Here's a fun after-effect of rape: crippling, petrifying anxiety and fear. Yay!
Seriously, today is a bad day. Also, this is going to be a long post, but I think it's really important to talk about how rape survivors (or, ok, I mean me, although I think many women may have similar experiences) navigate their anxieties and fears (because WOW are there fears). Or, at least, I hope that's what this will end up being, all relevant and relate-able and coherent and all. But, to be honest, I'm not really sure where this will end up. Possibly anywhere! So strap in, kids!
Last summer, I worked in Cape Town at an AMAZING pro-bono constitutional law and human rights clinic, and I got to do incredible work. It was real saving-the-world stuff, exactly what I went to law school to do. It was everything I could have hoped for in a summer internship - it affirmed my commitment to public interest work, showed me what you could really do with the law to effect change, and provided me with wonderful mentors and supportive supervisors (well, mostly). If the brilliant folks who work there ever offer me a position after I graduate, I would very happily accept.
That "(well, mostly)" above comes from my first supervisor who, in my second week in Cape Town, started to sexually harass me. I thought I handled it and it was all over and I was glad everyone could act like adults and professionals; that is, until it blew up in my face and he tried to assault me. This attempted assault is what triggered everything about my rape 3 years ago to come flooding back; there were so many similarities, I couldn't keep the lid on the box where I had stored my rape nice and neat and put away in the back of my head hopefully never to be found again.
So, the reason I bring this up is, immediately after the attempted assault, I wrote it all up, and emailed it to someone else in the organization, because as this douchebag was my supervisor, I was afraid he'd do something awful to me professionally and I wanted to cover my ass. I recently re-read that statement I wrote last summer, and what was striking was: 1. Wow, that whole incident was really bad and scary, boy was that terrible; and 2. I am clearly, in the statement, making an attempt to ward off any possibly implications that the incident was somehow my fault.
Doubt is a rapist's best weapon.
Because here's what women do: we go over the entire incident, the rape or the assault or whatever, with a fine-toothed comb, looking for where WE fucked up. Where we should not have brought that boy home or gotten in that car or answered the door or had a couple of drinks or not picked up on the warning signs that now are so clear. WE LOOK FOR WAYS TO BLAME OURSELVES. Even when we should know better. The first thing I ever remember being taught about rape was "it's never a woman's fault," but I thought that was to keep the rest of us from judging her. I didn't realize that axiom would be necessary for the rape victim herself, who would immediately devote huge chunks of time to trying figure out exactly how she can make it her fault.
I think there are good reasons why women do this, though (and why women do it to other women who have been raped): because to imagine a world wherein we have no control, that we may be raped NO MATTER WHAT WE DO, is also just really fucking scary. So we try to exert control over the situation by pointing to specific things we or other women did that were the cause of rape. We don't want to admit the mere fact that we are women, and that there are rapists among us whom we will never be able to identify, are the reasons we are raped. We want to be able to say, well, THAT women got raped because she made bad decisions (whether it be to wear a short skirt or go to a frat party or whatever). I don't make those decisions, so I'm safe.
Of course, that's all complete bullshit. If I cannot prevent sexual harassment and assault by working with a man who does PRO-BONO WORLD-SAVING HUMAN RIGHTS LAW, we're all screwed. I mean, all I did was work on the assumption that he was a non-crazy human being who could treat others with at least basic decency, which is sort of the assumption we all HAVE to have getting through our days and interacting people, or else we would never leave the house. But I blamed myself anyway.
This is dangerous, because it leaves out blaming the actual guilty person. Still, I understand why I did it; because when you are feeling totally out of control and violated, it imposes a false sense of control over what just happened to you.
With that understanding, I am trying to cut it the fuck out, the blaming myself, the questioning myself, the overall belief that I am responsible for everything bad that has ever happened to me. It is a huge struggle, trying not to de-legitimize myself at every turn. I mean, hell, until a wonderful friend told me she had the same healing process, I was feeling like the fact I am reeling now from a rape that happened 3 years ago was somehow not a valid rape-survivor response. That somehow, my difficulty in dealing with this was too late, or too messy, or just generally WRONG.
This is where the fear comes in.
I am afraid of being challenged in any way about my healing process, or my ability to process what has been done to me, because that challenge? Shoots right into the heart of me blaming myself for the entire rape in the first place. It fuels my insecurity that I am not handling this appropriately, or that I am too sensitive, or that I am crazy. When someone questions the boundaries that I am setting for myself to try to recover, I am petrified that all the hard mental work I have put into validating myself and my experiences will turn out the have created nothing stronger than a house of cards, and everything will come tumbling down, and I will be back to beating the shit out of myself again.
So, you know, I am trying to not put myself in dangerous, abusive situations. Problem is, there are people in my life, whom I cannot entirely cut out right now, who have triggered these feelings. There are people who have become abusive. And I am terrified of in any way instigating another attack on my choices about how to best take care of myself.
I did a stupid thing, in this regard: I downloaded Google Analytics, which I never should have done. People kept asking me, oh, so do you have a sitemeter, how many people have read your blog? And I would say, I don't know, and I probably don't want to know! But finally I downloaded it, because I was curious. And that was stupid. Because I found out that someone had been viewing a blog that just so happened to be that of a friend of the kid who triggered my last cutting episode, just before that someone came to visit my blog.
Which basically means, the friend who has become toxic is now viewing my blog. This is the friend who also, when I pointed out sexism, told me that the only reason I see sexism in the world was because I MAKE MYSELF A VICTIM. We have addressed the tendency to believe this, as a rape victim, and the problems with doing so. This is clearly not a safe person for me to be around. Which I apparently instinctively know, because OH MY GOD the sudden, massive flood of fear and anxiety when I realized he was reading my words. Now, I am afraid that he will confront me. I am afraid that we will have another fucked-up argument wherein he tells me the boundaries I have set for myself are selfish and wrong. And I am afraid that I will walk out of that interaction feeling confused and blaming myself for like EVERYTHING possible and so far out of my body I have to cut it to find it again.
So, today, dear readers, there is just an awful lot of fear. And you know, maybe tomorrow, I will wake up and I will feel stronger and all "Fuck you!" and ready to take on the world. Yesterday, I walked around all day with the phrase, "I was raped" echoing in my head every half hour or so. Who knows how I'll be next week! I never seem to have a clue where my healing process will go.
What I am saying is: when your healing process is unpredictable, and you have had to fight very, very hard not to question and doubt everything about yourself, and your ability to get through the day as a functioning human being is tenuous, sometimes you become very, very afraid. You are afraid that you are made of glass and easily destructible and anyone pushing you will shatter you into pieces everywhere.
You know, ok, I don't really have an ending to this post (told you I had no idea where I was going!). I wish I had a nice, neat way to wrap it up, but I don't. Today, I am just going to be afraid. I am just going to breathe right though it.
I will see you on the other end.