Life Musings

Reflections of a single woman on her journey through life.

Survivor

Something that I’ve never understood is how people assume you have to be a certain type of person to be assaulted.   It disgusts me that some people believe assault victims only come from broken homes… or are delinquents in their own right… or are from a lower class.  Trust me, it can happen to anyone.  And it can happen more than once (known as revictimization.)

Before anything happened… I was the ideal 15 year old girl. Went to church every Sunday, participated in my Youth Group, had a wonderful group of friends, loving and supportive parents, did well in school… the model child. Then my life changed…

Missoula Rape Poem

There is no difference between being raped and being pushed down a flight of cement steps except that the wounds also bleed inside.

There is no difference between being raped and being run over by a truck except that afterwards men ask you if you enjoyed it.

There is no difference between being raped and losing a hand in a mowing machine except the doctors don’t want to get involved, the police wear a knowing smirk, and in small towns you become a veteran whore.

There is no difference between being raped and being bitten by a rattlesnake except that people ask if your skirt was short and why you were out anyway.

There is no difference between being raped and going head first through a windshield except that afterwards you are not afraid of cars but of half the human race.

Fear of rape is a cold wind blowing all of the time on a woman’s hunched back.  Never to stroll alone a sand road through pine woods.  Never to climb a trail across a bald mountain without that aluminum in the mouth when I see a man climbing towards me.

Never to open the door to a knock without that razor just grazing the throat.  The fear of the dark side of the hedges, the back seat of the car, the empty house rattling keys like a snake’s warning. The fear of the smiling man in whose pocket is a knife. The fear of the serious man in whose fist is locked hatred.

– Marge Piercy


March 1994 – A month shy of turning 16, I met Rich. He was the definition of a “bad boy”.  Always in trouble, had been kicked out of school, and no one dared get in his way. But, he liked me – wanted me – was new to me. We started to date; and the first couple days were perfect. He came to pick me up, wanted to meet my parents, etc. Within a week, things started to change. I was a virgin and he knew it, yet constantly pressured me to have sex. For months I refused to give in. During those months that pressure turned into mental abuse. I was worthless, ugly, and anything else he could come up with. But, I stayed with him. Then, he started pushing me around. Not hitting me, but shoving me up against walls and such. He would go out every night and have sex with other women, calling me while doing so, to make sure I knew. He never called me by my name. It was always “bitch” or something equally degrading. He once took me to a flower shop and bought a beautiful long stem rose. When we got in the car, I was smiling… until he looked at me and said, “You do know this isn’t for you, right?” He gave that rose to a girl in the parking lot… As always, I kept quiet and pretended it didn’t hurt. When we weren’t together I started partying constantly, skipping school, pulling away from my friends and family, and slowly began to withdraw from the world.

Within a couple of months, the physical abuse worsened. He never had and never would touch my face. But, he began slamming me into walls, doors, trees, cars, the ground… anything solid. One instance that has always stuck with me took place at an abandoned house. We got out of the car and Rich threw my keys into the woods and said we weren’t leaving anytime soon. He pushed me onto the hood of the car and started taking my pants off. I panicked and used the excuse that I had my period. It worked… for the time being. But, sometimes, I wish I hadn’t said anything at all because of what came next…

Out of no where, he began shoving me into the garage door… slamming my head against the side of the house… throwing me down onto the ground. And every time I would try to get up, he just shoved me back down, pushing his knee into my chest and pinning me down.  Not once did he exhibit rage… he simply kept laughing. Like it was some sort of game to him. He thought it was funny to see my try to get up only to push me back down. He thought it was funny to watch me search the weeds and trees for my keys. 1I got home 3 hours late that night… my mom was waiting up for me… it was apparent that I had been crying. I simply asked her to leave me alone and went to my room.

