This year has been full of change.
A new job, a new apartment, a new marriage.
And all of those things have had expected effects on my life. My counselor refers to them as “little t traumas,” because they’re not quite as traumatic as unexpected traumas but they still bring a level of uncertainty that jolts you out of your comfort zone.
But I’ve been expecting those changes. And the effects, for the most part, have been positive. There’ve been bumps along the way but what life change is free from an obstacle here and there?
And then, at the end of June, it was announced formally that a mistrial had been declared in the Vanderbilt rape case.
I wrote about the guilty verdict back in January and even though I knew how emotionally attached I was to this case, when I heard about the mistrial I completely shut down. We had friends over, and I read the news on my phone. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut. And after they left, I wept. Again. Tim had to hold me on our bed as I felt my muscles constrict and I curled up into the fetal position. I must have been having a panic attack. At one point I think I actually yelled out and still Tim held me.
One part about marriage they don’t always prepare you for is that you feel each other’s pain like it’s your own.
And that night Tim felt my pain. He felt my anger and my grief and my sadness. And that’s so hard for me, because sometimes I feel like I’m not making any progress with this.
It’s been almost six years years and I’m still figuring out how to deal with this. Why isn’t it over? Why do I still feel angry? Why does it still hurt so much sometimes? Why does the guy who did this get to walk around and live his life while Tim and I are over here struggling, trying to make something beautiful out of our marriage while my rape is affecting our sex life?
Sometimes Tim tries to touch me and I cower. Not because of who he is or because of anything he’s done but because my body’s been triggered that day. And most of the time I can’t even figure out what the trigger was. But my body remembers. Maybe I saw a car that looked like my rapist’s. Maybe we talked about sexual assault briefly at work and I can’t recall the conversation but something made me shut down to my husband’s advances. Maybe I read something or heard something or caught a glimpse of something that transported me back for just enough time to make me feel threatened.
And how is that fair? That my husband should suffer also, because of something that happened to me?
God, why is this still happening? I want to scream until the skies rip open and I don’t understand why I feel so alone in this. Why did you let this happen?
And then I stop. I breathe. I look back at this journey. And I remember how far I’ve come.
I’ve gone from repressing the memory, to denying it was rape, to accepting it but not dealing with it, to confronting it, to digging into it, all of which has caused me to be able to share and begin healing. And my husband has had to deal with it in his own way throughout our entire relationship, all the while supporting me.
And it makes sense that the memory would be so fresh right now. The rape was the only reference I had for sex before my wedding night. But now I’m married and having sex and there’s an expectation that you’re supposed to do it a certain number of times per day or per week. And I feel like I will never meet that expectation because sometimes my body just… can’t.
But I think that’s okay.
I’d like to take this moment to say that I think those expectations are not only wrong but extremely harmful. No one can live up to the expectation society places on us about sex, unless that’s honestly natural for someone. And with the current stats about sexual assault and abuse being what they are (1 in 4), it’s no wonder that so many people feel like they can’t meet those expectations.
It’s okay if you’re having sex every day, and it’s okay if you’re having sex once a week or a few times a month or not at all for a while. Your relationship is your own, and comparison brings other people in who have no business being a part of it.
In counseling last week, my therapist helped me wade through some of the muddled things I’ve been feeling about all of this.
It’s been six years since I was raped, and it’s still affecting me. And I see people’s bravery and so many stories coming to light and a lot of activism surrounding prevention of sexual assault, which is incredible. That’s all incredible.
But what about the recovery? What about what happens in the moments afterward, the months afterward, the years afterward? What about after the trial or the hospital or the counseling? What happens after all of that is over? Maybe I feel so passionate about this because I needed support and I’ve gotten it. And I want other people to get it, too.
Our bodies know no timeframe. Sometimes when a trigger hits me, it feels like no time has passed at all. If I have a dream about my rapist, I wake up and walk through the day as if I’d seen him on the street. If I see a car that looks like his I might be shaken for the rest of the day, if only subconsciously. If I see someone with a similar nose or smile or jacket, it affects me, and I can’t pretend as though it doesn’t.
I think what I’m saying here is that healing is a constant journey, and we can’t let each other or ourselves fade away once the shock wears off and the months have passed. The trauma may not ever fully go away. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into or used to do something beautiful. And that doesn’t mean you have to stay wounded. It just means we have to keep working. Keep learning. Keep talking. Keep accepting. Keep forgiving.
Let’s just not forget about each other during the grueling process of healing, which is lifelong.
Because I know that God has not forgotten.
God asks that we love each other the way that he has loved us. The Golden Rule.
His love for me has been full to the brim of grace as I continue to walk through what sometimes feels like a marsh of thickets and weeds and muddy water. Nothing is clear and I’m constantly pushing past branches that scrape and tear. But I live for the moments when, after weeks or months of trudging, I look up and everything is clear and bright and suddenly I know why I’ve been working so hard. Because nothing is more beautiful, more relieving, more core-centered than clarity.
And what’s clear now is that I’m still in the in-between of this process. I may always be in the in-between. You may always be in the in-between. I think this life is all about wading through that place in the middle and learning to do it well, and then learning how to use what you’ve been through to help others. This doesn’t always mean speaking out about it in a public way. Maybe it’s just allowing yourself to open up to one person who may have been through what you went through, even if your experience (or theirs) was years and years ago.
And I think that’s where we hit the heart of it. Clarity and connection lead to understanding and a true ability to see one another. And I think that’s all anyone needs, to be seen.
So let’s see each other. Let’s meet each other in this in-between place and find what we have in common. Let’s care for one another past the initial traumas, whatever they may be, and delve deep into the healing place, wherever that might be.
Let’s tell each other years later, “I’m here for you. I know it still hurts, and that’s okay. I’m still here for you.”
Let’s see each other. Truly and deeply.