Life is about cycles. Day follows night. Sun follows storms. Good days happen after bad days. Last week was…a bad week. Now when I say “bad”, what I really mean is “hard”. I mean, for instance, when sunny days happen outside my front door, there really is not a whole lot for me to do except enjoy it. I dress for it (shorts and my go-to sandals that dress me up, or make me look devil-may-care casual), and drink in the beauty and joy that come with the day. On the other hand, when it rains or snows, my stress level goes up. I have to PLAN, for heavens’ sake. There is the wardrobe dilemma (boots or Keds). And, do I don the downy coat that is stifling (but with sleeves that only go to the top of my wrists, which leaves a gap between my gloves and the said coat), OR, a warm-ish jacket (two sizes too large, but one that Is more pleasing to the eye). Once I’m out the door, there is then the windshield issue. Scraping the darn thing with the defrost blasting, or just making sure the windshield wipers work? When that is settled, off I go in the car. The last, and most important thing to think and plan for is, WHERE THE *BLEEP* IS THE BLACK ICE/STANDING WATER?? Basically, I feel a bit assaulted, right off the bat.
So, yeah, I enjoy the ease of things. Which makes last week…bad.
I’m sure most people have flashbacks. Memories that come up vividly. Sometimes, they are from our mind, and sometimes they come up in the form of body memories. Like, I have memories of teasing a cow out in a pasture as my dad fixes a barb-wire fence. I spook the cow. I run away, scared that it will chase me, and jump into the old work truck that just happens to have rolls of barb-wire still in it. I gash my leg, my dad rushes to me, scoops me up, and dashes to the house. He saves the day, and I still have the scar. I usually just tell people, when they ask, that I fought ninjas and got a souvenir. Now, every once in a while, I can remember what the pain of the gash felt like, even though it was several years in the past. I think I was about 6 when it happened. I am now…um… a few decades older. We will just leave it at that. Nevertheless, every once in a while, I feel it, remember it, and it still HUUURTS!
The memory startles me.Then, I think about it, feel about it, and let it go. I move on and my world moves forward. The thing is, I relived it for years. My leg hurt a lot, and for quite a while, during which I became scared to go out in the pasture. Even now, cows are something to be respected. A few decades give that wound a lot of time to fade into the past, I notice. But the scar stays. The body memory rolls right along and keeps pace with my life. I guess it has it’s own cycle, in a way.
This gives me hope, then, about something else.
I have another set of memories. They have their own set of scars and body memories. They also started when I was young. Those memories are more complex, layered in with several memories that were formed as a teen, and again about 5 years ago. They are incredibly painful, and even though I have worked to leave them in the past, they come and go in a cycle. Certain things trigger them, and when they come up, it is…bad.
I go from living a sunny day kind of life, to an overcast, drizzly life that is full of heartache. In fact, I hurt all over again. I feel kicked in the gut, and bruised from head to toe. I shake. I cry. And, the worst part, I freeze. Not the cold kind of freeze. I mentally check out. In the “fight or flight’ arena (and to my shame), I do the “flight’ part, mentally. This shows up as holding stock-still when someone touches me or hugs me, even to comfort me. My reasoning is that if I am still, then it will all be over soon and I can survive. Or, maybe the other person will lose interest. Or, maybe they won’t see me. Idunno. Makes no sense logically, but it is how I have reacted since I was little. I feel, as I look for any reason at all in these situations, that this knee-jerk reaction comes from when I was little and physically weaker that the opposing force. I shrank down mentally, then, and just turned to stone, weathering the incident.
And that is my shame.
I was once told me that my virtue was the most precious thing I had, and I should protect it with everything I could. I should kick and fight and bite, if that was what it took to protect this gift. It was God-given and was only for marriage. It is hideous to me that it was taken from me, but more hideous that I froze when I should have been fighting. Back then, I decided that I was a bad person for not physically fighting, and not worthy of the gift I was given. I also decided that I was supposed to be in this role so that others wouldn’t have to get hurt. I would be the focus of the damage. Not them.
