I started this blog as part of my journey of healing, as a reflective tool and to help other people. I do not claim to be an expert when it comes to dealing with the effects of sexual abuse, I do not claim to understand everyone’s experiences. What I do know however, is my own experience. I know how much I have grown, I know that I have learnt from it and I also know how alone I felt while in the depths of despair. Mulling over questions, which I felt only plagued my mind and trying to reach out for something I felt wasn’t there. Which is why I have decided to write this blog, and answer the question; what was my catalyst for change?
When I arrived back in Ireland, I moved in with one of my closest friends and slowly started to return to (what seemed like) my normal life and routine. I started to feel safe again (even though I had been numb to a sense of danger). This sense of safety provided a platform in which I was able to truly accept what had happened to me. While in Venice I knew I had been raped, I hadn’t quite come to terms with it yet. This realisation took place 3-4 months after my rape. With this understanding, came pain, and nightmares, and obsessive thoughts.
Looking back I am able to break this understanding into phases. These phases were not necessarily linear as I frequently returned to feelings and thoughts, I believed I had overcome. In fact, to this day I will occasionally deal with recurring thoughts, which I thought had been resolved long ago. I will present to you my first three phases of thoughts and feelings, which ruled my life, in the order in which they were most dominant.
Phase 1: Was it really rape?
This question haunted my sense of being for a very long time. There was not an hour I could go by without thoroughly analysing the moment I was raped and questioning whether I had really been raped. I would spend days on end, Googling cases of rape, searching definitions of rape, all in order to question if I had been raped. Part of me would read these extreme cases of women getting jumped and knocked out and then violently raped. I would read them, and think, “Well they are much worse cases than mine, so maybe I wasn’t raped?”
What made me realise it was rape?
Honestly, what slowly shook me out of my irrational thinking was my housemate, who had become my whole world at this point, and other close friends stating the facts over and over again. “Hannah – you said no, he put his penis in you, you kept saying no, he kept putting his penis in you, that is rape.” I had to go over the hard facts of what rape is – rape is no consent. I think because of the way our society is structured, because of the way we view sex, because of what my rapist told me, it made it hard to understand that I was actually raped.
Phase 2: Was it really my fault?
This one has been hard to overcome. I think possibly the question still lies somewhere deep inside my subconscious. Like with the last question, I lay housebound, mulling over those five words. I questioned every detail. Did I want this to happen? Did I date him because I knew this would happen? Why didn’t I scream? I could have stopped this. I should have locked my door that night. Maybe I’m just a slut and I got what I deserved? Maybe I deserved to be raped?
What changed my mind?
Admitting to someone that you have been raped is hard. Admitting all those tiny details, which your brain recites, is even harder. Telling someone what I was thinking helped. Hearing myself say it out loud, made my thoughts, which had seemed so very rational, sound insane. I was fortunate to have a good friend and a counsellor, which I get for free with my university. These didn’t stop the thoughts, they carried on, and they are still there sometimes, but they are less rational now. One day something clicked for me. I was in the shower, standing there, numb, questioning why I had been raped, when all of a sudden it came to me. He raped me, to have control over me.
And that is the day that I decided to make a positive change. I didn’t want him to control me anymore. I didn’t want him to control my thoughts. This is my body, and these are my thoughts. (Easier said than done right?) But it was a moment of empowerment, a moment I started to make better decisions. I started doing yoga (gaining control over my mind, my body and my breath), I started cooking, washing regularly. I set easy tasks and I completed them. It sounds crazy, but waking up and washing in the morning was an accomplishment. I do believe that this time was the pivotal moment when I decided to be a survivor and not a victim.
As much as I would like to say that the story ends there and I lived happily ever after. This is not true. Healing is a long process, and it takes a lot of work, but it is worth it in the end.
Phase 3: Anger
This was easier for me. For the first time in my life I was not directing all the hurt towards myself. I realised who was to blame, and I was mad. I hated him. I lay in bed, wasting hours, pondering over what I could do to him to really fuck up his world. I made intricate plans, which involved causing the same amount of harm and shame to him as he did to me.
Giving up the hatred.
What I didn’t understand, was that this anger was hatred, and that it was affecting me. It was turning me away from the loving person that I am, and creating a dark world, where pain justified violence. It also took up a fuck load of my precious time. I realised that, yet again, he was controlling my mind. I was obsessing over HIM. And it wasn’t getting me anywhere, and it wasn’t moving me forward. One day I decided to stop. Stop wasting my time with my fantasies of revenge. This doesn’t mean that I suddenly forgave him, and that I wasn’t angry anymore. But it gave me control of who I am as a person, and didn’t let him shape me into the shadow of his monster.
What helped me out of my negative spirals of self-hatred and depression?
1. Counselling has been one of the best tools which I have utilised in this whole process, while it might not be for everyone, talking about things, and getting thoughts out of your spiralling head can be a big help.
2. Telling my friends and my family has taken me in the right direction. I have been lucky enough to have a great network of support behind me, and openness with who I am has helped a great deal. While it may not be easy or possible for some, I really recommend having at least one person you can trust your secret to.
3. Making the decision to be the person that you want to be and admitting that while our pasts shape us, they don’t define who we are.
4. Finding enjoyment in the little things. I still say today that yoga saved me. It gave me little tasks when functioning was difficult and helped me appreciate my body and my self, giving me peace from a mind of endless thoughts. While yoga may not be for everyone, I really think that everyone has that one thing that can bring them into the present moment.
These are not the only phases I have gone through to get to where I am, but it was the first and most difficult hurdle. In this time, I experienced what I later found out was called PTSD. It turned my life upside down. I couldn’t function, sometimes I wouldn’t shower for over a week. I didn’t understand my behaviour, and I cut myself off from everyone in my life, except my housemate. My life is not like that now. I am still going through problems which stem from my rape, and it does affect my life. But today, I fight. I fight and I win. I win to see a future for myself. And while every day may not be perfect, I am focusing on my healing.
I want to make it clear that, if you have been sexually touched or penetrated against your will, or with use of coercion, it is sexual assault. The legal definition of rape and sexual assault may vary from country to country, however my thoughts are that if you have not got the ability to give consent, it is rape. (Below I have provided a link that explains this more clearly)
And I also want to clarify that rape is never the victim’s fault. This is something that I am still trying to grasp fully. Unfortunately due to society’s culture of victim blaming and potentially the rapist’s influence, many survivors can be convinced that it was their fault or that they played a role in causing the even to happen. But rape, is never the victim’s fault.