What's normal after rape?
After many months of just trying to climb out of my bottom little hell hole I started to look at why I had this basic visceral dislike of men. I didn’t walk around hating men and not talking to them or send them evil death stares, but in my body I just felt this unease, distrust, and even some disgust. If you asked me how I felt about men I’d give you my intellectual response straight from my head, what I wouldn’t give you is my body’s response; how men made feel. My body would tell you I don’t trust them. I feel like they are predators and I am just some kind of an object to them. They don’t see the humanity in me and I don’t see it in them. At some point in my life the opposite sex went from being a curiosity, sometimes cute, with the same sense of wants, fears, and complex emotions as me to being predators who only cared about physical lust and prowess. I know rationally this is not how all men are and of course I have met good men who did not treat me this way. But for some reason this is how men made me feel. If a man showed interest in me, I always saw it on a physical level. I never felt they could be interested in me for any other reason.
After going thru all my various experiences with men I got back to basically the first one and I realized I was raped 13 years ago when I was 19. I had actually forgotten about this experience. Now, I can remember lying in my bed the day after it happened and thinking the only way I could live with myself was to just never think about it again. So I didn’t. I don’t think it was completely forgotten so much as it was blocked out and buried as deep as possible because the emotions it brought up were overwhelming. But now I was in therapy and I knew I had to look at it.
I told my therapist about my memory and she confirmed that it was rape and suddenly this huge sense of shame lifted off of me. The first thought that popped into my head after realizing it was rape was that I didn’t have to be ashamed of this anymore. It was great, this unbearable sense of shame I had buried for the last 13 years just vanished. I was on a high for the next week. I was ecstatic that I wasn’t a shameful, disgusting, horrible person and that I wasn’t at fault. I felt all of this elation when I didn’t even realize that I had been carrying around this sense of shame for the last 13 years. But that’s what this psychiatry stuff is all about. If you don’t deal with these things that make you feel awful, the feelings stay and they just creep up in other ways. I asked my therapist if she had suspected something and she said she had suspected some sort of trauma based on a session we had very early on where she could see a tremendous amount of shame.
You wouldn’t know it but for the last 13 years I have been in a dogfight with myself. I have literally felt like two people. One person is pretty happy, wants to help others, ambitious, and hard-working. The other person is completely ashamed and disgusted by herself in every aspect. My body feels disgusting, my skin is disgusting, I am stupid and worthless and so on. The gym and the endorphins I got from exercise is the only thing that kept me in line. But if illness, travel, work, stress or anything kept me from regular exercise and eating right that other shamed person would creep up and stay for days until I could fight my way out of it. So for the last 13 years I have been constantly going back and forth. Now that I recognize I was raped, that other shameful person is gone. I am somewhat worried she’ll come back, that she can’t be gone just like that but so far she is. I don’t feel great every day and I’m not on a high anymore, I can still get sad and depressed but I don’t feel like I turn into that other person who despised every ounce of themselves. So this is great, but the thing that I can’t figure out is what the hell is normal now? I thought that I was just living my life and trying to deal with all the things that everyone else deals with but I just wasn’t so effective at it some times.
Now that I recognize I was raped everything in my life makes complete sense. It feels like my entire world has been flipped upside down. The best way to put it is it feels like you’ve been staring at a painting for 13 years trying to make sense of it and then one day someone comes along points out that it’s upside down and flips it over. Suddenly it all clicks into place. I can see now how being raped altered my life forever. I withdrew socially, developed an eating disorder, couldn’t stop shaking the next time a guy touched me, devalued relationships and sex, and just basically lived my life feeling like nothing really mattered, I didn’t matter, and had no expectancy for a normal or good future. It still confounds me at times how this one instance by some asshole guy can have such an impact, but it does. I think what happens is once you’re raped your whole sense of normal is rocked and your world is split open. Your personal world is not a safe happy place any more. Rape no longer happens to “other” people. If you don’t recognize that being raped has shifted your perception this way you continue to operate your life under these assumptions. It’s pretty messed up. I’ve talked to other rape survivors and one told me a story of watching a friend of hers who was raped go thru this transformation from typical career woman into night time, black leather-wearing, substance abusing, party girl. All rape, any rape splits you open at your core and without help it can be incredibly damaging.
So now I’m struggling with trying to understand what my new normal is. I guess it doesn’t matter and the goal isn’t to feel normal but to feel like the best version of yourself. But I still want to understand what’s happened to me. Do I act, feel, or think certain ways now based on a misguided sense of the world resulting from the rape? When I’m struggling with my self-esteem is it related to that night because suddenly I was made to feel like I was worth nothing more than a speck of dirt? I know I had issues before the rape but what else could be out there that I am not seeing yet? I think I realize now how differently I view men before and after, but my rape happened at such a young age that I don’t have much before time to compare the after time to. I’d like to think that some day I could trust that a man liked me for me and that I could really let them in. But right now all I can say is that feels exhausting and I don’t have the energy for that. Maybe someone will come along and drag it out of me. Sometimes I get angry and feel like I’ve lost 13 years of my life or I just think about how much better they could have been. I could have tried trusting and developing a real relationship with someone, I didn’t have to drink every last ounce of shame out of me, and I didn’t have to live like I was trying to kill myself because nothing mattered anyways. I’m hoping I can turn this all into an incredible sense of strength, sometimes I feel that, and speak out on gender issues and violence against women. Men and women are both hurt by gender stereotypes and objectification. Sadly, I think there are thousands and thousands of women out there like myself who could be losing their lives or have lost their lives due to sexual violence. Unfortunately, rape happens a lot, we do have a rape culture, but I hope to help change that.