One of my clearest memories of the abuse with X, is also one of the memories which triggers the most flashbacks.
It’s the reason I don’t like to be looked at, why I sometimes wish I was invisible, why I have hated my body for 20 years, and linked to why I started down the road to anorexia.
It was evening, that time between the brightness of day and the deep darkness of night. We were in his room, listening to music and…I don’t know what words to describe it with…if it had been consensual I would describe it as “fooling around” or “making out” but in this case those words don’t have an accurate feel. We were alone in his room, in the dark and he was abusing me. Sarah McLaughlin was playing on the CD player “hold on, hold on to yourself, for this is going to hurt like hell…”
I remember the blinds were dark, maybe navy blue, they were shut, but a small amount of light came in between the cracks. The head of the bed was directly to the right of the window. I remember the bedspread being navy as well. There was a dark mood to the space. So often when we were in his room, his family was home. Technically if I had screamed, yelled, or run away, someone would have heard. We were rarely completely alone. But I felt so much shame, I blamed myself, I felt dirty and I felt like it was my fault. It never really occurred to me to tell his parents, I felt they would blame me, or not believe me, that they would tell my parents, that somehow I’d be in trouble. So I learned to disassociate, I stayed quiet, I did what he wanted. Sometimes I said no, but I never fought back or physically resisted. I learned quickly that my “no” meant nothing to him.
That evening, he wanted to look at me. He made me take off my clothes, except my underwear which I always stubbornly refused to remove. I was afraid to get pregnant and I somehow felt like keeping them on would protect me.
He made me stand across the room from him. He lay, semi-reclined, on his bed, staring at me. Just staring. I felt like an object. I felt like this one moment solidified the sense of shame that had been growing and building inside me, like dark twisty vines blocking out all the light of my once bright self esteem. I crossed my arms across my chest, trying to hide myself from his prying eyes. I felt his actions were motivated by lust. I didn’t feel loved or cared for. I felt afraid and I felt ashamed. I don’t know how long I stood there for, but it felt like an eternity before I was able to hide under the duvet again. I don’t really remember what happened before or after. I only remember those moments of exposure.
Years later, much more recently, I was dating someone. The first time I took my clothes off, in my own room, safe and because I wanted to. He looked at me, and I had flashbacks so intense that I almost passed out. I had to sit down, suddenly on the bed. The room was spinning, my heart was racing, I was so dizzy I felt blackness around the edges of my eyes. And I was trembling, shaking really. It took a few minutes of lying down for my body to return to a normal state. This is what PTSD means to me. The rapid trip between enjoying a sexual moment and being almost paralyzed with extreme physical symptoms. The panic/flashback is often followed by tears, physical pain and nausea. I sometimes have difficultly talking or expressing what is happening.
Because of this I have to take time to educate people who are going to be close to me. So they know what is needed to help in those moments when it’s difficult for me to help myself. It’s important for others to realize that in the midst of a flashback I can’t consent, I can’t think, I can’t communicate clearly, and I need help getting grounded, or I need the space to do so myself.
I often wonder, if people who commit acts of sexual violence realize the impact they are having on the victim’s life. I wonder, if abusers knew that years later mere reminders of the abuse could have such severe consequences. I wonder if people would stop and reconsider pushing past “no.” I wonder if all the law makers, judges, police and lawyers had to live with PTSD related to sexual violence for just one day, they would reconsider letting the majority of reported abusers walk free.
The abuse may only last a few moments, but the impacts can last a life time.
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