Survivor. It is a term that doesn’t sit well with me. Rape survivor. I suppose in very basic biological terms, I did survive. My body gets up every day and performs the basic functions necessary to get through each day. I am an attentive partner, a loving parent, a productive employee and a caring friend. Yet the “I” that survived is only a part of the “I” that was once me. And that was the topic of my recent therapy, and my ‘homework’ assignment - to name the parts that did not survive.
Feeling safe. I grew up in the cocoon of a wonderful loving family, a friendly neighborhood and a caring faith community. I never remember not feeling safe. I could go anywhere and do anything, anytime. And did. Now, I don’t think a day goes by when I feel safe. It is a difficult sensation to describe - the always looking over my shoulder, the always sitting with my back to a wall, the sweat that beads up when I hear strange voices, the sense of shadows, the mistrust when I meet a man for the first time. I don’t think you really notice feeling safe. But you definitely notice when it is missing. I have learned to manage it.
Joy. I can no longer feel joy. I can be happy. I can be moved to tears. But that totally letting go kind of happiness is gone.
My inner child died. Dancing with abandon. Giggling for no reason. All those child like, uninhibited things are unimaginable for me now. The lighthearted girl ran away terrified, and never came back.
But the worst thing is something I still can’t put a name to. That feeling of not only being violated, but having a cheering, leering, laughing audience to it. That killed something so fundamental in me, some critical part of my identity, I can’t describe what it is that died. Yet, sometimes when I look in a mirror, I don’t recognize the person looking back. There is a hollowness there that frightens me.
Still, not all was lost. I am proud that I have been able to rebuild a productive and loving life. I have mourned some of those parts and I have managed to work around them. Much, I imagine, like a person with an amputated limb. You find ways to live productively with what you have left. I was slowly able to allow people to touch me again. I have allowed myself to trust people. And fortunately I have rarely been hurt (except ironically by religious people) I force myself to go out in the world and live in it. I love. And I am loved. I have an abundant life.
I do not feel like a victim. Yet I do not feel like a survivor. Mostly I feel like a stranger. Even to myself.