Wednesday, October 12, 2011
A year into our relationship, he told me had been doing a lot of thinking and he didn’t think he really believed in a lot of the same things spiritually as he used to. I was taken aback, but trusted that he would be fine and we would be fine, because everyone has doubts. He assured me that everything would be fine too. But then his attitude toward me started changing. It started with small things – not returning my calls, not pursuing me as he should anymore, not caring for me, asking things from me sexually that I wasn’t comfortable with. Then he started pressuring me. I kept saying no. I wasn’t ready. But he was bigger, he was stronger, and he knew he could take things from me. And so he did. He raped me for the first time on the night of my birthday. He held me down so I couldn’t move, covered my mouth so I couldn’t say anything, holding my legs apart with his. I was so confused. I couldn’t even leave my house on my birthday I was so confused and ashamed. I didn’t know what had happened, how I had gotten myself there. I broke up with him the same day. He apologized over and over again. He said he didn’t know what happened, and that emotions had gotten the best of him because I looked so beautiful.
For the new few weeks, he called me daily, leaving me apologetic voicemails, sending me flowers, bring me lattes to class on the days I had tests, asking me to forgive him and allow him to take me on a date again and prove that he was sorry. At first I resisted, so confused at what was going on. How could I get raped? I knew nothing about this type of abuse at the time. I thought it was for girls who partied a lot. I had never had a drink in my life. I was in my pajamas after cooking him dinner in what I thought had been a stable relationship that was headed toward marriage. Was it even rape because I was dating him? I had told him I didn’t want to. He knew I didn’t want to have sex. He knew I didn’t want him to see me naked. I didn’t know who to talk to. I thought my friends would judge me because I had sex. I thought they wouldn’t believe me, because he is such a great guy, and would never do anything like that. I thought maybe if he really was sorry, and if we got back together and everything went back to normal, then it could redeem this past experience, and it really could be a fluke. So I got back together with him. Things were great again for a few weeks. I felt like we were back to normal. I was starting to trust him again, depend on him emotionally again. I let him kiss me again.
It was almost as if he could sense my vulnerability. As soon as I became comfortable again, he started again. But instead of just raping me, he started hurting me violently too. He’d bite me until I bruised and bled – my neck, my breasts, my inner thighs, my vagina. I could barely move the days after he did this to me. He’d eat me out while twisting my breasts so hard I couldn’t bear the pain. He’d take all of my clothes off, trap me laying down, and he’d masturbate on top of me, forcing me to watch him do it until he came all over me. He’d claw at my vagina, scratching me so hard that I could barely use the bathroom or shower without screaming in pain for days. He’d hold my head or my hands on his penis until I gave him a hand or a blowjob. He’d hold me down or pin me down with something so I couldn’t escape. He’d make me do things to myself while he watched and masturbated. He hurt me over, and over, and over. If I asked him to stop, he’d just do more. I tried to avoid him, but he would find me. After these things would happen, he would act normal everywhere else – taking me out on dates, doing nice things for me, calling me, buying me really nice gifts, wanting to hang out. This continued for six months.
During this time, I wondered if I was actually alive. I didn’t tell anyone. No one would believe me. He was a famous face on campus, everyone knew him, everyone thought he was wonderful, they wouldn’t believe me when I said he was doing these things to me. My life had become a roller coaster. I feared if I broke up with him, he would just find a way to hurt me more. So I stayed with him.
I broke up with him on the eve of his graduation, knowing I’d never have to see him again. I got on a plane and flew out of the country for two months for a summer internship, numb. I couldn’t trust people. I couldn’t make new friends. I feared my old friends, I wondered when they were going to start hurting me too. I didn’t want to leave my house. I lost touch with most of my friends. I told no one. I started drinking with the few people I did trust to numb the pain. I had vivid flashbacks. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, screaming and sweating, thinking he was in my bed with me. I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I was nauseous, anxious, and nervous all the time. I couldn’t focus. No one knew what had happened to me. Back at school, he’d show up at my house unannounced, driving seven hours from where he was living, wanting to hang out. I told him if he did it again, I’d call the police, and I’d tell people what happened. I was terrified. I refused to be alone because I thought he could find me. I never heard from him again.
