I was raped. For years, I didn’t acknowledge it. I didn’t tell myself until I was 37 years old. Why? Because I didn’t understand that it was rape. I didn’t think rape was possible in the way that it happened to me.
It occurred two and a half decades before I ever said a thing about it. Do you know how long that is? Not a word. Not a peep. And then one day, it came out of me as if I was telling someone else’s story. I blurted out the word “rape” but was completely detached from its power. No emotion whatsoever.
I said, very casually at lunch, “I was raped.” He didn’t handle it well. His eyes darted around uncomfortably, while he signaled our waiter for the check…I imagine so he could get the hell out of there. The very mention of the word had caused him incredible discomfort.
Why was that? Why was my past not sustainable in our friendship?
After our luncheon, I noticed that something had shifted within me. I began thinking more deeply about things; about my past. I wondered if the 12-year-old boy inside still needed something from me. Did he need me to tell him he didn’t do anything wrong? Did he need me to help him understand that he wasn’t raped because he had crushes on boys? Did he need me to reach back in time, wrap my arms around his eighty-five pound frame and say, “I’m so…so sorry. You did good. Because you survived.”
For the next couple of weeks, I carried around the possibility that this long-forgotten story wasn’t over. And then one evening, I sat down with my laptop, opened a fresh Word document, and punched these words onto a blank page:
“I was raped.”
I stared at them, not feeling a thing. My cursor flashing, waiting for an onslaught of words that would make sense of it all.
“I was raped.”
I punched the words in again.
I singled out the word, on its own.
“Rape. Rape. Rape.”
It sounded ridiculous in my head—like it wasn’t a word at all. As if it were alien speak.
I was too emotionally disconnected from something I knew needed tending to. I needed help. So, I hired a counselor.
I talked about it…slowly at first. Then, I wrote it out—the whole story—word for word…every ugly detail.
I sat in my recliner until way after midnight. My heart raced with every keystroke. Tears rolling down my face.
But this wasn’t the hardest part.
The hardest part was when my body betrayed me. Right then and there—as I was writing it down—I felt aroused. Can you even imagine?
God, what kind of monster-child had I been?!
And I feared I was no different now—a monster-man. So fundamentally broken, beyond repair.
But I continued writing through it, my insides churning chaos and terror. Tears and sweat. Reliving each memory. Frame by frame. Every word calling me closer to the realization that this was, in fact…RAPE.
Sitting there in my chair, I could feel it all. Everything that was buried—the shame, the loss of control, the fear, the gripping pain.
His fire inside me.
When I was finished, it was overwhelming to see it all before me. Everything that had happened, written out on the page.
The following week, I took it to my therapist’s office and read it out loud to him. As I did, something amazing happened; moving forward began to feel possible. Because what happened to me, was no longer a secret.
The most cunning part of our violations is when our skeletons hold a bony finger to their mouths and whisper…Shhhh. For we are not haunted in the telling. We are haunted in the quiet.
And as victims, we heed their deadly instruction. We mind our skeletons and we keep quiet. We forget it ever happened. After all…
It was family. It was a friend. It was a trusted person in our lives.
So, we cover it over and get on with our lives as best as we can.
When the rape ended, I pulled up my pants. I went to the kitchen, turned on the faucet, got a glass of water, and with a glazed-over stare, looked out the window into the backyard. Fifteen minutes later, I would be playing football with all of my neighborhood friends in that backyard, as if nothing ever happened.
Because in our attempt to survive, we move on. We forget. And make no mistake, we do this for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS. Sometimes longer.
And then, when we finally acknowledge the truth and are good and raw in our spirits, too many of us come face to face with those who either minimize our experience, deny it completely, or call early for the lunch check because…
We are too much for them.
You need to know that the destructive words of the ignorant, or their complete rejection of your story has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. So, do not become preoccupied by their inability to listen to, or SEE you.
Instead, focus your energy on those who can. On those who DO believe you.
You’ll never have to convince a true community of survivors. They will nod their heads as you share your story because they’ve been there. Their “me too” is very real…and very powerful.
Remember that together, we are an army. Once casualties, now survivors, we bear the scars of this heroic act called SURVIVAL.
And one last thing:
To those who haven’t experienced rape, abuse, incest, or sexual harassment….
Please don’t ask us not to brand our posts on social media with #MeToo or #WhyIDidntReport or #NotOkay hashtags. And NEVER tell us how tired you are of hearing the stories of those who’ve been brave enough to come forward.
Why? Because we actually know about the tired of which you speak. We’ve had a backstage pass to it. So please do not put the onus on us to keep your feed happy, when the very real effects of rape we write about, bores, tires, or infuriates you. Scroll on, friend. And stay out of it, unless you’ve got a show of support in you.
And if you’re a survivor, work hard to find those of us who understand your situation. Because we are here. We are gathering all over the place. We’re telling our stories at www.sayitsurvivor.com, at www.mattbayswriter.com, www.facebook.com/mattbays70, at www.raiin.org, and so many other places.
There is help. There is validation. There is healing.
Tell your story, Survivor. We are listening…to every single word.