Picking up where I left off in the last post, Beth invited me to a campus presentation on date rape.
Beth had had some rape crisis counseling training. I now know that Beth had been worried for years that I was a rape survivor, and that that explained some of my behavior. She thought I was in a good place mentally (a better place than I actually was), and thought that I’d benefit from going, possibly getting support.
So I went. We went together. It was a Thursday night. I remember this because my class schedule for that semester only had classes Tuesday through Thursday (this is relevant to how things transpired).
I don’t remember much of the specifics of the presentation. What I remember was listening and vacillating between the idea that David raped me and the idea that that was a crazy idea.
David was my boyfriend. David had loved me. David had been so good to me, encouraged me in my art, listened to me. David gave me a way to be left alone by my mom and Elias.
But David also pushed for sex when I didn’t want to have sex with him. David told me that saying no was being shitty to him. We were getting married anyways, and married people have sex, and also, he wanted to have sex, so we should have sex. That I didn’t want to was immaterial.
It took me years to see that as rape. In part because if I saw that first time we had sex as rape, did that mean that all the times we had sex were rape? There were different degrees to “not wanting to have sex” when David and I were together. Some of it was close to…you ever have that experience where you really don’t feel like having sex? It doesn’t feel bad or wrong or like it’s going against something inside you, but you have it anyway? Like if I want Italian for dinner, but the person I’m with really wants Chinese, so we have Chinese because they want Chinese more than I want Italian. And we’ll have Italian the next time we eat out. Some of it felt like that. Occasionally.
But I remember most of our sex together outrightly being something that I didn’t want. I remember shutting down, dissociating, over and over. So…my boyfriend raped me, over and over, and I kept going along with it. Who does that? Why would someone do that? Why would I do that? How could I still want to be with him, want any kind of affection from him, feel anything good for him?
Because my life had involved a lot of emotional brutalization and starvation. I didn’t have healthy emotional boundaries. I hadn’t been taught to have them. If anything, I’d been taught the opposite, to not have boundaries, to not say no. To please people. To not trust myself. I’d been told my whole life by my own mother that many things I wanted were wrong, stupid, a waste of time. When I didn’t do what she wanted, she ignored me or mocked me, cutting me off from feeling loved and accepted. Often the most love and acceptable I had was from being her willing puppet, doing exactly as she said, taking the classes she wanted me to, picking out the career she wanted me to. Learning about myself and what I wanted was only acceptable if those wants were the same as the ones my mother already decided for me.
Because of this, my framework for dealing with people who I loved was that they treated you wonderfully when you did things that pleased them. When you didn’t please them, they took what they wanted from you anyways, and those were the times when you had to just grit your teeth and get through it. That was the only way to get back to having good times with them.
The way that David acted was perfectly aligned with this philosophy. The concept of rape never entered my mind.
But now it had, and I was grappling with the idea that I was raped repeatedly by my boyfriend and I’d just stayed with him to be raped some more.
I had a nervous breakdown while working my way through this.
I ended up driving myself back to the mental hospital that night, telling them that I felt stressed and overwhelmed, and checking myself back in.
This is where my class schedule was important. I stayed until Monday morning. I got my medication tweaked and had anti-anxiety drugs added to my meds. I told them (because it was the beginning of the school year) that I’d gotten scared I flunked out and needed a few days to pull myself together.
On the inside, I was more-or-less chanting to myself that everything was going to be fine, I didn’t have to think about the rape stuff if I didn’t want to, and that I should just forget about it. Every time I thought about confronting it, I felt like I’d go insane. It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
This is a good time to mention that I did have both a psychiatrist and a therapist, courtesy of my first stay in the mental hospital. In order to stay in school, I had to have both (a condition set by my college). But they both sucked. It would take me some years to totally realize that my psychiatrist sucked (his idea of “medication maintenance” was to send me for bloodwork if I complained that the meds were too strong and I was always sleeping, had a hard time going to class, and felt apathetic. When the bloodwork came back, he’s say “well, your blood levels are good, so you’re fine.” despite my repeated protests that NO, I was NOT fine). But I realized that my therapist sucked from day one. I’d had a really good therapist in high school, and my current therapist was just…calling it in. I went to therapy because I had to, but I spoke as little as possible and never discussed anything that I actually cared about, because I didn’t feel comfortable or like I had a good vibe with my therapist. I got better advice from my friends, and more peace of mind from writing about my problems.
