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Complex Trauma: Dealing with Life After Sexual Assault

I want to address the women who are fighting against gravity. By gravity, I mean the unrelenting weight of physical, mental and emotional pain that you somehow manage to mask with a smile every day. Those who only post good things on social media. The ones who always keep it “PC” in response to the question, “How are you?” Who are you protecting by holding in your innermost thoughts; your darkest fears; your most persistent worries? We all know those people that say, “I don’t air my dirty laundry in public”. How much dirty laundry do you have and how much clean air is left in your house? Can you still breathe or are you suffocating? To those women who are unbelievably strong. You are so strong that you don’t even need the air anymore. You don’t need the help because you single-handedly deal with your problems. What’s wrong with being weak sometimes? Isn’t the weight on your shoulders heavy? How many nights have you cried yourself to sleep, woke up, put on your brave face and walked back into the world?

I’ve always heard that the weakest people commit suicide. However, I think that the “strongest” people commit suicide. I placed quotes around the word “strongest” because I don’t believe that strength can be measured by how many problems you can juggle and how many unhealthy thoughts you can suppress. The “strong” ones say, “I can handle this”. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. One day, the problems will overwhelm and the emotions will consume you. And because you never told anyone the truth, they assume you’ll be okay. They don’t check on you at your most vulnerable moment. The “strong” ones commit suicide. In their most vulnerable moment, they do not ask for help. They tell themselves, “I can handle it”. But they can’t. So, one final time, they take matters into their own hands and end their life.

I know what it’s like. To be so overcome with unhealthy thoughts that my body begins to feel the physical pain. I start to feel the omnipresent force of gravity, and with every second, it gets stronger and stronger. Until finally, I can’t walk and I can’t breathe. And I start to wonder, “Surely, there has to be a better life than this.” I become ashamed for letting myself get to this point again. “Seriously, Destynie, you’re crying on the floor AGAIN? You are stronger than this. Look at all that you have accomplished. You have no reason to even feel this way.” I start to discredit my emotions because my life is “too good” to feel this way. And still yet, every time I try to get up, the weight of gravity pushes me back down. Until finally, I come to the same conclusion. “Why am I even alive? I can’t even be content with how ‘great ’my life is now. Sure, I’ve experienced some trauma. But, there’s no reason for me to be this depressed.” If I could just get up and grab a knife, I would end it. Or maybe pills or maybe something else. Every day, I come across a random object or a random event and for a split second I think, “I wonder if that could kill me.” Whoa. That’s tough to type. I hear two voices in my head. First, I hear Kanye West saying, “Say it out loud; just to see how it feels”; a lyric from his song, “I Thought About Killing You”, where he raps about his thoughts of murder and suicide. Secondly, I hear my best friend whispering in my ear as I resist telling my bible study group that I was raped. “Say it”, she whispers, as I freeze mid-sentence, unable to utter the words aloud. Say it out loud; just to see how it feels. Name the pain. I was raped. Two years ago. But, the pain began long before that awful night.

I displayed symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder throughout my childhood. Therefore, alongside many great childhood moments, came years upon years of internalizing negative thoughts and suppressing valid emotions. As I grew older, my feelings of inadequacy, which stemmed from my innate sense of perfectionism, were exacerbated by a series of turbulent relationships with men. How many times, in how many relationships have I thought, “Why am I not good enough?” I mean, sure, I could’ve just been unlucky enough to stumble into a bunch of guys that could not see my true value. I’ve realized now that I wasn’t showing them the real me. So, how could they truly appreciate my worth?

After the first disappointing break-up, I started to become who I thought they wanted. As a perfectionist, I analyzed them and became the person I thought they might eventually love. Do you like long hair? Makeup? No makeup? Ratchet? Classy? I could be all those things. For some reason, I always fell short. If he didn’t cheat on me, he was too busy for me. If he wasn’t too busy for me, he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship. But, I always knew what would keep them around longer- sex. All men need sex whether they want to admit it or not. And I was good at it. If all else failed, when the emotions faded, I knew I could control at least one aspect of the relationship. In my mind, they would always want me because of this. But in reality, they would always want sex. And I happened to be available. I became accustomed to emotionless sex in a desperate attempt to have power over the men in my life just a little longer.

By the time I got to my rapist, the pain was already deeply rooted. The sad thing is, I don’t even know how to really explain how it felt to be a “victim”. I feel like people automatically assume that I was afraid or hurt. Yes, I was terrified and there was also pain involved. However, the most traumatic part was that, at some point, in the midst of all my fighting and saying “no”, I had to say “yes”. Not out loud. But, within my body. I had to accept him into me. Otherwise, the physical pain would be worse. What an oxymoron. As my rapist finally overpowered me, I had to relax. And because I was so used to being mentally and emotionally detached during sex, the familiar feeling of being penetrated began to feel …good. Again, the two voices resonate even more, “Say it out loud; just to see how it feels.” I convinced myself in that moment that this was my choice. I responded to his texts. I was friendly to him. I came to his house. Even though I said “NO!” a thousand times, I still ended up at this point. My body began to respond in the way that it usually did with my previous sexual partners. That’s why I didn’t run out when it was over. That’s why I didn’t tell anyone what happened. That’s why I didn’t call the police. How could I say that I was raped when eventually, I stopped fighting and allowed it to feel “good”. The thought of it makes me want to vomit. How could I be twisted enough to find pleasure in my assault?

As much as the pain of that night contributes to the present, it is just a contributor. Anxiety, depression, trauma. The accumulation of all these things adds to the weight of gravity as I lay down under my kitchen table because I can’t make it to my bed or even to the couch. I stare out into my living room in a daze as I attempt to defy gravity once again. What can I pull up on? If only I could just lift my head to kick start the rest of my body. I just need something to keep me busy and distract me from the pain. Does this sound familiar to you? “You can do this”, us strong people say. “Be strong”, we say. But at some point, the “strong” should realize that it is okay to be weak. That the strength you need to fight gravity doesn’t need to come from you alone. “Say it!” Speak your truth. Let someone check on you so that at your most vulnerable moment, there’s someone that recognizes that they haven’t heard from you. They send a text or call to see how you’re doing. They pray for you. They tell you how much you mean to them. And maybe they save your life.

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