From Victim to Survivor: A True Story
(This is the final part of the true story following a victim to survivor. For previous parts, please look through the blog)
My teacher’s caring words resounded through my head. I don’t know if my teacher knew I was planning to commit suicide that day, but her reaching out to me changed my life. Someone cared about my pain! It’s not that I didn’t think my family and friends cared, but going to school every day to deal with bullying and harassment, it wears a person down. People in my life either wanted to pretend the rape never happened or wanted to talk about the details, which I was not comfortable doing.
I began to feel like I was living outside myself, no longer who I thought I was. It was at this point my eating disorder began. My life felt out of control. It seemed the only thing I could control is my eating habits. I would starve or binge on everything edible in sight, then purge myself. Afterward, there would be a strange sense of control and I would feel better. It was like I was saying to the universe, “Ha! I do have some control here!”
Eventually I spoke to my teacher. As it turns out, my teacher was a volunteer at a local crisis center for many years. It was from her I first learned of Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS). She explained that everyone responds differently to sexual assault and there is no wrong or right way. As she told me about it, I recognized myself in what she described.
The first stage of RTS is the acute phase. This is when the victim tries to deal with the assault after it has happened. Some are expressive, in that they are very emotional. Another response is controlled and is when the victim tries to maintain their composure and not show any emotion. Some victims might even go through both the expressive and controlled response.
During this acute stage that some victims experience nightmares, panic attacks, or even disconnect from everything. A loss of interest in everything, inability to focus, not feeling safe or trusting anyone, all are part of the acute phase. I felt shocked and elated when she told me this. I wasn’t alone in dealing with this, others go through it too! I felt sad it happens so often there is a name for it, but I no longer felt like a freak and alone.
The next stage is the Reorganization Phase: the victim tries to put the pieces of her/his life back together. The loss of security, trust, and control are so intrinsic the anxiety seems more heightened. This is where the shame and guilt, pulling away from family and friends, the constant fear and anxiety have come to a place where the victim tries to take some control back and reorganize a recognizable life. As with all recovery, there is no one way to go about this either or a length of time any of this may take.
Eventually, my rapist plead guilty, sparing me from a long court process. It did not make the other issues go away; there was a lot to deal with. I do look back and wish I had handled it differently and found someone to talk to sooner. It’s always a struggle. When I developed an eating disorder to try and take back control, I just wanted to feel better. I had no idea it would be a life-long struggle of triggers, relapse, and recovery.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual violence, talk to someone: a friend, family, even an anonymous voice on a hotline. It is very important to get those feelings out. Remember, there is no wrong or right way a victim responds or copes. Time does not always heal all, but it does make it easier to live with. You do not have to be a victim, you can become a survivor!
This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.