Today marks the 10 year anniversary since I was raped. I became so fixated with this date, 7th of May I began to call it my “rape-aversary”. Usually I would spend the day crying, smoking and drinking, filled with the memories of the rape. This year I’ve decided to claim it back and take ownership of it.
I’m not an open person. I don’t like to talk about my feelings and things going on in my life. Yet this is important to me. Being raped has taken 10 years of my life and I won’t let it take any more. I no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed by it. I don’t feel the need to hide from it any more. I’m stronger than that now.
Before you continue reading I just have to warn you that this post may contain some content that may act as a trigger for some but I want to be open about everything, not only as a means of closure on a personal level but also in the hopes that somebody somewhere can find solace in my journey.
I was 16 when I was raped by a man I’d known 6 short weeks. He was older than me and told me that he loved me. One day at his friends place he became angry at me asking why I wouldn’t have sex with him, accusing me of having sex elsewhere with other men. I tried to leave; I told him “I don’t want to stay here when you’re this angry”. He wouldn’t let me leave. He forced me to the floor, undressed me, held my hands over my head and pushed himself into me. I told him “no, please stop, please don’t do this.” But he continued anyway, pushing himself further into me whilst I covered my eyes with my hands. He finished and left to get a towel and tears streamed uncontrollably down my face. He apologised to me, told me he was sorry and that he hadn’t wanted to do that. I couldn’t even look at him. I dressed and left.
In the aftermath of the rape I told a few close friends and tried to carry on normally. I sat my G.C.S.E’s a few weeks later and remember freezing in my history exam, caught in a vivid flashback. I couldn’t focus but I told myself to keep writing because if I got up and left it would bring me unwanted attention and questions that I wasn’t ready to answer, so instead I sat through the rest of the exam and managed to put words on my page. At that time I lied to everyone. I told everyone I was ok when really I was broken inside. I could barely function; I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so consumed and alone. I couldn’t open up enough to let anyone in and talk about it. I couldn’t show my weaknesses. I didn’t want to be left vulnerable again. I have a few close friends who throughout the years have supported me, but I became afraid that I would bore them if I kept going to them with the same problems and issues that I couldn’t overcome. I told my family, and any time I reached out to them they tried to help, tried to understand but I couldn’t let them in. I know I was difficult; they walked on eggshells around me not knowing how I would react.
2012 was my lowest point, I was severely depressed, drinking heavily to the point I stopped going to lectures at university so I could stay home and drink. I even used to do a shot of vodka before leaving for work just to calm the anxiety and make me feel ‘normal’. I had suicidal thoughts in my head constantly as I didn’t think I could do it anymore, live a life where I was constantly feeling down, crying, self harming and hiding my true emotions. I didn’t believe there was a light on the other side. I would spend hours planning the letters in my mind that I would leave for my family and friends apologising for what I had done. One day I tied my vacuum’s cable through the banister on my stairs and tied it around my neck but the thought of my family coming home to find me stopped me from taking that final step. I ended up calling my best friend, who has been my rock throughout everything. He told me “wait there I’ll be there in a few hours whilst I run and catch a train from London”. I told him no, the mask went back on and I went to work instead as if nothing had happened. This was my lowest point and throughout the following few years whenever I went through my lows I always worried that I would reach this stage again.
I’d been seeing a rape counsellor for some time at this point and through counselling I could explore my feelings and issues. It was this time which allowed me to reflect. I was scared. I kept telling my counsellor I wanted to change, I wanted to be ok but I didn’t know how to. Change scared me as being a rape victim was all I knew. I felt as if the rape has stripped me of my identity and the only thing that defined me was the rape itself. It took over my life. It influenced what I did, what I said, how I felt. I went through times where I felt guilty for being happy. My counsellor helped me to reach a point where I was able to admit that being raped was not my fault. This was a huge step in my recovery as the burden of guilt had held me back for years. By blaming myself I thought the rape made sense. It had some kind of reason behind it. I should have fought back, I shouldn’t have been there in the first place, he was an older man and I should have known better. Allowing myself to admit that I wasn’t to blame allowed me a mental release and I was able to focus on who I wanted to become, not who I thought I was.
I read many books, self memoirs of rape survivors. One particular book, Lucky stood out to me. Apparently the woman, Alice Seabold was ‘lucky’ it wasn’t any worse. Worse to whom, to what? What can you compare it to? In this way I counted myself lucky that my rape wasn’t particularly violent, that I didn’t fall pregnant as a result or suffer any sexually transmitted diseases. The scars that remained were mental not physical. But it’s not really lucky. It’s just the small glimmer of an upside from a terrible situation. One line from this book particularly stuck with me. “Save yourself or you remain unsaved”. The truth in these words is so real. Had I not wanted to deal with the rape, to accept it as part of my life and to begin to overcome it I would still be in that same downhill spiral I was travelling in. I saved myself. I told myself I needed to deal with these issues. I had to counter them head on and make them real. I had to talk about them in counselling. I had to write about them in my many journals and I had to be honest with myself about how I felt. For so long I tried to bury these feelings and to ignore them. I thought it was easier this way, I thought I could. But in reality by shutting this all out was just letting it fester. My counsellor always said to me that emotions have a way of seeping through in other ways. It was like a box. If I put the lid on it then everything else would creep through the sides. As sceptical as ever, I told her that mine was Pandora’s box and once opened there would be trouble for all but I knew she was right. I had to save myself.
After my rape I believed that my rapist took so much from me. He took both my trust and my ability to trust, my confidence, my belief in men and my self-worth. I needed to take these things back. Slowly and over a long period of time I began to rebuild these things. I still find it hard to do. I still find it hard to trust, and I’m doubtful about any man’s interest in me, however innocent it may be. I still struggle when I’m in a room alone with a man and prefer the door to be open just for my own sense of security. I still hate to be touched yet when I tell people it’s seemingly an open invitation to hug me or jokingly touch me but it still makes me feel uncomfortable, sometimes dirty. Now though, I feel I have greater power over all these things. I reason with myself about the likelihood of danger in any given situation, and I am continuously working on my confidence and trust. I could only use the rape as an excuse for so long before admitting that it’s me holding myself back and realising that I needed to make changes for my own progress.
It’s been 10 years. Sometimes I didn’t think I would get this far. Sometimes I wanted to give up. The years have been a struggle but here I am. This is the other side and it’s just the beginning. I no longer feel like a victim, or vulnerable, or trapped. I was raped but this is not who I am. I’m still anxious and withdrawn, doubt myself; question my abilities and self worth. It’s a work in progress but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I often wonder who I would be if I wasn’t raped but truthfully it doesn’t matter, I am who I am now. I have overcome and I will continue to do so. I’m Jennifer, Jenny, Jens. I am strong, independent, powerful and resilient. I love to laugh, and joke about, to be a little weird and crazy. I’m a friendly, caring, passionate and loving woman. I am me. I can be me. Just me.
I won’t ever forget the rape and I can’t say it still doesn’t affect me but it not all of me. Finishing counselling was a challenge in itself as I didn’t know if I could stand on my own two feet without falling but I have. A year and a half later and I’m still here. I didn’t fall or regress. In fact I progressed even more on a personal level, creating deeper friendships and relationships, being more open and generally trying to live life without the rape hanging over my head. I once read the quote in a book “no man steps in the same river twice for it is not the same river and he is not the same man”. This resounded with me so much; I am not the person I was. I’m better, I’m stronger. This year – ten years later. I am not a victim. I am not my rape. Rape does not define me.