Why would I want to read someone’s rape story?
Why would I want to read someone’s rape story? I get this question a lot. I think the answer to that question is the same as the answer to the question I often ask myself, “Why I would I want to TELL my rape story?”
I’ve heard everything from, “I don’t want to read your story because it will make me too depressed,” to “Re-telling trauma stories has been found to be re-traumatizing and is discouraged in some types of therapy.” These are valid comments worth addressing.
First, these stories should make us depressed and angry. We should be outraged that people are abusing and violating other people, instead of looking the other way and pretending like it’s not happening or that it’s not that big of a deal. I believe that when survivors share their stories, it fuels the fire with the anger, disgust, and outrage that our society needs to feel to do something about it. But let’s back up for a second before we get to the sharing part and address whether a survivor should even talk about the details of their experience in therapy.
We know that approaches like prolonged exposure can be very dangerous. Many survivors of trauma need to be in control of their body and have their arousal and hypervigilance in check before sharing details of their trauma can be useful. And some people may never share details of their trauma, and that’s fine. I’ve never talked or written about the details of my childhood sexual abuse. Maybe I will someday, maybe I won’t. But I don’t need to go digging around for it when it’s not presenting itself to me. Body healing approaches like Peter A. Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, yoga, etc. are SO important in healing, and they’re especially useful at the beginning of the healing journey when talking about the details of trauma can be triggering and dangerous.
Body healing approaches helped me in many ways—with my hypervigilance, startle response, dissociation—but there was a place for re-telling my story that led to profound healing for me, and I believe it can do the same for others. I’d been telling myself for years that what happened to me wasn’t really rape, and I couldn’t acknowledge that it was rape until I read another person’s story that mirrored my own experience. It was someone else re-telling their story that initiated my healing journey. I tried to convince myself that what happened to me wasn’t that big of a deal, but when I read other people’s stories, I felt the anger and the sadness and grief that I couldn’t feel for myself, and that in itself was eye-opening and illuminated a path of healing.
But even then, I told myself that I was asking for it, I should have known better, I should have been able to fight back. I’d been telling myself I was a worthless alcoholic and slut who didn’t deserve to be happy or healthy. The only way I was able to replace those narratives in my head with the truth was to write about and talk about, in detail, what happened to me. If I just said, “I was raped,” all of those damaging things I’d been saying to myself kept circling around in my head. But in the details, that’s where I found my trauma. That’s where I could acknowledge that what happened to me was horrible, that I wasn’t asking for it, that there was no way I could have known what was about to happen to me to avoid that. And my hope is that in reading my story, it might not take other survivors ten years to say these things to themselves and to know that they are worthy in spite of the trauma they endured.
Sharing the details of my story helped me love myself and accept the love that was given to me by others. Before I published my book, I shared it with the people in my life whose relationships I valued the most. Knowing that they knew all these things about me and still loved me anyway—or even more—because of it, has been hands-down the most healing part of my journey thus far. Before I shared a complete version of my story, I’d leave out the stuff that was embarrassing or shameful to me, and I hung onto and internalized that shame until the moment I communicated the shameful thing to another person. Sharing my story with the important people in my life solidified a sacred bond between us. My teenage and adult rapes came with so much blame and shame and guilt from myself and from so many of the people around me that it destroyed me from the inside out. The only way I found to turn the shame and guilt into something healing and empowering was to share my story with those around me. But I never thought I’d be sharing my story with the world.
Sexual trauma comes with an unparalleled amount of social shame and blame attached to it. The societal attitude toward survivors of sexual trauma needs to be changed, and I don’t know how else that can be done without attaching the words “rape” and “sexual assault” to a human being. So often, those words are treated as legal terms that are dissected and questioned and doubted so much that survivors are, at best, treated like a piece of paper that society can crumple up , shred, set on fire, or otherwise dispose of. We are treated like pariahs at worst. But we are human beings, these are human experiences, and I will not let my society tell me when or how or where I can share my human experience. I will not let my society tell me how I should have acted or re-acted. I will not let my society define my experience for me, and that is why I share my story widely.
I share my story to answer the questions—Why were you there? Why were you drinking? Why didn’t you fight back? Why didn’t you call the police? Why did you tell people it was just “bad sex” and now you’re calling it rape?—that so many people ask survivors of sexual trauma, so they will know that these questions are not the questions we need to be asking.
Re-telling our stories helps us not feel alone, and it validates experiences in a society that makes us doubt our own reality. But the path I took for my healing isn’t for everybody, nobody is less of a survivor if they don’t re-tell their story, but I think we can all learn something from those who do choose to share.
To read my story, check out Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir. The e-book version is FREE on Amazon through November 14th.