But this was something I didn’t want to talk to my friends about. Even my most wonderful friends, like Beth. I wasn’t able to admit what had happened to me, without feeling like my world was coming apart. And the professional help I had was horrible, so…no resources there.
I came out of that long weekend stay at the mental hospital with an unshakable belief that the only thing I needed to be doing at that time was working on learning to live my new psych-medicated life (and because of my class schedule, people assumed that I’d simply gone away for the weekend; no need to explain to anybody (including school officials) that I’d been in the mental hospital). Taking my pills, going to school, and working (I needed to work because my parents were willing to pay most of my tuition, but I needed to pay for everything else: rent, personal expenses, food, doctor’s visits, car maintenance…this was how I got into things like go-go dancing. It was the best way to make a lot of money quickly, so that I still had a lot of time for studying and self-care). That was it. The past didn’t matter. The past could only hurt me. The now was what mattered. Getting through today’s now, then tomorrow’s now, then the day after’s now.
I didn’t make any plans that involved eventually revisiting what happened to me. I couldn’t. I couldn’t think about it.
So I didn’t. I let the nows blend together and the days and weeks slowly passed and I slowly improved. It got easier to manage everything, in part because I started lying to my psychiatrist and taking about half the dose of some of the medications he gave me. As long as I reported that I felt OK, he didn’t ask to see blood levels. So I played around with my meds dosage until I found ones that worked. Eventually I got rid of him and my therapist and found new ones that were actually competent mental health professionals. But that’s several years in the future.
The important thing is that I did slowly settle into a college life that I could manage. And that life gradually went from incredibly difficult to manage to very manageable. One thing that helped (eventually) was that my mom disowned me. I’ve mentioned this before. The way it helped is that I learned that my dad had limits to the behavior he’d put up in my mom, and if she disowned me or drove me away, he would divorce her. This shifted the power dynamic in our relationship, and offered the beginnings of a framework to lay down some boundaries with her.
So I improved. I started to enjoy life. I could spend time with my friends. I eventually started dating a guy, Frances. He was a virgin, and wasn’t in a hurry to have sex, so that made things less stressful to me. The way that relationship progressed sexually was…doable. Our sex was consensual. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t traumatic.
All of this isn’t to say that everything was peachy for me, mentally. It wasn’t. I maintained steadfast denial that everything was fine, but I had nightmares, bouts of depression. I felt bad for mysterious reasons sometimes. Other times, I would get angry and reckless and do stupid things. I got angry with myself frequently. I wasn’t kind to myself. I put myself down a lot. As Frances and I continued to date, he started to act in shitty, controlling ways. Nothing nearly as controlling as things my mom and David had done, but little, jerky things that chipped away at my soul.
I kept on going though, keeping my head down (you might even say “keeping my head in the sand), working and going to school, then graduating. Well, by “graduating”, I mean I walked. I couldn’t find an internship before I graduated, but the school told me I could walk, then find a summer internship, submit my paperwork, then get my degree.
As soon as I graduated, I ditched my shitty therapist and psychiatrist. In a huge “fuck you” to both of them, I told them both some unpleasant facts during my last visit. I told both of them that I thought they were incompetent. I told my psychiatrist that I hadn’t followed his shitty med advice for years and that I didn’t think he should be allowed to be a practicing psychiatrist, because his management was horrible. I told my therapist something like I got better life advice and figured out more talking to a brick wall than to him.
But, I didn’t get a new therapist or psychiatrist at this time. Not yet. I wanted to enjoy a few months of not answering to anybody.
Meanwhile, things with Frances continued to go downhill. In retrospect, I think he actively was trying to sabotage my internship. He would frequently freak out about what would happen once I graduated, and have these insecure fits about me breaking up with him as soon as I had my degree. I tried to comfort him and assure him that getting my degree wouldn’t change anything between us (though these ragey, crying fits of his were starting to change things between us). His response was to make more and more demands on me, the kind of internship I could take, the kind of time he expected me to always have available to him, no matter what. Things were starting to go badly between us in more and more ways.
In the midst of that came the dark night of the soul that I wrote about to Lora.
And here we are at last. My dark night of the soul…