Sexual assault. Rape. Child molesters.
To my ears, these words are so ugly.
Yet if I heard someone speak these words in another language (one of the many I don’t know how to speak) I might think they are beautiful words. I might think, “Oh wow, how I wish I could speak such a musical and lovely language.”
I wouldn’t even suspect they were talking about some of the deepest pains a life form can ever experience.
I say “life form” because similar horrors don’t just happen to people. They also happen to bugs, birds, mammals, marine life….
They also happened to me.
Right now, my dear friend and colleague Jenni Schaefer is doing that magical thing she does when she gets people who don’t want to open up and talk about their pain to open up and talk about their pain – and I am no exception.
Recently, Jenni sent me a heart-in-mouth blog post she wrote about her lingering (although thankfully mostly now-healed) PTSD following a rape experience. This experience happened not with a stranger but in the context of an ongoing relationship with some real trust built into it.
Her post, titled “10 Reasons Why I can’t Just ‘Get Over’ PTSD,” brought up something in me I didn’t want to even think about, let alone talk about.
Yet here I am, preparing to do both.
Here is why….
I am tired of tucking this away politely, like a stray hair behind one ear, where it stays neatly contained but yet never fully out of view or my awareness.
I am tired – exhausted, really – of pretending it didn’t really happen, that it wasn’t what it was or that the only way I can make pretending work is to blame myself for it.
And I am utterly wiped out by the shame of believing it wasn’t a “real” rape, because we knew one another through work, because I had invited him out that night, because I was too naive and lonely and eager for a “normal” male-female connection to believe him when he told me up front – in an odd sort of verbal indemnification clause – who he really was and how he acts sometimes (especially after drinking a six-pack or two).
When the memory of that night does manage to work its way to the surface, waving its waterlogged and exhausted palms desperately to get my attention, the dialogue normally goes something like this:
Hey! You! I’m drowning over here! HELP!
It’s your own fault you are drowning. You made your own bed, remember?
I can’t hold on much longer – please help me!
You should’ve thought of that before you called him up and went out and drank and then WENT HOME with him to HIS house, you moron.
I’m about to go under…! blurb, blurb, blurb (sounds of sucking air)…..
Stop whining. You’re a big girl. It wasn’t really rape – you never even resisted!
And so on and so forth.
Pleas for help, for healing, for empathy, have previously always been answered by the harsh, unfeeling words of whichever inner critic is pulling guard duty inside my skin that day.
The truth is, I did all those things. We met through work. We became friends. He was very good-looking – way more good-looking than anyone I thought would ever want to date or even be seen with me (especially at that newly recovered, oh-so-fragile phase of my life).
We had lots of shared interests, too, including music. So, gathering up every ounce of my courage and still mostly dormant social skills, I called him up one night to invite him to a friend’s party. He arrived late to pick me up at my parents’ house, where I was still living at the time. They were not home – a rarity.
He smelled of alcohol and acted faintly belligerent. He did not want to go to the party; he wanted to go to a bar. He was bigger and taller than me and very muscular (think fireman’s calendar muscular here). Suddenly I felt afraid. I tamped the fear down and agreed to go to the bar instead.
We went. We drank. One of us drank a little and one of us drank a lot. But both of us drank more than we should have.
We left in his convertible sedan. Amazingly, I got into that car with that insanely drunk man, whom I still insanely trusted, and it was my decision to go to his house – even my suggestion.
[If there was a big sandpile next to my laptop right now, I would go stick my head in it.]
The moment we arrived at his house, two things happened: he got a six-pack from the frig and he got naked. The thing was, he had told me back at the bar that sometimes he goes out, drinks too much and does not-nice things.
I just had no idea what he was talking about. And since I had never seen him do any not-nice things (well, at least until that same night) I also didn’t believe him. I didn’t think I had to believe him since I hadn’t seen the not-nice things with my own eyes.
Still freshly released from my decades-long belief that I was the only not-nice, awful, horrible person in the whole world, I figured if he had ever done any not-nice things, they were things like not holding the door open for the person behind him or kicking his refrigerator when it made weird sounds nothing else seemed to fix.
Not like getting so drunk you rape your friend and business associate and then pretend it was consensual the next morning.
I think I started to believe him when, mid-awfulness, he asked bluntly, “Where’s the hole?” Talk about trauma. That line – it lingers and pops up in some of the MOST inopportune times in the MOST awkward ways – it represents the full force of my full shame in three words.
Afterwards, he fell asleep and I got up and tried to call a cab.
I didn’t want to call any friends and certainly not my parents. The cab couldn’t find me and I didn’t know where I was – this was way before the days of GPS and hands-free driving directions, back when you needed a physical address and a pencil and paper to write it down with and a city map and a bright light in the darkness to find it.
I didn’t know what his address was and couldn’t find any street signs to tell me the street name. It was very dark and the mosquitoes were very hungry.
