Editor’s note: trigger warning, sexual assault
After two years of essentially brushing my experience under the rug, unconvinced that anything too serious really happened, I’ve finally started pursuing therapy to recover from my assault. And one thing that I’ve already learned is that recognizing what happened to you and seeking out help is most of the battle. The rest, though painful and trying in many ways, naturally follows.
I was sexually assaulted by a controlling man who desperately wanted to be my boyfriend when I was 19. After spending months on end trying to reframe the situation in a way that would “expose” how nothing really happened and that I was just sensitive, I began to take note of how my experience was affecting my life, my relationships and my sex life. After my assault, I stopped having sex and eventually quit dating altogether. The first time I made out with my current partner, my body froze and I thought for a split second that my attacker’s face had replaced that of my lover’s. And after each time we had sex, whether or not I got triggered during or not, I would step out to sob and shake in the bathroom.
As I became more honest about my past with my partner and became aware of all of the ways my assault had affected my intimate life, I finally began to believe that what my attacker did was wrong and deeply traumatizing. I became determined to address this head on through therapy…but since the topic was so sensitive, I hesitated. I feared talking about it out loud and in a strange place would be too overwhelming for my anxiety. So I tried an app instead.
Through the Talkspace app, I was matched with a therapist that specialized in sexual trauma and, for the first time, I started really talking about it. No more sugarcoating, no more guilty questioning of whether or not what had happened was real or deserved. I ripped the band-aid off, and boy did it hurt.
I didn’t expect my experience with trauma-related therapy to be quite as powerful and effective through an app. But regardless of whether or not I was saying the words out loud, the fact that I was saying them at all deeply impacted me. First, my therapist asked for me to detail each and every moment of what happened before, during and after the assault. Excited to be finally addressing it, I gave her a detailed list pretty quickly, unaware of the impact that this action would have.
It wasn’t until late that night that I first felt the effects of my reflection. I shot up out of bed just as an overwhelming panic gripped my body. I felt jumpy and shied away from my concerned partner’s touch, requesting that they put on some pants (because in that moment their nudity felt extremely violating). Out of bed and away from my lover, my whole body began shaking on the floor as memory after memory hit me like a crashing wave. I couldn’t help but cry out as I felt my imaginary attacker press down on my body, my wrists being restrained above my head. I couldn’t stop crying as my partner held me through the feelings of that day seizing my body.
For days after, I felt shaky and sensitive. I could hardly sleep because every time I closed my eyes, I could see my attacker. I woke up in a cold sweat every night after having dreams of being assaulted.
I regretted talking about it, and put off the second step my therapist wanted me to take for as long as possible. If this was my reaction to simply listing the physical actions of the attack in sequence, then how could I get through talking about the feelings behind it?
But somehow, I managed. It seemed as though the hard part was over, since I was able to detail my feelings corresponding with each action once the panic finally left my body the week after. And everything after that, every word exchanged between my therapist and I, felt like a highly needed and deeply refreshing breath of air. I was out of it, it’s behind me now.
My therapist took me to the darkest part of my brain and back, and I’m finally beginning to feel as though I’m getting a handle on my recovery process. I’m still working through intimacy issues, like learning to see penises and penetration as something other than inherently violent. But since starting therapy, I’ve really observed huge changes in myself. I haven’t tensed up from my lover’s touch in months. The nightmares have finally stopped. And I can even experience orgasm via G-spot stimulation, something that was previously impossible for my partner to touch due to my body’s nervous protective reactions.
I’m so glad to finally be talking about it, to finally be getting better, and for me to have therapy strictly over text be just as effective (if not more so) than face to face meetings. It was a big step for me to acknowledge that my assault was in fact assault, but it was an even bigger leap to finally see the scars I had endured from that dreadful day wash away, as I leave these memories behind on my path to healing. I’m certainly not completely recovered — I still see my abuser in the faces of strangers from time to time. But I’m confident that one day, as I continue therapy, I’ll have his voice, face and touch out of my mind’s eye forever. Or at least with enough distance so that it can’t hurt me anymore.