Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Time to Become

When I first began therapy, my counselor (not Nathan) told me I needed to file a police report about what had happened to me. She said I didn't need to press charges. Indeed, given the time that had elapsed and the lack of physical evidence, it would be very difficult to prove my claims. But a police report would substantiate the claims of any other victims, should they choose to come forward in the future.

The idea of filing a report was appalling to me for a few reasons:
1. I was repulsed by the fact that I would need to tell my story to a stranger - possibly a man - who would simply note what I said, ask a few questions, and dismiss me.
2. The thought of there being other victims was nauseating and overwhelming.
3. I had yet to become comfortable with the reality that I, myself, had been a victim.

In the end, I told my counselor that I was choosing not to file the report. I knew she was disappointed in me, though in my mind, her role was not to be disappointed, but just to help me move forward from that point. For a long time that disappointment lingered. I felt that I had failed, that I was cowardly, that somehow I was responsible for any of the conjectured victims who might be stronger and braver than myself - who were able to talk to police and other officials about the things done to them - who needed my story to corroborate theirs.

It took years for me to understand the fallacy of the logic behind those feelings. But they were fallacious, and my counselor was wrong to make me feel that I was letting someone - anyone -  down.

There are times when friends and loved ones bring a scenario to our attention, something that is currently happening in their lives. They seem to need advice and we, who so clearly see solutions when the situation does not involve us, are quick to provide that advice. We provide another scenario in which the loved one confronts and solves the problem in the best way possible: our way. And then we wonder why that loved one seems confused or frustrated or even upset by our response. The answer seems crystal clear, and their failure to grasp and act upon the few basic steps we provide, in turn, confuses and upsets us.

They seem deaf to our entreaties that non-action might endanger an innocent bystander. They ignore the fact that by a few simple words or actions they can turn around a potentially dangerous situation and in the process, prevent pain. They do seem cowardly, or stubborn, or just bent on their own self-destruction.

Here's what the well-meaning advisors have forgotten: There is a person in the equation, and that person needs space and time.

I never doubted my counselor when she told me I needed to make an official statement. I just knew that I could not do it. That was not cowardice.

I believed that my statement would help others who were in a situation similar to mine. Still, I could not do it. That was not disregarding the needs of others.

I knew that making a statement would be a positive step toward healing. I also knew that it wasn't going to happen. That was not an expression of desiring to remain a victim.

What I have come to understand after all these years is that it was too soon. I needed time to become.

I needed to allow myself to become a person who had been raped. That's huge. After addressing the immediate pain of allowing myself to be the rape victim, I was overwhelmed by all the nuances of what that might mean. I needed time to sort through all of those and discard the falsehoods while clinging to the truths. I had to become comfortable saying that it happened and I had to stop trying to be a person who would never allow herself to be raped. Reality was a difficult pill to swallow.

I needed to allow myself to pass through the victim step and become a survivor. Strangely enough, that was more difficult. A survivor has been through something difficult and/or traumatic and continues to live life. For a few years, I vacillated between victim and survivor, trying to understand what each meant. Becoming a survivor, for me, meant I could never turn back. I could no longer pretend that nothing had happened. That was scary. I wasn't sure I wanted to take that step.

I needed time to figure out who I was if I had been raped, and who I would become if I moved through that pain to see what was on the other side. For a long time, my persona had been a strong, self-assured, completely emotionally isolated human being. When I began therapy I had to become vulnerable. I had to look at things that were horribly frightening - things that made me feel physically ill. When I added to the mix the fact that I didn't know who I would be if I allowed healing, I felt completely inept and cowardly.

Finally, I needed to understand how to talk about what happened, and I needed to be able to do so in any context. I practiced the brief explanation when someone unthinkingly asked why I had PTSD, and I was grateful that they asked regardless of their obvious embarrassment when I answered the question. I practiced written essays and exercises exploring each aspect of what it meant to me to be the person I was in spite of what had happened. I said the words, "I'm a rape survivor," in doctors' offices, in church, and at business gatherings. I didn't provide details and I said it pleasantly, in tones similar to those I would use if I said, "I like to eat fresh raspberries." I wasn't trying to downgrade or dismiss what happened. I just wanted to be able to say it and remain calm.

In short, I needed time to become before I could attempt what was asked - the thing that seemed simple and logical to my counselor, but overwhelming and impossible to me.

Almost ten years after the request, I made the report. The officer in charge turned out to be not a stranger, but a friend from high school. He sat quietly in the room while another officer allowed me to recount what happened. My friend asked gently for pertinent details and slid the trash can toward me when I looked like I might throw up. He checked in with me several times to make sure I didn't need a time-out to breathe, and occasionally changed the subject briefly when it was clear that I was panicking. Before I left, he took a moment to ask me about my family and tell me about his own. Then he told me he was sad about the circumstances of our meeting, but he was still happy to see me.

At the end of my six-hour drive home, I experienced one of the most physically painful panic attacks of my life. I couldn't breathe. My entire body hurt. I was crying and gasping. I made it home and into my bathroom before I threw up. Then I went upstairs and taught piano lessons. Because that's what you do when you're a rape survivor with PTSD. You just move on to the next thing.

What I learned was that if I had attempted making the statement 10 years ago at my counselor's request, I might never have returned to therapy. The resulting depression was intense enough that I don't know that I would have survived it a decade ago. I wasn't as strong then. I needed time to become.

When a loved one comes with an "easily" solved dilemma, it's good to remember that people grow at differing paces and in many different areas. What seems simple to one might seem impossible to another. Allowing time to build strength and understanding is always more important than an immediate solution. Showing disappointment when a loved one does not act on good advice is never helpful.

The thing that brought me the most growth and strength was the unwavering and constantly growing love I felt from people who were a part of my support system. Their willingness to let me choose what I would and wouldn't do and the unceasing trust I felt from them, allowed me to learn to trust my own judgment. Their belief in me strengthened my resolve and brought me to the point when I could finally do what had been asked nearly a decade before. They allowed me to become - whatever that might be - and they supported my choice to become what I would. I think that's beautiful.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, B-Jo. You're a great lady and I'm so glad to know you.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Megs. I always need those!

  3. I always knew you would do what you needed to do, when you were ready to do it. This awful thing happened to you, and you had to call the shots. I hope you felt that from me. It's been a joy to see you grow and share. I appreciate your increasing presence in my life. You are so important to me! I love you,