Fair trade for a bad person.
Here’s where things didn’t add up to me, though. Each time this happened (several times as a child with 2 different men, 2 times as a teen, and once as an adult), they were people I didn’t know well. Or at all. So, how could they possibly know to treat me like this? How did they know that I would let this happen? That I would freeze? I must be a magnet, I would think. I did deserve it. It was all I could come up with. I decided, as well, that this was what was expected as the result of attention from men. I came to expect it. It became what was a typical “Man-Trait” to me.
I hated it each time. I would cry silently, trying to tough it out. I would squirm. The last time I even belittled him while it was happening. Right out loud, instead of in my head. But that was as brave as I got. The only “logical” answer I could come up with was that I secretly wanted it. I basically was ASKING for it. I mean, when I told a certain adult about the 1st time, when as a kid I didn’t even know the names of the body parts that were violated, I was told that I was having a bad dream and I shouldn’t talk badly about a guest. I didn’t know at the time that she was mostly asleep (it was past midnight), and I didn’t know she was a deep sleeper. In fact, she didn’t even remember the conversation. But I did, and it reinforced to me that she knew what I was happening, and was on the side of the guest. I resented and spent a lot of time loathing her. Later, as a teen, I talked with a religious leader. A man in position of power who was to be trusted. As I stumbled to describe my shame, confessing that it had happened a few times since, he let me know that I had brought this on because I had most likely dressed immodestly or had given an indication that I wanted “attention”. Again, it reinforced my belief that I must desire it somehow. And if I desired something sick and twisted, then I MUST BE SICK AND TWISTED.
I knew I was a bad person.
Now, I have an amazing husband. He is amazing in that he has full knowledge of my past and he loves and accepts me anyway. Not only does he accept me and love me, but he has partnered with me in recovering. He has encouraged me, held me while I’ve sobbed, and provided much needed logic when my emotions were taking over. For instance, he encouraged me to talk. To participate in therapy. Life Courses. Writing. Whatever it was that got me through the pain and the shutting down part.
Because I did. Shut down, I mean.
At first, in my marriage, and then as a beginner at being a mom, I pretended it didn’t happen. I told myself I didn’t have time to dwell on it. So I stuffed it down. It came back up, though. So I pretended it wasn’t a big deal. Then, I simply pretended I initiated it. That was the most comfortable reason. Finally, I pretended it didn’t matter. And THAT became the cycle. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m Fine. I’M FINE. I AM EFFING FINE!!!!! I’d blow up over something small. Then would come coldness. And physical sickness. And emotions that I didn’t care to link together. And I’d rationalize and bring the excuses. “I must be PMS-ing.” “Its just the baby blues.” “it’s just been a hard day/week/month” Oh yeah. And there was, the bedroom. The intimacy. Uggg. The intimacy was … traumatic. For both of us. I’d break down, He would scoop me up and wait it out while I sobbed, wondering what he did wrong, what he could do to fix it, and not knowing how. I’d fall asleep with tears on my face, and then I’d get back to life. BADA-BOOM BADA-BING.
This was the cycle.
So why bring it up? Uh, because it doesn’t really go away. It settles into the background quite a bit of the time, and life goes on. But every 14th of February, Valentine’s Day, I have the complete experience of wondering “How will I deal with it this year?”. Like clockwork. Five years ago, at 3 a.m. -ish, on V-Day, I awoke to an unpleasant experience with a man I’d never met. A co-worker’s boyfriend’s roommate found me sleeping on the sofa. And, I froze. I effing froze. As a grown-ass woman!. Again! As a mother of five, a wife, a grown-up, I felt helpless. All of a sudden, I was small again, and it didn’t matter that I was pinned down or that I could barely breathe with him on my chest. I just knew I had to disappear.
