One out of every six women in the US has been a victim to rape. I am not alone.
One of the most important things we do in life is establish connections with other people. I envision life as if we’re all walking around with an invisible connection port attached to us. We have a choice: do we connect our ports together or do we stay separate? With each connection we venture into, the potential to experience similar levels of emotions (joy, humor, loss, distress, frustration, etc) is found; and if the relationship we build is strong enough, we can start to truly learn from each other, without the need to ever share the exact same experience. I’m grateful for that level of connection, because when you have something really tragic happen in your life, you wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But you still want to share it with the world.
There’s only one important thing to know about the night that I was raped. It’s that in the exact moment my assaulter took possession of my body, my very soul became homeless. It fled to an inaccessible location, and I could no longer identify with the vessel left behind. All it took was an instant. Everything that had once made me me, was gone. And from that moment on, I was my own stranger. My rapist took so much more away from me than he had planned.
I remember the morning after. Staring into open space for who knows how long (a habit that became all too familiar after that point), I eventually started functioning on autopilot. I got dressed and went to work, only to find myself in the bathroom around 11:00 am sobbing as quietly as possible, so as not to alert or scare anyone. I may have been able to deny what had happened that morning, but I was forced to face the facts when I attempted to use the bathroom. At nineteen years old, I had never felt pain like that. I wanted to scream “Call an ambulance! My body needs a doctor!” Instead, I held as silent as humanly possible. Even with all that physical pain, I wasn’t prepared to admit what had happened. All I wanted was to shut myself in a room, throw away the key, and never be touched by anyone ever again. I was broken—utterly and completely. And to this day, I still have survivor’s guilt about being that broken.
The week following the incident, my fight or flight instinct finally took control. I had panic attacks each time I left my house, thinking that my assailant would be just around the corner and I was going to bump into him. Luckily for me, I knew who had assaulted me. And I truly believe that is lucky, because the rape victims who don’t know their assailants’ identity end up running from everything and everyone. However, unfortunately for me, we shared all the same friends; so in another attempt to avoid him at all costs, I stopped communicating with them as well.
My emotional state was so precarious that even when people did reach out, I couldn’t afford to emotionally connect with them. I had only one companion during this period of my life: Depression. Depression, conveniently, was fine staying in bed with me, staring blankly at walls. But it turned ugly when the questions started rolling forward: What happened? Why would someone do that? Could I go back to living life like normal again? I knew my current life was awful, and I would do almost anything to get the old one back.
After a week passed in this way, the first miracle of many arrived: my brother, who lived several states away, spontaneously asked me to come live with him and his family. I felt an immediate flood of relief; my fight or flight instincts for survival could finally be pacified!
While I was away from home, I still clung to my new companion Depression, and the questions continued to roll in: Would I ever be whole again? How could I ever trust anyone again? Would this hurting ever stop? Each day I woke up hopeless, and went to sleep wishing that my body remembered how to shed tears. No one ever warned me that when a deep ache grows constant, even the tears leave you in seclusion.
After two months of being with my brother’s family, I returned home. And the panic washed over me anew. My body went into hyper-awareness mode and every time I got out of bed, I was tensed as if my assaulter would walk in at any moment. And in due course we did meet, and my fears were materialized. Seeing him was gut wrenching. It wasn’t a long interaction, but it was enough to make one thing extremely clear: he still had total control over me.
The night after we saw each other I loathed myself more than usual. He had walked over to me and chatted with me as if nothing had happened, and I had just sat there like a stone! He had even invited me out the next day, and I had accepted! As if I didn’t have a choice! I don’t know how or why, but three months after the night I was raped, my assaulter still somehow manipulated my actions. It was like he was a cruel and merciless god. And I hated myself for that, because I knew that I was giving him such god-like powers. But what I hated myself even more for was not knowing how to take the power back.
After a sleepless night of self-loathing, I somewhat robotically drove to see him the next afternoon. After spending two hours together, and not saying more than a handful of words to each other, I finally got the courage to ask, “why are you doing this to me?” And his response solidified my plan to take my life back. He simply said: “I don’t know,” and shed a tear. I count that tear as the second big miracle of many on my road to self-recovery.
