This blog post contains details of sexual violence that some readers may find upsetting. If you do not wish to read this, please skip the sections subtitled “The abuse” and “How it affected me”.
I have experienced sexual abuse on 3 separate occasions. The first time, I was 8 years old; the perpetrator was an older boy who lived on the same street as me. The second time, it happened as I was held against a wall in a nightclub on my 19th birthday. Finally, 7 months after that, I was raped in a taxi behind my home.
How it affected me
I felt different things with each incident.
The first time, I felt confusion for a very long time. I did everything I could to stay away from the boy, which was difficult because he lived so close. I didn’t know how I should be feeling but I knew I didn’t like it – I knew it was something that adults did; it was weird for me. I didn’t know if he was wrong or if I was, or if it was us both, so I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to be in trouble. I buried it and never faced it again for 10 years.
The second time was true fear. I froze. Everything inside me was screaming, but my body couldn’t move, my brain and mouth didn’t cooperate. The men were chased out of the nightclub by a friend. I went into the toilet, fixed myself up, put on my face and walked out as if nothing had happened. In the early morning, I broke down and verbally attacked my Mum for allowing me to go out in the outfit I had decided to wear. My outfit had nothing to do with it, but I wanted to lash out. I cried, I slept, then it was never mentioned again. I began to feel that being sexually abused was my only purpose in life. I felt empty. It felt like the start of a dark path which held no love or happiness. I became a shell with a perfect mask.
The third time, I didn’t freeze. I did everything I physically could to get him off me, to stop it from happening. I screamed so loud for help that my throat became raw. I kicked out and punched, slapped, pinched – everything I physically could. But I couldn’t stop it. Afterwards, I felt numb; I felt nothing. I got home, got into bed without changing and lay in the darkness, awake for hours. I don’t remember thinking anything for a long time. There were no thoughts about anything.
Then, something inside me snapped and I was re-living the last minute of the attack over and over again. Something felt off. I knew that what had happened was wrong, I remembered screaming no, I knew that I hadn’t wanted it – but I kept asking myself the question: “why did you enjoy it?” I couldn’t shake the question. I couldn’t make sense of what I was asking myself, or why I felt disgust and self-loathing. The fear of my “enjoyment” coming out stopped me from speaking up.
For weeks I was on self-destruct, drinking more than usual, even taking vodka and coke to work – in a coke bottle, so that nobody would know. And those were only the days when I decided to turn up to work. I started smoking weed to knock myself out because I couldn’t deal with the nightmares. I gave everybody attitude. I spoke down to people. I pushed everyone away and tried to prove to myself that I was in control of my body by having sex when I wanted to. It was on my terms, but I didn’t enjoy it. Afterwards, I always felt empty and used – but this time used by myself. It was like I was punishing myself.
I knew I couldn’t carry on like that and that I needed help, but I was terrified that everyone would think it wasn’t rape because I had “enjoyed” it. I couldn’t understand why my body had defied me. It made no sense to me and it made me feel like I couldn’t tell anyone; I was scared they would think I was either lying or a freak. It confused and disgusted me so much that I took an overdose. I couldn’t deal with any of it at all. I did speak up about the rape eventually, but this right here, in this blog post, is the first time I have ever spoken about my body’s betrayal and “enjoyment”. I had learnt to bury that piece of information because I realised it didn’t take away from what happened to me, or the severity of the attack. My body’s “enjoyment” of the attack never made it okay.
As a result of the rape, I found I was pregnant. I was torn between my options and hadn’t a clue what to do. This hard choice was taken from me when I suffered a miscarriage.
How I learnt to cope
Having gone through 3 separate incidents, I have approached each one differently.
I was so young with the first one that I didn’t know what to do, so I just battled through and learnt to cope with it. Eventually, when the truth came out 10 years later, I went to the police. The perpetrator was investigated but nothing could be done because he was under the age of criminal responsibility at the time of the incident.
The second time, I swept the incident under the rug. I hid and ignored it. I have still never spoken about – until right now. I suppose writing this blog post is my way of helping myself heal from it.
The third time, I kept it to myself for a couple of months and then I spoke to my Mum. We went to the police station together. No evidence was found, no CCTV, so unfortunately they had no case. I felt deflated and mad at myself for not coming out each time; I felt guilty for other potential victims after me. For a while, I hid away and went back to ignoring things.
Then, one day, I started seeing a counsellor. She was lovely and non-judgemental. I had no emotional connection to her, so I felt no need to cover up and hide away. I opened up. There was no pain in her eyes when I looked up, no hand covering her face, she just sat and listened. It felt good to be able to talk, to get it off my chest – but I still held back. I had done it for so long that I didn’t know how to stop; I didn’t know how let it go. So I stopped going.
I tried writing diaries but had a fear that someone would find them and read them. I was stuck, at a loss at what to do, but I knew I couldn’t go back to how I was, so I started reading, anything and everything. I would get lost into a fictional character’s world and leave my dark one for a short time. It got me through a lot, but the past would always creep back in because I hadn’t faced it.
So I decided to try writing again. I wrote down what had happened to me and by who, over and over again. I wrote down the thoughts I had had, the smells and all the little memories. It was like breaking through a fog – and all the things I had buried and forgotten about came flooding back. I cried a lot, out of pain and frustration, but mainly relief. I felt like I was letting go. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. It all became a jumbled mess of words and random thoughts but it was my safety net. It was my listening ear without judgement which I had been craving. My mind became less hazy. I could see further into the future. I let go of all the blame I had laid on myself. It felt incredible.
I’m 10 years past my third incident, and 22 since my first. My life has had a lot of dark times. I’m not going to pretend and say that writing down my thoughts was a total breakthrough and stopped the darkness; I’ve suffered a lot of darkness over the last 10 years, my life has had a lot of struggles, but it has also had a lot of wonderful and life-changing moments. I became a mum to 3 beautiful and perfect little people. When my first child was born, everything changed for me. I had created this tiny, beautiful, perfect baby who relied on for everything. I had never seen a future for myself, it was always dark, but here I was with this wonderful girl who needed me around for as long as possible. She made me want to live again, not just exist but really live. I saw the world through different eyes and I couldn’t wait to start this beautiful journey with my beautiful family.
I still sometimes have darkness hit me – I have nightmares, even more so now I’m a mum, my fears have grown massively – but my control over the demons has grown with it. My strength and control is now stronger than the darkness. I don’t crumble under the weight of my memories anymore – because my memories are my past and my family are my future. I still do self-help (reading and writing); it’s my way of coping, my way of staying in control. It’s what works for me.
My message to other victims/survivors of sexual violence
I used to always hate the terms “victim” and “survivor”. In my stubborn and closed-off mind, I felt I was being pigeon-holed and stuck in a category or box. I resented not being in with the “normal” people. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realised I was being ridiculous. I was a victim; a victim of a terrible act that a horrible, spineless man decided to inflict upon me. I was a victim through no fault of my own; it was something I had no control over. I’m also a survivor, because I survived. I’m still here, I’m still living, I’ve moved past it and I’ve taken back control.
For anyone who is struggling and reading this, please hear me: it wasn’t your fault, no matter how many ways you try and tell yourself it was. Always remember that you were not and are not the problem. As hard as it is right now, it does get better, you can and will power through and find yourself again. Keep holding on and always believe in yourself. The light you can’t see right now is there, and you will find it. It will brighten up your world again – you just have to keep moving forward. You may feel alone right now, but you’re not. There is so much support out there: police, counsellors, helplines where you can remain anonymous. It’s also okay to not be okay, just please always be kind to yourself.
You’ve got this.