I think I was excited, nervous. Was it by now I’d told him though that I thought we could be friends, but nothing more? How much had I had to drink at this point? To calm the nerves, to feel more comfortable around a man who seemed to like me more than I liked him?
What is the story of that night 8 years ago?
I know what my version of the story was. It was full of holes, memory lapses, some parts put together when I was forced to remember at the police station a month later; some parts put together over the years, the panic attacks that gave clues, the nightmares that had pieces of what might be truth in them. Some parts were put together in the therapist’s lounge, and later the psychiatrist’s office. These were my stories of the facts of what happened, things that were done to me, to my body.
They were different facts to those the CPS chose to believe when it was shown pictures I’ve never seen. But they were, are, the facts that happened to me in my version of the story of what happened to me.
And then there was the story in my head.
It’s changed a lot in the 8 years since, the story in my head today is a far different story to the story in my head 8 years ago tomorrow, or 7 years ago, or 6, or 5… 8 years ago tomorrow my story was that nothing bad had happened, I was mistaken, I had dreamed it. But the bruises, welts and physical pain soon made me realise that story wasn’t the truth, even if I wanted it to be. I remember it was several days until I used the word rape. Even then I was blasé about it; telling people just made it into a bad film I’d seen, once, right? Wrong.
The story in my head then became one of victim and blame.
Something terrible had happened to me and I was duty-bound to feel bad about it.
I was allowed to act out about it, I’d been through hell, it didn’t much matter how I chose to live life since I didn’t want to live life. It was my fault, I’d drunk too much, my behavior had made me a target, I was worthless and it was what I deserved. So, my story became one of screwing around, drinking, drugs, playing Russian roulette with the life I didn’t want anymore.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time & energy challenging that story, as well as wallowing in it. There followed the period where I pretended I was fine with no fall-out from the trauma, sinking myself into my job and career, clinging onto that as the symbol of my worth, my reason to live, working 12 hour days 7 days a week. Which of course led to breakdown. And so I had to spend more time & energy challenging that story. And the story changed again, to one of surviving and survival.
The version of the story where I am a survivor, not a victim, is one that has been ruling me for some time. Scrambling up from the abyss. Fighting to get better, walking into the psychiatrist’s office and consciously counter-intuitively choosing to go back to that night, being brave and taking the prescribed medicine of EMDR to get to the other side. Then, ‘in remission’, frustrated that my body was still letting me down, fighting to get that better too, frustrated that my head still didn’t feel properly better, still dragged down by the black dog, frustrated, fighting, fighting all the time, to survive. Always with plan B in my pocket.
That’s something I’ve clung onto, like it’s my savior, not my ending. 8 years ago, I almost died. There is a moment that’s now very real to me, that emerged during one of those psychiatrist hell sessions. He pushed my face down into the bed, I couldn’t breathe. That is the moment I gave up fighting and froze. I do believe that if I hadn’t frozen, if I had tried to keep fighting, I would have died. That was the moment I felt the air go, and myself go limp; I think there was less than seconds in it. That moment defined my response to the trauma for years. And every time the pain of living got too much I wished I had died. I’ve never been honest, even with myself, about how close I came to that, how often.
I think, finally, at 8 years after, and all the time (and energy) I’ve put into my recovery, I think I am getting there. It does get better. I haven’t wallowed in self-pity for a while. I haven’t had a panic attack or night terrors in almost two years. I’m in control of my choices.
I don’t know what the future holds, but it doesn’t scare me like it did.
And I can look at the past and see that a bad man did a bad thing but he didn’t kill me and I haven’t let what he did kill me since. He might not have received any punishment beyond a police cell for a morning, and a police grilling for an afternoon, maybe some uncertainty for the few weeks after, but he didn’t win.
I won. Because I’m still here.
People talk about there coming a time when you can be grateful for the bad shit that’s happened to you. I’m not grateful. But I do know that I am a stronger person than I ever before gave myself credit for. I have emerged stronger than I was (and let’s not here go into what kind of a shell of a person I was after I left my egg-shell marriage). I am more than a survivor. Surviving hurts. To feel like you’re surviving, you feel like you’re scrambling, hustling, fighting. I see the future and I’m not surviving, Instead, I am blossoming, there is peace, there is calm, there is joy. That’s my new story.
And of course, none of these stories are linear.
Recovery isn’t a straight line. Sometimes I still get pulled into one of the old scripts, the old film, before I realise I’m not there anymore, I don’t need to be there anymore.
And I am grateful that I’ve read those scripts, rejected them, started again, and again. This new version of my story is one where I can use what I’ve learnt to help others short-cut their old scripts too. To paraphrase one of my idols, Brene Brown:
I have rumbled with my story, I have recognized my truth of what happened, and I have defied the ending; I am now choosing how my story continues, not ends.
It does get better.
IT GETS BETTER
My story of life after rape
When every day is a fight for survival, it’s hard to believe that things can actually get better.
Hope is a very powerful drug; we need more of it to bolster our recoveries.
My hope is that my personal story will give you hope, that your life will get better too.
Take the first step