How Do I Cope With Being Raped?
This is a post that seems long overdue when I think about it, but then I realize that had I written this any time prior to right now I would not have been ready. I wouldn't have been able to truly share my experience. This post would have been too premature a year ago. Now, I'm ready.
There are an average of 288,820 victims (age 12+) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. One out of every six women will be raped in her lifetime (1). And those are just the ones that get reported.
I am fairly certain that the actual number is MUCH higher. Why? Well, for one, I did not report my rape. Nope. And I know several others who did not report their rapes either.
Statistics aside, I want to talk about the aftermath of being raped. It's not something that just happens and then you move on with your life as if nothing happened. Ha! If only. No--the effects of being raped are physically and emotionally scarring.
I spoke about it in my story, but after I was raped my mind repressed the memory for over two years. It was not until I was in a therapy session, talking about relationships and sex when I had a flashback and experienced my first episode of PTSD. This is fairly common in rape victims and victims of other traumatic experiences (2).
After that first incident I began the process of healing from this trauma. I want to share with you some of the ways you can begin to heal if you have experienced any kind of sexual trauma.
The most important thing is to first realize that 1) it's not going to be a short and painless process, and 2) you're going to have to commit to working at it every single day and you cannot give up if it gets too hard. Stopping before you're finished will ultimately result in lasting pain.
Next, you must internalize the fact that it was not your fault. I don't mean just saying that you know it wasn't your fault--I mean really, truly dig deep and ask yourself if you actually know that. Are you hesitant to go out dressed a certain way or act a certain way because you're scared something could happen? Do you push potential partners away or not let people in? These can all be signs that your brain still believes that YOU were the problem.
You need to commit to FEELING YOUR FEELINGS. Though we as a society feel like it's somehow noble to just "shake it off" or "distract ourselves" from real issues...it's not! Those feelings WILL come back and they WILL come back 10x stronger. Feel your feelings as they come and don't judge the feelings. Don't try to outrun the cruel shadows that follow you. Also, do not turn to drugs or alcohol to mask the pain of your experience. Again, you are digging a deeper hole and not solving the real problem.
I should have mentioned this next one at the start: a key part of this process is to surround yourself with those who truly love and care about you. Distance yourself from everyone else.
You cannot change the fact that you were raped but you can control 1) how you react to the situation (to an extent) and 2) your future. Yes, the rape itself inevitably changed you and made you a different person than you were before--for better or for worse. (I like to look at it from the lens of better. I needed to go through that experience to strengthen me and open my eyes and heart.) But don't let the offender win. You deserve to have an amazing, fulfilling life and to be free from the mental chains that currently tie you down.
Therapy. If I had one wish it would be to make having a therapist a law. Seriously. I think EVERYONE should have a therapist. When you are a victim of trauma, I think it is crucial to explore different types of therapy. Eye-movement desensitization (EMDR) is an extremely useful form of therapy for rape. This type of therapy allows you to access repressed memories and process through them. There are various other forms of therapy, and though I will not go into each individually I will list a few: neurofeedback, sensorimotor psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, and of course basic talk therapy. My counsel to you would be to find what works for you. I can only speak to talk therapy and EMDR, and I would recommend those two as a starting point for everyone. Start with talking to a therapist, and then as you have worked through much of the trauma begin to explore EMDR if you think it will be helpful. Remember--things usually get harder before they get easier when dealing with severe, traumatic repressed memories.
Lastly, I want to list a few things that have helped me tremendously as coping mechanisms in my recovery process. These are things you can do in the moment of distress--they are short-term fixes to hard feelings that you can utilize while the long-term process is worked through. Without these I would probably be curled up in a corner holding a back of ice all day. (That's another tip--hold a bag of ice or frozen orange if you're starting to experience depersonalization!!)
Quick coping tools: yoga or stretching, listening to podcasts, reading fiction, talking to loved ones, taking a hot bath, meditating, visualizing, baking, writing, journaling, coloring, doing anything creative.
Finally, give yourself grace. This is not easy. It will not be easy to heal from. But it IS possible, and you will do it. I still experience small bumps in my recovery--just last week I had a flashback in Target (ugh, way to ruin my favorite place ever) and had to run out of the store crying. It's so important to process through these difficult emotions NOW so that you can move past the traumatic experience and continue living your life and finding joy.