This is going to be a quick post, and one that’s mostly about myself, but an important one for me. The more I talk about what happened, I’ve started to notice something about myself. I’m almost disconnecting from my own experience. They’re just words now. I find myself answering the same questions over and over. I can calmly discuss the legal process, Title IX investigations, and I’ve gotten desensitized about the questions I get asked about the rape itself. Do you ever think back and want to warn that 19-year-old girl? What happened when you entered the apartment? What were your injuries like? How did you escape? What was going through your head as it was happening? These questions used to be so painful to answer. I would go home and sob for hours after having to deal with those memories. It was hard to not push them away. Now, those memories have become a part of a standardized story that I give regular talks about. It doesn’t hit me in the same way.
It’s hard to humanize my own pain when I felt like such a spectator. I remember sitting in shock as I watched my phone blow up when his arrest hit the news. Seeing those phrases over and over again was horrifying. I had never read about my own experience before. I never wrote it down, and I never talked about the details. Suddenly, everyone knew. They knew those horrifying little details that I had shoved down for so long. My brain just shut off. All that I could think of was phrases from articles I saw and things I heard on the evening news on a loop. Forced her onto a bed and raped her while she cried. Causing her to choke and gag. He whispered in the victim’s ear. Torn flesh in her mouth. Injuries consistent with rape.
Even just writing this again, I feel like I’m living back in that moment. Feeling my insides curl up, knowing that my grandparents read about what he did to me. Horrible. Everyone knew. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I was like one of those true crime victims that you see on the news; I was one of those true crime victims you see on the news. I didn’t know how to handle that. I didn’t know anyone else who had been through it, and I didn’t know what to say about it.
I’ve talked about how speaking about this has freed me. In some ways, I think it has. I took control and ownership over that horrible event, and I stopped allowing other people to speak for me. I never even bother digging into the things that people on campus used to say about me, but they were vicious. I actually put a stop to that. I put him in prison, I took the story back, and I made sure that everyone knew what he did. It’s powerful. Sometimes, though, I feel like it has disconnected me from my pain.
Part of this is good, I’m sure. I never thought I would be able to even say his name without getting a physical reaction so bad that I vomited. I would have never thought of myself as a rape survivor, but only a rape victim. Thinking or talking about any small part of this experience was like poking at a bruise. I wasn’t healed; I wasn’t anywhere near healed. I didn’t know how to take back anything about what happened to me. I thought that if I shoved it down and pretended that it didn’t happen, it would go away. I went out and drank with friends, trying to convince myself that I was normal again, but always started crying when I got home because I knew it wasn’t true. That’s not my experience anymore. I’ve found ways to reconcile what happened to me, while also taking better care of myself.
Despite all of that, I think sometimes that I’ve swung the pendulum over too far towards the robotic side of things. I really don’t want to go back to living a life where the smallest mention of rape or anything that happened to me can throw me into a tailspin, but I also don’t want to feel so numb about what happened. When I push all of these feelings away for too long, they end up growing so large that when they return, they’re impossible to deal with in a contained way. The grief spills over into everything I do for a few days, and I can’t hold myself together. After I get back on my feet, I start trying pushing it all away again. I write this at the end of one of those cycles – I was so overcome last week with memories and feelings that I had pushed away that I was a complete mess for days.
I guess I can only sum this up by saying that self care is a balancing act. It’s not healthy to live in the memories of what happened day in and day out. It’s also not healthy to deny them constantly until you’re completely overcome. I’m learning how to do this, and I’ll probably never be perfect, but hopefully I can get better. I’ll end with a reminder that no matter what trauma you’ve experienced, you’re doing the best you can in dealing with it. Trauma destroys your most basic trust in the world, and there is no “correct” way to respond. What matters is that you’re listening to yourself, and taking care of you in a way that feels best for you at the time.