Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Matt Atkinson's "Resurrection After Rape, Part IV": Preparing yourself for the story, a therapy exercise

Like I have mentioned in my last post, writing out the next portion of my story has been challenging. During the first six months following my rape, the details of that night came flooding back to me at random and chaotic times, and it is a little overwhelming to try and make sense out of that period of my life. I was looking through Matt Atkinson's Resurrection After Rape: A Guide to Transforming from Victim to Survivor and came across the following exercise, which is geared toward helping individuals overcome road blocks in writing out of their narratives on sexual assault (page 96). I intend to share my answers with my therapist during our next session. I thought I'd also include it here in case this exercise could be helpful to others in a similar stage of recovery. To view the entire manual as a pdf, please click here.

How much of the rape do I remember? Place a mark beside statements that best fit your experience. If none of them seems to fit, you can write the answer below.

I don’t have any memories at all about the rape.
I remember some parts, but they are unclear and vague. I am confused because the memories don’t seem to fit together.
I remember most of the rape, although there are some parts that are still unclear.
I remember the rape very clearly.

When I have memories about the rape, how do they usually come to me?

In flashbacks
Hearing voices in your mind
During dreams
In memories and thoughts
By re-experiencing physical feelings of the rape

When do I most often think about my rape? Try to recall whether there are times of day or night, or times of year, when your thoughts and feelings come to you. What times, days, sounds, songs, smells, or other sensations trigger your memories?

Though the memories sometimes come during the day, I would say that night is when they are at their worst. The worst time of day for memories and flashbacks is around 2 am. Bar settings and guys, particularly groups of college-aged guys, can be very triggering. Enya music. Seductive images of women. Insomnia. Guys with blond hair. Mid-December used to be particularly difficult, but not nearly as so now.

What places, times, or people do I avoid so that I am not reminded of the rape?

The dorm building I lived in sophomore year. The hospital to which I was admitted following my rape, and the psychiatric wings of hospitals. Acquaintances who remain close to my perpetrator. College campuses can be difficult, particularly when I am not in a state of denial. OBGYN. Psychiatrists.

What parts of life have I missed out on because of this avoidance?

High school reunion. College basketball games. High school and college events that I suspect he will attend. Simple happiness and the sense of being whole - both of which I used to take for granted.

When I experience memories of my rape, what intensity and amount of strength do the memories have?

I feel flooded. The memories take over, and I obsess about them.
I feel numb. I suppress my memories and emotions about the rape.
I swing back and forth between feeling numb and feeling flooded.

How much energy do I put into avoiding my memories and feelings about the rape?

I used to put a ton of energy into it. I guess in some ways, I still do; however, the current focus of my energy is to control my emotions as I revisit memories, whereas before it was to avoid them altogether.

What are some of the ways I suppress my memories and feelings?

It’s become second nature now – when an unpleasant emotion or memory surfaces, I immediately launch into analyzing it from different perspectives, often experiencing difficult emotions from a distance as if the emotional experience is an academic subject. Minimization, self-doubt, and self-blame also run rampant in my mind. I am also becoming more aware of how I unconsciously suppress challenging feelings associated with specific memories through dissociation.

When I am writing out my story, I am afraid that I will feel:

Vulnerable. Scared. Panicky. Embarrassed. Stupid. Dirty. Ridiculous. Confused. Overwhelmed. Hurt. Unworthy. Chaotic. Judged. Crazy.

If I feel overwhelmed by emotions, I can calm myself and take a break by:

Watching T.V. Breathing exercises. Physical exercise.

When I am calm and ready to face my emotions and memories, I will begin by:

Breathing deeply.

How many people have I told my story to? 

I do not feel that I have told my story in full to anyone yet.