A year later, I met a girl who was courageous enough to share her story with me, a complete stranger. She had the courage to face her attacker, the man that had taken so much from her. She gave me strength. Her story, her courage, helped me know that I needed help. I couldn’t keep wondering around living half of a life, living in fear. We weren’t created to live in fear; yet, it had become my daily reality. I didn’t need to struggle alone. I wasn’t an isolated incident. A community existed. People would believe me. I told my few closest friends. They believed me. They supported me. They listened. They helped me find professional help. They helped me start repairing my life. They still help me today. They’ve started helping me learn how to smile again, how to have fun again, how to trust people again. I’m starting to be able to sleep again, make friends again, live normal life again. Now, I’m a senior, all I want is to enjoy this year, to live it fully, to embrace everything that comes with it. And I think I can, I know I can, even if it is something I have to convince myself of every day. I am beautiful, I am strong, I am intelligent, and I can overcome this, because I know I have a God on my side that conquered death, and He provides. We all do.
I trusted him, and I knew him. He told me that he is falling for me and that he is in love with every part of me. He was the sweetest guy and the worst part is, he was the only and is the only guy to this day who understands me. I didn’t think it could happen to me, I thought that it wouldn’t be him, but it was. Actually, about 90% of rape survivors know their attackers so it could happen to me, I just did not see it coming. I wish I could rewind the hands of time, but that was then this is now.
Now, I have grown through the situation and matured from it even though I am still healing. Through friends and family, and the wonderful help that I received from UNC, I was able to make it because without them, I do not think I would be living right now. Many people do not realize that this is a traumatic experience that takes years to heal. It takes time to heal, but time heals the wound, it does not remove the scar that is left in its place. Relationships, friendships, the idea of love, this thing called trust, will never be the same as I thought about it before. How do I expect someone to understand? When do I know when it’s the right time to tell someone? Do I even tell? I don’t know… what would you do? And unless you’ve been through it, you cannot understand nor do I ever want someone to understand so the worst thing you could EVER say to a rape victim is “I would have…” because you never know. This attitude, questions, and ideas that come up on a daily basis is something we have to fight and hear EVERY DAY. And this justice systems of ours, blames us not them. Therefore, we have to face them, we have no other choice even if he does not think that he did that to me and gave me a fake apology when he realize the potential trouble he could get into. So I smile when I see him so that he knows that I am growing and moving on, and I smile even though I am still bleeding from the emotional pain. I smile because that is all I have left.
So in looking back, I was wondering what it was that still got to me. And I realized, it wasn’t memories of the actual abuse but memories of how people reacted that still bothers me. How our friends heard the way he talked to me and saw how he treated me, and never said anything to either of us. How one friend told me later that it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal, especially considering he didn’t hit me. How someone had the nerve to call what happened with the other guy a ‘one night stand.’
I have moved away from self-blame. These instances don’t make me tumble back into self-doubt, thankfully. But they do make me angry. I find myself wanting to tell the entire, long, complicated story, because I want them to KNOW that what happened was not right. I want them to understand that there’s not just one way to be abused or assaulted – every instance looks different, and it usually doesn’t look like what you’ve seen on TV. I want to name things for what they are, but I’m not sure I have a name for what I went through.
This many years later, I don’t carry a lot of anger for how these men hurt me when they were boys. I carry anger for people who minimize and trivialize other people’s experiences, for people who blame their own friend for being a victim of violence, for people who think that recognizing one person’s trauma somehow invalidates someone else’s trauma. The more we engage in fighting each other over whose experience was rape and whose wasn’t, the less time and energy we have to fight violence and those who perpetrate it. No matter what you name it, no one asks to be treated badly or abused or assaulted or raped. And no one deserves it.
