Our contributor Sian speaks about her own experience of rape and how she has come to terms with it in the years following her attack.
It has been thirteen years since I was raped and I have now lived longer with the memory of the attack than without. That milestone of thirteen years seemed so significant to me a few weeks ago on the anniversary of my assault. It made me question what had changed over the past thirteen years, and how the experience had left me feeling many years later.
Day to day life is now very different in comparison to how I lived in the early aftermath of being sexually assaulted. Initially I had been so confused by the events that had taken place that I doubted anything had really happened at all. Because the truth was so incomprehensible, I concluded that I must have wanted to have sex that evening. I had been drinking, I had kissed someone; maybe I had just got it all wrong.
For long periods of time, I could convince myself that I hadn’t been raped, yet the guilt of telling friends there was something desperately wrong, when I thought I could have been exaggerating, or making it up, felt more awful than accepting the truth.
I had stopped sleeping, and when I did manage to shut my eyes, my dreams were filled with violence, sexual abuse and confusion. The long nights staring at a black ceiling were some of my loneliest and it felt as if there was no escape.
Two years after the attack I began to feel the full force of what had happened to me. The tears I silently cried seemed to never stop, and my memories of being a normal fifteen year old are punctuated with flash backs of hiding under my bed whilst fiercely holding my pillow over my mouth to stop myself from screaming. The endless questions from my mum, asking whether I was being bullied, or if I was unhappy at school, I seemed unable to answer truthfully because I felt that I didn’t know the truth.
After school ended, the desperate sadness I had been experiencing seemed to end too, but was replaced by acute anxiety that crippled me and made life very difficult. Panic attacks, endless worrying, and waking up every morning with a sense of impending doom was so much harder to shift than depression, and I battled to try and keep my life as normal as I could whilst thinking I was going to be murdered or sexually assaulted if I walked down my street alone at three o’clock in the afternoon.
Anxiety has affected my life for over a decade, and it is only over the past few months that the panic attacks have ceased. It took thirteen years for me to pluck up the courage to go for therapy and try to overcome the trail of devastation that rape has had on my life. It was during therapy that I was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and began addressing this with EMDR and talking therapy, and after a year of this treatment, it is only now that I can fully understand and accept what happened to me.
Without a professional, or a trusted adult to speak to straight after I was sexually assaulted, my brain was unable to process the experience. It tried all the immensely clever tactics it had, to suppress the ordeal and this over powered any desire I had to speak out about what had happened to me.
Recovery from the experience of extreme violation is not linear and it is impossible to do it alone. It is horrendous and terrifying to talk about sexual abuse and it takes every ounce of courage you have, but I promise it does help. Sexual assault pervades every day life in a tortuous way for women who are unable to talk about their experience.
I used to wish with all my heart that I hadn’t been raped, but now I just wish that I’d been able to speak about it and ask for help so much sooner.