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Because this blog features stories of interpersonal and sexual violence, we offer this *content warning* as a way of caution. We also ask that you do not reproduce any of the content below, as the authors of these personal stories are anonymous, and cannot give consent for their stories to appear anywhere other than this blog or at a Project Dinah-led SpeakOut event.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bi-cycle

It was a year ago today. I was riding my bike on a cold morning, late to my college mandated health and wellness course. It had rained a night before, the brick sidewalks slick with a fresh wetness. There were so many people littering the path before me, scurrying to class, attempting to make it on time. I was one of those possibly tardy people, so I jumped on my bike and began pedaling hard into a coast down the hill in front of my dorm. I saw him coming, a fellow biker, flying down the hill from the opposing direction. Riding against the pedestrian flow with sunglasses on and earbuds in, he didn’t see me coming. I had nowhere to go, so I veered off the path, careening over the dewy grass as his handle bar clipped my side. My tires lost traction as I attempted to avoid the people on the walk, my bike now completely sideways. I lost control. The front tire of my bike hit a tree then my body followed, the handles bars twisting around my torso, my legs tangled in the chains. The mysterious, accidental assailant was already up the hill, our collision a vague memory. Some of the other potentially tardy students stopped and stared; others cried out and approached me, asked me if I was “okay” and picked me up. One girl, still a stranger, dusted me off and scanned my body for any apparent injury. I laughed the collision off: “worst morning ever”, “SOOO embarrassing”, and “I can’t believe I was in a one woman bike accident”. Hahahahahaha, incredulous head shaking and dry laughter served to affirm that I was in fact “okay” and also to excuse my fellow pedestrians to continue on their frantic, power walk to class. I returned to the scene of the drive-by to collect my bike, handle bars twisted at a ninety degree angle. I winced as I rolled up my pant leg exposing to the bitter cold of that February morning a raw, burning contusion that ran down the side of my shaking right leg. Running a cold hand under the collar of my shirt, I found another raw, open wound along the length of my right shoulder and collar bone. Inspection of my left calf revealed a deep gouge where my leg had been wrapped around the bike frame and dug into the gears on the opposite side. Dirt smeared the right side of my body, sprinkled and streaked across my clothes, my faces and throughout my hair. Ponytail more disrupted than askew, I picked up my bike. I attempted to straighten the handle bars to no avail and was forced to begin the long walk to class with my warped bike and mangled body.

I arrived five minutes late, but received sympathy due to the vision of the mangled bike and the superficial injuries sustained in the accident. The class was only team sports, and I hadn’t yet missed session. The cramps did not begin right away, or at least I didn’t notice them until we had finished our ragtag soccer game. On my walk back, I began feeling strange. My stomach began to hurt, not in a blistering way, but in a dull aching manner. I was uneasy, at the time I did not understand why, but I was definitely on edge. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t had my period for two months, or maybe it was the rape that had happened twenty-six days earlier, or maybe it was the fact that I had withdrawn from my friends imagining a child that I knew I would simultaneously love and hate. But, whatever it was, I felt uncomfortable. Hopeful and remorseful, angry and elated, nervous but inexplicably calm for the first time in three weeks: so many emotions swirled around within the folds of grey matter they call the mind. Unable to process, or unwilling, I straightened my handlebars. I took the tire between my legs, I grasped the warped bars and I forced them back into place. For twenty-six daysm I had been jarred. Mangled. Broken. I could not imagine recapturing the essence of myself. I could not imagine returning to being fully me. But in that moment, in that terrible, wonderful, lightening fast, bittersweet instant that I fell off of my bike, I was released. I must document the crash because that quite possibly could have been the death, the unintentional manslaughter, of my first child. I will never posses conclusive evidence, scientific or otherwise, to prove the fact that I was pregnant. The only proof I have is my intuition and the fact that I passed a couple giant blood clots that night and that I began menstruating normally again. Disgusting, exciting, mortifying, terrifying, and lovely, how can all of these emotions be associated with a one woman bike accident? How can these emotions be associated with losing a child? I felt filthy, ugly, and so relieved the moment I discovered the blood clots in my underwear. I think I actually shouted in glee and then felt irreparably guilty. That thing, that person was part me as much as it was part him. It was that part of him still inside of my body that had been slowly consuming me for a month. It was the part of me that I lost that made me upset with myself, disgusted with the other half of my psyche which was actively celebrating the death of my rapist’s baby, but also my baby. I was able to completely straighten the handle bars with my brute strength; I was able to ride my bike again. The incident is a vague memory. Except, on these seemingly familiar cold, February mornings when the grass is still wet from the night before, I remember why I fell off the bike in the first place.
I wish I knew how to ask for support at this point.

