Surviving, Then and Now

Surviving, Then and Now

By J. Blount 08/03/17

Imagine your deepest, earliest scar, while scabbed still the most sensitive, the word that causes you to cringe when you hear it decades later. For me it’s “rape.”

Image: 
woman sitting alone by the water
A survivor recounts her painful past with rape, addiction, and reflects on how we all hurt in our own ways.

It was the Fall of 2006, and I was a senior in high school. I had experienced a bit of a breakdown the year prior, but was pretty sure I’d sufficiently repackaged to proceed as though it had never happened. I had addressed my perfectionist tendencies through a counselor, and was trying to be nicer to myself (though, for a WASP, that could’ve meant just letting myself have a snack.) My course load looked like four AP courses and one Honors elective – German, because I’d lived in the country, and because it was counter to the more traditional New England inclination toward French. (I spoke French, too, but – I was a loner, Dottie, a rebel.)

Cut to the woods behind my high school, bleeding and humiliated, ashamed and unsure of what had just happened. I knew that I had been raped – a man from whom I’d bought drugs (painkillers, to be specific) demanded payment and I lacked legal tender; evidently he couldn’t abide an IOU. I had purchased opiate prescription medications from him after being injured playing sports for my school, something I’d then thought might take me through college. I didn’t know then that I’d still have yet to get through college to this day, less that it wouldn’t be paid for by my athletic prowess or academic giftedness. Before he left I promised I would be able to pay him – I was scheduled to tutor and knew I could come up with some cash – but before I could, a few weeks later, he raped me a second time.

I transferred high schools senior year with the shame accompanying a sexual assault survivor, compounded by that felt so especially by an active addict – seemingly particular to a person convinced that each pain borne was their own fault, some evidencing of how they’re fundamentally undeserving of that which is good. I felt as though these assaults proved that which I’d always suspected of myself – that I attracted bad things, that there was something in me too broken and unresolved that I’d be ever drawn to the flame, and the flame drawn to me.

The process of self-forgiveness in an individual not so affected by substance use is harrowing enough – one no one should ever need bear, regardless of that for which an individual may or may not elect. For a person with a substance use disorder, particular additional considerations need be made, as there exists predisposition toward self-destruction through a preferred and often immediately available means. The notion that this is an experience I had invited to my life by use of illicit drugs is compelling, and I’ll now admit that it continues to engage a lesser part of my mind, one that still hasn’t forgiven itself, almost to the day, ten years later.

At seven years clean I was in a relationship with another individual in the rooms. She was and remains smart, driven, and impressively focused. We were together for 18 months, and moved in with one another likely far too early for one to have had a sufficient read on the other’s intentions and underlying nature.

I remain unsure as to whether the theme of gender variance emerged in my life as a result of experiencing incurred sexual violence, but I know that since it, I have resented being biologically female, as though I naturally came in at a deficit due to the risk of incurring harm by large part of the human population. She, too, had been subjected to sexual exploitation and assault, and consequently was similarly aware of gender-specific injustices. The key difference between the two of us, however, is that she was inclined to process those injustices by perpetuating them onto me. One night, despite numerous conversations specifically denying consent to a certain sex act on which she was fixated, I jolted awake in pain to that act being violently performed on me by someone in a fit of rage – by someone who I thought loved me, while I had been sleeping, in our bed.

Cut to the bathroom, bleeding and humiliated, ashamed and unsure of what had just happened. The familiar impulse to examine my own behaviors as may have elicited such aggression again came to the fore. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong – I had been sober, right-action-oriented, and with a person also in recovery who had no known history of violence. I was in a committed relationship, with someone who knew me; I thought that I had met all of the necessary criteria to ensure a healthy dynamic, to merit others’ respect for my wishes. I hadn’t, however, accounted for the manifestation of pain in another person, or how that might proliferate pain in me and in my life, in a most intimate and violating way.

In recovery I’ve learned that that which deeply pains me is often that over which I have the least control. I have long struggled to affect some assumed mastery as preferable to admission that I am as fallible, and as vulnerable, as any person might be. The admission that any given being may have sufficient power to affect me – either in a direct physical sense, or an indirect psychoemotional way – seems a confirmation of my misconception that something intrinsic to me incurs the damaging behaviors of other people, as though recognition of right-sized-ness permits that bad behavior.

I don’t think that sharing the details of these assaults will engender additional identification, nor do I think that those details make each perpetrator more understandable. To be frank I am neither interested in cultivating empathy for nor comprehension of people who do bad things; what I am interested in, however, is relaying the distinct possibility of both experiencing painful things prior to and in recovery, and the ability to overcome difficulties criminal and otherwise in sobriety.

After the lattermost experience, I will be first to admit that I shut. the. fuh. down. I didn’t engage in a romantic or sexual relationship for two years. I remained convinced, despite contrary evidence and supportive messaging, that I had done something to provoke this behavior in that individual; that had I done something better, it might have been avoided. This notion that I might have affected sufficient control over another person remains very connected to those misconceptions particular to my active addiction, and its accompanying unrealistic ideas surrounding personal power. If you have been hurt, I do not think it is your job to understand and pardon the behaviors of the person that hurt you. I have found some peace, however, in the following:

The most helpful lens ever lent me was the idea that we are all hurt children. Imagine your deepest, earliest scar, while scabbed still the most sensitive, the word that causes you to cringe when you hear it decades later. For me it’s “rape”; for others, it’s that fill-in-the-blank pain point, that bit that’s seen the least light, or that has been lit to pieces but most misunderstood. But there seems a callousness impeding our projective empathy, an assumption that what is a comfort for us is a comfort for others, that my non-issues are your non-issues. If a hurt is not yours imagine that word that decades later still causes you to cringe, to shrink in your skin, to hide in your own body. An afterthought for you, a daily sore for someone else. Access to that pain informs the way we interact with the world as it actually surrounds us, rather than as we wish it were. And then in so doing we turn this world into that place we hurt children would wish it to be. It is not only with big acts of doing, but small ways of being, that we affect this world as we hurt children would wish it to be, even if those ways never heal the source of that hurt.

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