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I am a Rape Survivor

June 2, 2010

You too may be like me, a fellow rape survivor, essentially a member of a club that no one ever really plans on joining. As you probably know, this club is not really that elite. It is common knowledge that 1 in every 6 women has been sexually assaulted. If you have successfully survived the ordeal that is sexual assault, then by the dictionary definition of survivor if you “continue to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks,” you too may be able to count yourself as one.  

I did not always realize the significance of the term ‘rape survivor.’ Not until almost a decade after my assaults occurred. It’s not uncommon for a sexual assault victim to suffer silently for years. In fact, 95% of rape victims never report their rape to officials. A victim’s repression of sexual assault is actually a very common occurrence. Often victims wait a decade or more before ever speaking about what happened. In my case, almost one full decade later, I finally had to deal with the assaults because as my life continued onwards it became less and less functional. I was always weighed down by this trauma whether I realized it or not. I began to resent the people around me. They didn’t understand my constant turmoil or why I seemed to be having issues. How could they understand? I’d never told them or anyone what happened.

After my ordeal, I’d heard the term ‘rape survivor’ in passing and identified with it. Of course, I considered myself a ‘rape survivor.’ I was here, still breathing, still talking, still living. Or was I? I’d survived. I went on with my life, sort of. Things were a little different though. I was barely making it through the day, which then turned into barely making it through the years. I hid behind a newly contrived persona, a protective armor, complete with canned reactions, sentences, and gestures which were prepared for any confrontation, harmless or offensive, for the purpose of not actually having to live in the moment and react to what was being said to me. Not to say I wasn’t a kind or pleasant person—nobody ever accuses a woman with Stepford wife qualities of being mean, merely vacant.

For years my automatic responses and cheerful false persona allowed me to remain emotionally unattached from others. They allowed me ruminate to my own space which was full of confusion and guilt. You could hardly call what I was doing living. I continued to run from the pain of the assault, the ambush, by way of a debilitating eating disorder, substance abuse, abusive relationships, unhealthy friendships, poor choices, and a variety of other bad habits.

Somehow in this mess I managed, though barely, to graduate from high school and college, still running full speed away from any real connections or forms of intimacy. I still participated in the hateful cycle of an eating disorder and other forms of self-abuse, inflicted on me by me. This continued until finally, I was forced to stop.

It began as a series of unfortunate accidents ensued, seemingly out of my control.  I woke up to find the windows smashed out of my car, clearly a result of my latest relationship. My body began to give out on me from all the years of abuse and malnourishment. I almost died from pneumonia. I realized that many of my friendships were clearly toxic, and a lot of my friends were in fact trying to control me. Then finally, I left my job, because I just couldn’t stand pretending that I liked being there any longer.

For a few months, I tried to detoxify myself and make the best of my situation. I eliminated my toxic acquaintances, which turned into a fullblown revolution leaving few people standing. Then I tried hard to kick the last of my addictions, the one that I hadn’t been able to leave behind me—my eating disorder. I just couldn’t do it. It seemed impossible. Even when my lungs and major organs seemed to be threatened by this disease, I still couldn’t stop.  It isn’t uncommon for  rape victims to have addiction issues. Sexual assault victims  are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and  26 times more likely to abuse drugs than people who have not been sexually assaulted.

Then one night I read in a book that you must get to the root of an addiction to cure it. I paused for a moment. Root? Well, I’d already broken up with my abusive boyfriend. I’d stopped talking to my controlling friends. What else was there? Oh. I paused. There was that. I thought about it for a moment while looking around the room suspiciously, thinking of the painful secret I’d been harboring all these years.  I knew what the book meant by root. It meant that I might have to tell someone about what happened.

The next morning, my whole family was conveniently snowed in. A blizzard had hit, and no one had been able to leave to go to work. Before I could tell my family, they heard me crying. I was scared to talk really. If I hadn’t been so afraid, I may have spoken sooner.  They heard me crying and came to me, and then I told them. Then they were crying too.

The next day, I decided to go get help at the Rape Crisis Center, a fabulous non-profit organization that helps people who’ve been sexually assaulted. They assigned me a wonderful counselor. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have health insurance, because their services were free and open to the public. However, it was still very daunting as I sat in that waiting room on this cold February morning by myself. As I waited, I noticed a little poem on the bulletin board called The Survivor’s Psalm.

The Survivor’s Psalm

I have been victimized.

 I was in a fight that was not a fair fight.

 I did not ask for the fight.

 I lost.

 There is no shame in losing such fights.

 I have reached the stage of survivor.

 And am no longer a slave of victim status.

 I look back with sadness.

 Rather than hate.

 I look forward with hope rather than despair.

 I may never forget but I need not constantly remember.

 I was a victim.

 I am a survivor.

 As I read that poem I realized that considering myself a rape survivor was laughable. Up until this point I hadn’t been thinking like a survivor, but like a victim. I was a victim as I ran from addiction to addiction, numbing the pain, running from one abuser to the next, all the while barely getting what I needed to get done in life, going through the motions in zombie-like fashion. Certainly I was surviving, but I was barely a survivor. Every interaction with every person was plagued by my secret. I was always kind and helpful. I’d pretend to be cheerful, not wanting anyone to know how much I was really hurting. I didn’t want anyone to find out the truth, to find out what happened to me, because at the time, I was still blaming myself.

Soon I found that the three steps that must be realized to truly emerge from a sexual assault as a healthy, functioning survivor parallel the dictionary’s three definitions for the term.

