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Living With The Shame

The day I started dying inside, I was nineteen. I was shy and socially awkward; a late-blooming virgin, clueless about relationships. He was married with children, almost twice my age. I met him on campus where he worked as a security guard. He reeled me in by pretending to be my friend when I was feeling lonely.

Then, like a swimmer struggling against a tide, I found myself steered into a relationship that I did not want. A relationship I knew was wrong.

At first there were brief, stolen kisses and awkward gropes when no one was watching. Two weeks later, I found myself alone in my apartment with him. I didn’t think anything was going to happen. I’d planned to pick up a book and return to the campus library to complete an assignment due the following day.

He suggested that we hang out for awhile; sit on the balcony and have coffee. I thought, “Why not? What harm can there be in taking twenty minutes to have coffee?”

I was so naive.

I went into the kitchen to set up the coffee maker. As the coffee dripped slowly into the carafe, I went back into the living room – and stopped dead in my tracks.  He had closed the blinds so the room was dimly lit. He had stripped down to his underwear and placed a box of condoms on the coffee table.

I was speechless, flustered, panicky. My heart beat so loudly so I was sure he could hear it from the other side of the room.

“We’ll need those,” he said, pointing at the condoms.

“No,” I said. “I’m not ready. I’m not ready for this. I don’t want to do this.

He walked slowly towards me, with an odd smile on his face.

“NO!” I said, the fear evident in my voice. “I don’t WANT to!”

I suddenly noticed the difference in our sizes. He was almost a full foot taller than me and built like a tank. I felt very small beside him.

Then, somehow I was lying on my back on the floor with him straddling me. He ran one finger down the length of my neck as he quietly but menacingly said, “We’re going to do this whether you want to or not.”

I let him do it then.

I did not fight him.

I did not try to stop him.

I did not scream or call for help.

I just laid there and let him do it.

Even though I hated it, even though the tears were rolling uncontrollably down my face.

Ever since that day, I have felt haunted that I didn’t stop him. I cannot escape the humiliation and the shame I still feel. I wonder maybe if I HAD stopped him, my life wouldn’t have gone into a free fall. I wouldn’t have experienced the next two hellish years.

Because I didn’t stop him that day, because I lay there and let him have his way, I learned to believe him every time he told me that I was a worthless bitch who deserved what she was getting.

Even after so long, I still feel the shame.

 

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Just Say “No”

The word rolled off my tongue and entered the heavy air in slow motion, “no.”

He was unbuttoning my shirt, and I put my hands up in resistance. He ignored them, pushing them away. There was a wickedly evil smile painted across his face, and he mumbled something under his breath.

I said it again, “No, please.”

He was determined; he shed my protective layer, and I felt even more uneasy. My hands were on his chest, pushing. I moved my legs so they would spill over the side of the couch. I was ready to get up, ready to leave, to pick up my clothes and turn my back on him. He grabbed at my thigh and placed his hand over my pelvis. A bolt of lightning ran through my body from the tip of my toes to the top of my skull. God, it hurt so damn bad.

No. Please no. No.

I squirmed, and he took that as a silent “yes.”

I shook my head, and I felt my mouth open. The words were foreign; they tasted bitter. I tried to spit them out. I had never begged in my life. Especially for something like the right to my own body.

My heart rate increased, and I felt like my lungs couldn’t get enough air. He forced me to touch him, stroke him, pleasure him.

There were tears running down my face as he stuck his hand down my pants.

“No,” I choked out.

He told me to shut up, and my chest constricted. I was trapped underneath his body. His thigh buried in my hip, hands working all over me, violating me as I hoped he’d stop.

After a while, I gave up. I stopped pushing away, stopped kicking, stopped fighting back. I only pleaded quietly, asking until my voice went hoarse. My body limp and that was the first time I truly felt like a corpse. In shock, my functioning ceased altogether.

“Please, stop.”

He told me to be quiet once again; he slapped me, and I went red hot. My cheek burned. He yanked my leggings down; I heard the seams ripping and straining.