These days, my friends know about my childhood. My lovers end up knowing about the more recent things by way of my quiet apologetic disclaimer for why I'm occasionally cold.

I want to stop apologizing. I want my friends and family to stop ignoring the problem.

Mom, don't you know something bad happened when I was little? The memories are still confusing to me, but I know part of it, the rest I have to wonder. Did your dad do to you what he tried to do to me? Why did you leave me alone with some of them? You are a psychologist, you know the signs - the nightmares, the startle response, the eating disorders, the anxiety, the insomnia that's plagued me almost all my life...

I know you can't handle the truth. I know you've never recovered from the rape and molestation in your own life. It's okay. I've forgiven you for the day 15 years ago I told you I'd tried to kill myself and you pretended the next day that I'd said nothing.

I've forgiven you for all of it. I always will. I'll never tell you the truth - just get some help yourself. Because your past enabled my abuse - and if that doesn't motivate you into therapy - nothing will.

And to my future lovers, just know:

My first boyfriend raped me. He was abusive. The nightmares made me scream in my sleep. I'd wake up immediately alert and terrified. But I've tried to learn.

My ex-fiance, he helped me heal. He's my rock. He'd pressure me into sex, but he loved me. We're still friends, he still succeeds with the pressure. I enable him. But I don't know how not to.

The last one, I hesitate to call it rape. Maybe it was. I said no, he went ahead anyway. But I didn't claw out his eyes like we're supposed to. I don't know why I trusted him. I remember the last time we had sex. I was in so much pain. The nightmares then were the worst in 4 years.

I know my last girlfriend only pressured me for sex and wanted to hit me sometimes because she was terrified of losing me. I wonder if we could have fixed it, had I not gone numb and distant in terror as the nightmares and panic attacks started again. I feel like a horrible monster. I still haven't stopped dreaming about her.

And now, I hate dating. I drink alone and I drink too much. I wish the first five dates were truly blind, because I can't help thinking it's always about my body. I just want someone who loves and cares about me - but I'm not sure I'm capable of falling in love again.

Through it all I've been so strong out of necessity, out of aloneness, that my strength alienates most. Stop asking me to be weaker for you. Don't ask me to cry. Don't expect me to trust easily. Forgive me when I'm distant - this is how I've survived and succeeded.

One day I'll get treatment for my PTSD. Until then, I'll pretend I'm pretty much over it, I'll keep trying to move on, I'll keep drinking to stop the nightmares, I'll apologize and pretend I know what my feelings are enough to talk about them.

But in reality, I'm a stranger in a strange land. And everyone that looks at my body is the enemy. Every touch is an attack. And my own desire to be touched feels like yet another violation.

Please forgive me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I tried for a long time to twist my emotional reaction to my being sexually abused as a child into something positive, thinking, "I would never hurt anybody the way that I was hurt", "I am sexually experienced/desired/desirable" (eventhough, in the past I have typically avoided or felt conflicted about situations involving touch), "I won't put myself in a situation where I can get hurt--I'll just be really responsible" (aka--not drink/do drugs, not get too attached in relationships).

In my family, my siblings and I were encouraged to see the bright side of any situation. We didn't have a vocabulary to talk about negative feelings, and for me that meant the inability to deal with these feelings.

I am working with a counselor to help me as I try to identify, understand, and overcome the obstacles that I have faced in the past, and to some extent in the present. It has been difficult and necessary for me. It is difficult to identify needs that I feel have not been met, like support from my family (who didn't know that the abuse had occurred--but who I told over the past summer), like the need to experience physical touch, and the need to believe in myself and actions. It is painful to think that I haven't had these things for so long and have had to cope on my own. I feel that this process is simultaneously necessary because in the present and future I want to have these needs honored and met.

I'm also trying to reconnect with my body. I've had a good share of digestive issues in college, which are probably related to stress in school and in relationships. I have had a lot of internal conflict over the years--it's hard to believe that it has been over 16 years since I was abused--and I think that my body has been affected by all of my struggles. I have been doing some yoga and deep breathing which is helping me feel relaxed. I'm also trying to pay attention to how my body reacts in certain situations, like when I have doubts about a course of action that I plan on taking (like post-graduation plans). My counselor is encouraging me as I do this work, and has helped me reach out to my parents and other sources of support.

I'm putting a lot of energy and effort into myself at this stage of my life. I think that I should feel selfish for doing that. But the truth is, that I don't feel selfish and I don't feel that I'm some sort of evil unloving woman (like I once thought I was). To my surprise, my family and friends have been supportive of me and even re-affirm my needs to focus on myself and what I want to do. It's bizarre to me, because for so long I thought that the only way to "fix" myself was through service to others. Somedays I still find myself being attentive to the needs of those who I care about, and somedays I focus exclusively on myself.

