A year ago, today. That twelve months have passed, that a full year lies between that day and today, is both inconceivable and illogical to me. My lived experience of the past twelve months barely allows for a sense that time has passed. Since the rape, my awareness and understanding of time have been forced to change drastically. Living with post-traumatic stress does not provide for a neat experience of past, present and future. All those words that accompany our conception of time: continuum, transition, linear, progression – none of these relate to the experience of living with trauma. Predictability, continuity, regularity: time no longer adheres to these measured adjectives. Instead it has become a vague and unknowable concept, an abstract principle that bears little connection to my lived reality, that instead of providing me with a dependable framework, seems rather to serve only to disorient and further distance me from ordinary life.
The distinctions we usually choose to categorise and explain our lived experience: the past, the present and the future are no longer the compliant descriptors I was accustomed to. They refuse to contain themselves within their established boundaries. My past is more like a ‘past life’ than anything I may really have lived. Prior to the sexual assault, all that I was, all that I did, all that I thought and believed has been lost to me, the connection between then and now has been brutally severed. Sometimes, I cannot believe all the things I used to do, the confident way I could imagine doing (and plan to do) just about anything I wanted to, but most of all, the blithe, unthinking faith that I would be ok, that no harm would come to me, that my security did not require constant monitoring. I know those feelings, I know who I was, I do believe in it, but I cannot feel part of it anymore. The link between that life and this life is not alive. My past is more like an elaborate dream, an imaginative tale that I have been told so many times that I have come to believe in it, to believe it happened, but I am not really able to establish a genuine continuity between then and now. From time to time, something will evoke that person, that life so potently that for an instant I can sense it, can almost feel it or become it, but then all it takes is one inkling of fear, one suggestion of trauma for it to wither, almost as quickly as it came, disappearing like a mirage unsettled by the undeniable proof of a parched throat, shimmering heat and sands as far as the eye can see.
The present has been so fully colonised by the impacts of trauma that it would be hard to describe it as in any way mine. So much of my time and my energy and myself is given over to navigating the repeated pathways of terror, grief, anger and shock, to mitigating the exhaustion and loneliness, to handling the flashbacks and dispossession. The past twelve months haven’t felt at all like a year of my life, instead they have felt like an endless series of Groundhog Days, but without even the reliability of that solid 24-hour structure. I do not know when the current experience of grief will morph into terror or perhaps disgust. I cannot say when or how or what is next. Living with sexual assault is like being caught on a treadmill. I walk and I walk and I walk but I never get anywhere. No distance has been covered, no terrain has been traversed, no destination has been reached. I have simply exhausted myself going nowhere. All that effort expended and yet, I find myself still in the same place I set out from. That night could be last night. No interval seems to exist between then and now. That night seems to have established its own special relationship with time. It is endlessly able to stretch its long, cold, dark tendrils out from the ostensible past into the future and to pull it back within its nightmarish grasp, forever converting the future into a present that exists only on its terms.
The anniversary is a potent reminder that time has passed, even if it doesn’t feel like it. A signifier that life is going on, that the days are becoming weeks and then months and then years. They are adding up, they are forming an interval between then and now, even if that does not seem plausible, even if that fact does not equate with the rawness, the freshness, the sharpness of the hurt I am feeling right now. The anniversary shines a light, a bright, searing light that so completely illuminates what has happened to me, what my life has become that for that period there are no shadows. The light is so bright it is blinding, you don’t see anything you just feel it’s heat, its burning force bearing down upon you. There is no relief. The brutal strength of that light is inescapable. At times like this, the only thing to do is to fall back on logic, even if the comfort it can offer seems about as effective as putting a bandaid on a gushing, gaping wound. Logic reminds you that if time has passed then things have changed. Logic tells you that you know things now you didn’t know then. Logic says that this year will be different from last year, even if many of the constraints remain the same. Logic is right. But, so are the feelings. Sexual assault has destroyed and then dominated my life, but with each day that goes past that grip is forced to reach a little further to maintain its grasp and so ever so slowly its power is being undermined. My life will slip out from the grip of trauma, bit by bit more of it will open to me and less of it will be available to the forces of terror. It may be painstaking but it is possible. Logic proclaims it so.