After that response, I knew I was the strong one in this messed-up relationship. He had committed a dark act, and like any dark thing that spreads, the taint had left stains on both of us. Seeing that tear, his god-like status was immediately revoked, and truth be told, I felt awful for him. He would need to work just as hard as I would to put that night behind him. And I truly hope he has.
After that, I understood that if I continued to let that night stain me, then I was doing myself an injustice. So, I committed all the energy I could muster to finding a way back to happiness. Knowing I couldn’t do it alone, I finally told someone what had happened those several months ago. Choking out the words “--- raped me.” to my parents brought back all of my long-abandoned tears. The compassion and love that immediately followed was everything I needed. I found a spark of hope there—a spark that I clung to and was desperate to build into a blazing fire. I wanted so badly to be normal again! I wanted happiness to be real again!
So, with my hard-won smidgen of hope for a brighter future, I began to pray. I know unequivocally that God does not abandon good people--and if you want to make a positive change, He will help. But I will admit that I had been praying all the way up until this point, and I can see why some people might begin to think that God doesn’t care after such wretched ordeals. But that thinking is wrong! My life only began moving again when my prayers changed in purpose; the frequency remained the same (constant). Where I previously had been praying for God to take away my pain, I was now more focused on simply moving past the pain. I started praying that I would find the strength to help myself and forgive my assaulter. And I even prayed that he could forgive himself and get help, so that we could both leave horrifying acts like this behind us. As soon as my prayers took shape in the form of action as opposed to the magical removal of my struggles, I was able to begin piecing my life together again.
Piecing myself back together wasn’t easy. Some pieces I never re-secured, some pieces I was able to find but they remained tainted for days, months or years to come, and other pieces I had to completely build anew. It was a long and incredibly lonely journey. But one of the things that helped me along that journey was playing the piano. Music has the ability to reach a person who is otherwise unreachable; those keys were solace for my soul. I don’t remember the exact point I transitioned from playing songs of despair to ones of cheer, but I do remember a special day, where I caught myself playing only happy songs, with no desire to play anything else! While the memory of that day still makes me smile, it pales in comparison to the day I looked into the mirror and was no longer a stranger. Reconciling with my own body took almost insurmountable effort.
After finally finding myself again, my companion Depression became lost. And I started praying for God to send me a new friend--an angel to help me piece my life back together again. As heartfelt as those prayers were, I wasn’t ready when He actually answered that prayer. No matter how much time passes, after going through something like this, when you pray to be loved, and God sends love your way, it is overwhelmingly hard to accept.
There are three types of love that I found on my journey back to happiness, and they came in sequential order. First, God’s Love. It can not be stated enough that He is the reason why I have now fully survived and recovered after such a harrowing ordeal. Second, love of self. Unfortunately, God can’t simply love people to fullness. You have to be committed to being in charge of your own life. He can help you along, but everyone must find their own way. Third, the love and loving of another. This last one makes the other two look like a mere tip of the iceberg. It’s absurd how quickly tears of loneliness can become fear-of-commitment tears. When I eventually met my now husband, I didn’t have butterflies in my stomach--I had nausea! I cried for days because of how much I liked him! He was everything I needed then, and he is everything I need now. Kind, patient, funny, and most importantly, open. There is nothing hidden or dark in our relationship, and there is no greater value to be had in any relationship than that. His willingness to walk this road to recovery with me has led me to discover a level of healing that I never thought would be possible. He hates what happened to me that night, but he completely loves the girl I became as a result of it. And so do I.
It's taken me two years of constant revision and countless breaks to come up with the words that I'm now sharing publicly. I dedicate it all to the men in my life, who are a constant reminder that good always triumphs: my husband Tim, whose patience and healing nature has bolstered me from the very beginning; To my son Hugh, whose struggle with speech has made my voice stronger; And to my youngest son, Roy, whose bright disposition reminds me that there’s always a reason to be happy.