Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The One About Sexual Assault

I wrote my last post solely for myself. That's how I deal with things: I write about them. It helps me figure out exactly what's going on in my head. But I wasn't sure I wanted to actually tell people what had happened, so I wrote it in the third person and just posted it. I figured people could take it how they wanted. Apparently I'm not as sneaky as I thought, because everyone I've talked to knew it was about me. But whatever.

Anyway. You would not believe the number of messages, texts, and face-to-face conversations I've had about that post. So many people have told me that I'm brave or that my story was powerful or that it means a lot that I wrote what I did. I honestly hated those conversations because I wasn't sure what to say, but the ones that sucked even more were the ones where my friends would tell me that the same thing happened to them. I never would've guessed. All I know is that I wish it hadn't, and I don't want it to happen to anyone else.

So this time I'm telling the whole story. I want you to understand exactly what happened and exactly why it scared and scarred me so much.

I knew the Guy Who Touched Me beforehand. We were friends, kind of. He liked me more than that, but we'd had that conversation already and I was very clear about The Captain and how I didn't like being touched even casually anyway and all that stuff. Even then, the Guy would still poke me or hug me or tap me on the shoulder and stuff like that. Things that don't bother everyone, but always bother me, especially if I've told you specifically not to.

But anyway. I honestly really liked the Guy as a friend. He's cool, nice, funny, and musically talented. But he's also a flirt and fairly immature. Still, I wanted to be friends with him and I didn't like being mean to him. He would always get really depressed if I was short with him or got upset when he touched me, which made me feel awfully guilty. No matter how hard I tried to not be guilty, I couldn't help it. And that's probably one of the reasons why he kept on casually touching me even when it made my skin crawl.

Still, he was never mean to me.

One night he was staying up late on an outside patio kind of place on campus. His band was going to play for a wedding and he had to practice. He asked me to keep him company, and since I couldn't sleep, I said sure, what the heck. I had a test the next morning so I brought my notes and studied. There were other people out there too, playing games and doing stuff like that. It was fine for a while; he practiced, I studied.

At some point he mentioned being thirsty. I, being always prepared, pulled out my water bottle and let him have some. I don't remember how he drank from it. Not until recently did I consider the idea that he put something in my water. The way guys use roofies was explained to me, and the Guy could've easily done it. I don't even remember watching him while he drank, if he drank at all.

Anyway, he gave me back the water. We continued doing our thing, but I started getting tired. I don't remember the details, but I remember talking a lot more than usual. I honestly can't remember what I said and what I just thought. I was on a bench, leaning back against a table. My legs were in a chair across from me. I fell asleep on the table.

I remember feeling his hands on my legs at first, and eventually they went up my sides and down my arms. Later on they went to more personal spaces. I can't remember if they went under my sweater or stayed outside. I can't even remember what I had on under the sweater. I'm fairly confident that nothing got under my jeans, but sometimes I really just don't know.

I also don't know how long it took my to wake up. I remember him saying my name over and over again, and when I woke up he was sitting in the char, my legs in his lap, looking at me with concern. I asked how long I'd been asleep, and he said he didn't even know I was asleep. I don't remember what time it was when I fell asleep, but when I headed back to my dorm the sun was rising. I got about an hour and a half of sleep before I had to get up and go to class.

We were still friendly for a while after that, but something bugged me every time I thought about it. I don't remember even giving myself time to decide if what had happened was a dream or reality. I just locked it inside somewhere and refused to think about it, refused to tell anyone because of the shame I'd have to deal with if I admitted it was real.

Seeing the Guy got worse and worse. Eventually it got to where just the sight of him would fill me with terror and I've experienced several panic attacks just by seeing him. Suddenly I can't breathe and my stomach feels like it's about to explode. I generally lose my appetite for the rest of the day and it's painfully hard to calm down after one of these episodes.

Then just the idea of running into him made me scared. So scared that I stopped going to the cafeteria, which meant I stopped eating. I didn't leave my dorm at all if possible. I started getting even more skittish around other people. When I did go out on campus I was constantly on the lookout, constantly on edge. When The Captain asked me if the Guy had done anything to make me so scared, I told him he'd never done a thing. I didn't know why I was so scared of him.

But then I when I started talking to a doctor she asked me some questions about trauma and listed off symptoms. I said no to all of them, even though every question made me think of the Guy. Paranoid, going out of my way to avoid certain situations, unable to stop thinking about it, etc. Eventually I confided in a psychologist, and we delved pretty deep into what happened. He unlocked the memory and I started learning healthier ways to deal with it instead of hiding it.

