trigger warning: sexual assault, anxiety, depression
I want to talk about what trauma is like. What it means to live with post-traumatic stress disorder after a sexual assault and the difficulties of navigating a new relationship and intimate moments. How sex has become a heavy burden, like the devil is sitting on my chest, whispering in my ear and reminding me of what happened. How every time my boyfriend (consensually) puts his hands between my thighs, I tense up and feel the anxiety creeping up my spine. How I know I’m safe with my boyfriend, but there’s a part of my memory that reminds me of the pain I felt. How I write poems about sex as a means of coping. How often I cry. How every time I step foot outside, I fear who might be lurking nearby.
The post-traumatic stress disorder after my sexual assault has completely taken over my life. Survivors of an assault are deeply affected by their trauma, so much so that there are subsequent changes to thoughts and behavior, psychologically and physically. Upon searching the effects of PTSD after an assault, I learned that it can lead to a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, and “some survivors may go to great lengths to avoid situations that feel potentially dangerous and may shy away from television shows, newspaper articles, or conversations that discuss sexual assault.” Survivors will also “experience low sexual desire and reduced sexual behavior” because they feel anxious, afraid, and ashamed, and this mental state can ultimately create sexual problems.
And I get that.
I put up a wall, mentally, and it executes, physically. Even if I know and constantly remind myself that my boyfriend is safe and that I am safe with him, that deep-rooted trauma still puts up the wall. I can’t break it down, no matter how hard I try. Even though I actively tell myself, Relax. You’re safe, there is a part of my brain that says Tense up. You’re in danger.
No one really talks about how hard it is to navigate the intimate parts of a new relationship when you have heavy trauma lingering. It’s tiring. It’s frustrating. It’s terrifying. You get into this headspace that because there’s hesitation and because there’s the lacking desire to be intimate, your partner could pack up their things and leave.
If you have entered a new relationship, it’s important to talk about what happened. Talk about if it’s affecting the relationship or your sex life and how you can work on it together. Your partner shouldn’t leave you just because you have this trauma or because you struggle to be intimate. If your partner truly cared about you, they should work with you to find a comfortable space while in bed. They should be patient, understanding, and respectful of your needs and your fears. They should be helpful, loving, and kind.
Recovering from this kind of trauma is far from easy. There are moments when I think about what happened and I break down in full sobs–body shaking, face aching, tears streaming down my face–because I can’t believe something like that has happened and that nearly a decade later, it still has its grip on me.
I am learning what it means to have patience. To be kind to my body but be willing to push myself beyond my fears. To forgive myself for how often I cry. To let myself feel what I feel. To understand that it will be difficult and frustrating and sometimes I will want to give up, but that I shouldn’t.
I am learning to be comfortable in my body and accepting of my body with someone else’s.
I am learning that although it’s not easy living with this heaviness and knowing how much power it has over me, I know I am braver and I know I am stronger, and no one can take that power away from me.