Help me poke painful memories until they stop hurting
September 14, 2010 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I was raped several months ago and did a remarkably good job at boxing everything up to think about at another time. It looks like it's ... that time. How do I go about processing things?

tl;dr: I was raped. How do I get over myself and get to therapy so I can move on?
throwaway e-mail: secretmefite@gmail.com

While studying abroad, I had a sort of flirty relationship with a man who worked at the very isolated research station where I was studying. I spoke his language poorly; he didn't speak English at all. What started as an innocent and fun thing (kisses goodnight, holding hands when no one was looking) culminated in him raping me on my front porch after he said goodnight. I did not tell anyone at the station what happened, I did not report anything to any authorities. I stayed there for another month and a half, and went home. I have not told anyone in my family what happened and absolutely do not plan to.

As I said, I boxed everything up pretty well. I continued interacting with this man every day in a cordial manner while we were living in the same place (to the extent that I was sad that he didn’t say goodbye to me when I headed home). At one point in time, he asked me why I was mad at him. I told him yes, I had not wanted sex and I felt violated. He told me he didn’t remember me struggling (I remembered this clearly before he told me he didn’t remember it… things are a lot fuzzier now) and he didn’t remember me telling him to stop (same thing). It’s remained stupidly compartmentalized, to the extent that (and this makes me really mad at myself) I haven’t been tested for STDs yet. That would feel too real.

Everything’s been going along pretty normally since I got home, but there’s always a voice in the back of my head saying things like, “Well, now that you’ve been raped, I bet you’re perceiving this situation differently than you would have otherwise.” Or, I’ll be tooling along doing my own thing and it’ll pop up out of the blue with “Hey, remember when you were raped?” I’m noticeably jumpier now than I was before, especially at night, and while I used to be the sort of person who made cheerful eye contact with everyone I walked past on sidewalks or the like, walking past men I don’t know stresses me out (and, this really is awful, but especially if they’re men who look like they’re of the same ethnic background as my rapist). I don’t like that my clear memory was so easily smudged (and I hate that it was smudged even though I know my version is truer than his). I’m getting very tired of this taking up so much of my mental energy when I really wish it would just go away.

My school offers free counseling and I know I should take advantage of it, but I’ve built it up into something big and scary and I don’t want to. Plus there’s some element of elitism in there: I’m a strong person. I should be able to fix things for myself. How do I get over that hump and just go talk to someone? And once I’m there, how do I actually talk? I’m notoriously awful at a bunch of things which would be important here – talking about sex, talking about my feelings, being in a vulnerable position, telling people what my boundaries are. Really, though, I just want this thing to get fixed. Any advice you have would be really appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
You don't have to say anything, but you can print out this question and take it to your counselling centre. IANAT (therapist) but looks to me like you've made a huge step just typing this all down. And that in itself takes strength. Hugs.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:11 AM on September 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


Don't listen to this guy's "oh you didn't struggle, blah blah blah." It's common for rape survivors to replay what happened and think, "coulda, woulda, shoulda." Reactions when being assaulted run the gamut from actively fighting to being immobilized with fear. You did what you needed to do to get out of that immediate situation. This is not your fault, regardless of what he said, and I strongly encourage the counseling piece.
posted by ShadePlant at 9:21 AM on September 14, 2010


I should be able to fix things for myself.

Sometimes this is ability we don't have in every situation. And I agree with Ziggy500 about printing it out and showing a therapist.
posted by josher71 at 9:24 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a hard time scheduling a first therapy appointment for a much less painful issue. I felt like I should be able to perfectly articulate what was wrong and be in the perfect place, mentally, to take whatever guidance my therapist had to offer. That was never ever going to happen. What worked for me was to make the call without thinking. My husband said, "you really need to do this" and I just did it before I could come up with a reason not to.

