Things I have learned since “coming out” about my sexual assault

It’s been nearly six months since I was raped, and almost four since I first started talking about it publicly, by publishing a post right here on this blog.

Although the support I’ve received has been tremendous, I’ve also had to learn some very difficult lessons since I made the decision to speak up about what happened to me.  A few of them are listed below.

1) Survivors: Speaking out isn’t the only valid way to deal with your shit.

I mention this one first because, as a writer, I handle everything by exchanging ideas with others.  Ask anyone who’s ever gotten a whiny, verbose email from me.  When I started to question whether a creative writing major was right for me (agonizing over how I “didn’t think I loved writing anymore”), my roommate said to me, “Jesus, Amelia.  You realize that you’re dealing with this by writing in your journal, right?  Clearly, writing is and always will be important to you, so chill.”

And so, when I was raped, I knew that finally reaching a point where I was ready to talk about it would be a huge and crucial step for me.  And I made that step when I blogged about it back in March.

But then I saw a post on tumblr from a friend.  It had been “reblogged” thousands of times, which means that many other people agreed with it.  The post said something like, “I know it’s a really big deal for a rape survivor to speak out.  And I’m always proud of / happy for those who do.  But some of us deal with what happened to us differently.  Sometimes we feel like we’re looked at as not acknowledging or dealing with what happened to us, just because we don’t write or talk about it.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not dealing with it.  We have to deal with it.  We have no other choice.  But there are other ways to deal with things beyond sharing our experiences with you, and you need to respect that.  We’re not any less healthy because of how we choose to go about it.”

I felt really badly when I read that, because I had, of course, never meant to hurt anyone by doing what I felt I needed to do in order to heal.  This is partly why I haven’t blogged about my assault in such a long time; I’m aware now, of how my words could potentially hurt other survivors.

Ultimately though, by not writing, I’m hurting myself.  So I have to do this.  But I proceed with a sensitivity that I didn’t possess when all of this first started.

2) You will lose a few friends.

Maybe it’s because you happen to speak out (like I did), and the people who choose not to speak out about it can’t be around you anymore for their own health, safety, and peace of mind.

Or maybe it’s because someone you trusted straight-up decides to believe your rapist over you.

Both of those things have happened to me in recent months.

One of my closest friends is, like me, a rape survivor.  She’s also a writer, and went through it a couple of years before I did.  So when she told me that she’d lost a lot of friends because of what happened to her (like me, her rapist was a friend, and they had many mutual friends), I was shocked.  Aren’t her friends feminists, like she is?  How could you choose to believe a rapist over a survivor?  Seriously, how?

And so, still in a state of disbelief that that could ever happen, I sincerely thought I’d never encounter such a problem.  As an ardent feminist who posts whatever the hell she wants on facebook, I’m rather picky about who I “add as friends.”  Most of the people I’m “facebook friends” with are feminists, radicals, or liberals.

One such friend was particularly close with my assailant.  I was actually especially nervous about how she’d respond to my initial post because of that.  But after she read it, she sent me a beautiful email in which she told me that although she was totally stunned by my news, she believed and supported me, and would end her friendship with him.  And then she deleted him on facebook.

A couple of months later, I noticed that she’d recently added him back.

I was startled.  But I couldn’t bring myself to ask her about it.  Nor did I have the heart to delete her from my friends list.

But shortly after re-adding him, she deleted me.

And like, it’s facebook.  I get that.  I tend not to make assumptions about real-life relationships based solely upon what I see online.  But there’s no way that this couldn’t have been about me.  She added him, and deleted me.

I spent a day freaking out– feeling panicky, and unable to eat.  On one hand, I know intellectually that anyone who decides to take his word over mine was never a true friend anyway.  But on the other hand, what she did left me feeling hurt and betrayed because I trusted her and considered her to be my friend.

I wasn’t sure what I should do.  I thought about contacting her to ask what had happened.  But I also didn’t feel strong enough to handle that conversation.  I knew that I’d have to deal with hearing whatever lies he told her, and just wasn’t sure I was up to that.

I also realized that if she (who, like all of my friends, I know to be an intelligent person) believed what he told her, then our other mutual friends & acquaintances could, too.  And the thought of losing more people because of this just shook me to my core.

And then I started to question my judgment in friends.  Which, on top of being completely unfair to most of my friends, who have proven themselves to be wonderful, kind, and supportive people, also placed the blame on me again.  And I just couldn’t carry the weight of that.

So finally, I emailed another mutual friend of ours to ask how she felt I should handle the situation.  I felt very badly about that– for dragging her into it, and for sounding so gossipy.  But I just couldn’t proceed without a second opinion.  And she’s been unshakably supportive of me from the very beginning.  I told her about the rape less than a week after it happened– long before I had the nerve to blog about it.  Her advice was as follows:

I would drop it.  You alerted her to a danger, and if she chooses to do what just about everyone does (not believe victims), then talking to her just makes you think about it more… It’s hard not to be believed, but trying to convince someone almost feels like going insane.

And so, I dropped it.  But I don’t feel any better about it.  Remember, the person who sent me this email is a mutual friend.  And so, in addition to everything I mentioned above, I just hate how this experience has been tearing my circle of friends apart.

3) Being triggered is the scariest shit ever.

Long before I was raped, I knew, intellectually, how and why to put a trigger warning on certain internet posts.  But until I experienced it myself, I did not fully understand what a trigger was.

And it is, I learned, something that makes you literally re-live the trauma you went through.  And because of that, when you’re triggered, you feel like you go back to where you were the day it happened.  Which kind of negates any progress you’ve made since then.

I’ll spare the details of what exactly triggered me.  Suffice it to say that some guy I ran into made a comment about rape babies and “women’s selfishness” and life and miracles.  I was in Washington State at the time– clear across the country from where I was assaulted, in Maryland.  But in my head, I was there again.  I saw my assailant’s face, and it was terrifying.  Because on top of all the things I’d felt when I was actually raped (fear, despair), I also felt more clearly the anger I lacked the first time around (because at that point, I’d not had time to process what was happening, and was very confused and doubtful of myself).  And it just totally overtook me.  I felt filthy again; I wanted to shower, and then sleep and sleep and sleep.

I mention the experience of being triggered because I’m a firm believer in paying attention to what our bodies and instincts tell us– because those things are less influenced by rape culture than our thinking brains are.  And this was so undeniable.  Which was actually really good because prior to that moment, I’d spent a lot of time doubting myself.  What if, by outing my assailant, I’d just caused a lot of unnecessary damage?  Lost a lot of friends– hurt people I care about, etc?

But re-living it like that, via a triggering experience, and especially seeing my assailant’s face in my mind, reminded me of how terrified and vulnerable and violated I’d felt when I was raped.  It happened.  It was real.  And if people choose not to believe me, then unfortunately, they can’t be in my life anymore.

And that sucks.  But it has made me ever so grateful to those who have never wavered in their kindness, support, and love.

That is what feminism is supposed to look like.

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About Amelia

feminist, seafood enthusiast, bookworm, blogworm
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