Some of the thoughts that have kept me from telling my story are:

No one will believe me if I tell
I will show a lot of emotion, and it will embarrass me
The details might not be kept confidential
It would tear my family apart
Someone might go to prison
The therapist might have to report it
I will go crazy
Someone will stop loving me
Maybe it wasn’t even rape
I don’t deserve time and attention for this problem
I feel weird about the rape because I liked the guy who did it
The rape happened in a relationship that continued afterward
The story will change how people think of me

How has my life been affected by having to keep my rape story inside?

I have very low self-esteem. I am vulnerable to being taken advantage of. I often feel and act as though the needs of others are more important than my own. Depression. Anxiety. Self-loathing. Loss of sense of self. Concentration difficulties. I have difficulty deciphering, setting, and maintaining appropriate boundaries. It is very hard to stand up for myself and for others. Self-doubt and self-blame interfere in my life almost daily.

Have people ever hurtful or insensitive when I told them? How?

Yes. The most hurtful reaction was that of my parents. My parents could not overlook the fact that I had been drinking when it occurred. It has always been my impression that they in some ways thought that I had gotten what I deserved. I was often criticized for my depression and anxiety following my rape. Many hurtful remarks were made regarding my responsibility in my rape. My parents, particularly my mother, further stripped me of my sense of autonomy, not respecting my desire to attend particular social events during the immediate aftermath of my rape or to partake in activities, such as swimsuit shopping. A particularly hurtful interaction occurred in the dressing room of a swimsuit store. I didn’t want to walk into the hallway to the big mirror because I was self-conscious about my weight gain and also because I did not want to walk around in public with only a swimsuit on. My mother responded in anger that I was being “ungrateful” and “ridiculous”. I ended up in tears as my confusion regarding why my mother was dead set on buying me a swimsuit when I had not even said I needed or wanted one. My mother’s criticism, frustration, and anger only intensified in response to my tears. I wanted – needed – to feel in control. I was also criticized on occasion for my apparent lack of femininity and desire to dress up in the immediate aftermath of my rape.

What responses do I hope to hear from others when I tell them?

I was not to blame. I am still a good person - no matter what. I can and will overcome this. I am still loved – unconditionally. That while I may draw on the support of others, it is me who is taking charge and healing from my past. I did not deserve what happened. That the person believes me.

How do I think my therapist will respond after I tell?

I expect that she will respond gently and politely. While I logically have no reason to suspect that she will judge me, I still fear that she will think I am ridiculous.

What positive changes will happen to me when I am able to face and share my story? How could it help others?

I will be able to rid myself of many, if not all, of my PTSD symptoms. My confidence will improve greatly, and I will experience less self-doubt and self-blame in all realms of my life. I will live a happier and more fulfilling life. It could help others who have been in similar situations to realize that they are not alone in feeling the ups and downs caused by acquaintance rape – not to mention the bouts of self-doubt and self-blame. It could help others realize that they are not being ridiculous, that their emotional experience of rape is valid, and that they deserve to speak their truth and reconcile with their emotions. Also, I think the importance of surrounding oneself with a truly supportive network (and avoiding individuals who negatively affect your ability to heal) should not be overlooked and perhaps my story could help illustrate that point to others in the same predicament.


  1. Powerful truths here. As difficult as it may have been for you to recollect pain, I am proud of you. I too thought about "I Will Go Crazy" if I shared. Then down playing what happened. But the biggest thing was the shame factor. Dear one, you did great here! Safe hugs.

  2. ..... i don't know what to say... whatever you feel, i feel exactly the same with an addition that i think people will stop loving me..
    you are a true survivor because you try to overcome those emotions by exercise :)i feel exactly what you feel but woman YOU ARE BRAVE AND I SALUTE YOU!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Shadow. I really appreciate your kind words - your encouragement really means a lot! I'm sorry that you are struggling with these emotions as well, but it is nice to know that I am not alone in this struggle. We're on this journey together! Thanks again for your support. xx

  3. was missing you.. i am glad that you wrote..

  4. that is one difficult task, i am impressed with the healing journey you have chosen

    1. Thanks so much, Iris! I hope all is well with you.