"But it couldn’t have been rape."
My words. Three years ago. Nestled in the elbow of a psychiatrist’s office, picking my cuticles until they bled in ruby droplets across the skin of ragged Kleenex. My psychiatrist’s face: mournful and incredulous, speaking with his eyes.
"But it WAS rape, Lauren," he told me, his own tone growing defensive like a lawyer trying to sway a case in his favor. A deafening shrieking in my ears like an overbearing locomotive rushing overhead. Suddenly every piece of this pained psychological puzzle fell into place. It all made sense.
I tasted the stains of my own denial on my lips.
How many times have we, as survivors of rape, in the midst of our endless healing, spoken these words in a mantra, in a repetitive, endless cycle, twisting the painful shrapnel shards of our thoughts into splinters of self doubt?
"I feel like a liar," every girl says, her hands folded neatly in her lap, eyes downward like a failed exhibit at show and tell. Everyday. We cover our faces. We feel dirty.
Everyday we tear down our rights to survivorship with the brevity of these words sprinkled like bullets in our psyches.
I hope these words can serve as encouragement and validation for other survivors out there struggling with this commonplace phenomenon of believing one’s experience was not “bad” enough to merit treatment or care or attention. “It couldn’t have been as awful as we think,” we tell ourselves time and time again.
All of us…who were raped. Violently. By strangers, by relatives, by friends. While we were walking, or talking, or sleeping, or drinking.
We constantly dwell there in that spot of self deprecation and doubt. That nagging, insidious guilt gnawing at the back of our minds. “But what if what happened to me wasn’t REALLY bad?”
It is a natural consequence of trauma, one of my therapists explained, to talk ourselves out of our feelings. To try to convince our poor, battered, broken minds that what we went through wasn’t a complete violation of our bodies and brains. Understandable, but self traitorous. Torturously subjecting ourselves to those haunting images laced with the masochistic pain of, “I must be lying.”
But we are all there, we have all been there. I went through a phase where I was so insecure about my own rape that I didn’t even want to speak about it aloud.
I didn’t tell anyone what happened for two years. I kept it to myself. I let it eat away at me until I broke into a million little pieces.
I feared the judgments of treaters because I was so uncertain of my own past. I was terrified someone might invalidate me horribly and I would end up suicidal, self harming, etc. I chose my words with painstaking care in therapy, horrified at the prospect that my therapist might disbelieve me, might doubt me. To a rape victim, being told an experience is insignificant or unimportant or imaginary can leave deeply damaging wounds far greater than any previous trauma.
I know all of you reading this can understand these words so well.
All rape victims feel like fabricators at some point.
"I AM A TERRIBLE, DECEIVER AND I AM WASTING INSURANCE MONEY ON THERAPY AND I SHOULD JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP AND I NEED TO GET OVER THIS BECAUSE IT WASN’T BAD AND I SUCK AT LIFE AND WHY DOES THIS STILL BOTHER ME IF IT WASN’T BAD GOD I’M SUCH A HORRIBLE HUMAN BEING."
We have all grappled with or continue to grapple with this sense that what we went through pales in comparison to the “REAL” rapes of others. We hide our pain in compartmentalized shells. We lock our words away for safekeeping. “I was….assaulted?” we offer, sparingly, in intakes to psych units when asked of trauma histories. No mention of graphics or details or skin on bone. No references to slapping or beating. Nothing.
"Something bad happened to me," I presented it the first time I ever spoke of it in the quiet lull of a downtown psychiatrist’s office, the air conditioner humming, drowning out the roaring of my thoughts. I had to push past my own constraints in order to open up, to share enough of my experience that I could know it was rape. That I could be validated.
But so much of moving past this point is learning the art of self acceptance. It is being able to own your own trauma and label it. I spent years stuck in this one spot of focusing so much on labeling my trauma as rape and EARNING my right as a survivor that I hardly ever even worked on the actual healing from it. Labels can be drowning. Damning even.
"WAS THIS ACTUALLY BAD?" I sputtered out every therapy session like a leaky gutter. I would regurgitate the details and receive nods all around. It took hearing the validation of professionals in order for me to realize the reality of what happened to me.
But if you are EVER in doubt about whether or not your trauma was “bad,” look around you. Look at the wreckage. Look at the scars littering your arms. The collection of pill bottles accumulating in your cabinets. Look at the years of your life lost to treatment centers and psych units rotting on linoleum floors. The damage is real. Pain doesn’t need a name or a legal definition in order to be valid. It doesn’t matter what one person views as traumatic. If something is trauma to YOU, that is all that counts.
You aren’t a liar. You are a good person. Trauma causes severe distortions which make you feel as though EVERYTHING is somehow your fault. Where you were standing, what you said. Our brains do not want us to feel as though we were helpless, so they mask the severity of our former situations by convincing us they weren’t that severe. We feel as though we had more control than we did. Everything becomes sugarcoated and rainbow sprinkled and the wilderness of our attacks become paper tigers.
I was raped at age 19. It was violent. It was a textbook rape. Ugly and scarring, but it never gets any easier to accept what happened as “bad” no matter how clear cut the rape is. My experience was very black and white: I resisted; the hitting, the kicking, the biting, the violence, the photography, the fucking, the holding captive. And my therapist will use words like “horrific” and “disturbing” and “sick” and “twisted” and I’m sitting there like, “WELL IT WASN’T THAT BAD!!!”
But it was bad. Very bad. A VIOLENT RAPE. And I know that now.
It took me nearly two years of talking before I could say the words, “I WAS RAPED” all together without a break or a gasp for air. It still feels awkward. I still feel undeserving of being a survivor, but in the bottom of my heart, I know that I am.
It takes time to dig through those layers of self doubt. You need to claim your past. You need to own it. If you tear yourself to pieces over labels, you’ll never survive the grueling process of the recovery. Titles don’t matter. What matters is that you were hurt and at the end of the day, “rape” is just a word but you are a human being who deserves to be happy.
You are not a liar. You are beautiful. I was raped. You were raped.
And you’re going to be just fine.