What if surviving is not enough? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. As human beings, we’re programmed to think that when you trip you pick yourself back up—that if a cut is deep, well, you find the sutures. But what happens when the fall, the cut, the wound isn’t self-inflicted? What happens when it’s not even an accident? When the pain was actually somebody else’s choice. How do you heal when your brokenness is the result of someone else? It’s a question that therapists spend years trying to answer. It’s an attempt to grasp any sense of the nonsense. The problem I’ve found is that cuts inflicted purposely don’t ever heal. They scab and right when you think it’ll be gone and the pain is over; it becomes raw all over again and you find yourself bleeding, searching for a Band-Aid to make it stop.
I’ve never been a fan of the word sexual assault - controversial, I know. I prefer to say rape because the word is ugly, bold, and true. My truth. I was young and full of life when it happened and despite hearing and reporting on so many of these stories, I truly never thought it’d become mine. Memory is a funny thing. I remember the shock waves pulsating through my body with every unwanted thrust. I remember screaming out my address in a foreign country that I once thought of as an escape from reality. I remember the leather seat burning my skin as my seemingly lifeless body rocked back and forth. Yet, I can’t remember who he was— the man who destroyed me exists in my memory as a shadow. As I said, memory is a funny thing.
I was unknowingly drugged. The amount of whatever he put in me ran through my body and outweighed anything I tried to tell my brain to do. I couldn’t stand up, I could barely talk, in the end, all I could do was crawl up two flights of stairs to my flat while tears cascaded down my cheek. It’s a terrifying thing when your body stops functioning. It was the end of my world as I knew it. I didn’t know it then but it was the first of many days that I’d feel like a prisoner in my own body and mind. That no matter how many times I tried to get escape from the memory of that night, it would continue to knock me down—over and over again— until I was simplified back to this one sentence: the girl who was raped in the back of a car by a man whose face she can’t remember.
It’s haunting. It haunts me.
Rape is complicated— it’s the worst thing that can happen to a person yet it’s only a piece of a truly complex puzzle. The worse part comes after, when you have look at yourself in the mirror, look at your friends, and act like nothing happened. Throughout this time I learned that I can fake a smile really well and I can convince myself that this doesn’t affect me but it does. Everyday. It’s almost like having to attend your own funeral and suddenly realizing that no one else is aware that you’re dead. That no matter how many milligrams of medicine a doctor can use to try and revive you, your heart just won’t ever pump the same way again. And when you realize that— that’s the moment when sanity starts becoming foreign and numbness becomes the great equalizer.
Years later, I’m able to finally talk about it without bursting into tears. I am not healed but I’ve learned to live with the pain. I’m writing this for the men and women who still haven’t learned how to do this and to say that one day this moment will come but it is a grueling process.
Blame. I didn’t want to go out that night. I was exhausted and wanted to stay in bed. At the time, I was living in a foreign country and chasing my dreams. This new place became my escape, I had missed out on a true “carefree” college experience and I was so excited to finally have one. So when a friend asked me to go to a group dinner I didn’t think twice. I promised myself I would live my life after all, right? But dinner turned into drinks and drinks turned into “well maybe we should go clubbing”. I was happy to oblige, I was in good company, and I thought to hell with it. I don’t know where it went wrong per se, most of it is a blur, but eventually, the fun stopped and the nightmare began.
(Here’s where the blame kicks in) — We drove past my apartment that night. I still remember the droplets of water pressed cold against the window as I saw the light coming from my flat. I could have gone home but I didn’t. I should have gone home. That’s all that ran through my head for the months and years after. Why didn’t you go home? You play the night like a film, rewinding and fast-forwarding the moments of happiness before the chaos. The crazy thing about lying awake in your own casket is that as it lowers, you never know when you’ll reach the ground. But when you do, all you can think about is the dirt being piled on top of you. Is it so deep that you’ll never be able to get out? It’s being thrown at you consistently, almost rhythmically, and all you can see is a darkness coming at you from every direction. You eventually learn to embrace the darkness and dark you become.
You hit rock bottom and you think ... maybe I deserved this.