The office will probably ask you what you want to discuss, so have a brief statement, maybe one sentence, maybe you write it down. But other than that, get your calendar and your phone and call. You will not surprise, upset, annoy, or anger the receptionist and you will not surprise, upset, annoy, or anger the therapist if you don't have a perfect grasp of what you need.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:24 AM on September 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


It has been several months, and dealing with the rape by trying to put it away has not worked that well. Asking for help does not make you weak, it makes you smart and rational.
posted by francesca too at 9:24 AM on September 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think you have taken a really big step by articulating it and asking how to take the next step. In my experience, things are scarier and more intrusive when I try to push them away - almost like my mind keeps pushing it up for me to deal with it. And that doesn't mean that it has to define you or be big and scary (although it's definitely okay to feel that), just that you're ready to start working through it.

Maybe being a strong person here means that fixing it yourself means getting yourself the tools to do that - you wouldn't think less of yourself if you were missing parts and couldn't build a bike, you know? Sometimes you need someone to hold the other end of the sheet or whatever.

You can go to counseling and not talk about this right away - it's okay to go in and start by getting comfortable, you don't have to have perfect words or a plan. I'd probably do what Ziggy500 suggests and print this (w/o comments) and take it with you to counseling.
posted by mrs. taters at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


the only way that you can start to fix this is by someone else validating what you know to be true about the situation. if it feels too big to talk to someone about it yet, get a book about date rape or read online about it, and start to get a sense of the other stories that are out there. when you start seeing some of your truth in these stories, buckle up, because another layer of processing will begin. who knows how that's going to be for you. hence, this next bit:

it is going to take some time to straighten this out within yourself and i wonder if you would consider sharing this with some close members of your support system so that they know that you are dealing with something heavy. i know it probably feels like should be a secret, but if you let those around you hold your lines while you go diving into your feelings about this and your healing process, you will have a way back out when things get scary.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:31 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Plus there’s some element of elitism in there: I’m a strong person. I should be able to fix things for myself. How do I get over that hump and just go talk to someone?

Look at it this way: if you broke your leg, would you think that being a strong person required you to just deal with it and get over it on your own? Or would you decide that the sensible thing would be to get a doctor to put a cast on your leg so you will heal faster. This is the same thing. Psychological wounds, like physical wounds, are best treated by a professional.

And once I’m there, how do I actually talk? I’m notoriously awful at a bunch of things which would be important here – talking about sex, talking about my feelings, being in a vulnerable position, telling people what my boundaries are.

That's ok - if you go to your school's counseling, you'll be talking with a trained professional who knows how to talk about these things. I would focus all your energy on just getting into the room with them and saying the words "I was raped." Don't even think past that point. They'll walk you through the rest.

I'm so sorry this happened to you, and I wish you the best. It sounds like you're ready to wish yourself the best as well.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:52 AM on September 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


My school offers free counseling and I know I should take advantage of it

Do it.

I’ve built it up into something big and scary and I don’t want to ... I’m a strong person. I should be able to fix things for myself ... I’m notoriously awful at a bunch of things which would be important here – talking about sex, talking about my feelings, being in a vulnerable position, telling people what my boundaries are.

Talk to them about that. That's what counseling's for. Counselors don't actually fix things like a doctor would fix a medical problem. Most of what they is helping you think through what your dealing with. Talking to somebody who's trained in doing that can help, especially if you aren't talking to other people. This is precisely the sort of thing thing that talk therapy works well for.

And once I’m there, how do I actually talk?

Once you start, it will be easier than you think. They get trained, you aren't the first person they've seen that has trouble getting over that hump. You'll be fine.

(If you do have trouble talking to a counselor after trying for a bit, ask for another one. Compatibility and rapport are important in counseling. You're allowed do that. They'll reassign you.)
posted by nangar at 9:52 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I’m a strong person. I should be able to fix things for myself ...

Seeing a therapist is fixing things for yourself.
posted by mdn at 10:09 AM on September 14, 2010 [22 favorites]


Your specific question is how to get "over the hump" and make the appointment. Here's how to do that: Pick up your phone right now, call the center, and make the appointment. Just like you would if you needed help with a tooth, you'd call a dentist. Or help with a weird rash, you'd call a doctor.

