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TW: Assault/Rape

Hey y’all,

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. My visits are becoming more infrequent, which I think is a good thing. I know I’ve posted about this same topic here before, but it came back today.

Almost two years ago, I was, what I believed to be sexually assaulted by my ex partner. I didn’t realize this until about 7 months later, after we had broken up and I was in a healthy relationship (I am still in this relationship). I went to therapy almost right away because I was experiencing symptoms of PTSD including flashbacks, “freezing”, and dissociation. I was never diagnosed with PTSD, was thankful that I was being treated because it really helped me get through those times. Though those flashbacks are nearly nonexistent now, there are still things in everyday life that are reminders and, occasionally, triggers, off the incident.

It wasn’t until last night and today that I really thought about it again. I have a friend who was assaulted and is currently working with the Title IX coordinator of their school to get some help. It was already on my mind a bit from talking about it, but today I worked on my mandatory sexual assault and harassment training for work. As I was reading through definitions and laws, I realized that I had been raped. That word didn’t seem right when I first realized it happened, because of the way in which it happened (I won’t go into detail here). I knew it was wrong because it felt wrong and I suffered, but I even struggled to call it assault. I also learned about something called “tonic immobility.” If you’ve heard of flight or fight as a stress response, there are actually two more: freeze and fawn. I’ve learned that my stress response is freeze, especially in anxiety-inducing situations. I don’t know if I experienced this during the assault, but I probably did since it’s what I do during anxiety attacks and it’s a trauma response. I certainly experienced it while having flashbacks of the incident.

The thing I struggle the most with is validation in my situation because it’s not easy; not that these cases ever are. Thankfully I have therapy tomorrow morning and my therapist knows everything that’s happened, and I also called my partner for support. I also feel like I should bring it up to my roommates, but I don’t know how. (I know they will be supportive, I just feel awkward talking about it - if I even can talk, since I can’t talk often due to the immobility).

I guess I don’t really know if I’m looking for advice or just someone to tell me it’s going to be okay. I don’t know if I ever got closure on my last relationship, and I think that’s also a factor. I’m going to bring this up to my therapist tomorrow as well. I don’t feel like my experience was valid. I don’t feel like it’s “bad enough” to be called rape. I feel like I’m a walking paradox - I don’t suffer, which in turn, makes me suffer. Meaning, I suffer because I am not suffering - I wonder why I am not suffering, shouldn’t I suffer if it was that bad? I have a LOT of self doubt and I know this. I’m just rambling at this point. Can someone tell me I’m doing the right things? That what happened was real, and it’s okay to not be as hurt by it as I thought I would/should be?

Thanks for reading.

<3 sophic

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Well, first of all, thank you for sharing. It is so brave of you to share and I know it is not always easy. I actually work on a sexual assault crisis hotline (in Connecticut), so I would be happy to dive in deeper with you about this if you’d like. I know you said you have a therapist and I am by no means trying to replace them. I just want to offer additional friendly support if you’d like it.

But for now, I have a couple things to say. First of all, whatever your experience was, it is completely valid. It is easy to compare your trauma to someone else’s, but other people’s experiences do not undermine or take away from yours. I had a friend go through a similar situation with her boyfriend and it took a long time for her to accept what happened to her. All that to say, you are not alone in your journey.

However you respond is all a part of a process. There is no right or wrong way to respond to a trauma of that nature. Eventually, your therapist may help you get in touch with those emotions so that you can process them in a healthy way. Dissociation is a normal response to trauma. I do it myself sometimes, and that is why having a therapist is so helpful and important. However, don’t beat yourself up for where you are at right now in your journey. There is a time for everything.

Yes!! You are reaching out for support, you have a therapist, you are working to be more self-aware. These are all good things. There is no cookie cutter way to heal. You are a survivor and you are doing everything that you know to heal. I am proud of you for speaking up and sharing your experience.

Let me know if you would like to talk more.

Hold fast. We believe in you.

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How have you been doing since this last post?

Dear @sophicspider,

Thank you so much for sharing all of this. Recovering from a sexual assault is a process in itself that raises many questions. The thoughts and concerns you shared here are totally valid and I can only echo our friend Sarah here, who shared a very thoughtful perspective. :hrtlegolove:

I don’t feel like my experience was valid. I don’t feel like it’s “bad enough” to be called rape. I feel like I’m a walking paradox - I don’t suffer, which in turn, makes me suffer. Meaning, I suffer because I am not suffering - I wonder why I am not suffering, shouldn’t I suffer if it was that bad?

I hear that feeling like this and asking yourself those questions might be disturbing, but I think it’s totally normal. You try to understand your reactions so you could name what happened to you in a way that feels right, valid, even justified somehow. Being confronted to this legal definition of a rape was certainly a shock to you and it raises many questions.

If something is absolutely certain, it’s that there is no “should” or “shouldn’t” when it’s about traumatic events, and more generally when it’s about how we feel. Someone can also be affected by a situation in many different ways - in other words, not everyone develops a post traumatic stress but, one way or another, all reactions are okay, and it doesn’t mean that someone can’t be affected in different ways either. Another possibility is that the way you envision the impact it “should” have on you seems very different from what you’re experiencing, so you’re afraid to make it more complex than it “should” if you start to dig deeper. But that doesn’t mean you’re not affected either. It might just be different from the way you imagine that in your mind. Ultimately, what matters is how you feel about it and it’s really good that you talk about this with your therapist.

It can take a lot of time for someone to realize that they were assaulted, and that time varies from one individual to another. As you said, you didn’t believe to be sexually assaulted at first and realizing this was a first step. Now that you’re confronted to a different way to qualify and identify what happened to you, you are making another step. Understanding, finding the right words - but even more the words that feels right for you - are part of healing. It helps to understand your reactions and how much it affects you, whether it’s obvious or more silent.

You are definitely not a walking paradox, friend. For what it’s worth, I too struggle with using the word “rape” to describe what I’ve been through. I tend to trade this word for “abuse” or “assault” because it feels less heavy. Otherwise it seems too important, too real and at the same time too distant to me. The few times I used that word, I felt scared. Just like I almost always respond to stress and anxiety through the “freeze” reaction you mentioned; also some strong dissociation. It’s crippling. And it can last for a long time before I even become aware of it. Using the right words is likely to provoke those reactions and it’s good to be aware of it. It’s very strong to learn to do it, at our own pace. So be gentle with yourself, friend. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Only what you feel - yesterday, now, tomorrow - and it’s always 100% valid.

You’re not weird for feeling how you feel and asking yourself those questions. You’ll find your answers, you’ll build meaning around what happened, with the help of your therapist especially but also your loved ones. Step by step. You can be proud of yourself for sharing your thoughts with us here. It’s definitely not ramblings, but a part of your heart - and such an important one.

You’ll be okay, friend. You are learning to know yourself even more. You are acquiring an important strength that will keep helping you in the future.

I’m sending love your way. I hope you take good care of yourself. :hrtlegolove:

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