Survivornoun

1. A person or thing that survives. If you are still living and breathing after your assault, you have been lucky enough to survive, although you may not feel lucky. Many people don’t make it this far. Although it is difficult rebounding from a sexual assault, it is important to appreciate that you are still on this Earth for a reason.

2. Law. The one of two or more designated persons, as joint tenants or others having a joint interest, who outlives the other or others. This too is true. If you are still living and breathing, you are a survivor by this definition. You have outlived many. Many people who survive their assault, often die at their own hands through addiction or otherwise, forever tortured by their assault and never moving past it. Rape victims are four times more likely to contemplate suicide.

3. A person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks. This is the final and hardest part of meeting the definition of a survivor and will ultimately dictate how functional your life will be in the future. You must get past the pain in order to live out the dreams and goals you were meant to accomplish.

It was like a war zone, those last ten years. The last battle, the hardest, was getting away from myself. The old me. For the last decade I’d been existing on the level of the second definition of survivor, functioning, surviving, but not prospering or moving forward. I was always ready to turn to drink or food. From one negative friend to the next, each providing me with the right put-downs and the least acknowledgement, just enough to help keep me down in the place where I thought I belonged. The hardest part was admitting what happened, talking about it, and then grieving.

To be a survivor you must put your past in perspective and stop letting your past traumas weigh down your present life. All that unhealthy stuff and addiction I’d been going through all those years were just avoidance tactics. I used these tactics to avoid sitting down with someone to work through the pain. The thought of talking about and reliving those experiences was truly frightening. I guess I feared that stirring them up again would truly make me fall apart, as if I hadn’t already. When it happened I was so young that I kept my mouth shut because I was afraid that I would get in trouble. I guess somehow I still felt like I was the one who was going to be blamed, just like I did when I was a young naïve girl. Well, I guess sexual assault can do that to you, skew your perception of reality. In the end though, when I was sitting in the Rape Crisis Center’s waiting room, and I read that Psalm, I really did feel like a survivor, like a weight had finally been lifted off my shoulders and it was time to move on.

This is the first in a series of posts by Hayley about coping with sexual assault. Check back on July 7 to read more of her story.

Hayley Rose is a writer, photographer, artist, and jewelry designer. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing and a Studio Art minor from Johnson State College. She just finished her first novel, a work of literary fiction about a young woman’s attempt to find her place in this world. Visit her flickr page here.

12 Comments
  1. A Man permalink
    June 2, 2010 12:00 pm

    I’m a dude, and also a rape survivor (yeah, we exist). Thanks for being inspiring, and congratulations on making so much progress. Looking forward to your series.

  2. anonymous permalink
    June 2, 2010 4:13 pm

    thank you for you post. I too am a rape survivor and blocked it out for many years. It isn’t until now that I am finally facing up to the issues and it is really difficult, but I know it is the only way. I wish you luck in your healing journey.

  3. Jeanette permalink
    June 2, 2010 5:29 pm

    Inspirational piece. It takes a lot of courage and strength to share your story so that others will know that they are not alone.

  4. Helen permalink
    June 2, 2010 11:39 pm

    an amazing piece, written with such courage and strength. thank you for sharing this story. I too had that moment of realisation of the true difference between being a victim and a survivor. Thank you again. I look forward to reading your following writing.

  5. Nancy permalink
    June 3, 2010 6:37 am

    I am a Rape Survivor
    An amazing and powerful story of Hayley Rose–more than a survivor .. a counselor and sage whose thoughtful telling of her story allows so many more to seek their truth.
    A real knock out punch to the rapist.
    Nancy

  6. Rida permalink
    June 3, 2010 5:49 pm

    An infatuated piece of writing. Thanks for sharing. Many girls in my Eatern society face these things, and like you remained silent. So do they. Thinking they will be blamed, but honestly, they ‘are’ blamed. Yet, it is not their fault- nor should they be blamed.

    Love the Psalm rhyme. Again, thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. Angelica permalink
    June 6, 2010 10:58 am

    I’m a caterpillar in transition. I’m in my coccoon but I’m determined to become a butterfly. It’s only been one year, 4 months and 21 days since my first rape by a relative. It has torn my family apart and a lot of people resent me. It’s understandable, but inexcusable. I will not be the subject of ridicule anymore and I will not hate myself anymore.

    I was really longing for a weblog that mentioned this. So, thank you.

    • Hayley Rose permalink
      June 6, 2010 4:19 pm

      Dear Butterfly,

      I am glad that my article helped you. There will be more articles on the subject to come.

      Congratulations on being so strong! Rapists want you to keep silent, they want you to keep the blame on yourself and off of them. They’ve already taken something from you without your permission. After a rape, your voice is all you have left. Why should you protect them by keeping quiet? It’s a difficult thing, speaking up, but I think in the long run, the mental and emotional scars will be worse if you keep the crime to yourself.

      It sounds like some of your family members would prefer to live in denial and try to force you to keep your mouth shut than to admit that someone in their family is a rapist. You are the victim here and you are very brave for speaking up about this crime that happened within your own family. Whether or not your family members validate your feelings does not matter. How you feel about yourself is the most important thing here, and admitting what happened is one of the biggest and hardest steps in the healing process. Despite the difficulties that you’re having you should be very proud of yourself for speaking out!

      Here is a website with number for the National Sexual Assault Hotline. They can help you find local counseling in your area. It is free and confidential, and counseling can help you put your assault into perspective and make you even feel better about your decision to speak out.

      http://centers.rainn.org/

      Best Wishes,

      Hayley

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