Time scale

In every GP appointment and counselling session over the past year, I always asked for a time scale. “So when will this all go away? Next month? Next year? Next decade?” I was obsessed with putting a date on the end of my pain. And each time I asked that question, I was always frustrated at the lack of response. It makes sense that when you are suffering so much, you would want to have an end date to look forward to. What I have learned though is it doesn’t exactly work like that, but that’s OK.

My last post explained that I am writing this blog one year on from my rape to give others support and hope. This is because one year later, I really do believe I have become so much more calmer, stronger, and well. After writing that first post however, I became concerned that others would read it and feel like they should have “totally got over it” after just one year and would feel anxious if they still felt like they were falling short of this goal. I’d like to say that while I do feel so much better and I am able to look forward to the future, my rape still affects me here and there, albeit to a lesser extent. But this is something that does not concern me as much as it did.

If you are a rape survivor, you have physically, mentally and emotionally experienced a major life trauma. This is why I think that it is unrealistic, like I used to, to expect that you could write a date in your diary for a morning when you could wake up and magically, your mind would have erased all the painful memories of the assault as if it had never happened. It is unrealistic because it did happen to you. While you won’t ever forget what happened, I believe it does not have to dictate your whole life. Instead of concentrating on making it “go away”, I have found that is important is to focus on the small steps forward you are taking. For me, these small steps are things like realising it has been a week without experiencing any intrusive memories, or becoming excited about an upcoming event, or feeling motivated to achieve a goal.

I’ll always be a survivor of rape, but I am so many other things as well. I am a fierce, loyal friend. I care a lot about others and seek to make the people in my life happy. I am dedicated and passionate about my career. I am also a gym goer, a runner, a drawer, a painter, a reader. I am even an online shopping addict and a Netflix binger. There are so many more parts to me, and to you, than what happened that night. You might not ever be able to make that piece of you disappear, but there are so many other pieces of you that are much more important. You are worth more than your trauma.

One year later…

One year ago, I was raped by someone I knew. I say “knew” in the past tense rather than present because I have not seen this man since. But this blog is not going to be about him; it is going to be about me and you. With Easter weekend approaching, I have been thinking more than usual about what happened to me last Good Friday, how I felt in those following weeks, and the choices I made afterwards. I cannot fairly say that I am the same person I was before this happened to me and I still face my setbacks now and then, but I feel happy, calm, and excited about life again which is something that I would have found very difficult to believe last April. I am writing this blog for you to tell you what I needed to be told by a fellow rape survivor back then: recovery is possible, you can and will get there, and then you have your whole life ahead of you to look forward to.

It is true that thinking back to those first couple of days is painful. The actual assault, the time spent in hospital followed by the sexual health clinic and the rape crisis centre, undergoing a traumatic medical exam, being injected and made to swallow pills while feeling too numb to register what they were, vomiting up the medicine and then having to take it again and again, the exhausting police statements and the probing questions: whether it is biologically possible or not I have no idea, but all of these memories feel as if they physically hurt me when I replay them in my mind. When I finally walked out of the crisis centre, I asked the crisis team, “what do I do now?” and they responded with, “now you get back to living your life”. At the time, this response completely flummoxed me. It was as if I had been sitting in a bath, someone had pulled out the plug, and then I had been simply told to then continue to have my bath without the water. I felt like the crisis team had been insensitive and unthoughtful in saying this and that they didn’t understand that getting “back to living my life” was completely impossible. I would like you to know though that it is not impossible. Difficult, maybe, but not beyond your capabilities. Although the bath may leak at times and the water’s flow may be inconsistent, you can still put the plug back in and fill the water back up.

If you are reading this, you may be (as I was and still sometimes am) seeking answers and reassurance as to how you fill back up the bath. In the first few months especially, I searched and searched desperately to find helpful blog posts. Back then, the anxiety, shame, self-loathing, self-blame, and depression could be unbearable. I hardly slept, I struggled to eat, I could not concentrate, I had random bursts of anger and then of tears, and each new blog post I found from other rape victims cemented my belief that I was “damaged goods”. Each writer echoed my own thoughts of hopelessness, and I believed that there was no way out of the deep, dark hole I had been thrown into. Instead of helping myself climb out of this hole, I then spent around six months self-destructing and burrowing myself deeper into it. I thought that if I could not take control by healing, then I would take control by being the one to inflict pain on myself. I thought that this would somehow cancel out the pain that someone else had caused me. Obviously, it did not. I do not mean that I physically hurt myself, but I took dangerous risks with no care at all about any consequences.

But then time passed and September came. Suddenly, I had a new focus and a new method of gaining self-control: a new job. Obviously, I am not advising that you change jobs if that is not possible or helpful, but what I am saying is that I have found the key to recovery is to find a positive and healthy way to gain back that all important feeling of being in control. You may have heard this before, but it has been said that rape is not about sex for the attacker: it is about power. In rape, the attacker gains this power, and the victim loses it. Rape makes you feel small and worthless, but if you find a way to gain this control back, you can build yourself back up. You may start with something small, but it will help. Once your feeling of self-control returns, your feelings of self-worth, happiness, calmness, and everything else will start to come back too.

I hope this first blog post has given you some comfort and has given you some inspiration. Watch this blog for more updates in the weeks and months to come about how I have come to heal, and how you can help yourself too x