It was my fifteenth birthday and the beautiful boy wanted to take a walk with me. He held my hand and he made me special. He kissed me hard and his hands on my body made me feel like a grown woman, my first memory of feeling sexy. The attention electrified me and I felt my body react in unfamiliar ways. But I was a child that wanted to sit Indian style with him, in my dirty sneakers and gym shorts, and talk about movies and classes and marching band. With every refusal, every time I pushed away his hands, he reminded me that I was not strong. And when he shoved me down, and my head hit rock, I was too confused, too upset to run. I watched him kick my ankles apart. I viewed the unnerving first sight of an unclothed man and I felt his weight on top of me. I saw the limbs of the trees and the clouds and the birds as I looked everywhere but in his eyes. Nature had not stopped for me. I felt the dirt and twigs grind into my hips and mix with my hair. I felt the tearing of tissue and the warmth of blood. Later, I cried and choked as he gripped my head in the palm of his hands, and more than once I thought to bite down, but never did. And when he cried and apologized and asked my forgiveness, I did not hesitate.
And this was the way we were. Several times a week from October to December. Too dazed and afraid to leave, too bloody and broken to endure.
How do I end this story? From the breakup to the next boy I kissed. From nightmares to therapy. From finding my strength to finding pleasure. From failed relationships to falling for her. From broken, to rebuilt, to survivor.
I spend my hours—God knows how many hours—fast-forwarding and rewinding through that day, as if I’m watching from behind a screen. It’s like a movie I’ve seen time and time again. I see all of the characters. But I don’t particularly identify with any of them. I know all of their lines.
I think of that day as only a play that I know really well. I’m sitting in the audience each time. Sometimes, I daydream that the overhead lights turn on during the middle of the play and the cast of characters all look up, confused, waiting.
I can see most of them clearly from my seat:
The actor on the left who sits on the couch.
The actor who is trusting after a sensitive conversation.
The actor who has another drink.
The actor in a strange person’s bed, saying, “Remember our conversation earlier?”
The actor whose face is always shadowed, whose face I can never quite make out from my seat.
I spend my hours—God knows how many hours—determined to find where I went so wrong.
I daydream about leaving my seat, turning on the overhead lights myself, running through the auditorium, climbing on the stage, and handing the cast the perfect lines to sabotage their play, so I don’t have to keep watching it in my head.
I wish it had been a play and not my life. I wish I could have slammed open the bedroom door, held my hand, applauded me if I told them courageously “fuck you,” driven me home.
I want to get out of repeat. I want to get out of self-blame. The only way I know how to turn it off is to think that nothing happened to me, to believe that I’m overreacting, that I’m just being stupid. It’s easy to believe; it hurts a lot less. I don’t want those to be the only options. I want to love me again.
Instead, I feel nothing and sometimes I think that this apathy is the worst thing they did to me.
Worse than the scars that I’m forced to look at every day.
Worse than the nightmarish memories that are always present.
I can’t go an hour without thinking about my past, and worrying that it somehow marks me. My own feelings scare me; they make me vulnerable, remind me of those years when I was slapped, held down, choked, threatened…
So, forgive me if I’m cold.
Forgive me if I’m distant.
Forgive me if I don’t speak about it.
I’m not ready yet and, at this point, years later, am unsure if I ever will be.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I am writing this for the survivor who can’t see out or past. Consider this a survivor’s guide.
- The violence is not the end of the story. It’s not even the beginning.
Your life is a beautiful thing. It’s filled with many stories and many memories. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who you were before and who you are in the aftermath. The violence can be overwhelming, give you nightmares and wake you up. It can feel like it’s the only memory that matters. It can pervade your present, fill you up and drain you out. Fight to remember the memories around it that have made you smile. And laugh. Laugh like hell. Fight to find the present in today. Notice the world and take note. It’s hard to see, sometimes, but it truly does get better. There is strength and good in you and around you.
- I believe you.
I believe you. I believe you. I believe you. No, really, I BELIEVE YOU. “I believe you” are the most important words you will ever hear. They were the most important ACTIONS anyone ever performed for me. I was not only told I was believed but I was shown. My friends believed me audaciously. They stood by me adamantly. They testified in court for me. When I lost my case, they told me I had the truth by my side. They believed me when I struggled to get the words out. They believed me when I doubted myself. To this day, it can feel unreal. I make so many excuses for what happened. But I know deep down the truth. I am believed. I believe you. I believe you.
- It’s not your fault.