I have a lot of work to do still, and it is the kind of work that I want to do for my own sake, primarily, and secondarily for those who care for me in the present and future (a grouping that also includes myself).

Monday, February 8, 2010

In response to the post "I feel like whenever bad things happen, you need a lot of support"

It always amazes me to come by and see that this is still here. Sometimes I feel like I don't know who this person is, and sometimes I know it's me.

Why is this so hard to talk about? You feel like it's been "enough time," and that people won't care when things trigger you. Or that they are ready for you to be over it. Or that since so much time has passed, it won't have the same effect on you.

And it does change, to some extent. The immediate scary-ness diminishes. You feel less ashamed of your body when you look in the mirror, since you see what YOU see not what he saw. You are less fearful of running into him.

But some of it just doesn't leave. And how in the world are you supposed to explain that you are afraid to fall for a guy because you are scared of having to explain everything?

I feel like it's been so hard to open up to any guy since then. I don't want to let this experience color all of my future interactions with guys, but it's really hard to stop that from happening. I feel like my defenses are up, way up, and I still just feel like guys only want sex. I see other people in relationships, even getting married, and it just feels so foreign to me. How could you know that the guy you're with really wants you? It feels like sex enters into the equation so quickly, and then how are you to know or trust anyone's true intentions?

When do you bring this up in a relationship? I don't want to stereotype guys. But how do you announce, "oh, I was sexually assaulted, so I will probably think you just want to have sex with me" in those early days of a relationship? If you bring it up, then all of a sudden perhaps you "hate men," and if you don't bring it up, you are always left wondering.

It really is a problem, and it really doesn't go away.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I’ve come to understand that the effects of my sexual assault will never go away, but I don’t know that I can accept that. Why do the twisted actions of another person from a summer more than 10 years ago still get to interfere with my life? Why can’t I go to therapy and then be over this, whatever that means. It doesn’t control my every action, and I’m not letting fear from what he did rule my life. But the triggers are still there.

Plenty of times I go into situations expecting them, knowing that things will be hard. I do everything I can to prepare myself, and I try to schedule some self-care afterward. I recognize that sexual situations will always have the potential to trigger me. I know that reading stories on the SpeakOut blog will be hard. I go to the doctor for pelvic exams halfway expecting to end up back in that bathroom from 10 years ago. I mentally agonize over these situations, trying to find the best way to cope, spending endless unnecessary hours worrying about how I will react and what people will think of me. I tell myself that by obsessing over the worst case scenario, the actual outcome won’t be so bad.

But then there are the times where it blindsides me. When talking with my roommate about how feminist research should be categorized leads to talking about card catalogs and then suddenly I’m back in that library, walking every inch of it, picturing every hallway and shelf of a place I haven’t been for years. Knowing exactly where the books we used to read together were. Standing there in the children’s section over the picture books, talking to him the day after he took me to that bathroom and raped me. Pretending to be mad at his mom for saying we couldn’t see each other, but really just being terrified and embarrassed for being a slut, even though I didn’t really know what the word meant and there was never consent.

It’s those times that I get unwillingly dragged back to that summer that I can get angry at him for how it still affects me so many years later. I won’t let myself get angry at him for what he did. Too many of the negative tapes still play in my head: I thought I loved him, I never fought back, I didn’t say no enough, he was a kid too, he didn’t really know what he was doing. But now even though I can call bullshit on those, I have a hard time being mad at him for his actions.

What I can get upset about is the unfairness of the situation. I can get angry that he doesn’t have to think about it every day, and probably never does. That he can put it out of his mind and go about his life like it never happened. That he never has to tell a partner that he’s a survivor and has triggers about anything sexual. That I spent years denying I was sexual at all, and then was unwilling to admit for even longer that I’m lesbian because I thought it was something his abuse caused. That he’s never dissociated or had one comment instantly transport him back to being 11 years old. It’s an injustice that if I let myself think about, would prevent me from being able to do anything else.

Instead, I try to focus on what I’ve taken from the situation. Things like the empathy that I’ve gained for so many people from the period I consider rock bottom when I was suicidal and cutting myself almost every day. The way that I have been able to use the fact that no one ever thought I would make it this far as motivation to do incredible things. The passion I bring to helping survivors and trying to make sure no one else has to experience violence. I will certainly never thank him for these things, and it doesn’t take away all the pain and hurt and injustice of what he did, but it’s the only way I know how to deal with it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I have four beautiful friends who are survivors. Actually I probably have many more than four survivor friends, but these four women I know well. I know the details of their stories. I have seen them refuse to allow the violence in their pasts to hold them down. I have seen them use their stories to become better people and to help others. They have inspired me. This post is for them.

