I remember the heart pounding moment when I hit publish. It was raw, it was scary, and it was 100% the right decision. The soundness of my decision to name my rapist was reinforced repeatedly over the course of that first week. Each day that week (no exaggeration) I had a new email from someone who disclosed that they had also had an experience with Ben. Some were completed rapes, some were attempted rapes. All described unwanted and unwelcome behavior. It was powerful. It was validating--I suspected that if I named him, after the experience I had with Really Brave Person, that more people would come forward. I never expected so many. In total, there were 9, including myself.
*Trigger warning for references to sexual assault, PTSD, and depression. If you're a survivor, please check out my Survivor Resources post for books, sites, and hotlines*
What you don't know is what happened next. The awful comments from those who felt that I was "ruining someone's life." The fat shaming. "Who would want to fuck her (me) anyway?" The threats of lawsuits for defamation. (Spoiler alert: it's not defamation if it's true.) And let's not forget the email(s) from my rapist himself. Seeing his name in my inbox felt like a gut punch. I'm not screencapping the email here because he asked me not to, (not that I care to do him any favors,) but I respect consent and I've said that I will only post things on this blog with permission.
I had a very meta experience as I watch the post get bigger in its reach. One part was deeply entrenched as a survivor and the person whose name and reputation are on the line in naming my rapist. There's both empowerment and anxiety there. The other part was the rape crisis counselor, victim advocate, and trauma researcher who is fascinated by the common themes that were actually happening in realtime:
There's victim blaming "why didn't you report, you're ruining his life, how dare you drag someone's reputation through the mud."
There's misplaced responsibility "it's your job as a survivor to report so he can't do this to someone else."
There's the good guy defense "he's a good person i know him and i know he would never do that."
There's the age defense "he was too young to understand consent"
There's the legal defense "you never reported this, he's innocent until proven guilty, you're just making baseless accusations that you can't prove"
And lastly, there's the time critique, "why would you do this after 15 years? why didn't you come forward before now?"
This is rape culture at it's most basic level.
It was during that week that I realized that life wasn't going to just go back to normal after I published the post. If anything, it was going to get a lot messier. I had a conversation with my boss (who was wonderfully supportive) and was authorized to go on a 6-week leave of absence for work. For healing. For clarity. For my own mental health. My psychiatrist upped my dose of antidepressants and gave me an anti-anxiety med. Why, you may ask?
Because my PTSD flared in a major way in the wake of that post. I was having intensely vivid flashbacks, panic attacks, dissociation, and hyperarousal. Seeing a new email in my inbox was enough to cause my stomach to knot. Would it be another disclosure? A supporter? A troll spouting hate? I couldn't focus or concentrate. I felt like I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Someone sent me a link to Demi Lovato's song, "Warrior." I love the lyrics, but especially this part:
There's a part of me I can't get back
A little girl grew up too fast
All it took was once, I'll never be the same
Now I'm taking back my life today
Nothing left that you can say
Cause you are never gonna take the blame anyway
Holy hell if that didn't hit me right in the feels. Especially considering the content of his emails. There was no responsibility taken.
I kept waiting for it to get better. I wore a lot of red lipstick. I went to CatalystCon East at the end of March (which was wonderful!), but much of the weekend was spent in my hotel room, having mini-panic attacks because I was in the same city as him. When I went home to Etters to visit my family, I felt my heart pound every time I drove by the townhouse where he raped me. (It couldn't be helped, it's along a main road). The flashbacks became more vivid because my brain didn't have to fill in the details, they were right there in front of me. My brain started rapid firing: There's the townhouse where it happened. There's the road you walked down afterward. There's the street corner where you stood waiting for your dad to pick you up. There's your middle school, where you told your friend in gym class that you "had sex" because you didn't have the vocabulary to call it rape.
It was such a bittersweet homecoming. I hadn't been back to Pennsylvania for a year. I missed my friends and family deeply. Yet as I drove around Etters, I quickly realized that the ghosts of the past were too close to ignore. I've told my survivor story hundreds of times, but I realized as I navigated the roads in my hometown that I had always viewed it as something from the past. Something that happened. Years ago. While I still worked on my healing journey daily (as many survivors do) I still had some distance from the actual event. Publishing the post reopened that wound and made it difficult to spend more than 24 hours in South Central PA. By the time I headed up to Northeast PA to see my grandmother, I couldn't put it in my rearview mirror fast enough. I spent the rest of the week in Philadelphia with my beloved aunt and uncle and my Philly friends. Even so, I spent a lot of that time alone - usually sleeping.
The rest of April was a blur. I had an amazing weekend at the Sexual Health Expo in Phoenix with new and old sex ed friends, but as April drew to a close, one thing was on my mind: I have to go back to work soon. My six-week personal leave was rapidly coming to a close and I didn't feel any more healed or prepared for the stress of a 40 hour work week than I had when I left in mid-March. I had to make a decision--go back and try to make it work (and possibly cause more damage by exceeding my emotional resources) or take a deep breath and resign my position, giving up a 35k/year income and fully embracing my work as a freelance sex educator and writer. Ultimately I decided to resign. I appreciated the support from my colleagues at work but I knew that I didn't want to be there if I couldn't give 100%.
So here I am. Unemployed, without commercial insurance (I still have Medi-Cal but they decided not to pay for my last two psychiatrist visits so I have to fight with them before I see him again), trying to heal, and trying to survive. Trying to figure out where to go from here. I want to write a memoir. That's my next project. Using my voice to share my story with the world and hopefully make other survivors feel less alone.
I intended to write this during the month of April, in solidarity with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But here's the thing. For a survivor, every month is sexual assault awareness month. So here it is on May 5th. Two weeks after my 29th birthday and fifteen years, two months, and one day since he raped me.