You're a strong, capable, intelligent, and awesome human being. But sometimes it's appropriate to see an expert. This is one of those times.

Don't worry about how to do it once you're there. And please don't feel awkward or ashamed about your behavior or anything like that. Therapists are awesome, and they totally will understand where you're coming from.
posted by ErikaB at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


My school offers free counseling and I know I should take advantage of it

I agree that a therapist is the way to go, but if you don't click with the first one you meet, it might be them, not you. My friends and I had such laughably bad "free" therapists in university that we considered writing about them. (One was uber-Christian and felt any sex outside marriage was the "problem" that needed working on, one wouldn't say anything at all, and one said my friend's problems were "too big" to deal with while in school. If we'd had blogs back then...)

If your university therapists turn out to be too weird, there are therapists outside the university who have a sliding scale, right down to free, or close to it.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seeing a therapist is fixing things for yourself.

Yup. The work is yours. They're just there to point your efforts in a constructive direction.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:18 AM on September 14, 2010


I have not told anyone in my family what happened and absolutely do not plan to.

As I said, I boxed everything up pretty well. At one point in time, he asked me why I was mad at him. I told him yes, I had not wanted sex and I felt violated. It’s remained stupidly compartmentalized, to the extent that (and this makes me really mad at myself) I haven’t been tested for STDs yet. That would feel too real.

Everything’s been going along pretty normally since I got home, but there’s always a voice in the back of my head saying things like, “Well, now that you’ve been raped, I bet you’re perceiving this situation differently than you would have otherwise.” Or, I’ll be tooling along doing my own thing and it’ll pop up out of the blue with “Hey, remember when you were raped?” I’m noticeably jumpier now than I was before, especially at night, and while I used to be the sort of person who made cheerful eye contact with everyone I walked past on sidewalks or the like, walking past men I don’t know stresses me out (and, this really is awful, but especially if they’re men who look like they’re of the same ethnic background as my rapist).


I just copied all of your points that I wanted to address. I think other commentors have done a good job addressing how to get your phone fingers dialing the therapist's office (and why that makes you a smart, strong person) but some particulars of your story resonated with me. First, the family thing. I told my family and it was a big mistake. They didn't shame me or anything, but as it turns out they still don't believe me because I didn't press charges. They didn't understand how I just wanted it to go away and be in the past and that I didn't want to be rehashing it in the legal system for years. It is a valid choice not to tell your family. If they notice a change in you, you may want to let them know that you have noticed too and you are seeking therapy to help yourself.

STD testing - I went to a Planned Parenthood and told them the reason for the test (on the phone while scheduling the appnt.) and they were awesome. They referred me to some local crisis centers that provided free counseling. A few months later I went to my regular gyn appnt. and I told her what happened just so she'd know to do an extra swab or whatever. She treated the issue with respect and did a few extra medical tests without probing for questions as to what happened. When you go for testing they will probably ask you if your attacker wore a condom. This is just a medical question to them so they know what they might be looking for, so don't be embarrassed.

As for noticing the voice in your head telling you your perception is colored now because you were raped - another thing to think through yourself and with your chosen therapist is how you were socially and culturally conditioned to think about what rape victims should act like. For me, I had some guilt because I just really didn't feel much different after about 2-3 months, I was happy, I was having consensual sex, life went on. But the expectations around me for rape victims was that they would be totally destroyed, have dysfunctional relationships with men, and generally be reduced to whimpering and tears whenever they thought about it or mentioned rape for the rest of their lives, even if they lived a thousand more years. I actually ended up feeling guilty and a little bit like "maybe it didn't happen" after a while because if I was actually raped, why wasn't my life falling apart? So those thoughts are something to work through and see if in addition to being caused by the assault, were seeded by whatever expectations you had for a rape victim (survivor) and what your experience and reaction turned out to be. The part about how you were sad when he didn't say goodbye to you also conjured up the whole rape-reaction-expectation issue for me too.

