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.