Saturday, February 15, 2014

An Unforgettable Event

I watched the first several episiodes of House of Cards on Netflix last night. In episode 2,  one of the main  characters reveals that she had been raped in college. She had kept it quiet for 25 years, telling no one but her husband, but then her rapist appears in her life again briefly. He acts like nothing ever happened and he even leaned over and kissed her cheek. A few days later, she publicly shared what happened and named her rapist.

Seeing him brought back the memories and the feelings surrounding the awful event, and finally, 25 years after the fact, she took her power back and put the pressure back on her rapist. Will that make her feel better?

Maybe.  Priobably not.  But it's worth it to her if there is any chance at relief. Relief from what?

Watching her situation play out triggered my own memories.  Her assault took place about 25 years prior to the accusation of her rapist. Mine was only 11 years ago. Writing that feels so strange. Eleven years. That was before my youngest child was born. That sounds like a long time ago, but it feels like last week.

I was just watching the show, excited that the new new season was finally here, and my heart started racing, I felt sick to my stomach, and my eyes quickly filled with tears. When that happens, I know I can't close my eyes because then the images will start flashing in front of of me, but the longer I hold out, the more likely it is that I'll start seeing the images anyway.

That's when the full blown PTSD hits. Then I can't see anything. I can barely breathe, and emotionally it feels like I'm right back there - fighting back until I had no fight left; feeling every blow, every cut, every thrust; wondering if I'd ever see my family again.

Sometimes it hits out of the blue. It will be sparked by a particular smell or the way shadows fall on the street or a man wearing a brown sportscoat. Then I feel a sense of panic and all that goes with it - rapid heartbeat, queasy stomach, sweaty brow and palms. Imagine the emotional and physical sensations of being chased by someone with a weapon who wants to kill you.  Then imagine them just erupting within you when you're not in immenent danger at all, just because you passed by someone in a the grocery store wearing a certain cologne or you hear a car door slam. Sometimes you have no idea at all why it hit you.

So you isolate yourself.  Sometimes it's isolation in a crowd, where you seem to socialize a lot, but you're careful not to let anyone really know you. You try to bottle up feelings that can't be bottled up. Eventually, they'll explode.  Until then, you'll be alone.

Over 22 million women in the United States have been raped.  That's about 1 in every 6 women. Almost a third of rape victims develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime and 11% still have PTSD today,

In addition, 30% of rape victims suffer from major depression. They are 4.1 times more likely than non-crime victims to have comtemplated suicide, and 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-crime victims.

And it doesn't only happen to women. Almost three million American men have been raped, going way beyond the estimated 600,000 inmates in the prison system who have been raped.

While only 70% of female rape victims withhold the information from their families, 90% of male victims don't tell anyone.  It took me 8 years to tell my husband and that was because the PTSD was so bad I had to either tell him or let him think I was crazy.

It strikes me that there are millions of women walking around as survivers of sexual assault who have PTSD and/or are suffering from other negative effects who are not even aware of what's really going on.

They don't want to say anything because they think they'll be judged, and all the evidence indicates that they are right. People expect soldiers to have PTSD, but they don't expect it from a homemaker or businesswoman.

What if we just assumed that whenever a woman exhibits behaviors like those I described above she just might be suffering from something?  What if we just assumed that she had suffered and was recovering from an unforgettable event?  What if we chose to be compassionate without knowing exactly what's happening?

For women who have been raped and end up with PTSD, recovery takes  place over decades, not months.  The impact of that one unforgettable event lasts a lifetime.


12 comments:

little monkey said...

It took 20 years for the panic attacks to stop, and it's been 20 more beyond that. 40 years and therapy and I am still ALWAYS on high alert whenever I am out by myself, anywhere.

Kat said...

Little monkey - 20 years for the panic attacks to stop??? Ugh! The good news is there's hope, right? Thanks for sharing with us.

Sillyone said...

23 years. Panic attacks in the middle of the night that jolt me right out of sleep. A general numbness in mind, body, soul that unexpectedly rears its head at the strangest triggers. You wrote powerfully about something I think about constantly and have only been able to touch on once in my writing.
http://sillynormalcy.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-content-of-their-character.html?zx=b65d00cc7e9cb167
Thank you.

Dawn D said...

It's my first time here. Thank you for a very powerful post.
What you say about not judging others? I think the world would be a better place if we somehow all managed to do that.
Good luck with the PTSD. And the rest.
XO

lifeofatongue said...

Thank you for sharing. Your honesty will help others to heal.

Simplicity said...

It was a VERY near thing but I barely escaped being raped. I suffered my 1st episode/panic attack this year. I have rarely been so terrified. Im so sorry this happened to you and so many others.

But i'm so glad you're this wonderful, fun, sexy confident woman I see every day on this blog. Thats heroic in my eyes.

~McK said...

*gasp* it's hard to believe when that moment happens isn't it? as you said, it can be a scent or a flash of a memory. I was in a counseling session a few weeks ago when something my therapist said triggered a memory that I had long forgotten. Or thought I had. Clearly my body did not and when the trembling finally subsided I realized that no matter how deep our psyche believes they've pushed a memory, something, anything can bring it all back. Thank you for sharing. As always.

Anonymous said...

Keep watching Kat, she outs the rapist a couple of episodes later.

Dawn D said...

What McK said is quite true. Though I wasn't raped,I had a similar reaction in a counseling session a long while back. What triggered it for me was watching my not quite 2 year old play on the rug in front of me. It brought back memories I didn't even know I had, because they'd been formed before I had words to put on them, of some sort of physical or psychological abuse. It's resolved for me now, and I hope it resolves soon for all you PTSD sufferers.

Krazy said...

Thanks for sharing Kat. Very powerful message about rape and PTSD, and it's so sad so many women keep quiet about sexual assaults. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be in that situation. I am glad you can tell your story and you have moved on.

I'd say most of us have been abused as children, some violently and some not. I lived at my grandmother's house until I was 10, and the maid's son who was 5 years older lived there too. I remember feeling uncomfortable around him. I must have been 7 or 8 one afternoon when I was doing my homework in the kitchen and he got under the table and began touching me. Every adult in the house was taking a nap. I remember feeling invaded, though it didn't hurt. Then he jerked off and showed me his cum. I remember it like it was yesterday. I don't think he wanted to hurt me, he was probably just curious about his sexuality. I never told anyone, but I stayed away from him from that day on.

sarah toa said...

Thanks Kat. This is a strong post. I was struck by your comparison between soldiers and rape survivors of ptsd. The ones I know are quite the same. Soldiers hold it inside for way too long, as well.

The comments here ... thanks folk, for speaking so openly. Maybe we are not broken, but our hearts are.
X Sarah

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