I am going to let my rape define me.
Yes, you heard me right. I am absolutely going to let my rape define me. It defines me in the same way being Jewish defines me and being female defines me and being someone who exercises every day defines me.
My rape defines me. It defines whether I will let my child have a sleepover. I still change my carpool route daily on the off-chance my rapist is still stalking me. It defines in what positions I am comfortable being intimate with my partner. It determines if I want to listen to that song on the radio or if I want to change the channel. I catch myself feeling inept at something and when it suddenly brings back an abusive thing he said to me, I have to remind myself I can handle whatever it was I was challenged by. It happens so many times a day that my life wouldn’t be my life without it.
Maybe your situation was different than mine, or you were able to heal better than me, and maybe it’s just a tremendous accomplishment because you were raped, and now you can say, “Well that was one thing that happened to me, but it’s not me. It doesn’t affect my daily life. It happened to me, but it doesn’t define me you know.” If that’s true for you, I am really happy that’s worked for you. Maybe I am not as healed as you are. I am done feeling bad about that too though…I guess having such strong feelings about what’s supposed to be an uplifting statement is another way it defines me.
In my younger years, I didn’t define my “bad relationship” as one that was based on rape with a capital R, a crime. I fervently believed that real rape victims were people who weren’t assertive like me. They were people who didn’t communicate their needs well and gave mixed signals trying to be coy. They were people who wore low-cut blouses. They were attacked by people older and stronger than them with a weapon and perhaps got bloody. I listened to news about rape trials but didn’t think they had anything to do with me. I could not cope with “rape victim” being part of my identity at all. I bought into every rape myth and those rape myths just didn’t match up with what I experienced. So, there’s no way that what happened to me was rape; but it was. Even in that very denial, my rape defined me.
I spent a lot of time making living a good life my best revenge (as suggested in a few rape recovery books). I thought it was a way to escape letting it define me. The way I see it now, that was just another way my rape defined me..
My rapist made me feel stupid when he put down my intelligence, so I learned how to earn A’s to prove to him, myself, and anyone else how smart I was. Now I am trying to enjoy intellectual pursuits for their own sake. I married, had a family, In spite of it. Now I strive to be fully present emotionally for them. I ran a successful business, determined to earn the power and independence that provides and even the score between my rapists financial success and my own. Today I help other people reclaim their power with my work. I once danced to express feeling and beauty as an art form but it was mocked by my rapist and used to objectify me. One day, maybe, I will be able to dance in a way that embraces my femininity without fearing it.
I will never be over it. It defines me whether I strive to live a good life or in spite of living a good life or I have times of self-destruction. There is nothing that I can do, or not do, to make it not define me. Similarly, there is nothing that I can do or not do to make it un-happen; just as there’s very little, if anything, I could have done differently to prevent it from having happened in the first place.
I am not just accepting it. I am embracing it. It defines me. I embrace the fact that were it not for being so sick of my PTSD — which included intrusive flashbacks of being held down and nightmares about screaming but no sound emerging — I would not have had the wherewithal to physically defend myself years later when a date followed me into my dorm room, despite my protestations, and choked me on my bed. I wondered for a moment if my PTSD caused me to overreact…only to discover years later that same date had anally raped a friend of mine. I embrace the fact that because of my rape, I learned so much about PTSD that I started to see the signs of it in someone I love, who was always so emotionally distant. When I asked him about it, he confided that he was actually raped. This began a repair of our relationship that would never have been as close had we not shared this trauma.
While I will no longer allow my rape to make me feel less-than, dirty and damaged, humiliated and confused (most of the time), were it not for my rape, I simply wouldn’t be me. Reconciling the identity of a rape victim in my personal story of who I am is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I’m done fighting it. I’m gonna just let it define me the way it always does anyway.