July 1994 – I finally gave into his pressure for sex. Not because I wanted to, but because I thought that maybe he’d be nicer to me. Not so. Not even remotely close. If anything, it got worse after that. Exactly one week after losing my virginity, we were fighting as always. He told me that he was going to “mentally and physically fuck me up until I couldn’t handle it anymore”. I lost it. I asked him why he treated me so terribly and he said, “because you’re a worthless bitch and that’s how you should be treated.” After dropping him off, I drove to a friend’s house. They were drinking and talking about going to a party. Hearing what had happened, they invited me along. Of course, I said yes. So, we pulled the whole “you say you’re staying at my house and I’ll say I’m staying at yours” and off we went. Hitting the road armed with water bottles filled with lemonade and vodka. An hour later, we reached the party. One of my friends knew the guy throwing the party, but we knew no one else. Three 16 yr old girls and about ten guys… all in college. I didn’t even think twice, I just started drinking more. 45 minutes later, I had consumed over 12 beers and found myself throwing up for what seemed like an eternity. Then, I made my way to the couch and passed out.

Late that night, I woke up to the light of the television. Everyone else was sleeping… except for him. For my sake, we’ll just call him J.  He asked me how I was feeling and mentioned he’d heard I had a bad fight with my boyfriend. Seeing me nod, he asked if I wanted to talk about it. So, we grabbed a couple beers and walked outside. Sitting in the grass, we talked. He held me. Kissed my cheek. Told me I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. And made me feel wanted. Then, he mentioned taking a drive.

Knowing I was entirely too intoxicated to even get behind the wheel, I handed him my keys. I still look back and blame myself for that… I shouldn’t have gotten in the car with someone I barely knew, let alone given him my keys. But, I did. And we drove. I don’t know where and I don’t know how far. But, we ended up in a neighborhood and he pulled off to the side of the road, in front of a house. Shutting off the car, he leaned over and kissed me. No big deal. He was on his side of the car and I was on mine. To this day, I still don’t recall how he ended up on top of me. All I remember was the wave of panic that swept over my body when I realized he was taking off my clothes. I told him I had just lost my virginity. He simply smiled… as if that pleased him. I told him I wasn’t sure this was such a good idea. Again, he just smiled. I was so drunk and I felt so dizzy. I closed my eyes until I felt his fingers inside of me. I gasped and tried to move away, but couldn’t get very far as I was in the front seat of my car. I asked him to stop. He slid the seat further back and got down as low as he could in front of me. Horrified, I watched as he began to perform oral sex on me. I still remember the scratching of his goatee and his hands gripping my hips. I started to cry, telling him to stop. He didn’t. Instead, he pulled himself up to me and removed his clothing. Grabbing my hand, he said, “touch it.” When I shook my head, he took it upon himself to force me to touch him. His grip on my shoulder was enough to put fear in me. I knew what was about to happen. Reclining the seat back, he crawled up further and told me to “suck it”. Again, I shook my head, so he forced himself into my mouth.  Tears streamed down my face as I did what he wanted, praying that I would wake up from this awful nightmare. 2My first experience with oral sex… not something I care to think about often.

The moment he pushed himself inside of me, I screamed. I felt like I was being torn open. I don’t even remember him positioning himself to do so. All I remember is his face… that look that told me he wasn’t going to stop. 3When I had lost my virginity, I didn’t bleed… but I did this time. And I could feel it already. I closed my eyes and tried to remove myself. Tried to make it all go away. Turning my head to the side, I stared at the darkened windows of the house and silently prayed someone would wake up and see me. It never happened. I cried for him to stop, but it was like he never heard my voice. Even I’m not sure if I heard my voice… maybe I was saying it in my head… maybe I wasn’t. I’ll never know. It felt like one of those nightmares when you’re being chased… and no matter how fast you try to run, you’re always moving in slow motion. Then it was over. “Get dressed,” was all he said. It was over. My nightmare was over. I remember nothing more until the following morning. Waking up with the sunrise, I got my friends up and told them we were leaving immediately. As we walked out the door, I looked back over my shoulder, hoping it had all been a terrible nightmare. But, he opened his eyes, looked at me, smirked, put his finger to his lips, and shook his head. I ran out the door. That day, I showered 5 times.

