A few weeks ago I had an anniversary that I never dreamed of having as a child. I woke up and it was 10 years from the day that I was drugged and sexually assaulted by an acquaintance. It was a hard few days as I navigated the difficult memories, the painful emotions, and the trauma I had experienced. There were a few moments that it felt very bleak, and the darkness was engulfing my entire spirit. As I sit here today, it is hard to fathom that something that happened 10 years ago can still feel so fresh in my mind, body, and spirit. After the darkness had lifted, I was able to see what in my life has changed over the course of 10 years. I was able to look to my loving husband, my adorable son, and walk in my beautiful home and realize how far I have come since that day. The healing is still not complete, and there are days and weeks that it completely wraps itself around my soul. However, I am getting further and further in the healing process. I’ve learned things about myself I didn’t realize possible.
- Healing takes Time – I remember the day it happened like yesterday. I was so numb and outside of myself for weeks. Everything seemed to happen around me, and I was merely a passenger in life. I did not actively engage with anyone or anything in those first months after it happened. There was a day I sat with my therapist and distinctly remember telling her that I felt nothing. I could tell her the entire assault, or the parts I could remember, without a hint of emotion. When I shared it with others, it was as if I was talking about something that happened to someone else. I completely detached myself from the entire event. In that process, I began to separate myself from myself. I started living a life outside of my body. For years, I was not able to really feel love or touch in a meaningful way. As the years moved on, I got further from the assault, but I remained very detached from my body. It took a lot of meditation, breathing and practicing yoga to finally feel ok inside my skin. When I look back on it now, it’s hard to believe an event that lasted less than 10 hours could impact me so greatly.
- Relationships will be tested – People have great empathy and sympathy for individuals that go through sexual assault after it initially happens. However, over time I found people got tired of hearing about my sadness, my fears, my anger, and the rage I felt towards my perpetrator. I found fewer ears to listen to me, and over time I bottled up what happened because most everyone just expected me to “move on”. I didn’t move on though. I just continued to keep that rage, anger, fear and sadness within my spirit. Instead of joining groups or friends for events, I isolated myself from everyone. There were a few years I rarely left my house outside of working and going to the gym. When I felt unsafe in a situation, I pushed people away without an explanation. I let go of friendships without a goodbye, and I would spend my time in my head or by myself. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that in itself became a very sticky point in relationships and friendships. I had a hair trigger temper, little things would trigger me, and I would often say things I didn’t mean or didn’t want to say out of stress. Friends became less willing to deal with my outbursts, and I found myself without anyone for a very long time.
- Intimacy in a loving relationship is forever changed. After the assault, I never envisioned myself in a relationship where I would fully trust anyone. Then I met my husband two years after it happened. We have been together for 8 years, and I am still challenged to be present with him in our most intimate moments. I am not even speaking of sex. It is the moments when I am being vulnerable or trying to open up to him. I have found myself holding a lot of it in over time, and then it bubbles up into panic attacks that take me completely over. We continually work on this aspect of our marriage, and I work on sharing with him as much as I can. However, there is a part of me that has trouble opening up to anyone fully and truly trusting they will not hurt me in some way.
- Justice is rarely served. My perpetrator was never prosecuted. My rape kit was very tested, and I have never been contacted by the police or investigators since my one and only interrogation at a police station. I was not treated as a victim by the police. I was treated as a liar. My healing hasn’t just been about the assault but recovering from being treated like a fraud rather than a victim. The trauma of the investigation was so hard on my psyche that I never called them again after I met at the station. While I wanted my perpetrator to be held accountable, I was too fragile to be victimized again in the legal system. I regret not doing more in those initial months and fighting harder for him to have a day in court. It haunts me to know he’s out in the world potentially harming others. I am sick at times thinking he’s in the world fooling others to believe he’s a good person. I was there that night, and he was not a good person that evening. He will never have his day in court, he will never be prosecuted, and I will have to find a way knowing every day he’s out there and could harm me or someone else again.
- Feeling safe and secure may never happen again. Because my perpetrator is out there, and because I know he could harm others, I never feel safe. It has found ways to infiltrate my friendships and relationships with others not associated to the assault. My initial reaction when I feel threatened in anyway is to run and flee the situation. I have left social gatherings well before I intended because of the panic I feel. I have abandoned friendships, sabotaged friendships and found ways to not have anyone in my life that could potentially cause me harm. My relationships with others exisit on a very short leash, and I have a hard time managing any form of conflict. Prior to the assault, I had not problem hashing out differences with friends. Now I tune them out, turn them off, and shut them out. I am working on this aspect of my life dilligently, but I have gone through more people than I am certain is common. My friendships are constantly changing, and I refuse to be parts of groups of people.
While it seems as if my life is dark and gray, writing and sharing this is actually entirely cathartic. I am for the first time shining a light on what the assault has done to me. It was a night that changed the course of my life forever. What I have learned most is that I need to continually be aware of how the Post Traumatic Stress it caused me effects the day to day of my life. I need to find ways to better manage that stress, and I need to work on ways in finding safety in my life. It will never be a perfect process, and healing from an attack is incredibly messy. However, my goal in sharing this is that if one other person reads this that has been sexually assaulted can relate and feel less alone, I have done my job in putting myself out there. We do not have to be isolated because someone else decided to have our bodies without our permission. We do not need to feel shame or embarrassment in sharing our feelings and how it effects our spirit and lives. What we need is support and understanding from our loved ones, that healing is on going and sometimes the trauma and stress doesn’t leave. Our healing will not be tidy. Please be patient with us as we navigate the process of finding out how to become survivors and not victims of a horrible crime.