At first I slept. At least twice a day. I was always in bed by eight o’clock and got out of bed as late as I could. The aim was to go to bed before it got dark and get up well into the morning, that way eliminating any knowledge of the night altogether. After lunch I would nap for at least a few hours. With the assistance of medication, I slept away as much of my time as I possibly could. However, sleeping away time is only possible for a short while, and then only with the assistance of medication. What can be hard to understand, is that it is always there. Trauma is like your skin, it is part of you now, and interferes with every experience you have – internal, the way you think about, remember, imagine, dream and understand the past, the present and the future; and external, the way you experience the world around you and other people. Everything is tainted by this event. Your mind, your body have been rewired. They are no longer the same, they don’t do as you’d wish, they don’t do as they did before, they have been redirected in a way that feels entirely beyond your control.
Ordinary tasks are now incredibly fatiguing. Everyday life, the sorts of things that are just necessary – getting up, getting dressed, eating, bathing, accomplishing tasks, conversing, paying attention – require an effort that seems monumental. At first, it doesn’t make sense. You are confused. Then, as you become familiar with some of the symptoms, and the nature, of post-traumatic stress, it begins to make a little more sense. Post-traumatic stress splits you into several people. There is that person, the surface, the one who is getting up or getting dressed, talking, responding ‘normally’, undertaking that banal action but, simultaneously, there is the new self, the one who has not forgotten that danger is everywhere, the one who knows that appearances are deceptive, the one who is constantly monitoring the situation for any sign of concern, any potential indication of danger. Lastly, there is the traumatised self, the one who hasn’t forgotten what happened, the one who is constantly on the alert not for new danger, but for reminders of that past assault, the one that attempts to be constantly armed against any possible trigger, warding off flashbacks and anything that might evoke the trauma.
Daily life becomes an endurance event, a superhuman feat is getting through a day, lasting the distance. When you then have to contemplate facing the night without knock-out medication, that, too, becomes a trial. To this day, I still dream nightly dreams that are stressful, anxiety-ridden and trauma-linked. I dream much too much and sleep far too little. Even now, many months after the assault, sleep, true rest, is rare. Unable to sleep means unable to concentrate or focus or function efficiently and productively. The further difficulty is, that being exhausted, makes you vulnerable. When you are tired you are less alert, less responsive, less able in all sorts of ways, both physically and mentally. Of course, being less able makes you more susceptible, which makes your watchdog-self stressed about your ability to react in the case of danger and sucks you quickly into a downward spiral of stress, hyper-vigilance and trauma-laced panic. Before you know it, everything around you seems like a warning sign, and your mind is reconstruing everything into flashbacks of the rape.
Just as the earthquake is only the beginning, just as it is inevitably followed by after-effects and further tremors, not to mention rescue, reconstruction and rehabilitation, the original violation is only the beginning of a long series of ordeals, challenges and humiliations, only the entry point for a head-long fall into a haunting, unknowable and unpredictable world that is unimaginable to the uninitiated. Rape isn’t really an event, an occurrence, even if it only happens once, rather it is an altered reality, a brand new world and a brand new self that are forced upon you under circumstances you’d never agree to. Surviving rape requires learning this new world and this new self and submitting to a slow process of reentering life from the beginning, letting go of what you had and starting over, never knowing if another tremor is just around the corner.