To my over-achieving friend: Working closely with you over the past 6 months has shown me what a strong woman you are. Since I have known you, you have come so far in your recovery. You are able to talk about it freely now and even shared your story with a group of men, something I’m sure you never thought you would be able to do. You are an incredible person and recently you have made some HUGE life-altering changes, and I know it can’t be easy and at times it probably seems like you should’ve played it safe, as most people would have. But you are doing what you want now and you are being true to yourself, and that takes strength and self-confidence. Perhaps that strength comes from being a survivor or perhaps it was your own inherent strength that allowed you be a survivor, either way it is admirable.

To my activist friend: You take activist to a new level. While most people, including myself, often think there is nothing I can do because I am only person, you are doing everything. You are working with people and writing blogs and beautiful poetry. You are fighting violence halfway around the world and still focused on what we are doing at home. You will light the world on fire and you will make the changes you want to see. You’re dedication and desire to end sexual violence is astounding and the world will be a safer place because of the work you are doing.

To my best friend: Your rape was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. Watching you heal and grow into the extraordinary person that you are now, on the other hand, has been one of my most inspiring experiences. You are strong beyond words and every time I see the new side of you, I am a little awe-struck by your new presence and maturity. I’m sure this growth doesn’t stem only from the rape, and I certainly don’t think it was a good thing. But I think you turned it into something positive, you made it a life experience, and instead of letting it haunt you, you let it help you. That is unbelievable and I know you will help many other women with your experience.

To my partner: When you first told me your story, I was filled with anger and hate but then I was just heartbroken. Heartbroken for you, because you said to deal with it, you just pretend it was a bad dream. I wanted to shake you and make you understand that it was not dream, and it was terrible and traumatic and real. I wanted to do that so you could face reality and heal. I didn’t though and I promised to be supportive and caring and we talked about it a little. Then all of a sudden you started talking about it and asking how to find closure. Now you are facing the reality of being molested and I can see that you are healing. It will be a long road but the fact that you have begun the journey makes me so happy and proud. And I am truly honored that you are allowing me to help you.

Each of you women have changed my life for the better. All of you are incredible, awe-inspiring people and I think all of us could learn from you. I know I will not be and have not been the only one who is encouraged by your successful journeys towards acceptance and healing. I love each of you and want to thank you for being a part of my life.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Denial and repression is one of the best coping mechanisms for children and they both did wonders for my childhood. As I got older it was got more and more difficult to repress painful memories especially the one that so heavily affected my sexual relationships with others. I realized that I needed to deal with this trauma in a more grown up manner.

My parents got divorced when I was in the 3rd grade and my mom had been dating the same man for about 8 years. He is significantly younger than my Mom; in fact he is closer in age to me than my mother. He was so nice to me all the time, and made for a pretty decent 2nd father. I used to joke that he was better than my own dad. On occasion I felt strange by a hug he gave me or something he said but I never read too much into it. Early in high school I would lay in bed with my mom and watch TV and we would both fall asleep and my mom’s boyfriend would come up and lay between us when he went to bed. I knew that it was kind of strange when I was doing it but I just liked hanging out with my mom until one night I woke up covered in sweat, my heart felt like it was going to shoot right through my chest, and my lungs were constricting so tight I could not breathe. I could feel a hand up the leg of my shorts and inside my underwear. I was so confused and scared. I couldn’t move at all. When I realized what was happening I decided to wait it out, that it had to stop eventually. I did not want him to know that I was awake but my heart was beating so hard and so loudly all I could think was “HE KNOWS, HE KNOWS.” I laid there without moving and counted every exhale 1…2…3…4… slowing my heart rate with each breath. I counted to 453 that night before I felt his hand pull away from me. I immediately wanted to jump out of the bed but I still didn’t want him to know what was awake and I didn’t want my mom to find out at all so I laid there staring at the clock. I waited 20 minutes before I got up but it seemed like a lifetime. I got up and went into the bathroom and sat in the bathtub bawling.

It was so easy for me to pretend like it never happened. To just forget; so I thought, until my first boyfriend would try to wake me up by touching me and although he thought it was completely harmless I would wake up terrified and feeling violated. I never told him.

I never told anyone until about a year ago. I told a close friend of mine and she didn’t understand why I never told my mom. I have never told my mom because she loves this man and telling my mom wouldn’t make me feel better and it would crush her beyond anything. I love my mom and although that night threw my emotionally, sexually, and psychological health to the sharks I would still never tell my mom.