I should be surrounded by candles and soft music but I’m not and have I no intention to be. I’m doing what I always do, watching a favourite TV show that makes me smile and drinking a cup of tea. The light is bright because I don’t want to sit in the dark. I don’t need to sit in the dark anymore. I’ve sat in the dark for a long, long time and it’s suffocating, it’s toxic and consuming. I have no reason to sit in the dark about this. I have nothing to hide there. I have nothing to shy away from. I have nothing to bury.
So, let’s get this out of the way right now; I was raped. Whoa, hang on a second, I know I should be a little less blunt but it’s only a word and the word doesn’t scare me anymore, it shouldn’t scare you to read it. It’s a fact and I can’t change it. It’s a fact for millions of other people. Not saying rape doesn’t stop people being raped so why not take some of the power back from that word. Why not stop using it to scare and subdue? Why not stop using it to oppress those who have already be oppressed by the actions of another human being. I am not proud of it, but I have absolutely no reason to be ashamed of it.
For the longest time, I wouldn’t use the word, but that didn’t change a fucking thing about what had happened and instead I was locked up tighter than ever, scared to say the wrong thing, to name the wrong thing. What does rape mean, then? It’s pretty simple, despite the legalities of the word and its subsequent punishments throughout the world, on a human and emotional level it all means the same thing – if you have (any kind of) sex, under (any influence of alcohol or drugs, perceived or actual threat) by anyone you don’t want then it is rape. That’s all the word means. You had sexual contact with someone you didn’t want to have sexual contact with. Pretty simple, right?
For years I tore myself apart over the word, I analyzed it constantly, I checked legal dictionary against English dictionary, story against story, myth after myth and fact after fact. Many years later, I am able to say it – I was raped.
But what does it really mean? What does it really mean to me? On the one hand, quite a lot, on the other hand, not very much.
I was already seventeen and fucked up. I already had an eating disorder and I already ‘dabbled’ in self-harming. I was depressed and drank too much. Did it change any of that? No. Did it make any of that worse? Yes. Would I have still been so mentally ill if I’d never been raped? I think so. I had always hated my body; this was just another reason to attack it. I had already harmed by body, this was just another reason to keep doing it. I was already sad, it just made me sadder.
The things it did change didn’t change for a long time; it was years before I had identifiable ‘symptoms’ of any kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t have an obvious mental breakdown as a result of it, although I am sure that it what people expect. For the most part, I lived my life with mental illness, and it was hard, but the rape wasn’t something I connected to and it wasn’t something that day to day upset me so much.
When it did finally hit me, it was ugly and horrific and I was very, very ill for a few years. I was in hospitals, in psych wards, in emergency departments, I did the ‘crazy rounds’ and I lost myself in sickness. I became the girl in casualty that the doctors knew by name and then, when the internal storm broke through the numerous stitches in my arm, I became the girl who got raped.
I have had to break through that, though, and become myself again. It has been hard, and I don’t know if I am out of the other side yet.
I had to go back into the past and reclaim that night. I had to go back and feel, and be there, and go through it again (and again and again) until I was finally able to say, ‘there is nothing I could have done differently and nothing I could have done to prevent it’. This was one of the hardest things, because I had a list of all the things I thought I could have changed if I’d only been ‘less stupid’ at the time. I have had to learn to say;
‘I cannot go back and make myself sober’ and eventually to say that it doesn’t matter if I was sober or not, being drunk does not make it okay or my fault, because everyone gets drunk (especially when they are seventeen) and yet not every drunk person gets raped. Therefore, the only thing I did wrong was to get drunk around a rapist, and how the Hell do you know what a rapist is or looks like (because believe me, they do not look like the monsters you see on television and glaring from newspapers)
I have had to learn to say;
‘I cannot go back and lock the bedroom door’ because most people don’t have locks and their bedroom doors and they definitely don’t expect to be in trouble in a house surrounded by people they know. Locking the door would have made no difference because if someone had knocked, I would have opened it anyway, and then I’d be sitting here writing exactly the same thing about how I should have known not to open the door.
Have you noticed the circles yet? All your thoughts become circles, endless cycles of ‘I should have’ or ‘I shouldn’t have’. You get so tired of the sound of your own voice in your head constantly arguing and yelling, and sometimes other people are yelling at you, out of newspapers or films, and your head is comparing and feeling guilty and vile and disgusting and like you will never have a day free from it for the rest of your life.
That is all bullshit.
I have had to learn to say, quietly, then louder, and then louder again – IT WAS NOT MY FAULT. I have had to learn to not just say it, but to mean it and believe it with every bone in my body and it rips away at your skin and it can be a constant fight for power between affirmation and self-blame and it is exhausting but you have to keep at it, you have to keep saying – IT WAS NOT MY FAULT.
Ever since I started to reclaim that night, ever since I have started to be kinder to myself, to accept that I wasn’t perfect, but that it was still the responsibility and choice of another person to rape me, ever since I accepted my faults that night and forgave myself in spite of them, I have regained the power that I thought I lost. The power in the words I chose to talk about it with, the power of blaming another for their own actions, and not hating yourself for your own, and above all else, the power to say, this happened to me, and it was awful, and my life was shit for a long time because of it BUT I am NOT what HAPPENED to me, I am not the girl who got raped, or a victim of rape or even a survivor of it.
I am just me.