Disclaimer: The stories on this blog touch on difficult issues and experiences.
CW: This week's story involves situations pertaining to rape, sexual assault, mental illness, mental health, and chronic illness.
When I was fifteen, I was raped by a friend of mine. He was dating a friend of mine, so he was kind of a safe space for me. We went to the same high school so I had panic attacks every day. I didn't know how to handle myself at the time, I was only fifteen. I was in therapy for like five years, I was suicidal, all of that stuff, but I mostly tried to deal with it myself. It forced me to grow up quickly. I never really felt complete, but I chugged on.
I went away to college hoping getting out of the state would help. My second year was horrible- I had a ton of health issues, one of my best friends had passed away, I was in a big car accident… and I found out I was post menopausal of all things. Holy shit… I was only nineteen. My parents ended up bringing me back home for access to better doctors.
I started going to Carroll Community College and life was really looking up- I felt like I had found my groove. I was doing well emotionally, physically, mentally. It was a nice reprieve from the shit show I had been living for those few years. I met this guy in one of my classes. We started dating and man, I felt so secure with him. The way that I cared for him scared me. We dated for a while and everything felt pretty perfect until I found a folder on his laptop that was full of inappropriate images of things that no one should have access to. I broke up with him after that. I tried to help him, I don't know what ended up happening with him. But that was devastating. Earth shattering to have trusted someone so much and to unveil something so terrible. But, during all of this, I never reflected on or dealt with my trauma after the rape. I just pushed it down for long enough that it disappeared.
Fast-forward what feels like a lifetime, I was being obsessively courted by my boss. Eventually we started a relationship, and this was super fucked up. He was married, then separated… he was several years my senior, but it ran its course and we were together for only a couple of months before I started to be scared of him. He had a very dominant side to him that scared the shit out of me, I think because of my past. When we broke up, going to work sucked. It was rough. We worked in the same office, so having to see him every day… it was very scary.
Something triggered in my brain and I had all of these emotions come rushing to the surface. I was anxious all the time, crying at a moments notice… The best way that I can describe it is that I had this vision of a little fifteen year old me stuck inside me. Every time my brain tried to go to it, to figure out what that was, I would turn away. I would run because this little fifteen year old me trapped inside of my brain held every bit of my emotion. Eventually, through significant work with my therapist, I found out what happened was that I fractured...I mentally fractured after the rape. It caused a lack of sense of self. I would always sort of concede to everyone else. I wanted to please everybody. I didn't necessarily care about myself.
Through extensive work with my therapist, she explained this fractured was a way of self-preservation. That my brain locked the version of me in my head in a safe space so that my real life self didn't have to deal with any trauma. And now fifteen years later, I was finally starting to deal with those feelings. It was painful, it was horrible, my brain wouldn't let me go there all the time. It would happen every once in a while and I would just burst into tears. I couldn't control my emotions. At 31, 32 years old I kind of reconnected with that desperation and the feeling that suicide was an option again. It was so overwhelming. I had a really hard time handling it. So what I did with the suicidal thoughts is that I channeled them into self care, meditation...which was incredibly valuable. I think that I had developed some tools throughout my life that eventually came out in these moments to really help me grow from it and help me deal with it in a healthy manner.
One night I was having this hellacious conversation processing through things with my sister, we were living together at the time. And I just looked at her and I said I don't think I can do this, I don't know how to process this. I don't know if I'm ever going to feel better or normal… With all of this going on, I took a leave of absence at work and went on FMLA for a few weeks to try to work through these emotions. I didn't know why these feelings were coming back up. During our conversation that night, I was just like "I don't see moving beyond this moment. I don't know how that's physically possible. It’s too painful." I couldn’t keep talking about it, so I went to bed. I meditated and was trying to connect with and show love to this image of that little me. In my head she was behind a locked door in a tiny room. SO I had been trying this for a couple of months at this point. And the door in my brain during this mediation session, the door opened. The little girl walked out, turned into a white bird, and flew away.
I woke up the next morning and I felt good. I felt...normal? I thought I was crazy. To turn into a little white bird and fly away? So I talked to my therapist about it and she told me, that I gave that little girl enough love that I reincorporated her into my life. That I was whole. That was her coming out and becoming a part of my being. And that was really powerful. It felt really great. I still...I don't know how I got there because the pain was so intense.
The boss ended up leaving the agency and I went back to work. There's a lot of shit there, but I walked to the door of my office and had kind of an out of body experience...and my brain at that point allowed me to remember that he raped me in the office. So that completely explained why those emotions came back and why I was afraid of him. Through working with my therapist, I was like "I never would have thought that I could possibly put myself in that position again. Why was I in a relationship with this person?" And she said, "It's actually more common than you realize with women who have been in your type of situation before; women who have been abused or sexually assaulted usually go back to men like that." I had blocked the rape out. I had no recollection of it. It happened in the conference room and having to go back and have meetings in that conference room...it was intensely difficult…. The day to day stress of will he show up today? Will I be okay? … I ended up leaving that agency.
I'm still doing a large amount of self-care, meditating a lot and exercising. I check in, and I think that's the most important part and something I hope people can relate to. Keep checking in with yourself to make sure you're doing what's right for you, and to make sure you are doing alright. It's so important. For me, it's checking in with the bird. Is the bird still flying around? A lot of the time she is, some of the time she's not. And when that happens I reflect, and deep dive check in with myself. I go through my emotions and see who or what it is that's making me unhappy. I've had a lot of personal growth since all of this happened, particularly in identifying abusive relationships in my life. I've seen a lot of girlfriends in abusive relationships as well. It's so hard… when you're in it, it’s so hard to know it's happening. Your brain is a beautiful thing, but it can be extremely detrimental.
I am in happy, thriving, loving relationship now. He is my emotional, physical, mental, partner and support system. And everybody deserves that. It's really important. You have to find somebody who's going to be your partner. Not someone who you need to take care of, or someone who's going to make you feel like a burden.
I don't know...I was having a conversation with my boyfriend recently about traumatizing experiences. And especially when we include sexuality...I've had teachers come on to me, I've had friend's parents, bosses...a lot of unwelcome advances and attention in my life. Traumatizing events become a part of females lives. And when we were talking about it, he said, "You know, I haven't had any traumatizing moments. Any moment in my life that I can even think of as being traumatizing." And in my whole existence, which has been short, I thought everyone had a similar experience. Because all of my female friends have gone through SOMETHING traumatizing. I do not know a single woman who has not gone through sexual trauma. I think you have these profound moments when you go through your life, and somebody will say something, or you will say something that will affect someone so deeply... this was that for me.
The really important thing is to learn how to take care of and love yourself. Listen to your body. Your body will tell you. You just have to be aware and open. It takes dedication. With the boss guy, I was always on edge or anxious and I couldn't figure out why... And when I finally listened my body was screaming, "RUN! RUN AWAY FROM THIS GUY!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" So listen to yourself. Connect to yourself. Trust yourself. Your body will always tell you what you need to do.
Update: On September 1st, 2018 this participant became engaged to the love of her life that she mentions above. The happy couple recently bought a home together, and the love continues to grow each day.