Ep31: Surviving Sexual Assault pt.2

Hi loves! I wanted to put a transcript of this episode in particular because I throw out a lot of key concepts and terms that you might want to refer back to, so here it is:

Hi, if you’re listening to this right now, thank you for being here.

Sexual assault is an extremely complicated and difficult topic to talk about and to hear about, so I appreciate you for clicking on this episode.

That being said, I will be going into pretty explicit detail about sexual assault and PTSD, so if you are triggered by those topics, I ask that you be kind to yourself and maybe click away, if now isn’t a good time for you to hear about those things. I also want to emphasize as I did in part one of this series: I’m not a licensed mental health professional, nor am I trained in trauma-focused therapeutic interventions. The experiences and thoughts I share on this episode are just that: they’re my experiences, and while a lot of survivors might be able to relate to certain parts of it, this is not to say that ALL survivor’s stories and journeys look exactly like mine.

Okay so with that out of the way, let’s pick up where I left off in Part 1.

I thought a lot about how I wanted to structure this episode: should I do it chronologically, should I focus more on education instead of personal details, should I make this episode more for supporters of survivors or for survivors themselves? To be super honest, I’m still not sure. Sometimes it’s better for me to just speak from the heart and hope that I’m able to achieve all those things just by being honest and open, so that is the plan for today.

After I was assaulted, I went through a lot of different trauma responses:

Hypersexuality The one that usually makes people question and doubt is hypersexuality, which means compulsive sexual behavior often at the cost of safety or wellness.

Hypersexuality was the first and the longest response I had to being assaulted. I was having sex with different people 2-3 nights of the week, having unprotected sex, going to motels with people I’d literally met the night of who I didn’t know ANYTHING about, just putting myself in really dangerous and disturbing situations. I also hurt a lot of people during this time, people who maybe did care about my feelings as a human and who didn’t just view me as a sexual object, but I in turn objectified them to feel some sense of power. I hurt my friends, who didn’t know that I was deeply hurting inside, friends that I’d abandon in the middle of a party to go do copious drugs and have sex with some random guy I didn’t even like that much.

To those people, I just want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the things I did when I was hurting, and I’m still trying everyday to forgive myself for that time in my life where I wasn’t really ME.

What people don’t really tell you about assault is that it’s always the aftermath that hurts the most. You’re struggling to even exist in this body that’s been violated, you try really hard to be the person you were before it happened, you feel guilty and misunderstood and So. Freaking. Alone. In all of it.

Hypersexuality is something I really wanted to bring up first because a lot of people view that as a “contradictory” response to assault. Like, if you were raped, wouldn’t you be scared to have sex? Why would you go and have more sex?

You know what’s sad is I’ve actually been asked those questions. And I also asked myself the same questions back then. It goes to show just how much misunderstanding there is of what trauma responses look like, and I hope this episode will clarify some of those things.

There’s several explanations here:

  • Survivors of sexual violence become hypersexual because it’s the only way they know how to regain control. Having control taken away from them in such a horrifying way, it’s almost a way to offset that by saying, “Well, I’m going to go and have a lot of sex because that’s MY choice and I’M choosing to do those things.” I think I definitely felt that subconsciously. Like, If I can play this role that’s SO FAR OPPOSITE of what people typically think of rape victims, then I can pretend I wasn’t assaulted.

