Writing the last post was an intensely emotional experience. Although tempted to do otherwise, I wrote it stone-cold sober, more or less stream-of-consciousness, in the form you read it. I made a few changes to correct small grammatical errors, but otherwise it is as it came forth from my brain. Afterwards, I was drained, and sad.
Writing my story was necessary -- it was my way of processing news I found very upsetting. The post was born of fury at the small-minded worldview of people I would have hoped knew better. And that is the charitable view: the thought that this was some sort of sop to conservatives, that the well-being of young women was sacrificed for political expediency, reduces me almost to incoherence.
Writing my story was necessary; publishing it was not. I decided to do so after posting the text to my friends' list on Livejournal and having women thank me for writing it and encouraging me to publish. I have also had suggested to me that I should submit it to other places. I am considering that.
I am tired and sad. Yet I have not been struck by the feelings of shame and dirtiness I was afraid might result from revisiting the rape. I have been helped by the memory of a conversation I had earlier this year at a time when I was very triggered and vulnerable.
Remember H.R. 3? That was the bill that would have limited the rape exception for abortion coverage to forcible rape. I wrote a post about it. That might have been the end of it for me, except that when I was reviewing the post it struck me: my rape didn't count. Even if I had dared to report the it, there was no way that I could show it was forcible.
I fell apart. Although I did not have visual or aural flashbacks, I was overwhelmed by feelings I thought I had left far behind. I felt broken, dirty, useless and unlovable. I took three showers a day, until my skin became cracked and infected from the frequent washing in tankfuls of hot water.
I felt I was losing my mind. I had thought I had long ago found peace around this. I had read others' stories, and told my own (albeit in a distanced and incomplete way*: I always left out details about my father and the reason I did not report it). I had posted my story in my Livejournal as part of Rape Awareness Week. I was healed, or so I thought.
I realized I could not go on like this, and started calling people. After two unsuccessful calls ("revisiting my rape, call me" was not a message I wanted to leave on voicemail), I reached my friend the PLD. He was busy, but arranged for me to call him back in forty-five minutes. When I did so, he listened to me talk about my brokenness, my shame, my feeling that I was worth less than the dirt under my feet.
He started, "I can imagine..." and then he caught himself. "No, I can't imagine. I've never been through
anything like this, so although I can understand how horrible you must
be feeling, I can't know what it's like, and don't want to
belittle it by pretending I can."
His comment was unexpected, and exactly right. It not only expressed sympathy, it recognized and honored the enormity of my experience and the feelings associated with it. He went on to reassure me that I was, in fact, a wonderful person who had a great deal to offer the world. Although I was still shaking when we hung up, I had started to feel better. It took a couple of days, but I was able to move on.
That conversation has stayed with me. It reminds me of my strength. It reminds me that what happened to me was significant, that my feelings around it are not craziness but a natural reaction to a horrible event. The comments I've received in my LiveJournal and elsewhere from other women who have read my story remind me that I am not alone: telling our stories is the first step towards creating change, so that hopefully one day far in the future incidents like this will be extremely rare. Both of those together have meant that I could write about what happened and not feel worthless or ashamed. I'm not only going to be all right, I'm okay as things stand. I did not even come close to having the feelings I had last winter.
I don't think I ever told him the effect his words had on me. And I need to thank those who have responded to what I wrote. So here goes:
To the women who have responded to my story: thank you for your encouragement. It has made me feel that what I say matters. It reminds me once again that "the personal is the political," and that all policies affect real human beings, and that the first step to change is knowledge.
And to my friend: I don't know what to say, except... I hope you understand how important that conversation was to me. Thank you.
*Edited to add: so incomplete, in fact, that the Rocket Scientist told me that he learned things from my post that I had never told him, and we've known each other for over three decades.