Something that I’ve realized is that it is so much more difficult for me to talk about my rape (yes, I used the big bad R-word; I have no idea why I am okay with this word on some days and not so much on other days) now as opposed to immediately following that night. I have several guesses as to why this is the case. For example, I felt pretty disconnected from that night and my life in general immediately following that night, so perhaps my feelings of dissociation made it easier to talk about then. As the reality of what happened set in, I repressed my memories of that night and all the emotions associated with it as much as possible. Perhaps it is so difficult to talk about now because I have basically trained my mind to push, push, push them out of the way, so now every time I attempt to verbalize my rape experience, I essentially have to engage in a fight with myself. Whatever the reason, all I know is that now it is so hard to talk about this stuff.
So why push myself to revisit my past and then torture myself to verbalize it?
Why not keep running from it, repressing it?
I think there are many reasons why it is so important for us, as victims of any form of sexual assault, to find our voice.
Reason #1: In the words of the intelligent Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I finally realized that I had to start talking about my past because I finally became aware of (or admitted, not sure which) how it had been slowly poisoning my mind over the past nine years.
At first, silence seemed like the best response, and certainly the response that my family desired. Let’s use that night as an example as to why drinking is bad, and then let’s lock it away and throw away the key. Silence enabled me to reduce my exposure to comments that led to secondary wounding, and it allowed me to hide from the shame I felt from that night…or at least I thought it did. Perhaps it allowed me to hide it from other people, but it was growing within me like some aggressive dark weed. My perpetrator and I had mutual friends from both high school and college, and I needed to keep it together enough to finish college, so silence seemed like a good option. In addition, (and I think this is something I should address in therapy because it makes ZERO sense), I felt compelled to remain silent out of some sort of respect for my perpetrator. It didn’t matter that I was devastated by what he did and that my life had been turned completely upside down, I still felt like I owed him something. He had literally stolen my virginity, yet I somehow felt like I owed it to him to preserve his reputation?! I convinced myself that the sooner this “whole rape thing” could blow over, the better off I’d be. Besides, it was hard enough to talk about it, but it was even worse to think about other people discussing it in my absence. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t even worth talking about. Instead of talking about it, I tried to dismiss “that crazy night” and its aftermath as a weird period in my life.
But that’s the thing with trauma, you can zip your lips and deny it as much as possible, but you’re being affected whether or not you realize it. Speaking about it is excruciatingly painful because it makes it too real; however, if we do not speak and acknowledge the impact it has had on our lives, we cannot integrate the experience into our lives. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I think that remaining silent enabled me to hold onto the false belief that I was the same person I was before that night. Of course, I know that I am the same person, but as much as I have tried, I cannot deny that I am very different than I was the day before my rape. However, I now recognize that I would probably feel more like my old self if I hadn’t spent so many years running from that night. By trying to block it out of my mind and avoid talking about it, I never integrated the experience into my life’s path, resulting in my having a fragmented sense of self that has continued into adulthood.
I recall several past conversations in which friends of mine have revealed that they were excited to enter their 30’s because they viewed it as a new phase of life, and they were happy to be at a place in their lives where they were comfortable in their own shoes and belief systems. During these conversations, I nodded in agreement while secretly realizing that I had been growing less and less comfortable with myself the older I got.
This fragmented sense of self became particularly unbearable the year leading up to my realization that I needed to address my past in therapy. It had become impossible to decipher where I stopped and others started. Sometimes I felt as though if I didn’t remain on guard, I would somehow evaporate into my environment. It was becoming harder and harder to live with myself. I wanted so badly to escape my uncomfortable, “dirty” body and run like hell from my abusive mind. I knew that I couldn’t continue on in that state. I went into my therapy session one day and said, “I can’t live like this anymore. I’ve got to start making changes in my life, or I am going to end up hurting myself years later. I can’t continue down this road.”
My toxic thoughts had made my mind a living hell, and my only ticket out was to start talking about that night and its aftermath.
If we choose to remain silent on the things that matter the most to us, we are silently surrendering our lives to the negative impact of the trauma. For me, I think the greatest message that my silence was sending to me was that my voice no longer mattered. If I couldn’t speak up for myself when someone violated me in the most personal way possible, then what right did I have to stand up for myself in relation to the smaller things? My self-esteem suffered greatly, and silence began to infiltrate all areas of my life. It became so difficult to speak my mind without feeling guilt or extreme self-doubt. My inability to speak up for myself perpetuated feelings of not having a sense of self. Like MLK said, I was dying from the inside out.
In essence, literally surviving rape, sexual abuse, assault, etc. is the easy part. It happens, and it is absolutely terrible, but then it is over. It is over, but then we are stuck trying to pick up the pieces, and that’s where the real challenge of surviving is. We have to speak up and find our voice to save ourselves from…ourselves.
Rape isn’t an isolated experience;
it’s a state of mind that we have to fight to overcome.
Finding our voice is crucial in winning this fight.