Realizing you’ve been assaulted isn’t always easy
I sat in my therapist’s office on a spring Tuesday afternoon. As we did biweekly, we were discussing an abusive relationship I had endured. There was something I had blocked out for a long time; this relationship started with rape.
He and I had been good friends for just over a year. On a warm summer day in August, we decided to stay in my cool air-conditioned apartment and have a few drinks together. I was having a great time! Until suddenly, I was a lot more drunk than he was. More drunk than I had ever been before. For the first time in my life, I blacked out. When I came to he was gone and I was naked and bleeding.
Anytime I had envisioned rape I pictured a masked stranger in a back ally with a knife in his hand. However according to RAINN, eight out of every ten assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
I stared at my phone while mustering the courage to text him what had happened. I felt frozen until his response came in. “We were both drunk and you wanted it.” My mind chose to believe his version of events because at the time I was not in a safe space to process what had happened to me.
We entered into a relationship that was heavily based in sex and continued on and off for a few years. I held the belief that if we were romantically involved and if I had enough sex with him consensually, it would erase what happened to me, or make it real that I wanted it all along. Realistically all it did was make me feel shame in telling anyone. “Who would sleep with their rapist?” Through therapy, I learned this is very common, many women stay in contact with their abusers and rapists. If you look at victims in the Harvey Weinstein case, actress and director Asia Argento was in a relationship with him for years after he sexually assaulted her.
I chatted about all of this with my therapist and suddenly felt my eyes welling up with tears and my face growing hot. Something in this session made it click that, despite how much my brain tried to convince me otherwise, I was raped by someone I trusted. I was raped even if I did start the encounter while drugged, I was raped even if we had sex after, and most importantly I was still valid in my anger. My actions were to protect myself and were more common than I ever realized. Finally, I knew I wasn’t alone. However, when getting home that night and looking in the mirror I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. My body didn’t feel like my own. Sitting in scolding hot water trying to wash it all away just caused me more pain. Would I ever feel like my body was mine again?
How to reclaim your body and power
As my therapist stated, people cannot take what was not given to them. You are not what happened to you, and your body is yours and yours alone. You can choose to share it with others, but you will always belong to yourself. So what do you do if someone takes that feeling from you? There are multiple ways to reclaim your power.
Find a safe space where you can talk about what happened.
A trusted friend or family member is a good start. Therapy is a great way to work through the complex emotions that come with an assault. A therapist who specializes in trauma is ideal, and EMDR, which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, is a well-known type of therapy that is effective in working through past traumatic events.
Do something you love with your body!
Go dancing, take a warm bath with your favorite bath bomb, or do your favorite form of exercise and be proud of how strong your body is.
Surround yourself with people who make you feel loved and cared for.
The more you surround yourself with them, the more you will feel you are worthy of love and respect.
Getting involved in your community is a great way to connect with others while connecting with yourself.
Consider a volunteer organization like Soroptimist, where you can meet like-minded women and work together to help women and girls achieve their dreams. Through empowering yourself and empowering others, the power you felt an abuser had over you will fade.
The most important thing of all is remembering to be patient with yourself.
You have always been worthy of the love you are working towards giving yourself. The power you have has always been there, you just need to be able to feel it.
Taylor Garner is an aspiring writer based in Ohio. She is passionate about helping women find themselves again after abusive relationships and traumatic events such as sexual assault.