It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. I could say it again. It’s not. No matter what crazy justification you will try to come up with, it’s not your fault. A few months ago, my roommate came home to me curled up under a blanket on the couch. “What’s wrong?” She asked. She knew my story. I sat there and struggled to tell her. “Just tell me.” She said. Finally, I started to cry. “I just need to know it’s not my fault.” It’d been years since everything I went through but I still could not believe that I had not done anything to make him hurt me. She cried and started saying those words, “It’s not your fault.” She said it again and again. She made me look her in her eyes and said it again and again until we couldn’t cry anymore and reached that line of emotion between tears and laughter and began to laugh. She held me. It’s not your fault.
- This IS the most painful thing you will go through.
Yes, you have to find the good in today but nothing will change that this is the most painful thing you have gone through. But find a healthy way to deal with the pain. I’ve drunk and smoked and done drugs and self-harmed. I’ve overdosed, been hospitalized. I’ve tried to escape. You will not escape but you can find a way to make the pain hurt less and it fades, it really does fade, in time. A year ago I stopped cutting and started dancing. Dance party became code with my friends for “The pain is really, really, really bad and I need it to go away.” My friends and I would dance. Blast music. Laugh. Stand on furniture. Dance, dance, dance. So, please, dance. Construct something, build something, write something, do something but don’t hurt yourself to escape the pain. This is the most painful thing you will go through. But believe me, your beautiful self needs healing, not more harm.
- You are the solution.
You can’t change what happened but you can change how you deal with it. Think of the people you can relate to because of your pain. Think of all the people you can connect to because you share that experience. You have so much power. Do good with the horror you’ve been dealt. And don’t give up. You are the solution.
- Be honest.
Tell people when you can’t take it anymore. Be honest with them and yourself. Acknowledge how much you can handle. Don’t be afraid to walk away. When you are triggered, it’s the most overwhelming and terrifying thing. Sometimes, my vision would go white. I couldn’t stand anymore. Do not be afraid to walk out. Do not push yourself further than you can handle and do not let people ask more of you than you can give. Ask the professor for a break if you are suffering a lot of PTSD or otherwise struggling—and if s/he won’t give you break, ask a dean or CWS for help. There is no reason you should have to pretend that you can do it. Sometimes you can’t. Be honest.
- People are gentle.
Not everyone is as callous and hurtful as the person who assaulted, raped, or beat you. Find friends who are gentle. Find a partner who is gentle. Be gentle with yourself. Allow people to treat you gently. Sometimes we survivors are so strong, we resist being taken care of. Allow people to care for you. Being vulnerable enough to let people help you is sometimes the strongest thing you can do.
- You are tremendously brave.
You are so brave. You are so brave, my friend. You are the strongest person I have ever met.
- You don’t have to be a survivor.
This is a funny idea but for me, I feel so far past my assault and so healed that I rarely identify as a survivor anymore. You don’t always have to identify as a survivor. If you feel like a victim right now, then definitely call yourself a survivor. You are not a victim. “Survivor” can become your identity for a while when you are lost and traumatized. It can help you realize your strength. You can be a survivor if you want. But the goal should not be to “Survive” but to “Thrive.” Be a thriver. One day, you will THRIVE every day and not just survive each day. It does get that much better, I promise. Don’t just survive.
- Please don’t you ever feel like you’re less than perfect.
You are whole. Not damaged. What I want to change is your feeling you are hurt irreparably. I had a counselor once who had to straight up tell me, YOU’RE OK. I was going to therapy wondering why I felt like I was healed. Shouldn’t I be struggling with this for the rest of my life? No, the funny thing is that I don’t struggle with it as much anymore and it can be that way for everyone. You are perfect and whole. You are not damaged. And that brings me back to the first point. The violence is not the end of the story. It’s not even the beginning. You are the story.
I will tell all of you what I wish someone had told me: It is never too late to say no. Not after you've started, not if it's something you've already done. If you feel "no," say no.
Monday, October 10, 2011
I was sexually assaulted by my best friend when we were both drunk at his fraternity's formal. That is the long and short of it. I didn't include a description of the incident, but instead a stream of consciousness about the feelings that came rushing back to me tonight. I have been debating posting on this blog for a long time, and this just seemed like a good moment for me to add to the conversation.
