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When I was 29, I was sexually assaulted. This is something that I have never really admitted to anyone, let alone myself, until recently.
The morning after the incident took place, I remember feeling a bit hazy on the details of what had actually occurred. I could recall one specific detail however, which in and of itself made a pretty strong argument for what had actually happened.
I never filed a police report, or even confronted my rapist. There was a certain amount of guilt and shame that I carried with regards to how I allowed myself to get into a situation where I would be violated on perhaps the most intimate of terms, and I think it was the guilt and shame that kept me hushed for so many years.
Earlier this spring, for whatever reason-I haven’t, surprisingly, done too much analysis of why-I was reminded of the evening in January of 2009 when everything happened. In remembering, I essentially shut down, and I think it took a good hour of gentle prompting and reminders of unconditional love for me to actually voice what had happened. It was incredibly difficult to put words to it, as again I hadn’t even acknowledged the rape to myself, let alone anyone else.
While I wouldn’t say the rape affected my subsequent relationships on a superficial level, I know it perpetuated a habit I have long subscribed to: giving my power away to someone else.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been someone to freely give to others, even when it has been at my own expense. I will go along with someone else’s plans even though I may not necessarily want to. I’ll keep my opinion and thoughts to myself, especially if I think they may hurt or upset someone. I’ll let others make choices and decisions for me. I’ll allow others’ values and priorities shape and affect my own.
I am quietly submissive.
After that evening in January of 2009, I carried on with my life, much the same as I had before. In the years since, I have become involved with partners with whom I have given up a lot of power, in an effort to please.
There was the doomed relationship I became a part of in the early summer of 2014 when I returned to Ottawa. While not physically abusive, my then partner was incredibly emotionally manipulative. After months of numerous attempts to get out of the relationship, I finally managed to summon up the courage to do so after 15 or 16 months. The relationship ended as quietly as it had began, with my sole statement of “I can’t do this anymore”. I didn’t get into any specifics, nor was there any conversation where I allowed myself to fully express my own feelings. It just ended. I vowed to never allow myself to let someone else dictate my worth and love the same way my then partner had done. While I experienced a bit of an upswing after leaving that relationship, with my confidence finally on an upward tilt, I apparently still had some lessons to learn.
I briefly saw someone for the span of a month in the early fall of 2015. While this person looked good on paper, I ignored the sinking feeling in my gut that was strongly suggesting that he might not be a great fit. It wasn’t so much a feeling that we were incompatible. It was more a feeling of anxiousness that this person had some significant issues that could end up hurting me in the long run if I chose to stay. I had learned enough from my previous year and half relationship where I knew I would not allow myself to repeat sticking around for so long if I knew it was wrong. In the end, the fall 2015 exchange was brief, lasting only a month. With its end however, which was my call, a slew of threats and unpleasant messages began being issued, and for a good month I was afraid each time I left my apartment that he was going to show up. His angry messages after it was over confirmed what my gut had been telling me during our time together. Here was someone with significant and scary anger issues who was now making me the focus and direction for his hatred. While I stopped spending time with him, and eventually blocked all forms of communication with him, again, I never stood up for myself or told him what he was doing was wrong. I just quietly went away and hoped that eventually my silence would be enough to dissuade him from continuing on with his vitriol.
This last week, I was enjoying a rare night of good sleep, when I suddenly woke up, after a rather unpleasant and violent dream about being attacked and raped. The dream was so vivid that I was scared enough where returning to sleep immediately didn’t seem to be realistic. I laid in bed, in the dark for a few moments, before I felt the urge to check the time. Upon turning my phone on to see that it was 2 am, I also saw a series of texts that I had received just a few hours before from someone I knew from my time up north. A bit confused, and not really calm enough to fall asleep again, I opted for opening the texts up to see what had been sent. A sinking feeling consumed my entire body as I read the text that was comprised of violent and hurtful sexual actions the sender planned to do to me. He finished the text off with “Stupid Bitch” and that was that.
The text coming the same night as my nightmare, and a few short months after having said out-loud what had happened to me in 2009 was a bit more than I was willing to cope with. It was triggering, and I think I laid in bed for another good hour trying to figure out what had happened, what I should do, if anything, and what this all meant.
A few weeks ago, when I went to my session, one of the more profound questions that came up was why I continually gave my power away. As I mentioned earlier, it has been a common practice for me for as long as I can remember, and on the evening in January of 2009, I perhaps engaged in the ultimate act of giving one’s power away, even though I was an unwilling participant.
Each time I have given my power away, in each instance-whether it is through a work relationship, a friendship or a romantic relationship-I have never stood up for myself, even when I know in giving my power away I have been wronged. I’ve quietly acquiesced or submitted, and when I have been brave enough to end something, rather than expressing myself, I’ve just allowed myself to quietly disappear.
When I woke up on Thursday morning, the morning after the nightmare and the text, I wasn’t sure what my actions should be, if any. The sender of the texts was someone I considered a friend. He was someone I have known for 10 years. He’s someone who has sent me drunken ramblings before but they have never been violent or sexual in nature and tone.
I wondered if this was just something some guys do now. I have, after all done enough on-line dating to know that unsolicited pictures are common place. That initial messages often contain no “Hey how are you” but rather detail what someone might like to do with you/to you. I know cat-calling is still a thing. While I’m not suggesting that any of these actions are acceptable, warranted or even an appropriate means of interacting with someone, they happen. And while I know that an unsolicited picture is not the same as someone texting the details of a rape they would like to commit against you, it too seems more common-place as sad a comment as that is.
It took some reminding that someone who sends such messages, is in fact not the stuff that makes up a friend, and that what was included in the message was hurtful, wrong and messed up, but eventually I came around to see the situation for what it was.
I composed a brief reply to the sender, in which I shared how far beyond inappropriate the message he sent was, and that it hurt me. I mentioned that the message had been a deal-breaker as far as our friendship went, and that while I wished him well, I also hoped that he would get some help.
I stood up for myself, for the first time in a long time. And then I blocked him.
A big part of the journey to healing and recovery for me, is the establishment of boundaries and knowing what my limits are. As someone who has always just pushed herself well beyond her limits, and allowed others to use her as a bit of a doormat for years, it was a pretty big step for me. While it would have been far more pleasant to have learned about setting up boundaries and limits through a less violent means, I am in a small way grateful for the situation to have happened as it did. It’s sort of a trial by fire method, but it provided me the opportunity to put into practice some of the things I have been learning about and for myself.
Rape is never okay. While everyone who has been a victim of it will deal with it in a way and manner they best see fit, it is so important to know and remember that it isn’t okay. And that you didn’t bring it on yourself.
And that you can re-claim your power. Many times over.