He set his face between my legs. His breath made me gasp, and he thought that was a good sign. I was shaking my head vigorously, convulsing. Broken sobs fell past my lips. Stop. Please stop. No.

He didn’t notice. Or he ignored it.

My body was trembling like an earthquake, and I was crying, pushing my fingers through his hair; I shoved his head away from me.

He was getting angry; I could see it in his face.

He grabbed my wrists, gripped them as if I was being taken into custody. In a way, I guess I was. Taken prisoner in my own body. I could feel the scream bubble up in my chest and throat, but no matter what I did, it wouldn’t come out.

He grinned, and I still despise that smile to this day. Going back to work, his tongue performed sins I couldn’t even think to voice.

“No,” I said. “Stop, please.”

I felt helpless and hopeless. I was stripped down, both literally and figuratively, and I was humiliated. I lost all respect for him.

I felt something pierce through my skin, into my veins. It traveled through my blood and made a home in my heart, rooting itself there. It spread into my muscles and tissues. It crawled into my bones and infected the marrow.

I was hollowed out, emptied. Stripped down until I was nothing but pieces of myself, just so he could put me back together how he wanted.

That was the first time. But it certainly wasn’t the last.

Owning A Long-Buried Truth

Up to 70% of college students admit to being sexually coerced.

This is her story.

I blog about dealing with owning various truths about myself – the painful ones, the happy ones, the well-lived ones and, in this case, the ones that have remained buried for years.

Many of my truths have been recent discoveries while others I’ve owned for years. But there’s one truth, one single truth that I’ve kept buried for a long time, unwilling to examine it or call it what it was. This long-buried truth was yanked up to the surface by a recent online discussion.

Owning this truth began with another post by someone else, in which the author insinuates that an incident of sexual coercion was merely an accident, a bit of miscommunication between he and his girlfriend.

Some might agree with that.

But, as I read it, all I could think was, “Just because there wasn’t an explicit no doesn’t mean it was consensual.” And then a long-buried memory hit me like a sucker-punch to the gut. Some fifteen years ago, I didn’t explicitly say no, either.

I was a sophomore in college, living in my first apartment. I had a boyfriend, slightly older than me, whom I had met in a history class. In that class, we had to do those awful, awkward introductions everyone hates – you say your name and then offer up a favorite movie or book or quotation. This guy let fly with Marx’s, “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” and my angry, punk-rock eyes lit up.

I was smitten. We started spending a lot of time together. He stayed over at my place frequently. And we drank.

A lot.

One night, after we had been drinking, he started in with a request that I’d denied on many previous occasions. See, he really, really wanted to have anal sex: “C’mon, just this once. I’ll go really slow. It won’t hurt. C’mon.”
I was beyond hesitant – I didn’t want to do it. I was scared. I was also very, very drunk and absolutely incapable of making good decisions. The pestering continued and I finally caved.

I don’t remember much except pain. And blood. And tears. And humiliation. I remember sitting on the toilet, tears falling, somewhat sobered by the pain and the reality of what I had allowed to happen. Allowed to happen. It was my fault – I didn’t said “no.” I cried but I never said “no.” I told him I didn’t want to…but I never said no.

I didn’t stop him.

I let him do it.

It was my fault.

I took that shame and I buried it nice and deep. I never examined it, never called it what it was. Rape was something different: something forceful and angry and not something that happens with your boyfriend, especially not something that happens if you don’t say no.

But that’s exactly what it was: rape. I didn’t want to do it. I was crying, for fuck’s sake. I was wasted. He did it anyway, despite my hesitance, my prior protestations, and my tears. It wasn’t an “accident” and it had nothing to do with a lack of communication.

It was non-consensual, and non-consensual sex is rape, plain and simple.

Since this memory resurfaced, I sat with it for quite some time. There’s been lots of processing, more blame, and then letting go. I’ve decided to share it now, during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, because I’m certain that I’m not alone. Sadly, I’m sure it happens every day. A woman doesn’t want to…isn’t comfortable with it…might be drunk, might not…but doesn’t explicitly say no. Her reasons do not matter: what matters is that she didn’t want to and he continued.

