What Nobody Tells You About the Aftermath of Sexual Assault
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault or have suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Nobody tells you that you should guard yourself around your most trusted friend. They won’t tell you to brace yourself for what is to come: the moment that this friend would sexually assault you — the moment you are touched in ways you’d never permit. The moment you’d be taken advantage of. That moment came for me.
Please listen, especially children, it doesn’t matter if it was under or over your clothing — it is still wrong and it’s not your fault! Trust me, you expect your body to mimic your disgust but, nobody tells you it can react to the physical “pleasuring” even when you hate every second of the violating act. My body reacted. Nobody tells you the fight or flight response isn’t the only natural reaction to acute trauma: you can freeze too. I froze and I couldn’t believe it. On the inside: I was screaming, crying and losing every sliver of respect that I held for that person.
Nobody tells you the aftermath is just as horrifying as the initial incident. There can be nightmares, flashbacks and constant nausea related to the memories. In this aftermath, there is so much confusion amongst the pain. I didn’t know how to handle it. I tried pretending it didn’t happen. That failed miserably. I tried severing the friendship on multiple occasions — but I just couldn’t do it. I wanted nothing to do with her — but, at the same time, she was family. You never want to lose family, despite the vilest of circumstances, you do your best to maintain relationships. With that said, nobody tells you that your heart can be ripped out of your chest and shattered into thousands of pieces… or how your brain can feel set on fire trying to cope with it all. I didn’t know how to. Nobody told me how to prepare for the worst or how to put the pieces of my heart back together again.
Now understand something: I am not gay. I have never, ever struggled with my sexuality or sexual identity. I have always known who I was and what my limitations were as far as physicality goes in relationships. I was comfortable in both. I was comfortable. But, with the assault, I couldn’t figure out what to do that would make what happened “OK” in a manner that would fix what was broken and restore my most treasured friendship. Nobody tells you that attempting to appease your assailant is a likely response. Nobody tells you that when your assailant is family that coping can be misguided, inappropriate and messy. So, I just gave in. I thought that providing the desired relational direction change would make all the shock and shame go away. I did things I would never in my right mind do. I did things that broke my soul. Repeatedly. I put on a front, acting like I was enjoying myself. I wasn’t. Instead, I was dying from the pain – slowly and rapidly all at once.
Rather than leave or fight, I stayed. After every single encounter: I cried, threw up and had a panic attack. My body never failed to rebuke the pain it was put through. Despite my pretending, it was clear I was not OK. It was clear I hated it. It was clear that everything went beyond just shame or guilt – I felt trapped, dirty, bruised and abused. Although brief, this episode was intense. I lost a significant amount of weight. I lost a significant amount of my worth and dignity. I thought what I was doing would somehow make all things right again. I thought wrong. Nobody tells you how complex or difficult trauma can be. I was unaware of the toll it would have on my young life. I was unaware of all the old traumas it would unbury. The cycle of pain continued until it somehow, miraculously, ceased. I had never been more broken.
In addition to everything, my bipolar disorder had greatly worsened and symptoms grew exponentially more alarming. For example: I began to self-harm on a regular basis. I just could not cope. Nobody tells you how much sicker you can get or how much more you could struggle. I completely lost it. I still could not find the courage to end that unhealthy and deadly friendship. I continued to grow more ill. I must ask you this: how low is it to take advantage of a (worsening) mentally ill individual? I would say pretty low considering that: it was severe and rare (rapid cycling bipolar depression), untreated and newly diagnosed. The symptoms intensified. I felt hopeless. I had many new wounds and scraggly scars. I reverted to unhealthy coping strategies – including relapsing with an old porn addiction too. I was disgusted with myself. I could not find healing. The depression became debilitating. I struggled to get out of bed most days. Nobody tells you that the frequency of your suicidal thoughts could drastically increase. I had always fought away these thoughts – but, my fight had diminished. I didn’t care to fight anymore. The hurt kept coming — it wouldn’t let up. I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted all of it to stop. I can’t recall how many times I have seriously contemplated taking my own life. Trauma and mental illness are not a great combination. Honestly, it is a miracle that I am still here.
I also have a few words for my friend and assailant: I forgive you and sometimes wish that I didn’t. I still care for you and I wish I could hate you. Simultaneously, I don’t want anything to do with you and miss you so much that it hurts. But, I know for me to be free, I must free you too. I don’t want to – but, I should. My hatred will only poison my own heart. You don’t need my help. I won’t let you ruin my life anymore. You won’t have a hold on me anymore. I control the weight of the darkness that has occurred. I can shine a light on it. I am the master of my life. It’s time that I start acting like it. So, friend: you are forgiven and are free — goodbye.
Nobody tells you any of this.
But, notice that I am telling you of everything that happened. Darkness will remain so until light is shone upon it. That’s what I am doing. I hope this helps someone somewhere to know they are not alone and that what you feel has been felt by another soul. You are not alone. Every story is different. Experiences differ greatly. Yet, pain still manifests. I feel your pain. I have felt your shame. I have struggled through guilt and confusion. Many of us can relate. It is sad — but, it is true. We are here for you. We see you. We hear you.
Lastly, I am telling you: you can and will make it through this. Give it time. Seek help. Accept it. See a counselor. Cry to your mom. Hug a puppy. Earn that degree. Get that promotion. Keep moving forward. Your assault does not define you. Your illness does not define you. Your past does not define you. Stay hopeful. I believe in you.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Unsplash photo via Omar Lopez