I was reliving my own personal hell.
When it was over, I was pondered the only victory I had. I belittled him out loud, and eventually squirmed enough that he fell off the sofa and crashed over the coffee table, bringing the boyfriend out to see what was wrong. The roomate fumed as I told the boyfriend to stay with me until the roommate left. And finally, the a-hole did. But not before he paced the room, glaring and threatening me behind his roommates head. Later, I pondered what I did to cause it, but mostly, I found that I had broken one cycle, at least. This time, I took initiative. I wasn’t the little girl anymore. I found my voice a bit. I didn’t have to do what men said, just to be polite. I stopped it.
I was also in shock. I drove home. It wasn’t until I got there, an hour later, that I put a name to what had happened: Assault. No. (gasp.) Rape. That was an ugly word. One I shied away from desperately. It was the first time I had ever allowed myself to believe that I did NOT want what had happened. In no universe did I bring this on. So I told my husband. We went to the hospital, and also reported it.
It was another hell.
I was bruised and cut already. I ached all over. I was shaking and hurting, but forms needed filling out. Personal accounting of the incident needed to be verbally shared over and over again, just so they got it right. Pictures of EVERY INCH OF ME were taken clinically and efficiently. Now, I’m not saying that they weren’t as gentle as they could be. Or compassionate. They were. Many people there were furious. They let me know that I was right to come in. That there was no way this was consensual. Cuts and rips and tears and bruises were all documented.
I felt violated all over again.
The nakedness. The pictures that “Had to be documented for the record.” The chill in the air. The going from room to room to room, being poked and prodded. Never will I gloss over the words, “Rape Kit” again.
I share this because I took body memories home with me. I took phone numbers of advocates and officers and therapists and support groups, but the biggest thing I took home was me wanting to disappear. I wanted to freeze all the time. Getting out of bed was out of the question for quite a while. My husband and kids were supportive, but worried. I went from knowing how to live life to shying away from it. My mantra was, “Don’t look at me. Don’t notice me. I just want to fly under the radar.”
And I went there. I stopped singing. I stopped playing piano. I didn’t function at work. I gained 70 pounds. Anything I could do to stay still, I did. But, I did go to therapy. For years, actually. I talked about it, wrote about it, cried about it. And I saw slow improvement. I started being mom again. I started communicating with my husband and became much closer to him.
Except for the body memories.
They come up much less now, but when they do, I am right back in that hospital again. I’m exposed, and my everything hurts. All my private places, my vulnerable places… ache. Deep up inside me, I hurt, and I need to vomit. It comes up for days before the holiday, and I’m raw for days afterwards.
It’s hard to tell about. It’s hard to hear. Many people feel uncomfortable and wish I would keep it private. I wish, sometimes, that I could, as well. I’ll tell you why I don’t keep it to myself. It’s simply this: AVOIDING TABOO SUBJECTS AND HAVING ONLY POLITE CONVERSATION IS WHAT GOT ME HERE. Life is messy. I don’t like talking about it, honestly, but I will talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it, until I don’t need to anymore. Until it is no longer a secret to me. Until it becomes something in the past. That will happen, by the way. Just like the scar on my leg. It happened, though. No longer will I buy into “You probably brought it on yourself.” and “We don’t talk that way.” Or “He is a guest in our home. Please be polite.” And definitely not “You wanted it. I can tell.”
That is the tragedy, and is over for me.
So here I am. I feel broken. And strong. I am a victim and a survivor. I am shamed and proud. I am terrified, yet ready to move forward. All of it at the same time, and that makes things complicated. I’ve been looking for closure, but I am learning that there isn’t so much closure as there is… forgiveness. From me, to me. Life will take care of the perps. Karma is a… well, you know. But what is imperative now in my life is allowing myself to forgive me for my weaknesses. My human-ness. My flaws. My should-have’s. That’s a tall order. And part of the cycle of healing.
It’s a start. Again.