The timing and synchronisity of Remembrance Day/Veteran’s Day with what I’ve read in Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror is perfectly suited for a day when we remember the fallen soldiers of war. I am not a proponent of war, but I am sympathetic to the cause of helping fellow humans overcome traumatic experiences and achieve reintegration with the community. Herman discusses the important role of the community in helping survivors of war reintegrate and overcome their traumatic experiences. The community’s recognition of and appreciation of their sacrifices as well as that of their fallen comrades, is of upmost importance to the mental health of those traumatized by war. I’d like to share some excerpts from Herman’s book with you.
“Sharing the traumatic experience with others is a precondition for the restitution of a sense of a meaningful world. In this process, the survivor seeks assistance not only from those closest to her but also from the wider community. The response of the community has a powerful influence on the ultimate resolution of the trauma. Restoration of the breach between the traumatized person and the community depends, first, upon public acknowledgment of the traumatic event and, second, upon some form of community action. Once it is publicly recognized that a person has been harmed, the community must take action to assign responsibility for the harm and to repair the injury. These two responses—recognition and restitution—are necessary to rebuild the survivor’s sense of order and justice.”
She goes on to address war veterans specifically:
“When veterans’ groups organize, their first efforts are to ensure that their ordeals will not disappear from public memory. Hence the insistence on medals, monuments, parades, holidays, and public ceremonies of memorial, as well as individual compensation for injuries.”
The very meaning of November 11th is to remember. This day every year is demarcated for that purpose, and war veterans are assured of it. I must admit this is the first year that I’ve had any awareness around the importance of Remembrance Day/Veteran’s Day ceremonies for the healing and reintegration of soldiers’ mental health. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and some recognition from all of us can go a long way is helping to relieve that for them. They’re worth it, not because they are soldiers, but because they are human. Please take a moment to remember and recognize these men and women today.
~ “Probably the most significant public contribution to the healing of these veterans was the construction of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. This monument,which records simply by name and date the number of the dead, becomes by means of this acknowledgment a site of common mourning. The “impacted grief” of soldiers is easier to resolve when the community acknowledges the sorrow of its loss.” -Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
I still have post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – from being drugged and raped in 2007. I used to just think that the PTSD symptoms were just negative personality traits of mine. I thought I was just irritable, easily provoked, and agitated by nature. I thought I used marijuana habitually because I was too “weak” to give it up, and yet I was aware that I felt more “normal” with it than without it in terms of sleeping, eating, and mood. I’ve never sought an official diagnosis, but since February 2011, when I became consciously aware of the rape, it was suddenly painfully obvious to me that I’d been suffering from PTSD for years.
I’ve always felt shame when expressing my “negative personality traits,” and simply attributing them to PTSD has made no difference in this respect. Perhaps the shame is there because I haven’t taken the time to appreciate the adaptive purpose PTSD can serve? I feel I’ve begun to gain a deeper understanding by reading Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman, particularly of how PTSD initially affected my life immediately following the rape, even though I was completely unaware that it had happened.
You might be wondering how I could not be aware of being raped – I wondered that too! I can only assume that because I was drugged unconscious, and perhaps also because I was badly injured during the rape, my conscious mind automatically denied the possibility of rape to me, this being an adaptive response so I could remain functional. It wasn’t conscious denial, it’s just the prospect of rape didn’t even cross my mind. As Herman notes, “This voluntary suppression of thoughts related to the traumatic event is characteristic of traumatized people.” I told myself it was just that I had a mystery back injury from drinking. “Did I fall?” I wondered to myself. The point is, after the rape, I was unaware that rape had occurred, and yet my life began to disintegrate before my eyes. At the time it was a mystery to me why I felt compelled to make so many bad choices, but compelled I was and there was no stopping it. This post is an attempt to understand this “bad behaviour” as adaptations for survival instead of simply shameful behaviour.
After the rape, I was suddenly afraid to live alone, so I moved in with Sam, someone I’d just started seeing and barely knew. I couldn’t roll over by myself to get out of bed due to the rape injury, so I told myself that I simply needed Sam to help care for me. My job performance immediately crumbled into shit, and as I watched myself fail I felt powerless to fix it, but also felt uncharacteristically neutral about it. I was more confrontational with bosses, and more antagonistic with peers. I started drinking heavily and blacking out regularly. I just trusted that Sam would take care of me and babysit me when I was drunk, which he usually did. I wasn’t attracted to him, and I was in no emotional state to be dating anybody, but I knew he’d do anything for me, so… in that respect he was perfect! Sam eventually pushed for sex, and I was so numb I let him and honestly didn’t care if he was using me. I broke things off with the attractive Italian architect I’d been seeing because I didn’t want him to know what a mess I was. I now know all of this was a reaction to the rape, but at the time I hated myself for letting everything go to shit and could make no sense of any of it. The only explanation was that I was a terrible person, and that’s what I believed about myself.
In Trauma and Recovery, Herman discusses the three cardinal symptoms of PTSD: (1) Hyperarousal; (2) Intrusion; and (3) Constriction. Having read examples in the book about how these symptoms manifested in others, I was shocked to see how my “bad behaviours” were actually attempts at mastering my own feelings of helplessness and reestablishing a sense of control of my environment.
