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Why Didn’t You Stop Him?

I was raped when I was 15 by a man who took me back to his house from a park. I didn’t mention it for 12 months; eventually I burst and shared. The following is my delineating of the story that I wrote 4 years later, and edited today. It has been 10 years now and I am healing slowly. Right now, letting a man in is still my greatest desire, and greatest fear. I still intermittently feel like I’m drowning.

The Courage To Heal –

I remember lying on a bed in the very early morning light and feeling myself dying. I remember when my heart hit my feet and I felt like my whole world had just been taken away from me. I remember not being able to breathe. I remember suffocating. It felt like I was in slow motion watching my life being taken from me. I knew at that moment that something was different. I kept very still until I could feel nothing at all. I was gone. I felt like I lost everything. It seemed as though I was in a prison; my body was frozen and I couldn’t move. Even if I wanted to, I wasn’t allowed to leave. Finally I had the chance to get out of the bed and to the bathroom. I had to clean up. I used wet toilet paper and began to wash myself between the legs. Being dead, it hardly hurt at all. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. It was a shame like I’d never felt. I felt like there was a knife being stabbed and twisted in my back. At that point I decided I was damn well gonna try to pretend that I was that same innocent, beautiful little girl I once loved.

I began to forget what it meant to live. I forgot what it used to mean to feel free. I forgot what it meant to feel okay because I felt awful all of the time. I recognized that people often take the feeling of being full for granted. They take for granted the feeling of steadiness, of hands that do not shake, heads that do not ache, stomachs that do not begin to wake up in the middle of the night, they may or may not be awakened at night by their own inexplicable sobs. I didn’t know if i would ever come back, not all the way. I was tired of my life by the time I was sixteen. I was tired of being too much, too intense, too manic. I was tired of people, and I was incredibly tired of myself.

When I was abused, I found out that the world and my body was not safe. For me, my body was a place where frightening and painful things happened. Sometimes I believed that that was what I deserved. At this point, I started running in any direction, as long as it was away from myself. It was too devastating to face. It was incredibly difficult to selectively block out feelings. So I just blocked out emotions all together. More importantly, if I ever did start to feel something, after I started getting upset, I couldn’t calm down. What really overwhelmed me was a pervasive sense of shame. I was so confused and so owned by so many thoughts and emotions that I just tried to cut them all off. It was time for me to feel dead inside, maybe that would solve everything.

I did a lot of drugs. Before I knew it, they stopped working. So I started cutting. I liked staring at the blood dripping down my leg. I liked it because I felt like I was a dead girl walking, and I had to stare at the blood. I just had to make sure I was still alive. Plus. I liked the pain. It was better to have physical pain than emotional pain. Most importantly, I knew I deserved to destroy the body that had betrayed me. Then I couldn’t cut away my pain. I went back to my eating disorder. Maybe that would numb me more. Still no. It didn’t work. I couldn’t kill that part of me enough. I couldn’t control enough- I was a living zombie, trying to kill the part of me that I hated so much. I wanted to rip the rape out of me, but I couldn’t.

I wasn’t aware of the messages my body was sending me. I didn’t know hunger, fear, or pain. And if I did, I didn’t respond to these messages. Feeling numb and disconnected was my ultimate goal. “If I just ignore it long enough, it will go away.” That theory only worked for so long. I began to space out regularly, I walked into walls, and doors, and furniture a lot, because I wasn’t in my body.
But a few bruises were a small price to pay for oblivion. When you’ve spent your life denying the reality of your abuse, you don’t want it to be true, more than anything else in the world. I would dread coming into contact with the ugliness and shame I knew was pooled up inside. I didn’t start letting the calamity set in until I couldn’t not deal with it any longer. It’s the hardest thing in the world to stop long enough to know what I feel inside. Now that I’ve opened up the feelings, I can’t fold them up neatly back inside me anymore. I can repress it shortly, but I can never alter what happened.

For over a year, I was to busy trying to survive to notice all the ways I was hurt by abuse. All I really wanted was to think that that’s what sex was. I tried so hard to pretend that what happened to me was normal. Deep down I knew that most people don’t feel dirty and ashamed after. Most people don’t feel powerless, different, like someone is wrong deep down inside of them. The most overwhelming thought was that if people really knew me, then they’d leave. I don’t think that’s a result of normal, safe, sex. That’s what made me believe in my rape.

Even after I faced that that was what happened to me, I often questioned whether my abuse was valid.

I decided to report it, one year later. The officers asked me why I didn’t push him off of me. They asked me why I didn’t say anything sooner. They asked me if I wanted it. They asked me why I didn’t stop him. Why. Didn’t. I stop. Him. ?! I didn’t stop him because I was busy trying to survive. Of course, when the officers asked me, I wondered the same thing as them; I didn’t have the strength to know that it wasn’t my fault and I did my best. Instead I thought this: “Why didn’t I stop him? Maybe I should have done more than say no and try to fight with just my arms. Maybe I should have run away. Maybe I failed and that’s why I deserved it.” The way the officers questioned me, led me to think those aforementioned thoughts.

The detective asked me to call him to see if he would confirm that we had sex, because then it would be statutory rape and we didn’t have to prove consent. Did she just ask me to call my rapist? The man who I only talked to on the night that he stole my life from me? That man. She asked me to call him and just casually double check that he thinks it happened too. I didn’t know how to listen to myself at the time that the detective asked, so I brought myself to call. He didn’t answer. Investigation closed. According to the state of California, my rape never happened.

