I was raped.”
I uttered these words as I fell forward, head in my hands, shaking on my therapist’s couch It took me a long to time to utter these words, let alone accept them. The word rape feels dirty. Like we are damaged, like there is something wrong with us that we would allow this to happen.
For so long I justified the situation to myself in order to deny what happened I compared myself to all the other images of society of someone who is raped. I believed for many years that it was my fault. I was the one that invited him to the party, I was the one that was so drunk and high. If I hadn’t let myself get so wasted this wouldn’t have happened. Is this true? Maybe... we could even say probably. And that still doesn’t mean that it’s my FAULT. There may be something for me to be responsible for.. but we can take responsibility for our part in a situation and not be to blame. Blame and responsibility are two very different things that are often collapsed in our culture and minds.
When working with clients, I often talk about this concept. It’s a tricky line to walk, one that must be done carefully and diligently. Not everyone is ready to have this conversation. Those of us that are not in the acceptance stage are not ready to have this conversation. People who are actively in a traumatizing situation are also not in the space to have this conversation. You cannot safety process a situation you are currently being traumatized by. Safety must come first and you must be out of that situation before healing can begin.
However, for my friends that are ready, I encourage you to look at this with an open mind. It’s actually very empowering to take responsibility for your part in a situation. To be clear, for many of us, the ONLY responsibility we may have is that we allowed it to keep us small and control our lives for so long. This is also NOT to say that we were wrong because of this. We did what we needed to do to survive. And thank god for that. Of course a child that was molested was severely negatively impacted. It isn’t her fault, but with knowledge now it becomes her responsibility to heal. Now taking that on, that’s real power.
This leads me to one of my favorite quotes,
“Your wound is probably not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.”
- Denice Frohman
Whether we have trauma or not, taking responsibility for our life and healing our wounds is an empowering context to live our lives. It shifts us out of searching for others to blame, and we start to feel empowered by ourselves and what we can accomplish. I know this is a heavy topic, so for my friends that read all the way to the bottom of this post I appreciate you sticking in this. I would love to know your thoughts!
I've been typing and deleting and trying to muster up the courage to write this post for the last 24 hours. Its so clear to me how important it is to write this post, and yet, like everyone, I hate vulnerability and recoil from it like a hot flame. Must look good, must not embarrass oneself or others, must not cause a commotion, what if people identify who it is? are just a few sentences that run through my head in attempts to not post.
But screw it. Here we go. Nine years ago I was raped. I was at a party and was very drunk and high during my active addiction. I knew the guy and he was older than me and really cool. I desperately wanted him to like me. I hazily remember him inviting me back over to his place and I accepted. I had only had sex with 2 people at that point in my life and both were serious boyfriends. This had been a value of mine, and it was a big part of who I was. Soon after going over to his place, things began to move quickly and I asked him to stop. He ripped my dress and pushed me on the bed. He refused to use protection despite my protests. I remember at some point, he left and other people came into the room. I was lying naked and helpless on the bed, I was too intoxicated to speak or move.
I woke up the next morning covered in bruises. I walked back to my dorm the next morning in my ripped dress I had to hold together, feeling so ashamed. I was so angry at myself for getting so wasted. I thought it was my fault. I rationalized and made sense of the situation by saying that I must have wanted to have sex with him.
Soon after, my drinking and drugging spiraled out of control. I stopped caring about myself or my values. I became very promiscuous.
Years later, while studying to be a therapist in school, I learned that promscuity is actually a response to sexual trauma. If a child is physically abused, a common way a child's brain will reprocess the trauma is through re-enacting the same behavior with toys (or other children). The child will do the same behaviors and often mimic the same words that were said to him or her. This is the reason that so many female strippers or prostitutes have a history of sexual trauma, they learn (unfortunately for many at a young age) how to survive, and that survival includes using their body for sex often so that somebody else doesn't use it for themselves instead. Learning this dramatically impacted my life. For the first time since iI was clear that I wasn't a bad person or a slut. I didn't "want this" just because of my sexual history that followed. And it is the reason I'm so passionate about working with young women.
If we can convince ourselves that it was our idea, it gives us a sense of control. We feel as though it won't happen again, or in the very least, it will be our choice and thus less painful.
There are many therapists who choose not to disclose to their clients. I have lots of respect for them. I know what I'm doing is risky. They believe that it is better to be a mirror and be as plain and objective as possible in order to bring healing to their clients. I have a different opinion. I find that there is so much power in sharing, in a client both seeing me and being seen. For me , this type of one-sided therapeutic relationship did not work. I needed a clinician who I trusted, who I knew had gone through a similar experience to me, who I believed would understand me. This is why I share. This is why I self disclose.