And lastly, for the part about being jumpy, I had that too and it just took time to get over (while also dealing with the rape). I had some friends that forced me to get out and around people which seemed to have helped "recondition" me to expect a normal human reaction rather than a violent one. Lean on friends and try to maintain social interactions so tha tyou see most dealings with people are great, not hurtful.

Hope this finds you getting better!
posted by WeekendJen at 10:40 AM on September 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


You are so very not alone in this. A lot of people (not just women...) feel the same way and bottle it up when something like that happens.

Rape fucks you up. Period. There's no shame in talking to someone about that fact. As for therapists, I've got just about as much mistrust of them as can be but there's some instances where it's just a damn good idea. This is one of 'em. Don't expect much to happen the first session, because as with ANYONE you meet there's going to be a bit of awkwardness. (Unless you're the totally blunt type like me, in which case you'll say 'Well, since you asked...' and lay it all out right then.)

It might help you get over it sooner. You'll probably end up confronting details you don't really want to remember, but things don't really get SOLVED by ignoring them. A professional is trained to know when to push a little bit and when to let it slide for now. Again, I hate head-shrinkers and avoid them like the plague, but rape is serious business and I'd say worth it.

As for getting tested ... if you have a yearly exam coming up, you can often request that they do various testing since you're already going to be there. You don't have to explain why. It might be a way to get yourself motivated to do more.
posted by Heretical at 10:53 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're opposed to/intimidated by intensive talk therapy, I would recommend seeking out an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist in your area. EMDR is a technique of treating trauma survivors that utilizes eye movement to stimulate novel processing of the memories in your brain. It is especially helpful for people who feel haunted by images, nightmares and visual memories of the trauma. It is important to find someone who has been certified. Your counseling center can help you with a referral, or you can check out this website. Compared to the other leading empirically validated treatment for PTSD (CBT exposure therapy), EMDR is quick and relatively painless.

That being said, if you aren't experiencing many PTSD symptoms (i.e. nightmares, intrusive recollections, exaggerated startle response, emotional numbing) and are trying to figure out how to acknowledge this experience without falling apart, regular old talk therapy might be more appropriate. In either case, I would recommend laying all your cards on the table with your new therapist. Tell them everything about therapy (or what you imagine therapy will be like) that makes you uncomfortable so they can help you learn to engage in the process. 100% honesty is the best thing you can do to make therapy effective, no matter what you're there for, even if that means telling your therapist when they are doing something you don't like.

Good luck.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2010


Only the very strong are able to trust others with their vulnerabilities and ask them for help.
posted by sickinthehead at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


I found it slightly less intimidating to call a rape crisis centre when I was in your shoes. They had no slots, but referred me to a RCC in the city where I work, and they were wonderful.

This happens to a lot of us. There are some really great people out there who specialize in dealing with the aftereffects of rape (and, yes, a few bad ones...if you hit one, move along). They've had a lot of practise. They care. And they are good. You need and deserve their help, and as others have pointed out, this is no more a sign of weakness than taking a broken car to a mechanic. It is more efficient to go to an expert.
posted by QIbHom at 12:47 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was raped
Believe it or not, that's already a tremendous step on your part. There are a few more steps to go, but that one was the hardest.
Get to a therapist. Don't downplay your hurt.
You are completely justified in being angry. In fact, I would recommend it.
Please, please don't blame yourself. This guy does not deserve the benefit of your doubt.
Best to you.
posted by Gilbert at 1:41 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


About a year ago I read this article at a feminist blog and found it helpful. You are not alone.
posted by Anitanola at 6:33 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, I work in a career center at a university (in the US), and students often come by in their final year of studies, and feel like they are 'needy' for desiring a (usually second) appointment. Oh, that the staff are probably too busy, and they 'shouldn't' need 'that much help', and they 'should be smart enough to figure this out'.

