to move but produce tears is not what sex is about.
It took years for me to call it what it was. Rape. I had struggled with the realization of what it was. Doesn’t rape normally occur when someone is forceful or angry? Or when girls get too drunk and wear provocative clothing? As you can see, my sheltered upbringing and naivety is shining brightly through those assumptions. Sometimes I wish I could say that alcohol was involved, then I would have something to blame it on other than my own ignorance and lack of judgment.
I didn’t realize how much I would lose after that day. Who I once was, was gone. The struggles I would face not normal embraces. I would create habits that would make people uncomfortable. I would cringe upon the slightest touch, and the thought of being embraced made me sick to my stomach. Anger and resentment would become my most used emotions. I suppressed the event. I suppressed the darkest feelings and emotions I felt that day. What would surface is something I struggle with to this day.
Many people believe that they can suppress only the select emotions and memories of a traumatic event. I found within myself, that this is not true. When we suppress the emotions tied to trauma we open the flood gets for anger, resentment, paranoia, and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Our trust for the people around us diminishes, and our personal relationships begin to struggle.
To this day, I hate being touched. I struggle with being hugged more than anything. I can say all my relationships have struggled from my unintentional body language. I completely understand that being with someone who cringes when you touch them can put off a negative message. And after being “rejected” so many time, it would seem natural to just back off and give up.
Habits are hard to break. Trauma can bring forth habits that before, were incomprehensible to you, before the event. Victims of trauma try to compensate the event by creating habits that can not only come off as rude, but dangerous. When we don’t deal with traumatic events we rely on outside sources; drugs, alcohol, pills, etc…
Upon this realization of myself, and what would work with me therapeutically, I learned that it is not only rape survivors that battle with the ongoing, ever-so fluctuating emotions of connection, but those who suffer from other traumatic experiences, which result in a diagnosis of PTSD.
When an individual is exposed to something extremely dramatic and alarming, the fight or flight instinct makes its way to the surface. My fight or flight instinct was to crawl deep within a safe shell in my brain and not come out until I felt a reasonable amount of safety. That alone created feelings of shame and guilt. How could I not stand up for myself? Why did I not fight or run away screaming? I battled with my reaction for years and went through many therapies trying to justify my instinctual response. I felt cowardly. Over the years I worked alongside phenomenal individuals in the military. Once we were outside the “wire” it didn’t matter if you were a man or woman. there was a sense of connection for the safety of one another’s lives. I slowly learned to regain that trust, which in turn opened my eyes to connecting with people on a healthy level.
I believe the first step to rescinding from trauma is to identify the influx of feelings that we are trying so hard to break. For the longest time, my emotions were so out of order, that I convinced feeling anything was going to cause pain. I doped myself up on mind-numbing medications that left me life-less and uninterested. I was a zombie. We hear horror stories about our friends, whom, once started taking medications to counteract their variety of symptoms which left them as just a shell, and no longer the comrade we once knew.
For me, it was safe. If I didn’t react, I couldn’t fault myself, or talk down to myself. I felt like I could live that way for the rest of my life. Uninterested and boring. For those who think the same, it won’t happen. Your desires will peer through to you ever so often. The positive memories of who you once were and what you wanted out of life will make its way back to you, pushing you to wanting to make a change. This “want” led me to a roller coaster of multiple medications until I addressed the problems internally. And allowed myself to feel once again.
Once we identify the problems we are facing, and vocalize them, it will make them more real. For families, it’s hard to “never want to step on toes” or “we just keep our distance” rather than opening-up and having a real conversation with our loved one.
For me, the hardest thing was putting into words how I was feeling, half the time I just didn’t know. Half the time I was aware of my destructive behavior, but the only thing that made me feel bad about it was hearing it come out of the mouth of my husband. When he finally broke loose and put my actions into words, things he saw and witnessed, I finally understood. I can’t say I didn’t get defensive. No one likes to be wrong. The hardest blow I got during that conversation was “I just gave up, I just separated myself from what I wanted and just quit caring.” To some that may seem super cruel, but to others, when you look deeper in the message it comes across clear. The people who care about us the most in life will mold into our destructive behaviors, only to find themselves suffering as well. Not only is it affecting us internally, the actions of others begin to reflect upon the person we hate that we have become. We begin to lose the trust, the companionship, and the intimacy. Fighting becomes a norm, and never being on the same page is a game we play daily. This all stems back to what we aren’t dealing with, and how its creeping into the lives of the ones we love.
Giving yourself a chance to start back at square one and letting it be heard will assist you on the right path. We cannot love or be loved when we hate ourselves and punish ourselves. We cannot embrace life or grow as an individual if we hang onto the hatred and disgust. Trauma gives you the opportunity to grow and overcome. This is not to say it does not take work. Relapsing into old destructive behavior is easy. Hating ourselves, wanting to end our lives, or just disappear is an easy rally point. These thoughts may creep its way back into our minds, more often then we care to admit. But if we let them appear and responsibly address these feelings and thoughts, recovery is possible, and relationships are mendable.