Because if its one thing I've learned from being in therapy and also facilitating tons of it over the years, its that there is so much power in speaking our truth. In sharing our stories with each other, in shining light on the darkness. And ultimately, saying, ME TOO!
P.S. Disclaimer: please note that the #metoo campaign is a spectrum. It doesn't necessarily look just like rape. Many women have been groped, assaulted, name called etc. and absolutely fit into this category. This is simply my experience. Abuse is a spectrum and is up to the individual to choose and classify for his or herself is she falls into that category. It is never our right to label someone else's experience.
Have you seen the Amy Schumer's "I'm so Bad" sketch on Comedy Central?
Its a genius parody striking back at food shaming in the media. Seriously, if you haven't seen it, go to youtube it... I will wait. Let me recap it for you. 4 women sitting at a restaurant sharing about how "bad" they were with their eating habits....with no mention or issue with the actual horrific things they were doing like "cyberbulling kids on Instagram." Its a perfect play on how women in the media are depicted as feeling guilty (and therefore you should too!) for...wait for it...eating. I know horrific right? How dare a woman engage in a body behavior that is integral for her survival!
Can you imagine if we replaced the behavior of eating with something as natural as going to the bathroom? I'll paint the picture for you...4 women sitting around the table. Three of the women are able to leave their water untouched while another keeps pushing it away and then sneaking a sip! Finally, flushed now, she scurries away from the table to go to the bathroom only to slunk back to the table and cry, "I can't believe I've had to get up to pee three times tonight! You guys, I"M SOO BAD!" Comical right? But the representation is right on point.
Take that a step further to include men. Can you picture a guy feeling guilty about eating? Play around with google for an afternoon and you will see what I mean. I'm not saying they may not feel guilty, but they certainly most do not feel like an immoral human being, who is guilty of punishment in some way. Yesterday I googled "women feeling guilty." The entire first page was filled with article after article about women feeling guilty about everything from success to motherhood to eating. Once I looked at the image results of this google search, it got even sadder. Most of the photos that came up showed women eating food and feeling guilty!
Next, I googled "men feeling guilty." This first article that popped up is an article from PsychCentral entitled," "How to Deal with Women's Emotions." The remaining results primary discussed how men want to leave you but feel too guilty about it, or even more fun, men making women feel guilty about their issues. I then looked at the pictures of this search. *Brace yourselves.* There were zero, I repeat, zero pictures of men with food. In fact, only the first three photos were just men. By picture #4, there were pictures of women feeling guilty while the man looks annoyed and couples in arguments. There was certainly no pictures of men feeling guilty for eating a steak.
The closest I got to an ad with men feeling guilty about food is the photo above, which is honestly almost worse because the guy feels guilty for "not reading the girls mind" when she is PMSing. This is seriously an ad for guys to buy their girls milk in order to "calm her down".
If women are portrayed as enjoying food in advertisements or media, their is typically a sexual innuendo attached to it. Think of the stereotypical Carl Junior ad's Paris Hilton did back in the day...or almost every chocolate commercial you have ever seen. Seriously, I don't know who started this, but every chocolate ad appears to be advertised towards women as a way to feel sexy and "be bad" in a sexualized way. Do you see the ad above? It literally reads "Filthy. Indulge your obsession for chocolate."
Compare this to men. All the photos you find when you google "men eating" show pictures of men "chomping" down on food, or enjoying food with their friends. There is no guilt, there is no hesitation or need to sneak or lie about what they are eating. Also, to be clear, men have their own issues associated with food, body image, and advertisements and men absolutely have eating disorders. However, if you look at the photos of men eating versus women on the whole, men are represented as having a significantly healthier relationship with food than women.
It's no wonder when examining a minute portion of advertisements and social media that women have issues with food and sexuality. Women are taught to feel guilty about their bodies, their sexuality and their appetites. And while I am very clear that there has been a lot of progress, there is a reason Amy Schumer's sketch is so relevant Its one of those sketches that as a woman, you laugh "almost" too hard, as if your giggles may reveal that you relate a little too much. Again, not with the cyber bullying, but with eating so much cake you fear your friends will actually think you're a monster!
So in closing this week, I leave you with one therapy nugget, a "therapy snack " if you will, no pun intended...to take away from this week's #fiveminutetherapy,..
Dear woman, go be YOUR BAD SELF! The world needs you. All of you. The good, the bad and the what you perceive as ugly.