(Photo credits: Internet stock photo)
A few years ago, a girl I went to school with faced some life altering experiences. Whereas I had heard that she was going through a rough patch, I did not fully comprehend the extent of her suffering. Now as adults and as very good friends, she narrated to me the incidents that left her a changed woman. Here is the verbatim version of her story.
You’ve probably heard the rumors and you wondered how true they were. I feel it’s time to break my silence. Yes, it happened. In the latter half of my first year at university, I was physically, verbally and sexually abused by an acquaintance. Many of my close friends and family were drawn into the aftermath too.
I had lived with this man for just over six months because I believed that he loved me. The truth of my situation hit me like a jolt. For a long time, I was gripped with fear that was accompanied by an adrenaline high and panic attacks that I had multiple times a day. A lot happened within a very brief period of time. I couldn’t believe how much power I had given up, how uncontrollably helpless I had become, how awfully shaky and insecure I had turned out. A cloud of disappointment hovered over me. How could I have let the boundaries that surrounded my private life collapse? How could I have exposed and involved other innocent people in a burden that should have been mine to carry? Life was dark and loaded with uncertainty. I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), weight loss and abortion guilt (I discovered I was pregnant with the perpetrator’s child after the abuse and had the baby removed). My body couldn’t handle the stress and I found myself throwing up consecutively for nearly a fortnight. Everything I ate and drank came back up and I wilted like a dying flower feebly shedding its leaves. I continued to shrivel under the weight of it all. Another huddle was the nightmares; particularly those in which I dreamed of bottomless pits into which I was yanked by strong forces. I also dreamed of cages where I was locked up and howling for help because I could not find the exit. Those nights were rough and often they left me suicidal.
There were moments during which silence and isolation were the order of the day. At these times I relived my experiences of rape in a world of grim quietness. I had an internal debate during which I paused questions like; “What I could have done to prevent it or what I could have done that caused it to happen?” These questions never left me peaceful. Overwhelmed by confusion and hurt, I began to look for a ‘scapegoat.’ Coming from an evangelical Christian background, I felt compelled to make God a part of my solution. I searched for Christian literature that could address issues like mine and I finally came across some that offered healing for sexual abuse survivors. I felt like a horrid sinner, though, and I noticed that many of the churches I attended failed to get an in-depth understanding of these issues, their causes and impact. I found myself feeling like I was a combo of good yet guilty, and light mixed with darkness.
Nothing I could have done would have averted the situation. I came to this realization months later. It was intentional, meant to hurt me and destroy my life for good. I began to accept this reality and to accept that I had value, that my life was priceless, regardless of how my partner had made me feel. The will to live kicked in and I put up a fight to reclaim me. This is the point at which a genuine interest in me started to develop. Suddenly my imperfections appeared oddly beautiful to me. My appreciation for humanity flourished further when I listened and watched Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged album. She uttered something profound during the performance when she said; ‘We are all in the same mess.” These words remained with me. The song “I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind” resonated with the need for me to connect with a peaceful cosmic force. I found some relief and this album compelled me to delve into the wondrously strong and broken person I had become.
This made me scared and thrilled at my own existence. I picked a selection of India Arie’s jams to listen to such as “I am not my hair”, “Little Things” and these songs were like my therapy. There was a masterpiece record which held my pieces together and sealed the wounds so that they became scars. The song is called “I am light” and it flung open the doors of the most fulfilling source of healing to me. It unlocked a myriad of gates on my path to liberty.
I picked interest in other women’s experiences and even sought for dialogue when the need arose. I strengthened my ties with the feminist movement, and went on a search about its history, core elements, objectives and its current state. The curiosity I had once had about my identity and sexuality began to return but in a fresher light. I embraced my body and hair in its natural state. I was glowing, putting on weight and loving this. I started to feel good. I also renewed my spiritual walk.
I have since continued my journey to freedom and equality for all. I have become increasingly compassionate towards broken and marginalized people such as survivors of abuse, persons discriminated against because of their sex, orientation or other demographic attributes and persons living with HIV & AIDS. Also, I had never thought I would fearlessly profess to be feminist despite the stigma around it, but I do. My lessons are inestimable.
Here are some of the responses I received when people learnt of my rape experience.
- I have been cautioned about what I was wearing at the time of these events and even after.
- I have been with people that shut me down shortly after I had started a conversation about my experiences.
- I have been told by some that I should not bother speaking. After all, who will listen?
- I have been told that after observing the good relationship my parents had I was wrong to have allowed the abuse to happen.
- I live under constant scrutiny of people about my personal decisions especially those concerning my sexuality and relationships.
- Many have felt that after that experience I am maybe incapable of loving.
- I have been told to man up and not whine about my pain.
- Some people out of ignorance have said that I couldn’t have been raped by a man I loved; let alone conceive a baby by him against my will.
- I have been told that maybe if I fought harder the abuse wouldn’t have happened.
- I have been accused of murder committed in cold blood because of the abortion.
- I have been confronted with the challenge of explaining that the abuse happened and having to talk about some of these things while my wounds were still fresh.
I could go on and on, but what I would like to draw your attention to is the fact that many times attention is drawn to the victim of such crimes instead of to the perpetrator and this causes the victims unbearable pain.
What do I think should be done?
The way to go is to approach these issues with compassion, caution and wisdom. Abuse alone can be extremely alienating. It causes potential harm and real harm to victims as concerns their health, safety and image in the eyes of their loved ones as well as in the eyes of the public. They live with the traumatic effects months and years after it happens. They require real love and acceptance. Survivors need to feel normal- because they are. They need to be given platforms to speak when they feel the urge to.
Society needs to accept their decisions about matters of public concern but also respect their right to privacy. The empathy and compassion that we show them is what will give them fortitude to overcome the caustic forces that besieged them during the most difficult times of their lives. Ignorant and generalized speech directed to them must stop.
Survivors need to be helped to understand that they are worth much more than these painful experiences.
It’s been several years of being a survivor for me. Everyday I am changing and learning, trying to make life better for the next person out there that may go through or has gone through similar experiences. Are you being compassionate and empathetic? Take a moment to pause and think about your behavior!
As told by KWE; survivor of sexual, physical, verbal and mental abuse.