My Post-Trauma Journey: Pt 1
Getting to Hope and Healing After Assault
Today I am a week away from the anniversary of my assault. I’ve spent the majority of this month quietly reflecting on what happened to me and what has transpired in the twelve months since. I’ve found my brain in a place that I would describe as “trama adjacent”—I am not reeling in the out-of-control trauma brain I once was, but that place seems much more tangible to me now than it has in months. I know that seems difficult to understand if you haven’t experienced this, so let’s take it back to the beginning.
On a Sunday afternoon in August, I went to a spa on my own to enjoy an evening of relaxing. While I was there I met two brothers who drugged me, took me to their apartment, and sexually assaulted me. I don’t care to discuss more about those hours than that—I don’t find it important to the story, and the part too many people choose to focus on. It is the perceived drama of the story, it is the part of the story people hate to hear, but want to imagine in a distant way anyway, just like watching an episode of SVU. All too often the discussion stops there—but the aftermath, the true horror of an assault or abuse, extends far beyond the initial instance.
In my case, I knew immediately after I had fled to safety, that I needed to go to a hospital, get an exam, and file a police report. But, I had no idea what to do after that. I had never prepared for, or even heard of what to do after that. It was almost as if I would file the report, I either would or wouldn’t get justice, and life would just proceed as normal. Except, it didn’t proceed as normal. I was afraid to be alone, I was experiencing terrible flash backs, I couldn’t focus on anything or keep a train of thought. It took an entire week before I was ready to see my children again after my assault, and even then it was difficult to be with them for extended periods of time, because it was so difficult to control my emotions when flashbacks would overcome me.
I anticipated this would go away after a few weeks—surely it had to. I got promoted to a job I had wanted for quite some time. I expected to be elated, I had thought this would get me out of my “rut.” Instead, I found the problems plaguing my mind carried over to my professional life as well. The anxiety with other people (which had never existed prior to my assault) persisted, the lack of focus impeded on my work performance, and on top of this, my new position required a lot of driving—a major trigger for my flashbacks. Instead of what I imagined would be a great day at work, went more like this: start the day groggy from nightmares, drink coffee that raises your heart rate (increasing chances of panic), meet with clients, stifle anxiety, get in the car, have a panic attack, pull over, wait until it subsides, meet with more clients, anticipate panic, complete lack of focus, get in the car, can’t remember any meetings, stop for gas, stranger talks to you, have a panic attack... over and over and over again, every day.
I started developing intense nausea that led to vomiting. This was a common side effect of my panic attacks. I lost weight, because I had no appetite, and could rarely keep anything down, and the worry about vomiting created a vicious cycle. I was sleep-deprived, I was becoming isolated, and I had no concept of what was happening to me. I began to feel like I was going insane. Increasingly, when I got anxiety as I drove, I would envision myself wrecking my car in a manner that would kill me. Those thoughts became so pervasive that they seemed as if an actual instinct was telling me to do them—the impulse was there, every time I was behind the wheel, and I had to fight it.
In November, I became very ill with the flu. I was running a fever of 105, couldn’t keep anything down, I had chills and was sweating, the whole ordeal. My boyfriend insisted on taking me to the hospital to get medication. When we pulled into the parking lot, my heart started racing, my chest felt tight, and I began to get tunnel vision. I was having vivid memories of being back at the hospital after my assault, getting my exam done. My body began shaking in the waiting room, just as it had on the exam table a few months prior. When the nurses triaged me and sent me to a room, the nurse noted my extremely high heart rate. I let her know, shakily, that I was very anxious because the last I was in the hospital “I was getting a SANE exam.” SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examination, which is the technical term for a “rape kit.” The nurse looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, what?” I repeated myself, louder this time. She asked again, “I’m sorry, you got a what?” My heart sank. I told her, “I got a rape kit.”
This was the first time I had ever said that word. I had spoken to people about the assault, but I had never used the word “rape.” All I ever said was, “they hurt me.” Everyone knew. It was understood. I never had to say the word. I never wanted to. And here, at the peak of my anxiety, in my worst mental state, I had to say it. I had to come to terms with it, I had to assign that to myself like a baggage I never wanted, but was due to drag around now; I was raped.
I left that hospital without treatment. I couldn’t stand to be there anymore. We got some TheraFlu, we went home, and I spent the better part of a week stuck in bed, dealing with the illness in my body and my soul. The rape was the first thing I came to terms with. My mental health was the second. I was honest with myself; that I was out of control, I was feeling suicidal, and I needed help. I knew I needed to do it, not only for myself, but for my children. Once I was well, I made my first appointment to see a counselor, and began my journey to healing.