It’s a million stab wounds to the soul. A pain like no other, so intense, that you actually start wishing that you were being stabbed because at least then you can run to a hospital and seek help. I hurt everywhere, I can’t tell you where the pain comes from but it’s there. I don’t think you ever get over this type of pain, not fully anyway. There is no hospital, no doctor that can fix the pain I feel. So I began to self-medicate. Alcohol numbs, at least temporarily, and so I drenched myself in it. Whiskey, tequila, gin, rum for every meal. I hoped that it would serve as a cloak somehow. Maybe if I drank enough of it, not only would I stop hurting, but I would forget. It was a temporary fix, my band-aid of choice. It created further problems for myself and for the loved ones around me. But when you’re truly hurting, you’ll try almost anything to not to feel.
Alcohol as a crutch; I used to think people were weaker for it. I understand it now.
Mourning yourself is a weird experience. The thing about grief is that you never know what it’ll look like—there are days where you look upon life BR (before rape) and it was just so perfectly ordinary. We take ordinary for granted. The pain starts as a memory, a distant thought of what once was, who you once were, and then it trickles down to your heart. It closes, you can’t breathe, hell— you can’t do a thing because the pain is so grand that no one has yet to figure out a way to detect it. From your chest, it travels to your stomach, where you’ll once again feel sick, and you’ll find yourself asking (again) why did it happen to me? And then there’s anger, and there are tears, there’s cursing, there’s hyperventilating. So you grieve. So much so, that one day, you eventually take comfort in it.
The pain is here to stay, but it becomes bearable.
It hits and it hits hard. You’ll never be prepared for the wave but you somehow always know when it’s coming. This monster takes many different forms— sometimes it comes in like a fog, slowly churning towards your body and hiding all the beauty of the world around you until you’re blind. Blinded by the grey, by the atrocity that happened to you. Other days, it comes in “I can’t’s”. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t get up from bed. I can’t be happy for my friend. I can’t stop drinking. I can’t breathe. I can’t go to work. I can’t smile. I can’t laugh. I can’t live in the moment. Because in that moment, everything is a chore. Breathing is a chore. That’s when it gets scary, because sometimes it comes in the form of impulse to do harm. Some days you’ll think life isn’t worth living and you’ll fantasize about every form of death possible. Some days, you’ll even contemplate taking your life. You’ll say things like “If living in pain is the only life I get to live then I want out.” Then something happens:
You find a reason to live— your friends, family, a boy, a girl, the weather, a good book, a fun night, even the fog itself. There’s always something. You feel pain but become grateful that you feel anything at all. A blessing in disguise. The sun shines again, if only for a moment.
For many people, myself included, therapy comes with its own PowerPoint presentation of stigma. Depression, anxiety, mental health issues… those aren’t real issues. That’s what I’ve heard all my life by the elders who surround me. Guess what? They’re wrong. These issues are so fucking real and if you don’t seek a confidant who can guide you and teach you how to cope with the pain then the world turns into a really ugly place. Talking about this night and how it has affected me and my relationship with people was extremely grueling, painful, sometimes I even felt shame. But I did it because I hated the person I had become at the hands of somebody else. I had to somehow get the power back and through therapy, I did that.
It’s hard work but it’s important because when you finally get to tell your story it becomes a liberation from your abuser.
I’ve learned that faith isn’t always permanent. It’s something that you have to keep finding after every deterrence and fuck up. That said, out of everything, perhaps this is the most important. Without faith there is nothing. You find it after desperate attempts of seeking it. You look for it in every single crevice you come about. Sometimes it comes in singing your favorite song, reading a poem, nights in with your friends, in phone calls with your parents, it comes in God—whichever you believe in. You hang on to it like your life depends on it because, after something like that, it does. Find it and don’t let go.
Someone once told me “faith is being certain of what you don’t see” so you try to have faith.
Life comes to a screeching halt after you’ve lived through this trauma. It’s heartbreaking and confusing to no end. While you go through this journey you’ll learn to love you and others again, gain trust in men and women, self-sabotage to a point of no return, you will cry yourself to sleep, laugh at the situation, but most of all—you’ll feel grateful that not only are you getting through this but that death also breathes life. You did not deserve this. This wasn’t your fault. But it happened. One of the great things about being born again is that you get to write the narrative to your story. You control YOUR narrative — not your abuser. Lately, I’ve seen it as a second coming where I get to choose who I become. Maybe surviving isn’t enough. I don’t think it’ll ever be, this shit is hard and complex but you are stronger and more resilient than you think.
I didn’t want the cuts. I didn’t deserve the cuts, but I have them and choose to show the scars to let them know that we are not alone.