It's OK If You Struggle to Accept Your PTSD Is Truly 'Valid'
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
It’s been 20 years since it happened, and it still haunts me. It still affects me. It still is part of my life I haven’t healed from. I’ll just say it: I lost my virginity to sexual assault when I was 16.
Just typing that made me choke back tears. Even at 35 years old, writing about sex, in general, is awkward at best. But writing about sexual assault is intimate and vulnerable. It’s hard.
I’ve spent 20 years trying to convince myself that it was my fault. I took my own shirt off. Everything after that I kept asking him to stop, but he didn’t. I had never even “messed around,” so I had no idea what sex should be. I assumed that if you show interest (taking your shirt off), you can’t “back out.” You have to do it, all of it, whatever he wants — because you made him believe you would, so you have to.
Believe it or not, it took almost 20 years to know any better. I put myself in relationships, including an emotionally abusive marriage, where sex was something demanded of me. It was something I had no control over. Even if I said that something made me uncomfortable, it would only be 24 hours later that I was subjected to it again.
Three years ago, I met my partner who completely changed how I view sex. He knows my past, and he is aware of the slightest indication that my mind is going somewhere else. He helps me safely and comfortably try new things, and never ever lets me get away with continuing to do something just to “please him.” He can tell, and he stops me. We slow down, we talk, we have complete trust.
But until I met my partner, I was essentially allowing myself to be used sexually, and I didn’t even know it. I thought I was doing the right thing — being a good wife — even if I threw up and cried afterward.
I refused for 20 years to believe I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from my assault. Despite nightmares, flashbacks and my entire life being dictated by that experience, I staunchly took the position that only soldiers “deserved” to say they have PTSD. After all, it was “just sex.”
I understand it now. PTSD is a condition resulting from trauma. That trauma doesn’t have to come from war. My trauma left me drowning, suicidal and continuing to be victimized. My trauma left me with panic attacks if I saw someone who looked at all like him, or if a man brushed against me in a store or a crowd. My trauma left me curled in a corner begging him to stop because I was reliving it, and I didn’t even know that it wasn’t really happening again. I could be sitting by the edge of the ocean, lost in thought about what happened for absolutely no reason.
My trauma touched every aspect of my life, and my trauma didn’t come from war. It came from sexual assault — and I have PTSD from it.
It’s still hard to say, and to accept. I feel guilty saying it. But logically I have accepted that it is a diagnosis based on a traumatic experience. I had to accept that my experience was traumatic, which means accepting that it wasn’t my fault.
PTSD is a result of trauma — all kinds of trauma. Don’t be afraid to accept that your trauma affected you deeply and painfully. It’s OK; you’re OK. You’re allowed to claim your trauma as valid. You’re allowed to accept that your trauma was “enough.” I know you question the validity of your trauma, and you feel like you don’t deserve to accept that you have PTSD. But your trauma is real. And if you struggle to accept that you have PTSD from a traumatic event, remember this: Trauma is different for everyone, and you can’t compare yours to anyone else’s.
PTSD is carrying the pain of something you wish you could forget, but you can’t. It is a challenge and requires constant work to not let it ruin your life. PTSD from sexual assault is very, very real.
It changes your life forever.
Unsplash photo via Artycial