September 1994 – Rich found out. I finally broke down and had told the two girls who were with me that night. One of them told him. Why, I’ll never know. But, he found out. And when he did… he hugged me. I cried and he hugged me. Then, he whispered in my ear, “you fucking deserved it, you stupid bitch.” But, again… I stayed with him. I let him torment me for another 2 months. The abuse became even more physical. The day I left him was the day he nailed me across the back of the head, sending me flying across the couch. I got up… walked out the door… and I never looked back. But, the damage had been done. I drank every night, I dropped out of high school, I stopped eating (until I collapsed in a parking lot). But, by that point, I had mentally shut down. I became numb. For 4 years, I was numb. I spent 2 years in therapy off and on, though never told the whole story. I left out the crucial events. The things that changed who I was and who I am today.

August 1995 – I met someone who spent the next 3 of 5 years loving me and caring for me. Until I was no longer numb. Then, he suddenly had to deal with those emotions.

July 1998 – By myself, I moved 1,500 miles away.  It was like flipping a switch; flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares. They all started at once. My boyfriend essentially blamed me and left me… alone, frustrated, angry, and wishing I was numb all over again.  In all our years together, he never once believed me. He told me that if I wanted him to believe me… I had to tell him everything. So, I did… as much as I could. Then, he started taking my clothes off. He wanted to have sex. I cried the entire time. And when he was done, he said, “Jesus Christ, Laura… it’s not like I fucking raped you.” That broke me completely. He told me I should have done something to stop it, that I should have fought harder, and that it was my fault it happened.  Sadly, I remained with him for another 2 years… though, I was never able to look at him the same again. Every time he would touch me, I would start to feel sick. Eventually, he too became abusive and manipulative.  He constantly held things over my head… and eventually broke my trust completely when he told my parents that I had once been raped. That was not his place to tell them… and I’ll never forgive him for it. I came to realize just how much he controlled me. And as soon as I figured that out, with the help of my roommate, I left him as well. 4Years later, I would discover he was charged with domestic violence and false imprisonment.


As of this initial writing in July 2002, I have my good nights, but I have more than my fair share of bad nights. Every day is a new day and I’m slowly dealing with my past. I have some wonderful friends who support me and a couple who are there for me night and day. I still blame myself most of the time, though I know I shouldn’t. And I still have little to no confidence in myself. I’m constantly terrified of being alone. And I feel very weak. There is plenty left untold in this story, but I can only handle so much at one time. It gets to be a little overwhelming and often causes constant panic attacks. Medication helps me keep it together and I do what I can to get through each day. And that’s enough for me right now.


January 2006 – After a huge fight with my then husband (whom I married in December 2002), I went out for a few drinks with a girlfriend.  A good-looking man struck up a conversation with us.  My girlfriend recognized some friends and they all wanted to head out to the clubs.  I told her to go ahead and join them and that I would be heading home soon.  I was far from intoxicated, but knew I shouldn’t drive home just yet.  I was starting to feel foggy even though I could handle my wine.   From that moment on, I remember very little… I remember coming in and out of consciousness; different men were on top of me.  I remember my head being held down… hands on my hips and thighs… fingers around my neck.  I remember feeling totally restrained.  I remember being brutalized in every part of my body… in and out of consciousness… they didn’t care.  And I remember being carried into the shower afterward.

When I awoke the next morning, I felt beyond sick… this wasn’t just a hangover.  I gathered my clothes and quickly left.  Fortunately, I recognized where I was and knew my car was nearby.  I drove home and every part of my body ached… literally.  At home, I was grateful to see my husband was at work. I undressed to shower and when I looked in the bathroom mirror I was appalled at my reflection… I was covered from head to toe in bruises.  My whole back was covered in rug burn.  I had hand prints on my ribs and thighs… bruises on my shoulders and neck… a huge lump on my forehead.  At that time, I couldn’t remember a thing.  I quickly showered and laid down.

When my husband came home, he walked into the bedroom to see me.  Putting his hand on my back, he saw me cringe.  Lifting my shirt, he saw the rug burn and asked what happened.  I struggled for a answer… “I fell down the stairs.”  It was the only thing I could come up with… the iron bars on the railing would explain the bruising… I hoped.  For days, people would joke that my husband was beating me up.  I couldn’t bear the thought of him rejecting me… of him blaming me.  I couldn’t tell him.  I couldn’t tell him I hadn’t even noticed I was being drugged.  I couldn’t tell him a group of men so violently assaulted me… he would never touch me again.  5The internal damage took 6 months to heal… and ultimately lead to surgery… and eventually, I was left unable to have children.

