No one ever plans or anticipates a violation; there is no countdown, or preparation for what will happen.
When I was raped seven years ago, I lost a lot of things: my choice, my esteem and my voice. Trauma has a way of muffling our language, making it near impossible to speak during or after the event. This stunted speech, no matter how biological the response, creates intense guilt, shame and confusion in the survivor.
"Why didn't I stop him? Why didn't I tell anyone? Why did I stay around afterwards like everything was normal?" These questions haunted me for years, and still do from time to time, but what has helped me heal has been getting my voice back. After three years, I am able to say now what I couldn't say then, and there is no greater power then speaking your truth.
I had been traveling Europe for the past three months, exploring everything from the streets of Prague to the bars in Belgium. I was liberated, ecstatic, and bubbling over with enthusiasm. I had recently split from a group of friends to meet with a band that I knew from the States.
It was bliss. The eight of us stayed up late banging drums, singing old hymns and wrestling politics. I traveled on with my new friends from Holland to Amsterdam where we parked for the night. That evening, exhausted, I crashed on my single mattress in a room full of sleeping vagabonds. There was no need for concern, the room was stacked with people, my friends,or so I thought.
Not long after I fell asleep did I wake up to a thick body pressed behind me. Hands, smells and breath paraded over me for what felt like hours. I was frozen, unmovable and speechless.
I was raped and I couldn't say a word.
The next day, I awoke different then I was, broken and sore, but unable to name what I had been done to me. My rapist said hi and handed me a muffin. I ate some of it and smiled. I stayed in the city for another week, fearful to move on, fearful to stay. I felt stuck, unable to make movement even after the event, not until years later.
After I left Europe, I came home to my life as it had been before I left. Everything looked the same, but I felt so different. The shame, the fear, the dirtiness I felt on the inside — no one was able to see. Feeling embarrassed and dramatic, I swallowed my experience whole. Truth has a way of rising up though, demanding to be heard.
I began to have flashbacks, panic attacks and deep depression, so I started to tell my story. The story I told was censored to the core: I exchanged the candidness of "rape" for the subtlety of words like violated, abused and misled. I wasn't able to say the words, "I was raped," until I was ready to release the responsibility off myself and onto the abuser.
Three years after the abuse, I found these words with a dear friend who helped me trust my own experience. Trauma, specifically sexual trauma, borrows language for a time, but the healing process invites language back again, and in that, the choice, confidence and voice we thought we had lost is welcomed home.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault of any kind, know that you are not alone, and that there are resources for you. RAINN is a national network providing support services, hotlines, and counseling to those who have suffered abuse. Feel free to contact them for any questions you may have.
Lastly, tell a friend or someone you're close to — it is so critical to know that you're not alone in this situation.