The rape and then the trauma of the subsequent choices I had to make as a result of being raped haunted me for years. I found that although my body healed, my thought process and my inner core were deeply damaged. Because I blamed myself, I hated myself. I became a severe alcoholic, drinking seven days a week to numb myself.
I had a job that I should have been fired from because I would show up late and sleep on the couch in the restroom during my lunch hour. Bill collectors called me non-stop. My relationships with men were abusive.
I was terrified to sleep alone at night, had horrible nightmares and finally resorted to sleeping with a baseball bat, a butcher knife and a cordless phone because of the fear that it would happen again. This act that had ended years and years ago continued to torture me every minute, every hour, every day of my life.
It wasn’t until I was married and then pregnant with my son that I became sober and started counseling. I was 31 years old, and it had been 12 years since I was raped. In my first session, I ran to the window and tried to physically open it because I felt like all the oxygen had left the room. I truly could not breathe. I stayed with it, but the pain of uncovering these old wounds was mentally and emotionally traumatizing.
Because I stopped using alcohol to soothe the pain, I chose food as an addiction. My weight fluctuated constantly until I stopped eating at one point altogether. My counselor told me if I didn’t start eating I would be put in 30-day treatment facility. I remember days of physically forcing myself to eat one slice of cantaloupe, because I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from my son. I would eat not for me, but for him.
That’s how psychologically devastating rape can be. Rape takes away your sense of self. You disappear. In order to survive, you don’t exist in your mind. It is too painful to see yourself through the pain, through the action that has taken place. Your body is your canvas, the picture you show to the world. And if someone has violated your personal canvas, how do you remove that image in your mind? You become disconnected from your body and are convinced that nothing will ever erase the marks that are left behind. Nothing.
Having my son forced me to take care of myself. I had someone I loved so much who needed me, I had to get better. I worked extremely hard to get the help I should have gotten for that beautiful, innocent teenager all those years ago.
Because of what happened to me and how deeply affected I was by the entire experience, today I am a rape survivor, not a rape victim. There are so many more places available to address issues similar to mine than there were 30 years ago, including many community-based rape crisis centers. No one should ever have to suffer in silence.
I currently am a high school youth leader and I conduct retreats for women and teenage girls on self-empowerment, teaching a sense of belief in and love for yourself, and how to make healthy choices despite your circumstances in life.
I’ve come forward with my story after so many years — and am now an advocate for ending abuse and violence against women and girls — because the psychological damage caused by rape takes its toll unless women seek immediate help. To reclaim their lives and become rape survivors, rape victims need to realize that they are not to blame The negative thoughts of self-destruction that follow rape or sexual abuse are so detrimental that it is imperative that some form of healing begin immediately.
We need to remember our beautiful canvas is ours and ours alone. Nothing or no one ever can — or ever will — be able to alter your inner core, your center of purity, wholeness and beauty. Only we have the power to continually wipe it clean and begin again.
And we must believe that, indeed, we are important enough to begin again.