Recently I was doing research for a class and stumbled across a page about emotional/psychological trauma. The symptoms all sounded familiar. And all the things it told you not to do, I'd done. Isolating yourself, hiding it inside, not telling anyone...I'd done them all. I keep thinking that if only I'd admitted that it had happened, I might not have fallen so far into fear and depression and all that other crap. But I never once considered that I might actually be suffering from emotional trauma.

I guess the point of all this is to try and educate people on safety. When you hear sexual assault, most people think of rape. And it doesn't matter that people tell you it's common for the victim to know the assaulter, you still don't quite believe it. You don't look around at the people around you and think, Gosh, he might sexually assault me tonight. I mean, why would you?

I'm not saying you should be paranoid and think the worst of everyone. I guess all I'm saying is don't give your water bottle to people. And if you do, for pete's sake tell someone. Don't you dare hold it in because I can promise you it's just going to eat you from the inside out.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Trauma Patient's Story

She thought she’d forgotten it. Of course, just the thought that she’d forgotten it meant that she hadn’t. The fake pleasure of not thinking about something doesn’t actually bring any real comfort. The centipedes in her stomach didn’t stop their hourly trek around her insides and her lungs didn’t fill any easier. But there was a certain fog in her head, letting her pretend that it had never happened and that she’s fine. If it happened to come to mind she would put it out of her mind, one way or another. As long as she didn’t have to think about it and acknowledge the bugs in her stomach and the guilty shame haunting her head.

But being in the psych ward really makes her think, especially when a psychologist sits down and starts asking her about her life. He pulls at the strings until she unravels and the story is out. She’s never told a soul before and reliving the moment makes it seem so much realer than she remembers. Will the doctor be mad at her? Tell her all the things she’s done wrong? But as she finishes her story, she frowns a little, ending with a quiet, “I guess it wasn’t my fault after all.”

No, the psychologist answers. Not at all. I’m glad you can see that. He tells her to think about it more and not be afraid of thinking about it. She promises she will.

Later on she sits in the dayroom, watching her fellow patients and dutifully thinking about that night. It’s hard to remember the details and it’s even harder to confront the emotions that come with them. Confusion, worry, fear, disgust, shame, guilt, terror. It was almost pleasant, feeling hands slide up her calves, then back down, then back up, then back down. But behind the pleasure is confusion: something is not right. Those hands are not supposed to be there, and she really doesn’t think she likes it anymore. The hands slide higher up her thighs and she starts to get a little worried about what is happening, but she can’t open her eyes to look around. The warmth of the hands seep through her jeans as they go all the way back down her legs, then all the way back up. They skim her hips and go up her sides, then all the way back down. Back up, back down. She settles into the discomfort of the dream, feeling helpless to escape and not knowing what to do. Her own hands won’t respond to push the stranger away.

At some point the hands go to other places and fear starts to take hold. Her sweater isn’t thick enough to hide her breasts and she cringes in her sleep, trying to twist away but finding it alarmingly difficult to move. The hands go back to her ankles, then go back up. This time they find the space between her thighs and she instinctively closes her legs tightly, whimpering. She desperately tries to wake up, desperately tries to convince herself that she is still asleep.

Someone is telling her to wake up. Yes, yes, I want to wake up. I want this to have been a dream. She finally gets her eyes open and look up to see him looking at her worriedly. She asks how long she was asleep. He says he didn’t even know she was. This scares her for some reason.

She wants to tell her boyfriend what happened and why she is worried. But she feels dirty and guilty and ashamed. What if he is mad at her for letting someone else touch her? Because she did let him. She should’ve been able to stop him, to realize what was happening, to wake up. Her already weak self-esteem and strong self-hate die and blossom in kind. How could she have let it happen? She decides to never tell a soul and locks the memory up inside.

Back in the psych ward the memory has been unlocked. She is finding it hard to breathe and the centipedes in her stomach are running rampant as if trying to escape. She can’t handle the people around her and she can’t handle the feeling of those hands and the overwhelming sense that she’d never been asleep. She finds the nurse.

The psychologist tells her to write an unsent letter to the man who touched her, to confront her own feelings about what happened. She does so after a day of telling herself that she is brave. In her letter, she tells the man that she cannot feel guilty anymore and refuses to blame herself for what happened. She says that she will never let him touch her again in any way, casual or otherwise. She will stand up for herself and say no. She will be brave. She later reads the letter to her psychologist and says she is going to tell her boyfriend about what happened. The psychologist approves.

She is still scared, but she is determined to be brave. The memory is unlocked and dealt with, out in the open for a trusted few to understand. She will no longer let her fear and self-loathing consume and limit her. Instead, she will be brave, raise her head, and walk on.