There’s a lot of talk about rape and sexual assault this month and I’m glad to see these issues brought to the forefront. Not just from a societal perspective, but a personal one. When I was 19 I was raped by 3 acquaintances at a party. I had too much to drink and passed out. While I was unconscious, I was assaulted. When I woke up, frozen by fear, I didn’t fight back. I hated myself for that. I didn’t spend the day crying in the shower, I went to work. I tried to bury it deep, but it didn’t stay there. The imagery we have of a rape victim is someone that is afraid to leave the house, holed up inside, spending the days in a constant state of fear. The reality of life in the aftermath is quite different. I lost respect for myself and didn’t value my own life. I put myself in riskier and riskier situations, which I now understand is a common response to sexual assault and PTSD.
I blamed myself entirely, as most young women do. I told myself that I drank too much and put myself in that position. It was easier to blame myself than to admit that I had been targeted and victimized. It was actually less scary that way.
I developed many unhealthy coping mechanisms over the years. Drugs, alcohol and disordered eating were some of the more damaging ones. I attempted suicide. I also had trouble with intimacy, putting up impenetrable walls in my romantic relationship as well as my female friendships. I pulled further away from my family. I kept all of my relationships superficial in order to keep my secrets.
I actually didn’t recognize what I had been through as sexual assault until nearly 15 years after the fact. I could not begin to heal until I acknowledged the truth and sought help for PTSD. The truth will set you free? Absolutely. You cannot move on from the bad things that happen to you before you face them. Putting it behind you first requires that you acknowledge what happened and recognize that you are not responsible for it.
I’m going to do my part, as the mother of a young boy, to teach him about consent. It’s not enough to tell the girls to avoid the danger, we must teach our boys not to be the danger. That is the only way we can really push back against the rape culture.