Being sexually coerced isn’t equal to giving consent. It’s not your fault. And it wasn’t mine.

Taller, Present, Going Back

I’d started EMDR with a therapist at the VA for trauma when a co-worker at the assisted living center physically assaulted me. My reaction made me realize it was time to start some work I’d buried for decades; the relatively small action of him violently twisting my arm behind my back stimulated a response that had me making mental plans to kill him, and I am a strong believer in ahimsa.

Ed.-In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist traditions, ahimsa is a respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward others.

During the first few sessions last year, I made a list of small and large traumas in my life: being born with a cleft palate and the years of surgery, my father’s death in Vietnam when I was two months old (I blamed his death on my imperfection), the father and son who molested me when I was eight, being gang-raped by my peers in the army when I was 20, and the subsequent break and burying of that for 20+ years.

We chose to focus on the smaller, more recent trauma. After working through it, I realized I didn’t need to carry those unfortunate events. I returned to school and work, avoiding intimacy and instead allowing my large, no-longer-carried, but still present damage to sit in my cluttered room, a “Monster in a Box,“ as Spaulding Gray put it so well.

I knew I would return to therapy, but also knew I had to pay the mortgage, stay well, and wait for that mythical time when I was ready. A dear friend whom I had a brief relationship with a few months back sent a text near the end of December saying something like “help, this is killing me.” I didn’t even think about whether or not I would help her, despite how poorly things had ended just a few months back.

I loved her really since the moment I met her, and went, not expecting anything but to somehow help her survive the recent loss of custody of her son. Being with her, loving her, gave me the push to re-enter therapy. Last Thursday I spent two hours cycling through the largest, most painful personal event in my life.

Sexual assault is a common enough experience that the VA mental health clinic has a pamphlet about Military Sexual Trauma. Prior to starting the job, I self-reported the experience as an eight (where zero is nothing and 10 is death) 25 years after three soldiers sexually assaulted me, drunk, in a shower.

During this session I was vibrating with disturbance, weeping, and asked not to dry my tears, over-intellectualizing, referring to myself in the third person, returning to the scene, again and again until I imagined myself as each of the perpetrators.

In the end, we decided that “survivor” reminded me of that song from Rocky, so instead I’m just a human, a human who happened to be victimized by other humans and who wasn’t to blame, wasn’t raped because of anything but the fact that humans occasionally do horrible things for reasons we will never know. I ended up a one on the scale of 0-10, unable to believe I could ever be at a zero for such a profound violation.

Instead of an out of body experience or dissociation, the thought of the event now causes a vague flutter in my gut that I am very, very willing to tolerate. I wasn’t willing or interested in completely letting it go; the thought of completely removing it as significant felt unnatural, as it did happen, was real, and has caused more disturbance, illness, and pain than any other event in my life.

We ended the session with the standard wind down. I left the VA center feeling strangely taller, breathing more deeply, and at the same time feeling like I was missing something, something awful, but familiar, something indelible and old.

I return next week and every week until the work is done.

I Am Completely Broken

I am completely broken.

Bold statement, I know, but hear my story and you will understand. I don’t want pity, nor do I want to be saved. Understanding, though, never hurts.

I’ve always taken a liking to academia; I was a natural scholar who skipped the first grade. I had art published in the local newspaper when I was, say, five years old. It was a serviceman in rainbow camo gear holding the American flag, if anyone was curious.

I’d say that was my peak.

I was in third grade when the bullying started – the other kids even dedicated a song to me on the playground! How lucky, right? I was pudgy, I suppose; the fattest kid in the class, fat enough to be the ‘chosen one.’ I cried every single time I went shopping with my mom and sister. I begged that I’d cease to exist, ‘so no one has to worry about me’ –direct quote. This continued for years – seven to be exact.

