An Aging Trauma
Four years. So much happens in four years, yet some things never change. Like the intensity of some memories. Like the lasting scars of past hurts. Like the devastation of trauma.
Four years ago to this day I was blissfully enjoying my seniour year of high school—good teachers, great grades, a part-time job, peace at home, wonderful friends to venture through life with, & excitement for the adventure of adulthood rapidly approaching. I had recently overcome three intense years of chaos & depression. I was thrilled for the opportunity to feel “normal,” to enjoy life without worrying about hearing voices or cutting myself or desiring death. For the first time since high school began, life was going well, & I was deeply & genuinely happy & grateful to be alive.
He was five years older than me & extremely intoxicated. I wondered if he even realized what he’d done.
So I confronted my rapist in a message through social media. I reminded him of the incident, explained it was nonconsensual, & recommended that he not have sex when he’s that drunk in the future. I told him that good intentions pave the road to hell, that what happened is what matters regardless of whatever intentions there may have been.
Shockingly & disturbingly enough, his response was quite compassionate: “I want you to know that was never my intention, & I can’t apologize enough to you. I hope that you know I would never want to hurt a woman. I don’t take this lightly. You deserve to tell me how you feel. I know that words may not be enough to make you feel better. The last thing I would ever want to do is know that I hurt a woman, so I hope that this is at least a first step in the right direction to forgiving me. ”
I should’ve known better than to give him the benefit of the doubt. In the end, he did take it lightly & never addressed me again.
Now he has graduated college & is an EMT working with the police force. How ironic that he spends his time helping people & saving lives when he nearly destroyed one four years ago.
Four years ago I slipped on a little black dress to attend the first college party of my life. My boyfriend invited me; it was a reunion of his high school buddies. Excitedly nervous, I invited one of my closest friends along. After three & a half years of chaotic change & challenging growth, our friendship had remained in place. I trusted her deeply & greatly looked forward to a fun night with her & my boyfriend.
The night began with beer pong & laughter but ended with shame & devastation. While the party’s host—one of my boyfriend’s closest friends—raped me, my boyfriend & best friend enjoyed sexual relations in the next room.
They are presently celebrating their four year anniversary.
Though I’ve mentally accepted the event, dealt with it, & forgiven my offenders, the effects of the incident still linger, revealing their nasty faces only occasionally. The repercussions & mental consequences continue to exist. The struggle remains real, despite the passing of time & the pursuit of healing. It hurts, piercing me with hopelessness & stabbing me with the loneliest of despairs.
Trusting people became even more difficult than it already was. (Even when I did finally trust someone, it almost always ended in pain, reaffirming my suspicious doubt & overall distrust in humans.) Now I am highly skeptical of every human that expresses interest in befriending me. My default assumption is that they have alternative motives & that my well-being is not amongst their priorities. Sex had already meant very little to me before that dreadful night, but, afterwards, it meant absolutely nothing. I came to expect that everyone would leave sooner or later, & even during the friendship I began to mourn the inevitable loss.
Sometimes it strikes me with vigorous gravity, & I have no idea why. But I take it as it comes. I address the mental attacks, one moment at a time, & overcome them with active mindfulness, directing my mind to the present moment & all its light with high hopes of casting out the darkness of my past.
The hardest attacks to battle are the ones that creep up on me as I peacefully drift off to sleep. I barely enter the fully relaxed realm of unconsciousness when my body begins twitching & flailing. Perhaps I’m pushing away an invisible attacker. Perhaps I fear sleep because of what dreams might occur. Perhaps I dread being unaware of the world because, should something happen, I lack control to respond, & that terrifies me. Any situation of helplessness is utterly horrifying.
These wounds have protruded through my soul for far too long. My attempts at healing seem to last only temporarily. With each passing day, my eyes grow increasingly open to the devastation this world bears, & I begin to lose hope of recovering. After four long years, how does one singular night still affect me with such magnitude? It’s one of my many mental battles, & the struggle remains so continuously intense that a dark part of me deeply doubts that the misery will ever end.
Time wanders on, &, as the world’s cruelty becomes more evident, so does life’s beauty. The darkness clouding my existence allows me to appreciate the patches of light shimmering through with tear-jerking hope. Because of the immense depth of darkness I have experienced, every morsel of simple beauty & every speck of peaceful light fill my heart with joy. In those moments—even ones as simple as a ladybug landing on my arm for a mere moment—I am overwhelmed with gratitude for life. There are so many times I nearly lost my life, & even more times I wished I had. To be reminded of what I gained by surviving those hardships is redeeming, in a sense. Though I would never choose the pain I’ve experienced, I am terrifically thankful for all the wonders of the universe it’s revealed to me. The personal growth I’ve encountered is awe-inspiring. Not only has my understanding of the world around me increased tremendously, but my compassion for people suffering has been immensely magnified. Concepts such as time & love hold deeper meaning than ever before, & I am more aware of my inner-workings than I ever could’ve imagined.
Though I’ve had more days of doubt than belief, I now acknowledge that true healing is, in fact, possible. I have faith that someday this event will barely be a memory. It will merely be one of millions of moments cataloged in my beautiful mind. Someday the good will outweigh the bad in my thoughts, & the light shall be sustained rather than only visiting for unfortunately brief periods of time. My pain will, in some way, be used—definitely in personal growth, & hopefully beyond that to somehow be an inspiring beacon of authenticity, hope, compassion, peace, & understanding. Regardless of this story’s end, I am confident that my suffering will not be in vain. Bad things happens, but miraculously wonderful things happen too. When caught up in dealing with the struggles of life, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the glory of the good, & to cling to the hope that things can be that good again—perhaps infinitely better.
My past dictates my history, but not my present. While experiences have hugely shaped me, they definitely do not define me. I cannot change what happened; I can only determine how I proceed from here. I can’t let this anger dominate me the way he controlled me. I can’t allow it to weigh me down like a brick in my being. I mustn’t let it devour me, like he consumed me without my consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” I refuse to give Brenda nor Calvin nor Daryl permission to make me feel inferior.
I am more than past experiences & present pain. I am far more valuable & deserve so much better than the way I was treated. I mustn’t allow their evaluation of my worth to characterize my self-worth. I am a treasure, & I am treasured by those beautiful souls that invest in me enough to see the beauty resting beneath my scarred surface. At the end of the day, it is my responsibility to define myself as something beautiful, worthy of respect, appreciating inner beauty significantly more than exterior appearances, pursuing truth & peace & light & love & healing regardless of what spears life may throw my way. It is up to me to create a future brighter than my past. I cannot choose what cards I’m dealt, but they’re in my hands now, & the choice of how to play them is completely in my control.
As Frodo Baggins says in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
The wonderful, wise wizard Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
The future is in our hands, my friend. Let us make it a bright one.