Three days after I was raped, I called a friend. She had been a volunteer at a rape counseling center and I thought she would be good to call. She didn’t come to give me a hug. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to put her out. I didn’t want to know what would happen if I was held. I didn’t want to know what would happen if she said no. I needed a rote task. I needed someone to tell me what to do. I could not abide whatever was happening in my body. I did not want it. Nothing fit together. My small sentences sounded like they were coming out of another person’s mouth. I’d been severed from my body and the body of the world.
The friend made me an appointment at the counseling center and told me to go there.
I pulled down my skirt to show the counselor my blackened pelvis and told her how it hurt when I sat down. I gave her some small sentences so that she would give me sense. I expected that transaction from this stranger. I wanted her to hold what I could not. What happened? I don’t remember. I woke up in the next town over and two men were still asleep. Can you tell me what happened to my body? Can you tell me what comes next? Today is the last day you can get a kit done. You will not have to press charges if you choose not to. We will not report this to the police unless you want to. Do this today and you will have time to decide what is right for you.
I was traumatized and ungrounded. I had an urge to feel safe when I didn’t. This urge is the true source of danger.
No one can give me safety when I am out of trust. Turning away from the reality of the moment and throwing it at someone else to hold like a ragged hot potato was very expensive. It took me six years to pay it off.
We drove an hour to a place in her car. The one where these things usually happened was closed today, so we were going to the one where they did rape kits for children. Kit is an imprecise word here. It is a forensic exam. When I left, they gave me a blanket and a small teddy bear wearing a tshirt with the name of the hospital. My dog didn’t want it, even after I took off the tshirt, so it went to Goodwill. The rage about the teddy bear came long after it was gone.
“I’m a state-mandated reporter, I have to report this to the police.”
This is what the forensic nurse said while holding the kind of camera I’d only seen on Law and Order before. She’d been taking pictures of my pelvis, which was too damaged to allow me a choice. My body wasn’t mine now, was what she meant. It was a crime scene. My panties went into an evidence bag and the nurse left the room. I lay on the exam table naked from the waist down, with my legs still in the stirrups and I shattered.
“You were supposed to protect me.” I sobbed. Big sobs. Old sobs. Deep sobs. The rape counselor was on the other side of the curtain, so I said it to the fluorescent lights.
“I’m so sorry.” She said, this stranger I gave my trust to, because of her job.
Because I was severed from my body.
It didn’t even occur to me to get off the table and take my panties back out of the evidence bag and leave.
It didn’t occur to me that I could determine that this was my body again and not a crime scene.
It did not occur to me because I was severed from my body.
I can’t set boundaries when I’m not in my body.
And I was told to think of the others. The possible future victims. It was for the greater good. I felt the lead cloak drop. I stopped crying. I felt nothing. I took the rape counselor out for Pho and made jokes. My treat. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. People watching would have thought we were pals. Doubling down on this-never-happened. Preserving that murderous self.
I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a trauma response and a real-time no for a very long time.
I didn’t tell anyone else for a year. That didn’t go well. It was beyond the capacity of the person I told. They hung up on me. I deepened into the story of how broken I was: I will never be fixed. I will never be loved. I am barely human. Again I found myself sobbing, “You were supposed to protect me.”
I didn’t talk about it again for two more years. Doubling down on separation. Doubling down on I don’t belong. My mind lapped it right up because it meant we could keep doing what we were doing. Nothing would have to change.
The rape happened in year six of an eight-year dark night of the soul. That’s a lot of nights. That’s a lot of lost years. It precipitated a descent into alcoholism, depression, an extended period of living in my car, and overwhelming urge to be as dead outside as I felt inside.
I had fallen for my mind exclusively. No one else was welcome, not even my body. My mind and I were completely enmeshed. There were no boundaries. It was a self-centered and joyless coupling and the sex was non-existent. My mind was very controlling. Abusive and prone to gaslighting. I needed my body back–but my mind had me drinking to blackout from morning till night to numb the call.