It was years before I told anyone what really happened… that recovery has only just begun.  6And I finally did tell my (ex)husband… two years after we separated.  He was so angry with me he didn’t speak to me for weeks.  He reacted exactly as I had feared he would back then.  Though I will say he was the one man I knew would never cause any harm to me… our marriage fell apart for many reasons, none of which were cruel or violent.  He’s a wonderful man with a huge heart; and I truly do wish him all the best in life.

In the years since (as of May 2012), I’ve discovered a great deal about myself and why I am the way I am about certain things.  I allowed myself to gain a tremendous amount of weight to make myself less desirable.  I cannot stand anyone touching my hips… ever.  I cannot stand anything heavy around my neck.  I cannot stand to be in a crowded room without my back to the wall.  I cannot handle going someplace out of my comfort zone.  And I cannot stand the idea of being with someone new.  I’m terrified of any man I don’t know.  I was diagnosed with PTSD, RTS, OCD and Anxiety Disorder on top of having been diagnosed with Depression when I was much younger.  7Anti-depressants help somewhat with the OCD and Anxiety.

Should anyone have any questions or comments regarding what you’ve just read, please email me, instead of commenting on my blog. Thanks.

Note: According to research on victimization, a small percentage of the population experiences a relatively large proportion of all crime, and one of the strongest predictors of victimization is previous victimization. Robbery victims’ chance of being robbed again is nine times the chance among people who have not been robbed, and burglary victims’ risk of burglary is four times the risk of people who have not been burglarized. In addition, researchers have found that one-third to one-half of women who are physically abused at home are likely to be abused repeatedly. The highest rate of repeat victimization for crimes other than domestic violence is among sexual assault survivors. One study concluded that women who have been sexually assaulted in the past are 35 times more likely than other women to be sexually at some point in the future.

Statistics from the Vera Institute of Justice.

“One smile hides a thousand tears. – Author Unknown


To understand a bit more about what it’s like…

WHAT TO SAY:

  • I’m sorry this happened to you.
  • It wasn’t your fault.
  • You survived; obviously you did the right things.
  • Thank you for telling me.
  • I’m always here if you want to talk.
  • Can I do anything for you?

WHAT NEVER TO SAY:

  • It was your fault.
  • You could have avoided it had you _______.
  • It’s been so long! Get over it!
  • You wanted it.
  • It’s not that big of a deal; it happens to lots of people.
  • I don’t believe you. (that’s the very worst thing to say)

DO & DON’T

  • DO respect her enough to not pity her.
  • DON’T assume she does or doesn’t want to be touched. Some people can’t stand a hug at this point; others can’t make it without one.
  • DO comfort her. Bring a cup of tea and a blanket. Play soft music. Make the environment comfortable.
  • DON’T try to solve all the problems for her. She has had her control taken away from her; try to avoid doing that again.
  • DO offer to accompany her to her first therapy session.
  • DON’T demand to know every detail of the rape or abuse.
  • DO allow her to tell you as much or as little as she needs to.

FURTHER SUGGESTIONS

  • Review facts and myths about sexual abuse and assault. — It is crucial to understand the basic facts, and for secondary survivors to examine their own attitudes and feelings in order to be a positive support. Don’t allow the myths to affect how you perceive the survivor.
  • As a secondary survivor, you are also affected. — Crisis centers and lines are available to help you also. Call RAINN: 1-800-656-HOPE. Consider seeking therapy yourself (however, don’t see the same therapist as your friend).
  • Helping yourself helps the survivor. — There is no reason to feel guilty or selfish for taking care of yourself and your many emotions.
  • It is normal to feel the following and more: helplessness, guilt, shame, loss of intimacy, loss of routine, frustration, need for retaliation, overprotection, anger.
  • Aim to find the difference between being supportive and overbearing. — I can’t give you exact definitions. The supportive friend is there when I need to talk, is open to hearing what I have to say, and doesn’t always press for more. The overbearing friend is constantly checking up on me, forces me to talk to her, and tries to solve my problems for me.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. — If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. The most powerful statement a friend can make is by simply being there, not trying to fix everything or pretending it’s okay. Silence often says more than words.