At least you’re noticed in elementary and middle school. Maybe I wasn’t noticed for a good reason, but I was noticed. I played sports throughout junior high, always had a perfect GPA, I had plenty of friends, and a decent social life. But I was The Friend, not The Girlfriend. I remember during a Halloween dance, I literally begged a boy to tell me why he didn’t like me. He simply walked away and asked my best friend to be his girlfriend. I wasn’t mad; I accepted it.

High school was when the shit hit the fan.

My first two years of high school, I was really involved in class office, never running for a position because I knew the prettier and thinner girls would win. It’s high school, ya know?

I accepted squeezing in wherever I was allowed to. I wasn’t bullied much, but I was ignored. Sometimes, I preferred it. Don’t get me wrong, I had great friends but I was always chasing the fun, chasing the social scene.
Sophomore year I had my first taste of alcohol and weed. I loved it. It felt great to have a secret, something behind the backs of my straight-laced, God-fearing friends. Soon, though, my friends didn’t like me. I remember sitting alone at a table in the library, my old friends at the table next to me, ignoring me. I begged them to tell me why they didn’t like me anymore; they shrugged and walked off.

I transferred schools to a dual enrollment program.

Oh, did I mention I had ballooned up to 250 pounds? Yep. My weight was largely ignored, not discussed, and accepted. But I got sick of it, so I lost the weight – worked out constantly and methodically, eating like a champion.

By the time I got to my new school, I was thirty pounds lighter and thought I was hot shit. I smoked a lot of weed, drove around in my new car with my hip friends, and smoked cigarettes. I even got my first kiss—so what if it was my best friend’s boyfriend? I got it, and I liked it.

I craved male attention and I entered into this ‘I deserve it’ mode. I thought I owed myself a treat, and boy did I get it.

December 8, 2007. Fall semester, senior year, I was golden. There was a new guy every day that wanted me; I dangled myself in front of them like a piece of meat, but I never gave an inch. Not because I didn’t want to, but I was too nervous. With about three kisses under my belt, I was CLUELESS.

But yes, back to that date. That’s when it all went to shit.

I went to the beach with a few people where we drank a lot of whiskey or rum. I remember the initial vomit hump—you know when you gotta puke once to get the ball rolling? I remember looking up to see his face, and I know, looking back, what he was doing. I hear the brain blocks on memories you can’t handle, and thank goodness for that.

I lost my cell phone and my virginity that night. I didn’t even realize it until I went back the next day, saw the condom wrapper, and pieced it together. I quickly covered it with sand so my mom wouldn’t be upset.
Oh, fun fact: in my attempt to go home, I went to a ‘friend’s’ house to ask for help—in the weeks following, I asked him about it, and he said I wanted it just as badly as he did – that I came on to him.

I figured it wasn’t worth it – that I, for some reason, didn’t deserve normalcy. So I went with it, like I went with everything. I made it out to be funny, I buried it deep and far away. I joked about myself – called myself every name in the book. I don’t even know how many people I’ve slept with since that time.

Since then, I’ve had someone attempt to rape me. Since then, I’ve been molested. Since then, I’ve done shameful things I don’t even want to type, but I will. I’ve done MDMA, cocaine, crack, heroin, acid, prescription drugs, and more cocaine. I’ve slept with people – multiple at one time. I’ve stolen money, stolen from stores, stolen from people I love. Since then, I have hated myself and everything, masking it with humor and cool clothes.

Then I met Zach.

Junior year of college, my first year in the dorms, I was nineteen years old. I always had a blast in college – my philosophy was “why think about bad stuff when you can think about the good?”

Zach was special – still is in my book. He had a long-term girlfriend and he hooked up with my roommate, while seeing me in between. I felt special, for no reason. Through “healing” from my rape, I learned that I could have anyone I wanted. I knew how to talk and look and walk to get what I wanted. All I needed was a kiss: one kiss in the elevator of my dormitory sealed the deal. I was in love. He made me feel pure and real; like I deserved more.
It was the first time I realized how important and delicate sex was. I learned what making love was. I no longer made fun of romantic movies or songs; I felt the scenes and I listened to the lyrics and understood. We made love and cried, and it wasn’t corny or cheesy, it was real. And it was amazing. It was the first time I ever said ‘I love you’ to someone. When you experience that for the first time, it’s amazing. You feel important, you know someone is important to you.