Fresh from a rare shower, bloated and sad, with eyeliner I scrawled across the bathroom mirror that quote from Rumi, “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?” A part of me knew. A part of all of us always does.
I realized that no one was coming to save me. I realized that no one could save me. I realized that my mind was an abusive asshole.
I could just stop. This could just stop. This could stop right now. None of the things I’m afraid of are happening. Not even one. What if I have everything I want right now? What if this squandering is all I want because it means I never have to be seen again? Never have to be responsible for my life?
I think of these as uh-oh moments rather than ah-ha moments, because let’s face it, do any of us really delight at the thought of all the change and uncertainty that just became totally f*cking inevitable?
I mean, that nude and bloated moment was my uh-oh, but I was on my way into an afternoon blackout, so it was another 5 months before I really let it all the way in and decided I wanted to live. That meant having no idea who I would become because everything I’d already been was dead beyond your wildest necromancy.
That meant uncertainty and her sidekick existential dread and I were about to get real intimate. I was going to have to let myself be loved by others when I couldn’t love myself. I was going to have to let myself be seen. Not just regular seen, but seen by whole rooms full of strangers while in sloppy cycles of rage and grief. I was going to have to get down on my knees and atone for shitting all over life like that. For rejecting my body so violently. For trying to kill it with vodka. For declaring so much war.
I was going to have to belong to my own body and the body of the world again, as was my birthright all along. No one took that from me. I gave it away because I did not want the responsibility for what I’d been given to hold. Until I did. Until I loved those gifts so well it felt like Christmas morning.
I tell you this because metabolization is not complete until what has nourished me comes back out as nourishment for others. When I have fully opened it, it becomes my gift to give. I have fully opened the gifts of that time.
One of the greatest gifts of my lifetime has been restoring my body to full trust, full eros, after rape. I crawled through mud and fire for as long as I needed to, according to my very stubborn nature and for as long as I needed to stay deluded about the relationship between responsibility and freedom. Which was almost exactly eight years. My mind has been through a whole lot of training since then and like a good companion, it shits outside and sits nicely. It’s quite a lot of fun, really. Ever-curious and always up for a caper.
I want to be very clear here that I don’t blame myself in any of this. I don’t blame anyone in any of these events (anymore). This is my path and I feel very tenderly responsible for walking it, even for the times I crawled it. The seeds of compassion were planted in this loam. Somehow, they sprouted.
That’s why I can and feel I should write about it and share it with you.
There was so much shame in me for so long that drew in new relationships that led to new trauma that confirmed and calcified the old. I had to fully embody the whole cycle of trauma and retraumatization by bringing in so much of what confirmed the story I was carrying about myself until it became clear that it was false. I don’t see those years as lost anymore. I see them as training.
“You were supposed to protect me.”
This phrase is the seed of so much trauma and retraumatization. And the slow hissing leak of life force that victim identity brings. When that is lovingly witnessed, first by myself and then by another loving human who does not try to fix what is not broken, my trust is restored. When I move out of trust and expect safety to come from outside first—when I ask to be rescued–I move away from freedom. When my trust in myself and in all-that-is is primary, I know when I am safe. I trust when I am not safe. I trust myself to set and hold a boundary that will move me away from what will harm me and toward being fully alive. I trust others because I trust myself first. I trust my embodied intuition. There is no other kind.
Violence is carried in our own minds and ripples out. It severs us from our bodies and the body of the world.
Peace is carried by our own bodies and ripples out. It grounds us in our own bodies and the body of the world.
Releasing suffering is intimate work, no matter how vast the need for it looks from a distance. Whether it’s war, rape, or the grinding poverty of a working family who has to chose between gas and food now–how we meet and metabolize it matters. How we witness it in our neighbors and around the globe, matters.
We are all in this together, with every breath, every sound, every beat of our very messy human hearts.