I often remind them of three things:

1. That technically the service isn't free - they've been paying and investing the service for at least four years, and it and we have been waiting for them, for just the moment that they need it. All student services, including mental health counseling services, are that way.

2. Making use of a resource that you have access to when you need it isn't 'weak', when 'doing it on your own' doesn't actually help you advance in any tangible way. Yes, you could 'figure it out on your own', but that's so inefficient in this case. That's like saying that an athlete could get to the Olympics without a coach - but no one looks on them as being 'weak' for having one.

In your case: I know some wonderful therapists on my campus. I sometimes walk students over to them when they arrive at my door, look me straight in the face and say things like: "I need to write a resume because I'm dropping out of school because I miscarried and I can't think anymore". And they they burst into tears.

Great therapists can listen, ask considered, thoughtful questions that help you gain self awareness - they put you in the right direction when you start to spin your wheels. They (sadly) have the wealth of experience of helping others - let them help you. You don't have to manage the whole conversation. All you have to do is show up. They'll ask you what brought you here, and whether you just sit in silence, or hem and haw, or avoid the real reason why you're there with pointless conversation for the first 45 minutes of a 50 minute appointment until you trust them, or burst into tears for 30 minutes, or just say, "I was raped' - you'll be doing the right thing, and they will say the right thing. And you'll have begun. See where it goes from there.

3. Imagine this situation is happening to your best friend - would you let her pass up accessing a resource if she needed it? Heck no! You'd probably make the appointment for her and insist she go by walking her over there after a healthy breakfast. Be your own best friend here, and get yourself over there.
posted by anitanita at 8:00 PM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


With regard to your question about how to actually get over the hump of making an appointment to go talk to someone, one strategy might be to ask a close friend to make the appointment for you, and even to come with you to the first meeting if you are more comfortable with that. I did this for a friend recently who had confided in me, but was scared that she (a) would have trouble on the phone even getting out the words that she wanted an appointment and (b) would end up sitting in silence in the therapy session unable to explain the reason she was there. We had a little strategy session beforehand where we discussed under what circumstances I should speak for her (at first, if she was unable to start) and when I should shut up (later in the session, if she was crying), and what I should say if I needed to be the one to explain her problem.

Even just having someone else make the appointment and tell you when it is might help you make yourself go. (And you wouldn't even have to tell that friend that you were raped, if they didn't already know. If a friend asked me to make a doctor's or counsellor's appointment for them without telling me why, I wouldn't pester for details.)

I also want to address one other thing in your post: He told me he didn’t remember me struggling (I remembered this clearly before he told me he didn’t remember it… things are a lot fuzzier now) and he didn’t remember me telling him to stop (same thing)

That doesn't make a difference as to whether you are "right" to feel violated. Enthusiastic consent should be the benchmark by which sex is evaluated as consensual or not. "Not struggling" does not mean "not raped". If someone is in any doubt about whether their partner wants sex, they need to ask. This is not just my view, either - you will find it a common view among feminists, and even sometimes outside the feminist community. I know you might still feel confused or angry that his version of what happened is different to what you remember, or has made you doubt yourself, but at least you need to know that even IF his version is true, it doesn't mean you weren't raped.

Good luck.
posted by lollusc at 3:01 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the OP:
"It turns out that the wonderful and awesome people of Metafilter were exactly what I needed to get me to stop wallowing and do something. It's cheesy and corny but reading all the responses made me cry because of how palpable people caring about some random girl on the internet was. I really appreciate it. I just got back from a meeting at the health services office at my university and am scheduled for an initial talk with a counselor tomorrow. It won't be fun - but it'll happen and I am so grateful to you all for your nudges in the right direction."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2010


By going to therapy, you ARE being strong, and you ARE fixing it yourself.
posted by Ouisch at 4:52 PM on September 15, 2010


Good for you. Good luck.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:15 AM on September 16, 2010


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