I didn’t care about anything but playing “house” with him in my dorm. His dad hated me, my mom hated him, but it didn’t matter; we were in love and it was amazing. I’ll always miss that blissful month. I felt real for the first time in my life.

We moved in together when school let out in the spring. It got bad – screaming, crying, and covering it up with sex. I’ll leave out these details, but it was a textbook abusive relationship, on both our ends. We broke up the day before my fourth year of university started.

I’ve been numb since.

I’ve fucked many, kissed more, and drank a lot of alcohol. I feel empty. I quit going to class, and sat in my apartment for days in the dark, just smoking pot and sitting there. Sometimes, I’d sit for a few hours in complete silence, staring at nothing. I had no motivation – I couldn’t get up out of bed, I didn’t want to shower or brush my teeth or hair. I didn’t want anything in life. I didn’t want life. Every time I drove over a bridge, I struggled not to jerk my wheel just so I could breathe again.

Like I said, I am completely broken. I’m a cliché. Fat kid in desperate need of love and acceptance. Rape victim throwing caution to the wind and delving into a world of drugs and promiscuity. ‘That girl’ who can’t get over her ex. The typical depressed person who lives through every symptom you read on the internet. Smart kid desiring acceptance ends up failing classes due to active social life.

I am completely broken.

I Am Completely Broken

91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and nine percent are male.

Sexual assault can utterly change everything about who you are.

This is her story:

I am completely broken.

Bold statement, I know, but hear my story and you will understand. (to be clear) I don’t need pity, nor do I want to be saved. Understanding, though, never hurts.

I’ve always taken a liking to academia; I was a natural scholar who skipped the first grade. I had art published in the local newspaper when I was, say, five years old. It was a serviceman in rainbow camo gear holding the American flag, if anyone was curious.

I’d say that was my peak.

I was in third grade when the bullying started – the other kids even dedicated a song to me on the playground! How lucky, right? I was pudgy, I suppose; the fattest kid in the class, fat enough to be the ‘chosen one.’ I cried every single time I went shopping with my mom and sister. I begged that I’d cease to exist, ‘so no one has to worry about me’ –direct quote. This continued for years – seven to be exact.

At least you’re noticed in elementary and middle school. Maybe I wasn’t noticed for a good reason, but I was noticed. I played sports throughout junior high, always had a perfect GPA, I had plenty of friends, and a decent social life. But I was The Friend, not The Girlfriend. I remember during a Halloween dance, I literally begged a boy to tell me why he didn’t like me. He simply walked away and asked my best friend to be his girlfriend. I wasn’t mad; I accepted it.

High school was when the shit hit the fan.

My first two years of high school, I was really involved in class office, never running for a position because I knew the prettier and thinner girls would win. It’s high school, ya know?

I accepted squeezing in wherever I was allowed to. I wasn’t bullied much, but I was ignored. Sometimes, I preferred it. Don’t get me wrong, I had great friends but I was always chasing the fun, chasing the social scene.
Sophomore year I had my first taste of alcohol and weed. I loved it. It felt great to have a secret, something behind the backs of my straight-laced, God-fearing friends. Soon, though, my friends didn’t like me. I remember sitting alone at a table in the library, my old friends at the table next to me, ignoring me. I begged them to tell me why they didn’t like me anymore; they shrugged and walked off.

I transferred schools to a dual enrollment program.

Oh, did I mention I had ballooned up to 250 pounds? Yep. My weight was largely ignored, not discussed, and accepted. But I got sick of it, so I lost the weight – worked out constantly and methodically, eating like a champion.

By the time I got to my new school, I was thirty pounds lighter and thought I was hot shit. I smoked a lot of weed, drove around in my new car with my hip friends, and smoked cigarettes. I even got my first kiss—so what if it was my best friend’s boyfriend? I got it, and I liked it.

