SAAM 2021: The Hardest Part
“The hardest part of recovery from sexual assault, at least for me, has been defining my feelings towards my attackers. The first attack happened, and shortly after my assailant disappeared from my life. He never stuck around after the fact, which I think is what’s helped me “get over it” so quickly. Well that, and the fact that I haven’t been able to recall the full memory of what happened. I only have bits and pieces here and there, but beyond that the rest of it is lost. I focus mostly on the second time I was rapedfor my various awareness endeavors because that’s the one that I have been able to remember clearly. Having clear memories of it has made the impact on my life much more profound than the first event. Forming a relationship with my rapist, and battling feelings of genuine love vs anger made things extremely complicated. On some level I always knew that I was merely an object to him, but instead of trusting my feelings I chose to believe his lies of love and a future together. All of those things consistently rattle around in my head when my PTSD takes over and my thoughts become disordered and overwhelming. Thank God, it doesn’t occur daily anymore after completing my trauma therapy, but every once and a while the intrusive thoughts will still sneak up on me.
You know the things that hurt the most? It’s not memories of the trauma. I can sit here and talk about that all day long without shedding a tear now that I’ve accepted it and moved forward. It’s the memories of the good times. The days when my rapist treated me well and did everything right. The days when he did everything that you would expect from a genuine, and loving partner who truly cared about your well being. Those times are the very reasons I fell in love with him despite the rape, the violence, the cheating and every other abusive trait he displayed. Those days when the abuse seemed to disappear and he really took care of me. Those days were the days that kept me from completely losing my shit and going insane during our tumultuous relationship. Those days are the very same days that he now uses against me, trying to disprove my claims of abuse and rape. The memories of those moments hurt more than any trauma he ever put me through.
I thought I was prepared to deal with that facet of my recovery journey as I gathered my writing for my first book, but I wasn’t. I spent a lot of time stuck on one chapter and it took me several years to finally put things in prospective in order to move forward. There were no written words to convey my feelings, or to describe his deception accurately with out tearing open the wounds all over again. Reliving those good memories still boils my blood. I know, it’s pretty much opposite of how most people react. The fact that he raped me doesn’t inspire the same level of anger as the fact that he aided in the repression of my memories by being the perfect example of a gentleman quite often during the remainder of our relationship. The fact that so many people look at our relationship collectively and can only see either the black or white doesn’t bother me as much as those same people forgetting that the reality I live with is firmly mired in grey. I didn’t just experience horrors unspeakable with this man, choosing to stay with him out of some misguided cognitive dissidence or codependency. There were an abundance of good days too as is so often the case in abusive relationships.
On his good days he lived up to every expectation that I had for a potential partner. He took care of me when I was sick, he helped around the house, he called me through out the day just because, he paid for most dates unless I insisted otherwise, he interacted well with most of my family, and he even dropped my little sister off at prom. She didn’t have a date and didn’t want to show up alone so my abuser went out of his way to escort her.
He provided emotional support for me when I needed it and he raped me. He cheated on me consistently, he lied about our relationship, he used me, took full advantage of my innocence, and robbed me of what could have been some of the best years in my life. All of those opposing things are true. I know now the likelihood of his good days being genuine is a stretch at best. They were probably the typical cat and mouse scenario abusers often employ to keep their victims close. My intelligence knowing that, and my emotions feeling that forever provide a constant internal battle inside my head. It makes things very difficult moving forward, more so, as time marches on putting more distance between me and the events of my past.
Making things infinitely worse are those well intentioned folks who ask me: “He raped you, how the hell can you still have compassion for this guy? He deserves to rot in jail! He’s a slime ball! Revenge! Karma! Anger!” Who then immediately jump to the conclusion that I must not be telling the truth about some facet of our relationship when I say that I don’t necessarily want my rapist to suffer, even though I want accountability for his crimes.
People tend to be supportive, excited even when I share something relating to anger or vengance on behalf of survivors, but when I entertain the ideas of forgiveness or compassion support tends to wane significantly. Moving forward past anger is a part of the healing process. It’s a part of the process that many people never reach, but when those of us that do are ridiculed or the validity of our stories are questioned for it… it’s really no wonder why.
It’s not to say that I haven’t experienced any anger during my recovery journey. I have. When I started my journey to recovery in 2013, the absolute last thing on my mind was a past abusive relationship and the trauma I endured because of it. I was more concerned with the motives of saving my marriage, and beginning a new chapter in my life. My daughter had just turned seven months old, my husband and I had just purchased our first home, and there was a huge well of transition both in adapting to having a child, and moving into our new environment.
As those with children of their own can attest, the stress and sleep deprivation that comes with an infant is quite near the threshold of human tolerance. I was an emotional basket case snapping at my husband more often than not, and demanding things be done per my very specific instructions in an attempt to regain some control over my life. We fought frequently, and there was a distinguishable distance growing between us, which turned up the stress dial several more notches. It was then at the pique of my stress threshold that the self doubt started.
