I wish there were a neat way to end this. I wish I could say ‘and then it got better’ or ‘and then it all went away’ or ‘and then she lived happily ever after’. But it’s not like that. It goes on. It eases at times but then, just when you least expect it, there it is again, taking over your life, telling you what you can and cannot do, reminding you of your fragility, your vulnerability, your helplessness. There are still often days when I cannot accept what has happened to me. When it is plainly too much to take in, when it is quite simply impossible to believe. More often than not, I try to push away the knowledge of rape. I try to distance myself from the heartbreak and distress of my own, and all, sexual assault. I don’t want to acknowledge that I live in a world where 1 in 5 women will be the victim of rape. But I no longer have any choice. The horror and terror of sexual violence are now my intimate partner. I will go through life hand-in-hand with this knowledge and all that it means.
Each of the impacts lies permanently coiled within me. Their potential to stir at any time and strike out at me, sinking their fangs into my flesh and reinjecting their poison into my bloodstream, well, it’s never far from my mind. From one day to the next, sometimes from one minute to the next, I can experience them all, rushing one upon the heels of another, grief morphing into anger or shock merging into shame or terror transforming into disgust. I never know what’s around the corner, what may be laying in wait for me, and, even though I’ve been through it so many times before, I can never be prepared for it. The knowledge of rape always comes as a shock. Each time I am confronted by the facts of what happened to me, by the memory of what happened to me or merely by the vaguest awareness of what happened to me, I am stupefied and horrified anew.
Some days I cannot stop crying. Some nights I cannot close my eyes, half for fear of what may happen to me should I dare to fall asleep and half for fear of what will be lurking in my dreams. Sometimes I cannot seem to steady my breath, it just won’t flow smoothly in and out of my lungs like it’s supposed to. Some days I cannot sit still, restlessness and anxiety overtake me and turn every moment into an impatient, urgent search for something to distract me. Some days I cannot seem to recall anything, my mind just won’t cooperate, won’t switch into gear so I roll around on neutral, dazed and bewildered. Some days I don’t want to talk, at all, about anything. Even simple, monosyllabic responses feel like too much to ask. Then I have days when the only thing I want is to talk about rape, to rant and rave and vent and blurt it all out to an empathetic listener. It is by no means a logical, linear progression through a process of recovery. There is no gradual, or sudden, transition from one phase to the next. Things do not improve, they do not get easier. Shock the first time and shock the hundredth time is still shock. It is still traumatic, it is still violent and aggressive, it is still deeply distressing and disturbing.
While it doesn’t get easier, you do become more adept at negotiating the impacts. You begin to develop a sensitivity to the signs that something is impending, you know how to soften the blow when it hits, you know how to position yourself so that, at least, you are as safe and secure as you can be when the consequences of rape take ahold of you again. You learn, slowly, how to take care of yourself, how to surround yourself with the elements you require to cope, how to structure your life so as to manage the impacts of rape as much as possible. You may be surprised to discover your own strength, your own tenacity, your own infallibility. I am often taken aback by my ability to withstand all that I have been put through, all that I am still being put through. I had no idea that such strength lay within me, that I would uncover such inexhaustible determination, perseverance and wilfulness as my own. While no one will say it, and we’ll never be awarded recognition for it, to be a survivor of sexual assault is to distinguish yourself as an exceptionally brave, resilient and determined human being. For no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much it costs, no matter how unjust it is – we are still here. Of that we should be proud.