I craved male attention and I entered into this ‘I deserve it’ mode. I thought I owed myself a treat, and boy did I get it.

December 8, 2007. Fall semester, senior year, I was golden. There was a new guy every day that wanted me; I dangled myself in front of them like a piece of meat, but I never gave an inch. Not because I didn’t want to, but I was too nervous. With about three kisses under my belt, I was CLUELESS.

But yes, back to that date. That’s when it all went to shit.

I went to the beach with a few people where we drank a lot of whiskey or rum. I remember the initial vomit hump—you know when you gotta puke once to get the ball rolling? I remember looking up to see his face, and I know, looking back, what he was doing. I hear the brain blocks on memories you can’t handle, and thank goodness for that.

I lost my cell phone and my virginity that night. I didn’t even realize it until I went back the next day, saw the condom wrapper, and pieced it together. I quickly covered it with sand so my mom wouldn’t be upset.
Oh, fun fact: in my attempt to go home, I went to a ‘friend’s’ house to ask for help—in the weeks following, I asked him about it, and he said I wanted it just as badly as he did – that I came on to him.

I figured it wasn’t worth it – that I, for some reason, didn’t deserve normalcy. So I went with it, like I went with everything. I made it out to be funny, I buried it deep and far away. I joked about myself – called myself every name in the book. I don’t even know how many people I’ve slept with since that time.

Since then, I’ve had someone attempt to rape me. Since then, I’ve been molested. Since then, I’ve done shameful things I don’t even want to type, but I will. I’ve done MDMA, cocaine, crack, heroin, acid, prescription drugs, and more cocaine. I’ve slept with people – multiple at one time. I’ve stolen money, stolen from stores, stolen from people I love. Since then, I have hated myself and everything, masking it with humor and cool clothes.

Then I met Zach.

Junior year of college, my first year in the dorms, I was nineteen years old. I always had a blast in college – my philosophy was “why think about bad stuff when you can think about the good?”

Zach was special – still is in my book. He had a long-term girlfriend and he hooked up with my roommate, while seeing me in between. I felt special for no reason. Through “healing” from my rape, I learned that I could have anyone I wanted. I knew how to talk and look and walk to get what I wanted. All I needed was a kiss: one kiss in the elevator of my dormitory sealed the deal. I was in love. He made me feel pure and real; like I deserved more.

This was the first time I realized how important and delicate sex was. I learned what making love was. I no longer made fun of romantic movies or songs; I felt the scenes and I listened to the lyrics and understood. We made love and cried, and it wasn’t corny or cheesy, it was real. And it was amazing. It was the first time I ever said ‘I love you’ to someone. When you experience that for the first time, it’s amazing. You feel important, you know someone is important to you.

I didn’t care about anything but playing “house” with him in my dorm. His dad hated me, my mom hated him, but it didn’t matter; we were in love and it was amazing. I’ll always miss that blissful month. I felt real for the first time in my life.

We moved in together when school let out in the spring. It got bad – screaming, crying, and covering it up with sex. I’ll leave out these details, but it was a textbook abusive relationship, on both our ends. We broke up the day before my fourth year of university started.

I’ve been numb since.

I’ve fucked many, kissed more, and drank a lot of alcohol. I feel empty. I quit going to class, and sat in my apartment for days in the dark, just smoking pot and sitting there. Sometimes, I’d sit for a few hours in complete silence, staring at nothing. I had no motivation – I couldn’t get up out of bed, I didn’t want to shower or brush my teeth or hair. I didn’t want anything in life. I didn’t want life. Every time I drove over a bridge, I struggled not to jerk my wheel just so I could breathe again.

Like I said, I am completely broken. I’m a cliché. Fat kid in desperate need of love and acceptance. Rape victim throwing caution to the wind and delving into a world of drugs and promiscuity. ‘That girl’ who can’t get over her ex. The typical depressed person who lives through every symptom you read on the internet. Smart kid desiring acceptance ends up failing classes due to active social life.

I am completely broken.