  • Research also shows that PTSD and repeated exposure to high stress changes your brain and how it evaluates potential risks and threats. While for some, this means OVER-evaluating threats and feeling paranoid or having heightened defensive behaviors, what’s less talked about is the UNDER-evaluation of risks. Up until my assault in the summer of 2015, I was a really risk-averse person. I always stressed about things like being kidnapped, being murdered in my sleep, like I was SO paranoid of being caught in a bad situation. After the assault, it’s like I didn’t have a grasp on what was considered risky and what wasn’t. To me, it was all fair game. Suddenly, unprotected sex was whatever to me, I didn’t find it weird to stay at a motel with some guy almost 10 years older than me who I had met a few hours prior, I was snorting coke off of some guy’s student ID in the middle of a college party. Everyone’s idea of risk is different. All I know is those behaviors that I just mentioned were SO out of character for me, as someone who was raised all their life to be very cautious of strangers and drugs. It’s also unfortunate that these behaviors are sometimes encouraged or normalized when you’re in college or when you’re a young adult, so you REALLY start losing sight of what’s right and wrong for you, because it’s like, “Well I’m not the only one doing it so it can’t be that bad.”

Unfortunately, those things I was doing ended up being really detrimental to my recovery.

I became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and it’s something I still battle with today.

Once the hypersexuality stopped and I started admitting to myself that something was very wrong with my mind and body, it’s like the floodgates just opened.

I became severely depressed and wanted to kill myself on multiple occasions. I started getting really bad panic attacks whenever I saw my rapist or heard his name, the kind where I was so scared that I might end up fainting in front of everyone because I couldn’t catch my breath.

Some of my classes became unbearable, because we’d talk about or read things related to sexual violence, we’d have discussions about it, and the whole time I wanted to run but I didn’t want to make a scene.

This was my first experience with being triggered on an extreme level, and it was really terrifying. I didn’t really know what was happening or how to deal with it, and I started becoming scared of everything. I still remember many times where I was too scared to go to the dining hall in case I bumped into my rapist or his friends.

It’s almost like all the pain and fear finally caught up to me, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

But at the same time, I gaslighted myself so hard. When my depression landed me in therapy, my therapist listened to my entire life story and at the end, she said, “I’d like to work on the sexual assault part before anything else.” And I was really pissed at first, because I was like, “Look, I’m super depressed that I had to take time off school, so can we please address the depression first and get me back to normal please." Which is kind of funny looking back because so much of the depression was COMING from having been assaulted.

But even with my therapist, I still felt like a fraud. So many parts of my own story didn’t make sense to me because I didn’t know any better, so I was scared to talk about it with anyone, in fear that they might doubt me or disbelieve me the way I did with myself. And that leads me to something that a lot of people ask: Why didn’t you report your rapist? Why didn’t you go to the police right after it happened?

Okay this is something that really gets on my nerves, but it’s something I have to address. Whenever I read news of women coming out about being assaulted by a public figure many many years ago, SO many people’s first reaction is: “Why’d it take you this long to speak out about it?”

The simple answer is this: if you’ve never been assaulted, you have no idea the crazy shit that we survivors have to deal with BEFORE we even COME TO TERMS with the fact that, wait, what happened to us was assault. My assaults happened 6 years ago, and I’m STILL struggling to make sense of what that means to me personally, even after two years of working really hard in trauma-based therapy. So to expect survivors to just immediately accept and work through their assault and report right away is honestly a gross misunderstanding of how trauma functions.

Another point: Given how victim-blaming our culture can be, it’s incredibly difficult for survivors to come forward. You can’t set up this system that’s MADE to doubt survivors and then expect survivors to feel comfortable going through that system. We hear too many stories of victims who come forward only to be shut down, to be doxxed, to be gaslighted by the public, to be called a “whore” or “attention-seeking.” I heard many stories like that and more when I was growing up. Women who were raped and then disowned by their families or abandoned by their partners. Women who tried to speak out against their abuser and their abuser would come after them and hurt them more.

So when it happened to me, my first thought wasn’t “Oh, I should trust the system to deal with this.” My first thought was, “Shit, maybe it’s MY fault it happened and I should keep my mouth shut, because I sure as hell don’t believe in the system or the police.”

I could go on for days about this particular question but I think it’s more productive if I just link some helpful resources below. If you want to learn more about why survivors don’t report, please check those out.

So I mentioned that I went through 2 years of trauma-based cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as tCBT, which usually involves 8-10 steps and should be done with a mental health professional.