I began to question every decision I made during the course of my life as an independent adult. I had been so consumed with hatred toward myself for all of the mistakes I had made, I was quite literally insane, lost in dissociation trying to keep myself together. So many choices I made were the product of an unhealthy mind. I was scared, and filled with regret. The thought crossed my mind that I may have married my husband out of spite instead of genuine love which lead to extreme thoughts of self loathing. I had tried so hard to be happy and successful in our relationship, yet still felt like a failure. No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to forget the events of my past which caused the most severe fissure between my husband and I. I wanted to move on, but I felt trapped. I felt like I had damaged myself more trying to forget the events of the past and instead set out on my own searching for a way to safely embrace them.
Soon, I began the arduous task of writing everything down. I began with my late teens and ended with my situation in a young marriage trying to figure everything out. Once I started writing the intrusive thoughts of my trauma began to subside but my self doubt and self loathing began to consume me. Not long after I finished writing the very first draft of my life story, I began to look into mental health diagnoses finally coming to the realization that I couldn’t be mentally healthy while enduring such a constantly changing wave of emotions. It was then that I stumbled upon the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As I read article after article on the subject it was like reading about the inside of my mind for the first time in my life.
I was both intensely relieved, yet petrified at the same time. I fit all of the symptoms, and children from abusive pasts were in the risk category, but what else in my life had been traumatic? Because I had survived each and every event, none of them seemed to be traumatic from my point of view. I felt that maybe I was wrong, and that maybe what I had wasn’t exactly PTSD but mimicked the symptoms. The only way I was going to be able to find out was to make an appointment with a mental health professional, get an expert opinion, and official diagnosis. I sent out several apprehensive emails to different local practices over the course of a few weeks. I was beginning to get discouraged as again and again I was turned away or ignored all together, until finally I got a positive reply and scheduled an appointment. I remember those nerve wrecking few weeks between the initial reply and my first appointment. It felt so overwhelming as I took the time to fill out various assessments, and personal history forms. I was terrified of what I might find, or what might happen after my evaluation.
The humility and associated anxiety it took to open up to some one completely face to face almost did me in. I think if I had to wait any longer than those few short weeks before arriving at my appointment I would have suffered a stress related aneurism. The first appointment was encouraging. I was finally able to give a name to what had plagued me for most of my life. If I could give it a name, I could find a treatment. I didn’t have to be a slave to my flashbacks and intrusive thoughts any longer. I continued along with my course of therapy, which resulted in putting most of the issues from my past to rest and a small period of emotional exhaustion. I was very close to giving up and resigning myself to a life of misery.
Then I reached a turning point. I began to regain my strength and finally achieve a sense of stability. With the most recent turmoil in my life finally satisfied, other things that I had long forgotten began to rise to the surface. With the help of my therapist I was able to navigate these “new” memories and emotions successfully. It was during this time that the memories of the most devastating abuse rose to the surface. I was doing really well, my PTSD in clinical remission when suddenly I began to have nightmares. The nightmares were a manifestation of violent flash backs of several incidents between me and a man whom had been very influential in my life. None of it made sense at first. The panic attacks associated with my nightmares were some of the worst I’ve ever experienced. I was so confused, so conflicted, and so blindsided especially in the midst of my recovery. I felt like I had failed somewhere, that I was somehow doomed to live in a constant loop of recurrence, and that those memories had somehow been magnified by my subconscious.
After discussing it with my therapist and undergoing some regression, it was determined that my memories were in fact genuine. While I knew that I had been raped prior to beginning my trauma therapy, the memories were still muted. I knew what I had experienced was sexual activity without my consent, but the violence was still repressed in the back of my mind. It was only after I made peace with other less traumatic aspects of my relationship with my rapist that I became strong enough to address the true level of violence I had experienced at his hands. Working through it with my therapist, decoding things that had been buried, only to pop up in fleeting moments of my subconscious was exhausting. My emotions covered every end of the spectrum from elation that I was finally able to break free of the shackles of dissociation, to deep rooted anger at this man for taking advantage of me in such a vulnerable part of my life. That anger is the emotion that originally spurred me forward in the decision to publish my first book and reclaim my voice.
But as I began to write, even in anger, I realized that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t publicly humiliate my rapist, or share my experience out of malicious intent. My anger was certainly justified, but I couldn’t strip the humanity away from him regardless of his appalling behaviors. I recognize that I’ve been victimized by him on more than one occasion. I understand that having compassion, and offering my forgiveness does nothing to change the situation between us currently, nor will it change anything that happened between us in the past. Yet, I simply don’t have any lingering hatred or desire for revenge. Two things that society often dictates I should have to validate the perception of a “genuine” victim. In a way it makes me feel even more broken; then I have to wonder if the abuse was really so bad that my anger response has been completely stripped away from me. If I am really that “crazy” to forgive despite the numerous atrocities I’ve suffered.
That has been the hardest part of my recovery journey. There will always be the lingering questions filtering through my mind: Was it love, or hate? Was it black, or white? Was up, down, Jeckyl, Hyde, yes, no or something in the middle… “
To read more of Rebecca’s thoughts on surviving and overcoming sexually based crimes you can find her latest release Turquoise Boot Straps: A Survivor’s Thoughts on Amazon or by following the shop link above. Kindle and Paperback versions available now.
Copyright R. MacCeile 2019