WHAT TO DO IF

Depending on your relationship with the survivor and the trust she has in you, she may experience a flashback or panic attack in your presence. It can be frightening and difficult to know what to do during a situation like this, and it’s difficult for me to even try to tell you….but here are a few suggestions:

PANIC ATTACKS
  • Remind the survivor of where she is. Ask her to sit down and place her feet on the floor. Describe her surroundings to her, and ask her to do the same.
  • Remind the survivor to take deep breaths.
  • If the survivor has medication she is prescribed to take during panic attacks, such as Xanax, remind her that if she needs it, it is available.
FLASHBACKS
  • Remember that during flashbacks, the survivor is often actually reliving the abuse or assault. Be cautious in your actions, and get to know the survivor and what she needs before you do anything at all. Here are a few suggestions.
  • Name it. Not everyone realizes that what they’re suffering is a flashback.
  • Tell the survivor that you know it feels real to them, but that it is not really happening.
  • Turn a soft light on.
  • Turn triggering music or television shows off.
  • Get to know the survivor’s triggers as well as you can.
  • Help to ground the survivor. Encourage them to take slow, gentle breaths. Tell them they are remembering. Talk softly to the survivor. Remind her of where she is. Ask her to describe her surroundings to you. Point out the fact that the abuser is not present. Remember that she may not be able to respond to you, but often is aware of your voice.
  • Consider placing your hand on her hand or arm (*not* on her stomach, thigh, etc). This may trigger her further, but may also remind her of where she is.
  • Inform the survivor of the importance of flashbacks. They are an opportunity to learn and understand. They are often seen as an indication that the person is ready to remember; that the body has information to share. Many people are very frustrated by lack of memory; flashbacks can validate a survivor’s experience.
  • Most important is to get to know the survivor and what works and what doesn’t. There’s not a lot you can do during situations like this, which can be frustrating. Just be there for her during and after the flashback. Don’t press her to talk about it, and avoid triggering her further. If she wants to discuss what just happened, be open to that, while at the same time being aware that many of the emotions she felt during the rape or abuse may be present now.

SURVIVORS WANT YOU TO KNOW

  • We often take a lot of responsibility for the abuse. Telling us it is not our fault may help to lessen the guilt of shame, but it can’t take it away.
  • We deal with a lot of shame. Please don’t shame a survivor. It is the pattern we are trying to break.
  • The healing process for a survivor may take years. We may be in and out of therapy several times. New memories may surface, and new experiences may trigger us.
  • People who are survivors are often caretakers. It is a survival technique. It takes a long time to unlearn that behavior.
  • Survivors often resent being judged. We have judged and punished ourselves for years. We are usually harder on ourselves that anyone else can be.
  • People who are survivors don’t want your pity.
  • Don’t try to excuse the abuser’s behavior.
  • Don’t categorize survivors. Each case of abuse, although it may be similar, is a unique case. We don’t all follow the same pattern of healing or behavior.
  • Not all survivors have clear images of the abuse or assault. We may need to deal with that lack of memories on a regular basis.
  • Even if we are safe now, we still may be fearful of our attacker or abuser.
  • Talking about it means “breaking the secret.” Many of us are faced with the terror “breaking the secret” every time we talk about the abuse.
  • If a survivor chooses to talk to you about the abuse or assault, and you are uncomfortable about it, please say so. Let the survivor know you aren’t uncomfortable with them, only the issue. Then offer to find someone who is comfortable with the issue.
  • Please don’t ask a survivor to forgive and forget. First of all, there is nothing we would rather do than be able to forget. But we can’t–we have to learn how to deal with it.
  • Please don’t ask a survivor if they are done dealing with it yet. That is a shaming question. The process of healing may take an entire lifetime.
  • On a personal note; as a survivor… you never get over it… you just learn to cope with it.

Information from Pandora’s Project.

MORE INFORMATION

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