I had a social worker hear my story and say, “there are way worse things”. That broke my heart. Was I over-reacting? Maybe I shouldn’t behave like I was hurt so badly. I was fifteen and it only happened once. I guess such statements show the gross extent to which abuse is minimized in our society. The fact that someone else has suffered from abuse more severe than mine does not lessen my suffering. I have a hard time remembering that. Violation is determined by your experience as a child – your body,
your feelings, your spirit. It counts if it keeps you from being close to another person. It
counts if it’s devastated your life, if you’re missing a part of yourself. Even if it only
happened once, it counts. Betrayal only takes a minute. After that, the world is not the
same. It’s important to know that there is a reason for my pain, and I’m not crazy to be
feeling so much pain.

After accepting my abuse, I had anxiety and panic attacks in the middle of school. I never lasted a week without missing at least a day. I would alternate between overwhelming anxiety, fear, or rage and being numb and shut down. It wasn’t until later that the nightmares started. I woke up sweating and crying. I couldn’t sleep because the reality would come back in my dreams. I couldn’t live normally and I couldn’t sleep normally. I had nothing. I had lost everything and there was just an empty feeling inside of me, I didn’t know where to turn. Every smile I wore, was fake. Every time I seemed to express feeling pleasure or relaxation or joy, was a façade. Even if I did feel happy for a
moment, by nighttime, I was brought back down to my reality and I would cry myself to
sleep.

As time passed, I found that I didn’t know how to say no or set appropriate boundaries. No one could hurt me as badly as I’d been already hurt so I was down for anything. “Go ahead, try and hurt me. Try and use me like you do all the other girls, I guarantee I can’t be hurt anymore. I’m numb.” I was terrified of sex and other things so I would make myself do it. Just to move past it.

Even today, I feel disconnected when I have sex. I like to disconnect from my body so that I will not feel what is being done to me, it might be good or it might be bad; I’m not willing to take a chance either way. Dissociation has become a habit. I go through sex numb or in a panic. Sometimes, I feel like my head just starts to float away somewhere. I feel like I literally split off at my shoulders and I get very dizzy and lightheaded. Then I just get violently sick to my stomach. If I think, then I’ll remember how much I hate doing what I’m doing. I used to find sex disgusting and that it is gross for me to enjoy it. I feel conflicted when I experience pleasure or even a desire. The worst part is that I have flashbacks to the abuse while “making love”. The only pictures running through my head are pictures of his face. I can feel his hands holding my head down. This terrifies me. The other person is happy and I can’t wait until it is over so I can get out of the situation and never have to do it again. The more I had meaningless sex, the more I hated it because deep down I knew that’s not how
I should be treating myself.

Today I have learned to respect myself. I have learned to listen to my body. I have learned to listen to my instinct. I have not learned to let someone in.

Today I do get to help other survivors feel connected and less isolated. That is the one gift of my rape. Rape is so shaming and isolating. The silence is deafening. If I can help one person to feel validated and safe, then I have done enough, then my rape was worth it.

Right now. to the rest of the world, I am a strong therapist who can help guide patients through some of the darkest places.

But underneath there was a child who is prone to nightmares and terrifying flashbacks. While I have found trust and safety with myself now, I still know that underneath that personality is blankness, and underneath that blankness is tremendous rage.

The hardest part is to learn how to live my life while I’m healing. I just want to crawl
up in a ball and cry when I start to feel this way, which is now every few months instead of every day. There is some comfort in knowing that I don’t have to pretend anymore, but it is still hard to connect and feel understood. it’s hard to show your emotions when all you feel is uncontrollable sadness and most people don’t know how to sit with that.

It’s a conscious choice, dealing with this and trying to heal. It’s either I want it or I
don’t want it. When I would keep blocking it out, I got sicker and sicker. Now I have to
take it and stop my life to feel it. My body seems to need to release it. The more I heal,
the more I see these memories literally stored in my body, and they’ve got to get out.
Otherwise I’m going to carry them forever.

The starting point for me is to look at my rape. Look at the ways I coped with it.
Look at what I did and forgive myself and forgive him. I now believe that I have no reason to be ashamed. I did the best I could as a child in impossible circumstances. I have the power to make positive chances from a place of self-acceptance and love. I believe people don’t see me as
someone who is damaged. Instead they see me as a person who had a hard time. They
can recognize my potential and beauty even when I can’t see it myself. I occasionally want to
give up completely. So I live on other people’s hopes. I live on other people’s faith that life
will get better. If this healing process is about anything, it’s about learning to trust my
feelings, my reality, and myself. My ultimate goal was to feel safe, and now I can. My new goal: I want to love someone unconditionally and not be scared that they will tear my heart out. I know deep down that sex can be a beautiful thing. I knew that this is all a part of me and I will grow through it. I can’t run from it or deny it or shove it away. I need to accept it as a beautiful part of my
history. I used to feel that I had this good childhood, and then off to the side was this
horrible, shameful abuse. But not I know that there was only one childhood and I lived
through it all. “

3 comments

  • Alissa Ackerman
    • katie
  • Ashley

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