student of life
Though I believe and have described my journey as a crooked path, meaning that PTSD behaviors were at times debilitating and at times manageable, there are specific steps that I took to move toward and live a fruitful, healthful, and productive life.
I am referring to the 1:1 relationship between a therapist (psychiatrist / psychologist) and a patient. Originally, at the age of 14, I met with a psychiatrist. As I have stated elsewhere on this site, PTSD had not yet been associated with sexual assault / violation and would not be for a couple of decades. This undermined any attempt by the therapists that I saw during this time. It was the primary source of any kind of counseling as other remedies were considered harmful to a child, such as, shock therapy. I can attest to that all the therapists that I saw had no idea how to help me; though, I do believe that they sincerely attempted to counsel me.
As a child and adolescent, I had been told I could do and be anything I wanted. My parents had high expectations of all of us. We were expected to be the best at whatever we were doing. It might have seemed daunting to outsiders but for me it was the norm. What I didn’t realize is that it set the stage for disaster.
In the 9th grade, I discovered boys, or rather they discovered me. I lost focus in one particular class due to one particular boy and my grade plummeted. When I received my grade, I was horrified. My mother had gone to stay with my grandmother who had been ill for many years and was failing. That left me to go home with my failing grade to my father. As I’ve written elsewhere, he was petrifying to me. I ran away and this was the first time I was raped.
That began my descent into Neverland. Here is the message I received:
taking it back
An early turning point for my struggles with the effects of PTSD, was when I became a mother for the first time. It would still be a long road ahead of me before I could express some semblance of rational behavior and responses in situations.
However, the birth of my beautiful daughter pierced through the many cracks in my armor and I felt a burst of natural and maternal love and protectiveness that was like the brilliant sun shining through a stormy day. As they put her in a crib next to me in the labor room, I reached over to her and she grabbed onto my finger and screamed her heart out as a natural response to losing the shelter she had inside my womb. That scream gave me the lifeline to connect to her emotionally. I understood her loss. And I knew I would fight with everything in me to protect her and later her two sisters.
I was told to be quiet. I was told not to tell anyone. My own parents did not want to know. My father said I was never to discuss it with my mother. She was to be protected. She was to be protected? I was also told not to discuss it with my brothers – the three of them are younger than I.
Though I was underage, news leaked out. My friends’ parents, with some exception, told their children they could no longer associate with me. I was very confused. I had this horrific thing that I needed to talk about. I needed support. I needed friendship. I needed everything to return to the way it was.
chaos and clarity
The onset of PTSD at a time when it was not recognized for those experiencing sexual assault, resulted in chaos for me. The shock of my initial experience at the age of 14, propelled me into a world of emotional extremes and instinctual, rather than intentional, reactions. Those reactions were unpredictable, not just for me, but for those around me. Any given situation could have unexpected outcomes and many of those that were close to me, including family, began to push me away in frustration as they felt less and less in control of me.
I felt a similar frustration, along with the pain of being isolated away from those I had previously felt I could rely on for love and nurturing. I became increasingly angry and rebellious. I began to expect people around me to reject me and, eventually, just turned away from them altogether. This became a destructive pattern that affected me in every facet of my life, personally and professionally. I found myself in one disastrous situation after another. I was no longer a runaway teen, having my life threatened regularly and my body violated; but, I began creating an environment where others would reject me.
Those that sexually assault or violate are looking to control and gain some twisted sense of power. In fact, if successful, they are completely in control and powerful in those moments that the violation occurs. Beyond a sick fantasy, it is a harsh reality come to life.
For those that must endure these horrific events, there is tragic sense of loss and powerlessness. The greatest loss is one of personal dignity. It is stripped away in those moments as though it never existed. The complete hopelessness that comes in those moments is unbearable.
For me, this was the mountain in front of me, though I did not understand it as a child. I only felt that I had been someone before my first rape and that person had disappeared to be replaced by someone with diminished, if any, value. I was inconsequential, without worth, and no longer understood my place in my family, or community. Neither did anyone at that time try to assure me that I still held a place
emotional intelligence: finding pain
Why couldn’t I cry? I cried and screamed when I was raped at the age of 14. It did not protect me or prevent the four men attacking me from continuing to rape me. I stopped crying. Not just that night. It was an exercise in futility. I can count on my fingers how many times I cried over the next few decades. During my adolescence, I can only recall two of those times and both were associated with the loss of friends either due to social isolation or because my family decided to move to a different state.
I didn’t cry when I was raped at gunpoint or with a knife pointed at me, nor did I cry when I was raped by brutal force. I didn’t cry when I was demeaned or beaten at home. I didn’t cry when my first husband cheated on me, or when he tried to kill me by throwing me down the stairs.
grieving the end of "Normal"
From the age of 14, the time of my first sexual assault, and through much of my adulthood, I dreamt about the return to normal. If I could just be who I was, everything else would be right with the world. I could form long-lasting friendships and relationships just like everyone else around me. I would be the person who once drew everyone toward her rather than them running as fast as possible away from me.
This tortured me. I thought with enough therapy or finding the right kind of therapy, all would be well, and PTSD would be something that I could cure and it would be a thing of the past.
As an adult and having had various success with therapeutic methods and practices, I began to accept myself for who I am today. My breakthrough came when I was able to recognize that halted adolescent within myself and grieve for her. She was not coming back. I acknowledged her pain instead of ignoring it. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick. It did start a process within which I was able to accept what had happened to me. I was able to integrate that young girl and young adult with who I am today.