At first I blamed myself for the whole thing. I led him on, I was really drunk, what did I expect when he invited me to formal, I was silly to let this happen, I could have done more to stop it...
But then I realized that I told him NO. Not once, but multiple times. It was not my fault. And then I was mad. Really mad. I couldn't believe that my best friend had betrayed me like this. Even if I was drunk and he was drunk, there was no reason for him to have behaved like that. I couldn't stand to see him.
Then I ignored it. I pushed everything down. Ignored all the feelings that I had been having and rationalized the entire incident. He didn't mean to hurt me. It was just a mistake. It was nothing. It didn't mean anything. He still loves me. We can still be friends.
What's that quote? The worst lies are the ones that I tell myself...
And this was one of the biggest.
Current man friend doesn't even know this story. I think I'm scared to tell him because of the way he would react. Would he be on best friend's side and suddenly see me as dirty and less than what I was before. Or would he take my side and stand up as my protector, but then he still wouldn't see me the same way. I don't want to tell him.
But tonight. As I was talking to best friend for the first time in months, formal came up... And he apologized for the first real time (I had told him a month or so after the incident that he had really hurt me, I had told him no and what he didn't was not okay. Though I can't really tell you where that strength came from, it was nonetheless one of my better moments). And that apology just brought back rushing feelings of how I felt the days weeks and months after it happened.
This is not the time that I want to be dealing with this, but for the time being I do feel a bit better about myself and about him. I haven't fully forgiven him, and I don't know if I ever will be. I still have issues to work through, but tonight certainly helped.
We decided to play a trick on people and pretend we were dating, then stage a huge fake breakup to see how people would react. Unfortunately, when the day came he backed out and said he didn't want to do it. It was then I realized that he'd trapped me in a relationship. I rationalized it, we got along, we liked each other. It would be fine. Maybe one day I'd learn to love him. For several months things didn't change. We barely acted like a couple. We spent most of our time intoxicated having a good time with friends.
Then he got an apartment and convinced me to move in. Once all my stuff was there, once we brought home a puppy that we'd found under a car, that's when everything fell apart for me. We'd been arguing and then arguing turned into verbal abuse. I was constantly insulted and demeaned and in return I grew cold and bitter. When he couldn't get me to back down he would pin me against the wall and scream in my face. He would physically bar me from the door so I couldn't leave the apartment. One night when I tried to run away from a fight he grabbed me by the neck and threw me down on the bed. I couldn't believe I was trapped in an abusive relationship.
I had lost contact with my family and all our friends were mutual. I didn't think anyone would believe me if I told them what was going on. No one came to my side when I screamed for help.
Eventually I shut down physically and emotionally. We went months without having sex. SO he started taking it from me. At first I would scream and cry for him to stop. Once I realized it wasn't of any use to fight back, I would just lie there and cry silently, wishing I was somewhere else. Still I didn't tell anyone.
My parents caught on that something was wrong and convinced me to come home. I was never more thankful for them than I was that summer. Unfortunately I had to go back. He picked me up from the airport and took me to a friend's house. Around 2AM he woke me up, screaming that I'd cheated on him. I snapped. 9 months of his abuse caused me to jump on him, grab his neck, and press down hard. The rest of that night is a blur of arguing and physical abuse. At one point he told me he'd drive me to the airport. I was so desperate to get away that I agreed and got in the car. He dropped me off on the side of the highway with nothing and drove off. I sat there in the rain and the mud thinking that I deserved it. Eventually he came back. As soon as I got my phone I called 911. When the police came I turned myself in for assault. Sitting in a jail cell was better than being with him. After hours of questioning the responding officers forged a fake incident report and drove me to the airport so I could fly home. I had a police escort in the airport because he had called my parents and told them he was going to the airport to get me.
I tried living at college for another year but he knew where I lived. He vandalized my car and would come over to my apartment and insist he come in "to talk." I transferred schools, changed my name, and decided to hide everything from the world.
I'm ashamed I fell into that relationship. I feel dirty, tainted, and unworthy of love. Only five people know my story. Most people know the relationship was unhappy. No one knows the toll it took and is still taking on my life.