There is fear in talking about being a victim of rape: fear of not being believed, fear of what the perpetrator will do, fear of being judged, fear of being unloved, fear of being told you are to blame. The cycle of shame—silence, ignorance, more shame—needs to be arrested. Silenced rape victims can’t ask for help, can’t share their stories and can’t recover.
I was first molested when I was 6 years old. The two teenage boys told me what had happened was “our secret” and that I would be in trouble if anyone found out. I was frightened and overwhelmed. I kept the secret but wished it away, suppressing the feelings, burying it in my psyche, hoping that no one would find out. Of course, unbeknownst to myself, I was a ticking bomb.
Consequently, I became an awkward individual, suspicious of others, hostile. I had difficulty with expressing myself to others. However, I excelled in sports. And I channeled my competitive nature into beating this tacit, unseen enemy that I had buried under layers and layers of denial. I shunned friends and became lonely and isolated. I felt like the character from Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” I felt misunderstood, and I looked for help in all of the wrong places. I sought validation and approval rather than self-acceptance. My self-talk became full of self-hate.
Throughout my 20s, I moved from one life-threatening situation to another. I surrounded myself with people who did not have my best interest at heart. I gave away my power and re-traumatized myself. Time and time again, I would find myself in situations that were full of high drama and danger. I was physically overpowered by predatory men in that drug-using milieu. I lost count of the times I was beaten up and raped, due to the unmanageability of substance misuse episodes.
The cycle of active addiction allowed me to suppress the feelings my reality evoked. Horror and trauma ensued until at the age of 31, when I decided to get clean. The drugs had stopped working. I was no longer able to numb myself. Serendipity followed, and the insightful doctor referred me to a psychiatrist, who helped me sort the wreckage of my past.
She said I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the adult sequelae of childhood sexual abuse. I had no understanding of healthy boundaries. She confirmed that I had been coerced into maintaining a toxic secret. I began to acknowledge my feelings. My broken heart was my starting point, and I started to grieve the loss of childhood innocence. I started to heal.
I no longer had to smile when I wanted to cry, and I started to own my feelings of feeling dirty, filthy, angry, sad, shameful and confused. I was no longer as sick as my secrets. I made the journey from shame to grace, turning humiliation into self-respect, transforming night terrors into peaceful sleep.
Armed with recovery insights, I realized that in order to be happy I would need to make a thorough audit of myself and my shortcomings. This process removed me from the blame game.
Today, my past no longer holds me hostage, and, in turn, I have no prisoners. Recovery allows me to work on myself and look at my part in situations. Armed with this new awareness, I am responsible for retaining my power, and I no longer go blindly where angels fear to tread. I no longer allow myself to be coerced into negative contracts, keeping the secrets of others. Freedom is never free, and mine is a pearl of great price. I never undervalue what I have had to do to win it. My greatest sense of wholeness has come from the courage I never knew I had to rescue my inner child and give her the hug she so desperately craved.
Life, for me, is about adapting to change and growing both spiritually and emotionally so that I can be the best version of me. Recovery has allowed me to look at myself and has given me a very clear sense of who I am. Today I believe in miracles because I became one. I thought I never stood a chance at a happy and healthy life, and now I have one.
I choose to stay clean because I found my soul mate, a girl worth living for. That girl is me. By sharing my vulnerabilities, I found strength. There is power in those vulnerabilities, too, because I know my vulnerabilities. I am a strong woman standing tall in her own power.