I know it might not appear the case in these sessions, but I want you to know that I am making progress. I’m not just saying that to make myself believe it. For once, I really
think that I am getting somewhere with this stuff. It might take me a while – it’s definitely taking longer than I expected – but I will get to a point where I can verbally address my assault during these sessions. Please do not give up on me.
I also want to let you know that despite my improvements in healing, I am still very fragile. When I have a good day – when the emptiness is not pounding in my chest with constant reminders that I have been broken – I want so badly to believe that I have made unfaltering progress towards healing. That I have reestablished a firm sense of wholeness. However, I have to accept that the healing foundation I am working so hard towards is still in its early stages. A bad storm, or even a violent wind can rattle my foundation and possibly even knock it to the ground.
Today I was reminded of my fragility. I attended a lecture on seeking employment post-graduate school and a brief discussion on background checks left me fighting off tears. My professor’s point was to stress the importance of being honest on job applications regarding past criminal records because it will show up on the background check. In other words, she was saying that it is better to be honest and upfront than have to explain why you lied later on.
To make the point that many people have had had charges brought against them and the likelihood that it will affect one’s employment is slim, the speaker presented a PowerPoint slide with the results of a study that revealed 1 in 29 college students have a criminal record of some sort. The slide gave a breakdown of the number of college students with the following crimes on their record: child molestation, sexual abuse, assault, drug possession, theft, fraud, driving violations, and disorderly conduct. She commented that “of course, if you have molested a child in your past, you are not going to get a job in pediatrics; however, if you’ve gotten charged for something like disorderly conduct, it’s not a big deal. Employers know that people make mistakes. They know that college students make mistakes and then straighten up. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Was the speaker implying that A.T. made a stupid little mistake? Was the professor saying that sexual assault was one of these “not-so-big-of-a-deal” crimes that one could just explain away (i.e., “Yeah, some crazy drunk girl came on to me, slept with me, and then woke up with regret and claimed rape out of embarrassment and shame for her actions.”)? Was she saying that A.T. just needed some time to mature out of college – time to straighten up? Get past his “uncontrollable guy urges” caused by raging hormones?
Of course, the guest lecturer was not saying these things, particularly in relation to my personal situation. However, when the heart is set in gear, the mind sometimes has no choice but to take the back seat. My heart was already pounding from merely seeing the first three crimes written out on a lecture slide, and then hearing her comment amplified my feelings of vulnerability.
I tried to push down the bubbling up feelings of self-doubt and self-blame, but there they were, welling up in my eyes nonetheless. Clearly, I am still very fragile. I need you to know that even when I appear grounded and strong, I still may need to be handled with kid gloves. Please continue to be gentle with me in here.
I am scared and uncomfortable.
I now realize I was in denial about all this when I first began therapy with you. I had been running for years from my feelings regarding what happened in college. Though you’ve never directly told me, you’ve hinted that though you knew I needed to talk about my assault, you knew that I needed space to come to this realization myself. Thank you for allowing me the time I needed to realize it on my own. I don’t think I would have ever stuck with therapy once we delved into my assault had we not already developed a rapport. It’s hard enough to find words even in this environment in which I’ve come to view as safe.
I remained in denial for so long because I wanted to believe that I was over that careless night. By dismissing it, I thought I was proving that I was stronger than what happened. I wanted to regard my assault and its aftermath as a mere rough patch in my life. By considering it as such, I thought I could gloss over all of the aspects of that night that didn’t make much sense to me (i.e., my emotional response, how my perpetrator claimed to be guilt free, how I blamed myself more than I blamed him). I had come to regard my assault and its aftermath as a “weird few years” in my life.
I understand now that undermining feelings does not get rid of them. People always harp on “mind control,” but I can see that there are limitations to this theory in relation to sexual assault. You can’t rationalize yourself out of feeling hurt if you’ve been sexually assaulted. Oh, you can try, and you might even be able to pull off your act for years, but I’ve learned that the hurt and memories are still present. Hide them from conscious thought, and they’ll find ways to inadvertently color other aspects of your life until you can no longer ignore the impact that the past is having on you.
When I came into your office a few months ago and revealed that my assault was still greatly impacting my life, I told you that I was ready to start addressing it in therapy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wasn’t being completely honest with you or myself. I think what I really was saying was that I knew my past was still a problem, but I was not quite ready to do anything about it. I wanted you to tell me how I should feel without me having to explore the painful emotions and figure it out for myself. I’m not saying that I didn’t want to get better; I think what I’m saying is that I didn’t want to do what was necessary to get better.
At first, I thought that the only reason it was so difficult to talk in therapy about my assault was because it brought up painful memories that made me feel vulnerable, out-of-control, and unsafe. I realize now that this was only partly responsible for my hesitation to address my assault in therapy.
In all honesty, I am beginning to realize – or perhaps admit to myself – that a large part of my hesitation has been due to fear that you will judge me like I judge myself. I know that you’ve never said anything judgmental to me, but I am so fearful you might think that I am being ridiculous and petty for making such a big deal out of one night that happened years ago. Or, even worse, what if you were to think that I did bring it on myself? That I, in a way, deserved it? Admitting this to you is really difficult for me as I am feeling extremely vulnerable, ashamed, and embarrassed right now.
As I sit here saying these things to you, do I look like a little kid to you? Are you thinking, “how in the world is this girl in her late twenties”? Are you thinking that I will never make it far in my profession and personal life if I allow “insignificant” events like that night dictate years of my life? Do you think that I’m weak? Silly? Overly sensitive? Immature? Please be honest with me. Or, really what I think I’m saying is please do not judge me.
I want you to know that I have committed myself to exploring my emotions. I am trying very hard to remember to be gentle with myself like you have instructed me on many occasions. Admitting how much I blame and doubt myself in regards to my sexual assault has been really difficult. I know that I have briefly discussed self-doubt and self-blame in sessions, but I wasn’t ready to explore what those feelings actually meant. I didn’t want to revisit the sources of those feelings because I despise the resulting vulnerability I experience. I feel exposed and too open when I admit the sources of my self-doubt and self-blame. Almost like you can see through me. Admitting the sources of these emotions makes me feel small and weak.
Although the information I have disclosed to you today may appear negative and self-loathing, I want you to know that I am telling you all this with a sense of hope. I have been experiencing glimpses of what it is like to think back to that night without blaming myself. I have to begun to understand that in order to heal, addressing my insecurities is equally as important as addressing the events themselves.