What I did in therapy is something I do want to talk about if anyone is curious, but again, I think it’s better that I save that for a separate episode. I will say that while those 2 years were really challenging, tCBT has helped my life immensely and I still implement a lot of the lessons I learned in my daily life.

Anyways, If you’re still here with me, hi. I know this is a really long episode. Just to recap what I’ve talked about so far: I talked about hypersexuality and “uncommon” trauma responses, what PTSD can look like, and why survivors find it difficult to report their rapists.

The next two things I’ll cover is dating and having sex as a survivor, and then where I am in my journey today and if I’ve been able to forgive my rapists.

A question I get a lot is, how do I support a partner who’s been sexually assaulted?

I wish there was a one-size-fits-all solution to this, but unfortunately there isn’t. And I know that’s not the answer that anyone wants to hear, but it’d also be wrong for me to say “this is exactly what you should do,” because everyone’s experience and everyone’s needs are different.

If your partner opens up to you about sexual assault, try to just be there for them and listen. Don’t push them to share more than they’re willing, even if it’s just you trying to understand them better. Let them open up at their own pace.

Good communication is the key thing here, and that includes non-verbal communication as well.

If you notice your partner getting tense or upset, ask them if they need space or if it’s okay for you to comfort them physically.

ALWAYS ask for consent, even in cases where it might seem silly to ask.

To my fellow survivors: having a partner who cares about your boundaries can feel really foreign and almost off-putting at first, but over time you’ll learn that you have every right to dictate what happens to you physically, even with things like hugging or hand-holding.

Another thing that’s helped me a lot is to have a game plan for sex. Over time I learned that certain positions or scenarios during sex trigger me, so I’d express that to my partner and we would try to avoid those things or just be more cautious about it. I also learned that when I get triggered, I get really bad flashbacks and I need my partner to just back off, to not touch me, and just gently remind me “Hey, today’s date is xyz day month and year, and you’re safe. No one will hurt you” until I’m able to come back to reality. Then that’s when it’s okay for them to physically comfort me and just hold me while I cry it out. And it’s hard, you know. One of my exes had a really hard time whenever I was triggered, because he would feel so bad. And I’d have to remind him, hey, it’s not your fault, these things happen, but I’m okay, and we’ll get through this.

I know it’s not easy advocating for yourself or asking these things, but if your partner loves you and cares about you, they WANT to know how they can support you and keep you feeling safe.

Opening up to anyone about assault requires courage and vulnerability. So please don’t feel bad if you feel like you’re not at a point yet where you can talk about it in such clear terms. It took me a while to get to that point, so please don’t rush yourself or feel like you HAVE to move on or act a certain way as a survivor.

There’s so much I share on this podcast with you guys but there’s also a lot that I don’t share. It’ll take me some time to share more as I continue on this journey. But I think a good question to end on is this:

Have I forgiven my rapists?

Honestly, no. I haven’t. And I don’t think I ever will. But I’ve tried my best to understand them as humans, to understand that this goes beyond just my rapists, it’s an entire system that’s failed us as women and as survivors. I learned a long time ago that the anger I held towards them was only hurting me, and that the best form of revenge is sometimes to move on and move forward.

So while I don’t forgive my rapists, I also recognize that my story is not about them. It’s about me and the resilience I’ve shown in the last 6 years, it’s about all the beautiful experiences I’ll have moving forward, it’s about helping my fellow survivors and trying to make this world a better place for our future generation.

It’s about having hope that if I ever have a daughter, she doesn’t have to hear that 1 in 5 women in college are assaulted, and she doesn’t have to look at her group of friends and wonder who it’s going to be. That she won’t have to go through what I did, that she’ll get to experience her youth in the most vibrant and freeing way possible. And that if I ever have a kid, they will be a warrior not because they HAVE to be in order to survive, but because they choose to be.