Today I am honored to share the story of a friend, a rape survivor in a constant battle with RR-PTSD. To help raise awareness of Sexual assault and sexual abuse I am featuring posts dealing with this sensitive subject for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. Lora's on-going story is one that highlights the particular struggles of the aftermath of sexual assault. I hope you, like I was, are touched by the promise of hope and healing already taking place and are still challenged to raise your voice and hearts for the survivors of sexual abuse.
Most people I know who have had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been soldiers or survived some natural disaster. They are encouraged, lauded as survivors who need our help. Some are even put up as super-human to even carry on in a daily routine. However there are hidden PTSD suffers who are pushed to the side. They do not have the supporters who are willing to put their name to the disease as easily as the others. These are Rape-Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (RR-PTSD) suffers and I am going to discuss my battle with this horrid mental illness.
I am starting with a synopsis of the sexual assault. So if it is a trigger for anybody, you may want to skip the next two paragraphs. It is not in completely detail, but I thought a warning may be a good idea.
I was raped by someone I thought was a friend and the assault happened at work. It was so very difficult for my mind to process because this particular predator had set up a long routine of sexual harassment prior. When the actual incident happened I didn’t know what to think. My mind went into denial. My therapist has now explained to me that this is a proper and normal way for the mind to deal with something so traumatic. That way the mind can process the incident slowly and not be overwhelmed. I had marital problems due to this. I told my husband (bless him, he is still with me) that, “I think I had cheated on him, but I didn’t want to”. We went to counseling at the Employee Assistance Program I had through work. I thought I would get at least adequate help there. The man there, when hearing me say that it was easier right now for me to say I cheated on my husband that for me to say I was raped by a man whom I had and was continuing to work with, told me that the proper course of action was to take the man aside to a quiet, private place and tell him it couldn’t happen again. I was to confront my attacker.
Now, at the time I was unable to see what horrid advice this was and the danger it presented to me, so I did it. I told my attacker I “Didn’t want to go that far” and he told me that he knew. HE KNEW! Those words just rang around in my head as I looked around the deserted area we were in. Those words spiraled around like a hurricane and broke the dam of my denial. Every single emotion, every single relationship, EVERY SINGLE THING was washing over me. It was as if I was standing in a valley when the dam broke and I had no where to run and no hope of rescue. No human mind can withstand the dam of denial being broken so suddenly and so close to the incident. My mind broke.
I tried to carry on, I did. I come from an Eastern European family. We don’t show emotion in public and we don’t show weakness. I was never specifically told that, but it was modeled for me by both parents. When my mind broke, I went through the four hall-marks of RR-PTSD (1), made all the worse because I was not to show emotion in public or any weakness.
I lived a life of hell. Over and over this happened. I had what was called Disassociated Flashbacks. These caused me to see, smell, hear, and physically live the rape over and over again. When these came on (and anything could bring it on) I was experiencing it all again. My husband learned from the rape counselors at Planned Parenthood how to try to bring me out. I had nightmares that actually made me not want to sleep. I didn’t sleep. What breaks my heart, still to this day, is that my son, who was 2 at the time, knew how to try to bring me out. As I was coming out of some I distinctly remember my 2 year old saying, “Mommy, Mommy where are you? You are in your bed!” as he was standing back from me. He knew Mommy would hit and punch at anybody who tried to touch her until she was out of the flashback (I didn’t see the person in front of me, I only saw my attacker). I lived the nightmare probably 90% of the day and night. I was not in this world, but in hell. Eventually it caused me to not sleep for 3 days straight. Then, when I couldn’t take the guilt or the pain anymore, I tried to end it all. I was quickly admitted and was put on medicine to slow down and stop the disassociated part of the flashbacks. To this day (over 5 years later) I still experience flashbacks and nightmares.
I have withdrawn completely from a social life. I do have more of an online life. However all trust was pulled out from under me when the dam of denial came crashing down. I examined every single relationship I had, because after all I had trusted this person as well. I am still in withdrawal and working in therapy to try to change this. I can only talk on the phone to a few people (after all it requires trust. How do I know it’s really the person on the phone and not someone else?) I can’t form new relationships in person. That would require trusting the person with at least some information, just to start the relationship. I can’t work, because who would want a nurse who can’t talk on the phone, freaks out about the smallest thing, and doesn’t trust anybody? I get anxiety attacks going outside my house. I don’t have a life outside my house.
I avoid the place that this happened. I have been there a handful of times to visit family, as it is a hospital. Each time I go I have had to prepare myself, get my crystals together, and try not to lose it on my husband, who has come every single time. I avoid other hospitals as well. The smell of hospitals reminds me. I avoid watching TV show or reading books that may set off another reminder. If I do happen to see a TV show that is a trigger, it will set it off for a while. Just recently I watched a TV show that unexpectedly triggered flashbacks and memories. It was over a week before I could sleep at night again and I am still having more nightmares than normal.
This is probably one of worst symptoms. I see danger everywhere. I have 5 cats in my house and they are constantly playing at night. I will wake up in terror because I heard a bang, even if I KNOW it was a cat. I see danger when my child is playing on the swing set. When my son goes to school and develops friends, sending him to their house releases such a terror in me. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I see major crisis when other see small crisis or maybe even nothing at all. Any sound catches my attention and causes me to get anxious. After it first happened we lived in an apartment and I would literally look around corners before going down the hall. Some days, when I am having more problems, I still do that. In my own house.
Sexual Assault is not something that is easy to get over by any means. Somebody told me, shortly after the rape, that they “thought I was stronger than this”. I have only very recently accepted that anybody, no matter how strong, when having that dam of denial broken would have a breakdown. That is progress I suppose. I still have so many days when I wish the denial dam was up. I could be working. I could be LIVING.
I have so much guilt because I have PTSD: My son had to learn how to get me out of the flashbacks, and see me in such a state. My daughter will never know the fun, carefree person I was before the rape. I broke my husband’s heart in the way I told him that I thought I’d cheated on him. when I broke down and needed all the hospitalizations and medicines and lost our health insurance. I ruined my family’s finances, which have only very recently recovered. My son feels like I abandoned him when I was hospitalized, and to this day has issues with that.
I suppose there are some good things that have come out of this: I have become, in my own way, more spiritual. My son is the most compassionate boy. If someone is upset or sick, he is the first to help. Because of my horrid pregnancies my daughter would most likely not have been born at the time she was. My mother-in-law and I would never have been as close as we are, as she would never have had the opportunity to hold me as I was crying and assure me it was not my fault. We have all learned compassion and to have a non-judgmental attitude towards others, as others judged us and we know how it feels.
This rape has left me with permanent scars, scars that will never be removed. I have relatively recently come to realize that I will be cleaning up the floods of the dam of denial for the rest of my life. And the saddest part of my experience is how little people knew. Why, oh why, doesn’t the newspaper, magazines, and publishers, let us know that this exists? What I found regarding this was on official websites. Websites you find AFTER it happens and you are already having trouble.
I believe this type of PTSD is the hidden one because we have to admit that there areingcriminals live in our neighborhoods. They may be the person next door or the co-worker you trust, not the bad guys in another country or a natural disaster that only happens to “other people”. This saddens me, because we do a disservice to ourselves. We hide in the sand, but hiding in the sand won’t help when the flood waters of denial come rushing at you. I should know, I’ve lived it.