I had been forced to keep my childhood incest and rape traumas a secret due to the threat of physical violence and death. I had been forced to keep my rape in college a secret due to the threat of losing my scholarship. I had chosen not to seek justice for my rape at the age of twenty-six for fear of feeling violated by a prosecutor’s battering of questions and accusations.
I was thirteen when I had first told someone about my incest and childhood rape; I had told my boyfriend. I didn’t mention those traumatic experiences, or my other rapes, to anyone else until I was in my late twenties.
A female friend and I were talking over some drinks one night. She came out and told me she was a rape survivor. I had never heard the word survivor used in that context before. She was very open about her experience, so open that I felt comfortable confiding in her. I told her everything. I held nothing back. I felt completely safe with her. The tremendous relief I felt as I unburdened myself was truly a gift.
She suggested that I read The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. This book was instrumental in helping me understand and come to terms with my trauma. She also suggested that I see a therapist. I got a therapist and worked with her for about three years, until I had moved out of state.
During our therapy sessions, a flood gate of emotional pain opened inside of me. I began to have flashbacks, nightmares, and outbursts of anger and tears. I struggled with depression. My therapist told me that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As a means of trying to make sense of it all, I began to write poetry. Whenever I became overwhelmed by my feelings, I would put pen to paper and let whatever needed to be released pour out of me. I shared my poems with my friend, my partner, and my therapist. Their validation of my experience meant a great deal to me. I no longer had to hang onto my secrets.
I had been living with my partner for a little over a year. He was very sympathetic and supportive. He did his best to deal with it all, but my PTSD and depression became too much for him – he didn’t know how to cope. My friend suggested that he read Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child by Laura Davis, but he refused. He eventually ended the relationship; he said it wasn’t fun anymore.
A few weeks after the breakup, I attended a Take Back the Night march and rally in the town where I was living. There were hundreds of people in attendance. There was a stage with a microphone. Women and men took turns going up to the microphone to share that they were survivors of sexual assault. I was in tears as I sat on the grass and listened to their stories. I was amazed – and angry – to witness how many people had been violated. It had never occurred to me that there could be male survivors of sexual assault.
As the rally was winding down, one of the organizers asked if there was anyone else who wanted to speak. I stood up and walked to the stage. I stepped up to the microphone. My entire body shook as I told the crowd that I was a rape and incest survivor. I told them about my partner leaving me. I spoke to the partners of survivors. I asked them to find a support system to help them deal with their feelings as a loved one of a survivor. I told them about the book, Allies in Healing.
When I stepped down from the stage, a group of men and women came over to me and took turns hugging me. They thanked me for sharing my experience. Some of them told me of their own struggles as partners. I felt a sense of comfort, knowing that I was not alone. I felt part of a community; a community of people who were trying to put the pieces of their lives back together.
But the loss of my relationship with my partner was too much to bear. I had blamed myself. I felt abandoned. I felt ashamed. I wished I had never told my friend about myself – if I hadn’t, I would never have opened such deep wounds and my lover might still be with me (the ending of that relationship turned out to be a blessing).
Because of the loss of that relationship, I shut down. I buried my feelings so deep that I still dissociate from any emotions related to my trauma. I returned to my belief that I couldn’t trust people. I built a wall around me so strong that no one would be able to hurt me.
It wasn’t until I got into therapy in my early forties that I started to be open again. With my therapist’s help, I slowly let down my guard. I started to write poetry again; I even read my poems at open mic nights. A friend of mine suggested that I create a collection of my poems. In 2010, I self-published a collection entitled, The Bogeyman is Real.
Many people who bought my book told me how much it had helped them. They shared with me their own stories as survivors, or of people they knew who were survivors. Others told me that it opened their eyes to a life they couldn’t imagine. I’ve read my poems and given presentations to library and church audiences. I feel blessed that I have been able to help and educate people by telling my story.
Sharing my experiences has been a way for me to reclaim my power. It is my hope that every survivor will someday be able to break their silence and share their story. I invite survivors, and loved ones of survivors, to do so with my blog page. I invite you to email me your stories and poems, to be shared here or to be kept confidential. I am here to give you a place where your voice can be heard.
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash