A mental health post with potential triggers regarding rape and assault.
When I was in my early twenties, I was in a short-lived marriage. In hindsight, it was obvious that this marriage was a mistake from day one. It was a classic rebound reaction to a bad breakup. I was also desperately trying to find my way as a quasi-adult. My parents consisted of a brilliant but alcoholic father, and a crazy mother, who was possibly alcoholic, and at least a narcissist if not a malignant one. Warm and fuzzy it was not. I have spent my entire life in search of belonging to something. That search has made me make more than a few bad choices in my life. Understandable, but bad.
So the kid I married, and we both were kids, had some issues. I had dropped out of college due to a major disagreement with my parents. Instead, I was working a very good job as a programmer and draftsman in a tool and die department of a Fortune 500 company. (Yes, there were computers back then, Virginia.) He was a welder. Or, he was supposed to be. I found out later he had either quit or was fired from his welding job, and instead of going to work he went out and got stoned.
Drugs were involved, I’m sure, in the assault that took place one morning. I was forced into our apartment’s bathroom, a room with no windows. I was wearing only a huge tee-shirt. My husband raped me. He beat me. He was a young, muscular 6’3″ to my 5’6″. He was also a hunter, and had hunting knives and guns. I remember a rifle pointed at me. I was threatened with death if I made a sound. I believed him. He’d leave and return. I was raped several times over many hours. It was morning when I first went into the bathroom, it was afternoon (I think) when he left. I didn’t leave the bathroom until the evening.
I don’t recall what happened during the next few days. I know he didn’t come back after leaving. Thankfully some of the details are fuzzy now, forty years later. That wasn’t always the case. Ten years ago I could have told you how many tiles were on the floor of the bathroom.
I know I became physically ill for a week. I got an eye infection. I couldn’t keep food down. I called in sick to work.
I went back to work about a week later. I still wasn’t “right” but I certainly didn’t say anything other than “bad cold.”
There may have been communication for the husband to not ever show up again or I’d tell his parents. I think there was. I worked with his dad. I never saw the kid again. At some point he picked up his things. I had the locks changed.
I did go to a lawyer about the rape. It was the late 1970’s. This happened within a marriage. There were no witnesses. The lawyer was nice, but told me, truthfully, there was nothing that I could do. Technically, I could try, but it would be horrible and nothing would come of it. I started divorce proceedings. I didn’t ask for alimony. I didn’t ask for anything. Done.
The mind is an amazingly weird thing. I ended up compartmentalizing the assault. I packed it in a little box and sent it floating to the far reaches of my brain. If you would have asked me six months later if it had happened, I would have said it had. I never forgot it happened. But you wouldn’t have asked me six months later, because other than my husband and the lawyer, no one else knew it had happened. I didn’t think about it after about a few weeks. I knew it was there; however, I just ignored it. I’m not sure how I did that. I’m glad I did. I don’t think I could have handled it any other way.
Who knows how much of my ongoing depression was due to that assault? I had experienced depression well before the assault. Given my family history, depression is hard-wired into me.
Within a year, I had reconnected with my high school sweetheart, quit my job, and moved 2200 miles west to California to be with the sweetheart, who I eventually married. I tend to run. CA-guy and I didn’t speak of the first marriage. He knew of it, of course, but it only had lasted three months. I just described it as being stupid and bad. We left it at that. CA-guy is a nice guy, but he’s a stereotypical emotionally repressed man and an engineer on top of that. In eighteen years of marriage I never told him what really happened, nothing about the rape.
I never told him because: I had the pain bottled up, and rarely brought it up to myself; also, I was afraid that I couldn’t handle his non-reaction. I figured he would stare into space, not know how to react and so not have any reaction, and I thought that would kill me.
Toward the end of the eighteen-year marriage, I was seeing a therapist. I was having not only depression but a classic mid-life crisis. We had been having sessions for about a year when the first backlash of the old assault started bubbling up. I started having PTSD symptoms. I finally told my therapist about it… Yep, after a year of weekly sessions. Things were very, very bad for a while. I had vivid flashbacks. I had anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. I would blank out for hours, aware but not aware. I went to a lovely inn at the ocean and just stared for days. I have to say, if you have to freak out, Half Moon Bay in California is a damned nice place to do it. CA-guy made a six-figure income, so that helped.
I had heard of PTSD but didn’t know much about it. Luckily my therapist did, and she knew about the uncommon delayed onset PTSD, my diagnosis.
I finally did tell my emotionally repressed husband about what had happened to me, and what was currently happening to me. Guess what? He had no reaction. He just sat there and stared. He might have muttered something. I know he didn’t hug me. He just stared. It was as bad as I had feared. Did I mention “ex-husband”?
Our marriage was in bad shape for many years before all of this PTSD thing. I don’t know how much of the reliving of it made my marriage end when it did. I’m the one who asked for the divorce (that’s important to say, for some reason).
I’ve forgiven the kid for the rape and assault. This surprises me to no end. Somewhere down the line, after the the PTSD hit, I was able to just let go. I blame him, of course, and the drugs. I hope he got the help he needed. I’ve worried that he might have hurt someone else. I wish the times had been different, and that legal action could have happened, but they weren’t and it didn’t. The non-reaction of my husband still hurts, but I understand it, sort of.
I’m very proud of young woman me. I never once thought the rape and assault was my fault. Never. I blamed myself for the stupid marriage (still do, even though I understand it). I never thought I had the violence coming. Atta girl!
I’m glad, in a way, for the PTSD. When it surfaced, it shot out of me like a cannonball. It was not fun. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone (except one horrible troll of a person). It was, however, kind of cleansing. It was a release. The injury is still hanging around, but since I can put a light on it, it isn’t as damaging.
I need to step away from writing this now. Writing has stirred things up, and I’m getting a bit anxious and shaky. That’s ok, I know what it is, why it is, and how to deal with it now.
The featured image is an old digital photograph from Second Life. It is a screenshot, without post-production.