Finally, after waiting for at least 45 minutes outside only to be told the cab driver couldn’t find me and had given up, I went back inside the house and woke him up. I told him I had called a cab to leave. He asked, “Why?” and promptly rolled back over and went to sleep.
The next morning, there we were. We woke up, took a shower together, and on the way home he offered to answer any questions I had or give me tips about how to please a man.
Like a well-mannered young lady, I thanked him. One night later he called me up to go listen to him play music at a charity event, and I went.
Does this sound like a rape to you? It still doesn’t to me.
That is, except to the part of me that feels raped.
I have NEVER shared this story publicly before.
I haven’t even ever shared it privately with anyone before – not like this, not detail by stark, shameful, horrifying, stomach-curdling, still-so-alive-in-my-mind’s-eye detail.
[Something inside me is eyeing the open bottle of wine on my counter with great interest right now.]
And something else inside me is saying, “NO. You were RAPED. It HURT. It was SCARY. It was a NIGHTMARE. IT HAPPENED. SAY it.”
Aka, “truth now, wine later.” Why? Because it is time. If not now, when? I don’t want to have to ask – or answer – that question ever again after today.
Yet there are so many “what ifs” in this story, my true-to-life story. For instance, what if I had said no – at any point along the way? What if I had resisted? What if I had had stronger self-esteem?
What if I had listened to my gut, which was telling me right from minute one that night that I was in danger?
The thing is, looking back right now at that night and how it began and all the possible “what ifs” I could have potentially pursued, I think I DID listen to my gut. I think I was in danger right from minute one and I knew it. I think I chose a path that would nearly ensure I survived, at least from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in, and survive in such a way I would never have to tell anyone about that night – unless I wanted to.
I think I knew I didn’t have any of the skills required to navigate that situation on that particular night at that precise moment in my life on any higher level than the way I chose to do it.
I could have asked him politely to leave while we were still at my house once I smelled the alcohol on his breath. I could have not called him to come to the party with me. I could have decided to go to the party on my own, using my friend as an excuse for why I had to bail on him.
I could have done so many things I didn’t do instead of what I did do.
And I think that is how I’ve managed to talk myself out of believing IT WAS RAPE for all these years.
On a related subject, when I was six years old, I was molested by a 17-year-old boy who was babysitting my brother and me. When that happened, he told me to keep quiet, to not tell my folks, to not tell anyone or he would tell them it was all my fault.
I am not a good liar and never have been, and while I remember it took several hours for my mom to get the truth out of me once they came home, she reports I blurted it out as soon as he left.
I now know there was action behind the scenes to try to make sure the boy never did that to anyone else. And 30 years later, that boy, now a man and a father to three boys, came back into my life one strange day to beg my forgiveness.
I gave it to him instantly.
But I never truly believed I wasn’t somehow to blame. What I have learned about rape and child molesters and sexual assault (and many other traumatic things, for that matter) is that there is always a way to make it all my fault.
For example, before the babysitter arrived, I had a friend over to play, and we had gotten our hands on one of those “birds and bees” books somehow, and she left just as the boy arrived to babysit us and my parents left, and the book was still there, open on the bed, and he picked it up to read to me, and then he said, “How about I show you what they are talking about….?” and after that, no amount of NO’s on my part or icky awful feelings could dissuade him from disrobing in a dark bathroom where he had me trapped on the counter top with the door closed….
I truly believe it was my parents’ return that saved me, although honestly I don’t remember why he finally listened to one of my NO’s, zipped up his pants, turned on the light and let me out of there.
I also don’t know why he told me it was all my fault. Maybe he truly thought it was.
Just like maybe that man who raped me still thinks he can teach me something about how to please a man, and furthermore that it was my own lack of sex-pertise that turned our evening into a buzz-kill.
I will never know the answer to either of those questions. But I do know two things:
I was a victim of child molestation and sexual assault.
And I was raped.
I know these things because, for however many years have passed since each experience took place, there has been this little gut-voice inside me insisting on it. And the owner of that voice is standing with her hand up, willing to swear on any book, anywhere, anytime, to anyone, that she is telling the truth.
And she can’t be bribed, bargained with or even shamed out of sticking to her story.
And she is SO OVER keeping quiet about it for even one second longer.
Today’s Takeaway: Like my friend Jenni, today I am mostly recovered from the traumas I share here, at least to the point where they are no longer life- or relationship-limiting. Unlike my friend Jenni, until today I have never shared my story with anyone in the name of connecting to complete my healing and seek support.
If you or someone you care about has been a victim of molestation (as a child or as an adult), sexual abuse, rape or trauma, Jenni’s blog post shares resources you can access right NOW to find help, hope and healing. And please follow Jenni on Facebook and Twitter – she has started a conversation I hope will continue and grow and connect so many of us together through our stories in ways that ensure we begin to heal the parts of us that only human empathy and connection can truly heal.