Facades and Fireflies
Trigger Warning/Content Warning: r*pe, sexual assault, mental illness
Rape is a word with many faces. It wears masks; spouse, friend, family, stranger. It becomes memory, loss, fear, anger - a chimera, a shapeshifter, following you along the course of your life with a seemingly unshakeable determination to haunt your footsteps. Sometimes, I see it in the most unexpected places - in a sound, or an innocuous person in a checkout line - and it feels like I’m tripping over the familiar shape of it for the millionth time. Sometimes, it feels like I’ll never move on. And yet, slowly, I am.
I was raped when I was sixteen years old, and it took years for me to feel like an actual person again. Seven years, to be exact. It wasn’t the brutality of the event which traumatized me - there is no “gentle” experience for rape survivors - but rather the bare fact of it, in and of itself. I met someone, I began to trust him, and in one event he took that trust and brutalized it in the worst way. Everything about young love was subverted and turned to poison for me. It became indelibly associated with violence.
For a long period of time after It happened, I was a caricature of a human being; devoid of any connection to my own raw emotions or to my life experiences as a whole. When I look back, my memories from those seven years shift and move, as if my connection to them is just out of reach. I know I’ll never get those experiences back.
There are a thousand different ways that people process trauma. I hooked up regularly, and with the curiously detached desperation of someone seeking answers in all of the wrong places. I did it in a daze. Maybe I wanted to feel like I had control of my own body again. Maybe I just wanted to be distracted. Some people find healing through sex, but it quickly became an empty experience for me. This emptiness colored every other intimate act as well, even if it were merely holding hands with a friend or trying to understand them when they were talking about their emotions. I was disconnected. Intimacy of any real or lasting value was no longer something I could even conceptualize, and it’s still something I struggle with now. I was an artificial sociopath who could only grasp at the tail end of her own identity and values. I was, for lack of a better word, lost.
I wish I could say that there was one thing I did, some specific experience I had, that “snapped me out of it.” I wish there was a solid, one-size-fits-all piece of advice that I could give to other survivors to help them move forward with their lives. Honestly? I don’t know how or why I started to get better, or when I decided I wanted to get better. It’s still so recent, these baby steps of healing, and maybe with time I’ll look back and figure out what it was that set me on this path. Right now, I’m just glad to be on it. So, although what I can give you isn’t rooted on solid ground quite yet, I’m offering it out of love. I’m not offering it as a path out of the darkness, but rather as bits of light, like fireflies, which might lead you a little further than you were when you started reading this.
My advice is to just keep going. To make mistakes, fall apart, and come back together again as many times as you need to without apology. You may never be the same person you were before It happened to you, but you’re still a person. I don’t always fully understand the person I became after my trauma, and I don’t necessarily know much about the person I’m in the process of becoming now - I’ve come to accept these facts as a part of my lovely, complicated life. You’re still growing. It’s okay if part of who you become is shaped by trauma. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. If there’s a wall between you and the people you love, or the people you want to love, trust that it will grow thinner with time and experience. You won’t necessarily see the progress each day, and there will be days when it seems you’ve gone backwards, but I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll look back at some point and realize you’ve come a long way from this thing which was done to you.
If you can, seek therapy. Look for a specialist, and keep looking if the first or second therapist isn’t right for you. Become educated about what your brain and your body are going through. Therapy will fill you up with words. The words feel like chains, sometimes. I think about them at night, and my heart begins to race, chasing away sleep. Anxiety. PTSD. Dissociation. Avoidance. They’ll overwhelm you, often when you least expect it, and you’ll wonder how you can ever get out from under the weight of them, from the weight of It. Some of that weight may always be on your shoulders. It’s unfair, and it’s bullshit, but you’re going to move forward anyway. The symptoms are a part of the process, and they don’t detract from who you are as a beautiful, complex human being. Knowing how to talk about them has helped me get from point A to point B in the first stages of healing - something I hadn’t been able to achieve before.
It’ll get worse before it gets better. As you heal, things are going to be dragged to the surface. Sometimes you’ll feel more like yourself, but maybe the wrong version of you. It’s okay. People process things differently. Society is going to tell you that you have to be a certain way to qualify as a “victim” of rape. Fuck that. Maybe you’ll aim to forgive, or maybe you won’t. You don’t have to forgive anyone if you don’t want to. I still haven’t found any forgiveness in my heart for what was done to me, and I don’t intend to spend a lot of time seeking it out. There isn’t necessarily going to be a big, empowering moment where you reclaim your identity and burst free of your metaphorical bonds. You may never make sense of what happened to you, or any of the things that followed in Its wake. I haven’t. You might never fully accept it, and you may always hold some bitterness or resentment in your heart. I still do. It’s okay. Really, it is. You can heal and succeed, in spite of it. You are not here to play a role, and you’re not here to fit anyone else’s narrative of your trauma or its aftermath. You are here to live your life.
I’m at the point now where I can say yes, I was raped. This happened to me. And for years, my reactions to that fact have been messy, confusing, and disjointed in more ways than I can make sense of. I was raped, and I still don’t fully understand all of the ways this has impacted me or changed my life. I was raped, and I’m still here. I’m still alive. I am determined to live a life worthy of my truest aspirations. Sometimes the good days and the bad ones blur together. Sometimes the facade and the real me look exactly the same. And you know what? I’m going to keep moving anyway. One step at a time.
I hope you’ll take my hand and walk with me while I do it.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673