A couple nights ago, as I sat with my thoughts in quiet contemplation, I felt a ball of energy not unlike a demolition ball pounding into my torso. The catalyst for this horrific feeling was the victim-blaming New York Times op-ed by Mayim Bialik, but where the train of my thoughts took me was to my relationship with my ex. About a month or two ago, he told me, "I feel sorry for the schmuck who comes after me, because they have a looootttt of baggage to deal with." After six years, he knows where to hit for maximum impact. He knows one of the biggest fears the rape cemented in me is that I'm too damaged to be loved by anyone.
I met my ex a few months after I was raped, and the very first thing he did was try to undress me. Like the long list of men before him, he was interested in my body first, which reinforced to me the victim-blaming I was already doing in my head post-rape. He even told me once, early on, "I like to have sex first to see if I want to keep seeing someone."
"You're only a sex object," I thought to myself. All of my life experience up to this point had confirmed that idea, and post-rape, I was convinced I would never be anything more to anyone in my life. I wanted to be something more to someone. I wanted for someone to see me for the complex person I wanted to be - for the creative, intelligent, kind, compassionate, empathic person I have always felt was pushed aside once I decided to say, "yes" to a relationship with anybody. But after I was raped, with all the victim-blaming all around me and inside my head, I could not imagine having a relationship where I had the space to fully express every part of my being. No one had ever truly wanted me as I was, so why should I expect any different or better from life?
Still, I tried my best to hold out for better. I'd periodically reject my ex and disappear from his life for weeks, even months, at a time, but then I'd go back when he was the only guy around who called me. My loneliness and cynicism got the best of me every time, and I always ended up back in his bed.
Post-rape, my sex life was rocky, at best. I was too ashamed to admit I'd been raped, so I would date a guy and not tell him anything about the flashbacks I knew would probably happen until they actually happened. This was how, one night, I found myself in the thick of a gnarly flashback while my ex likely had no idea what was going on. I freaked out. He yelled at me. "I'm not even doing anything!" He was clearly angry, and it scared me.
With my pulse racing and my heart pounding like punches to my chest, I jumped up from the bed and sped to the bathroom, holding back the tears welling up under the surface. I dressed as quickly as I could, and ran out of his apartment to my car, where I felt safe enough to let the tears escape my heavy heart.
I wondered if I would ever find someone who could support me through these flashbacks the way I wanted to be supported. It seemed impossible to imagine a relationship where I felt safe. After we reconciled--two years after that incident--my ex seemed willing to support me. But I don't think he ever actually figured out how to do it in a way that helped me. I felt like a burden to him, because I needed so much support, and he had his own baggage to contend with. It always seemed to me that he only gave as much as I needed to suppress my reactions to flashbacks. I felt pressure to stuff down what I was feeling and "get over it" already, so I eventually numbed out and pretended I was fine when I wasn't.
Reading the New York Times article dripping with internalized misogyny and full of victim-blaming rhetoric disguised as feminism really did a number on me. It has been almost a week and I am still in a delicate emotional state over it.
These are the things no one tells you before you're raped - you'll be surprised by the persistence of the trauma, because it will pop up in your life over and over again. I joke sometimes that it's like playing Whack-a-Mole. A smell, a word, any small detail that reminds you of your rape can set off the biggest emotional domino effect and then you'll wonder, once again, if you will ever be "normal" at all, if you will ever be able to see the word, "rape" without falling apart at the seams. You'll wonder if you'll ever be able to read or hear a story and not feel yourself slipping back to your own trauma. Eventually, yes, the word itself will not feel so heavy. But the victim-blaming that will undoubtedly accompany these stories - at least, for me, seven years later - will destroy you emotionally.
As I read, I felt like a punching bag for Bialik's insistence that if you weren't modest (I wasn't), or making "self-protecting" choices (I didn't), or weren't unsexy (I was sexy as fuck and I wasn't hiding it), then you were at fault for what happened to you. In a matter of minutes, I was transported back to the office where a detective asked me if one of the times I remembered being raped was consensual. My consciousness went right back to the backseat of the car where my rapist held my hands behind my back as he weighed me down with his body. Just like that, in the time it took me to read one article, I recalled the words of my best friend who said to me the day after, "You didn't go anywhere with him, did you?"
I remembered how another friend's mother told me, "You have to be careful," and how I had answered her with quiet defeat, "I thought I was."
The rampant victim-blaming is what is the hardest to get over.