Hyperarousal is the first cardinal symptom of PTSD. It means constantly being on guard for something bad to happen. For me, this first manifested as insomnia, explosive anger, and aggression, but years later has turned into generalized anxiety and a fear of alcohol, night clubs, and even fear of walking past strange men on the street. I have a strong startle response to loud noises as well, and was recently reminded of this when Hallowe’en fire crackers started going off two weeks ago. The question is, how is any of this helping me?
The adaptive purpose of this chronic arousal of my nervous system is that I “feel ready” should I be faced with any further traumatic events. It’s actually an elaborate illusion of smoke and mirrors though, since there’s really no way to prepare oneself for an unknown future trauma. Rather than offering me any real control, hyperarousal serves to allow me to feel a sense of mastery and control over my environment when in fact no one is capable of that level of control. Complete vulnerability is the fundamental state of humanity, and that’s hard to accept for anyone. Even those who have not been traumatized feel a false sense of control over their environment when in truth, if someone really wanted to hurt them they could find a way to do it. But there’s comfort in this illusion, and therefore it is adaptive.
Intrusion is the second cardinal symptom of PTSD. It is a replaying of the trauma, either in dreams, in actions, or in words. Herman explains that people often feel compelled to “recreate the moment of terror, either in literal or disguised form,” and that “in their attempts to undo the traumatic moment, survivors may even put themselves at risk of further harm.” Since I had no conscious memory of the rape, for me the intrusion manifested more like it would for a child who’s play scenes reenact an early trauma of which the child has no conscious memory. For me, it seems this played out as drinking heavily and blacking out, and also letting Sam “rape” me. Herman further explains that even when voluntarily chosen, there is something about these reenactments which feels involuntary. These behaviours appear maladaptive on the surface, but there is something more subtlety adaptive at work here.
Freud called this reenactment the “death instinct” since he could not understand why a person would voluntarily place themselves in great danger again and again. I certainly could not understand why I was doing these things, only that I was compelled to do them. I can see now that I was unconsciously trying to recreate the scenario so that I might gain mastery over it. I had more control when I made myself lose consciousness then when I was forced unconscious by another. I had more control when I agreed to be “raped” than when I had no choice in the matter. Dreams that replay the trauma are also part of the intrusive symptoms, but I would not experience an intrusive dream until four years later, which was an exact replaying of my memory of leaving the rapist’s apartment, and not really a “dream” at all, a quality shared by the traumatic dreams of other PTSD sufferers. After I had that dream, I indeed found a way to master the situation by reverse engineering and fixing my rape injury.
Constriction is the third cardinal symptom of PTSD. This means going numb, giving up, being the proverbial “deer in the headlights” calmly surrendering to death or danger over which you have no control. This is the response seen in animals caught by a predator, knowing they face certain death. I felt this most in my inability to respond to the fact that my life was disintegrating before my eyes. I also experienced constriction when I cared nothing about letting Sam use my body for sex. It’s like it wasn’t even me, like my body was no longer a part of me. It was a simple trade-off for the protection I needed and was in no way an expression of sexuality on my part. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind. Taking drugs or alcohol in hopes of intensifying the level of dissociation is also part constrictive symptoms, and I was drinking every single day to achieve maximum numbness. Years later I was, until recently, using marijuana on a daily basis to deal with the constant anxiety I felt. One of the unexpected side effects of ceremonial shamanic use of ayahuasca was no longer feeling the urge to numb myself with substances every day, and I truly feel that this was where healing began for me.
Although constriction is a merciful reprieve in the moments before death, or expected death, its continuance is ultimately maladaptive to healing if one survives the attack. Healing only happens when we feel, and numbing my feelings day after day was a huge obstacle to healing. I feel my substance abuse was one of the most shameful aspects of my PTSD because I attributed it to shortcomings in my personality, not understanding its purpose. It was only after I no longer smoked every day that I understood and forgave my reasons for it, so harsh was my judgement of it.
Now that I have a better understanding of how PTSD has affected my life, I hope it will be easier to accept that I’m human and not superhuman, and that I was simply reacting to a trauma in ways that were normal and ultimately adaptive for me following the rape. The shame I feel about these behaviours has been felt for a number of years at this point so it’s now a case of deconstructing false negative beliefs I’ve created about myself, and honestly, I feel better already after simply writing this post. This post focused more on how PTSD initially affected me, and less on how it has morphed as the years when on, but that is definitely something I’ll be writing more about in a future post.
If you have any stories about how PTSD has affected your life, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Although PTSD looks messy on the outside, it’s all just an instinct for healing and mastery. However, I also feel that in my experience and on the grand scale, PTSD symptoms have been adaptive behaviours to simply feeling powerless. What has made all the difference for me is knowing that I have the power to manifest healing in my life, and that I do not have to be a passive reactor to my environment, using these behaviours as crutches to limp through life. I don’t always remember that I have this power, but I do my best to remind myself of it often. I have the power to heal myself, I have the power to choose change, and I have the power to be happy.
~ “Enjoy where you are or you will never get where you’re going. Enjoy where you are and you will BE where you are going.” – Bashar, channelled by Darryl Anka
Rapists rape because they want to feel powerful and in control of another person. They have low self-esteem and so must prove to themselves their dominion over others. There’s a lot of weak spots to play on here, far more than with the average man. Wouldn’t it be fucked up to turn that shit around and play on those insecurities? I’m not suggesting that anyone actually use these phrases if they are being raped, the point of this post is just to poke a little fun at rapists.
Insult His Manhood
We all know how men feel about their dicks, but to a rapist his dick is his weapon. Fuck up his head by insisting you can’t feel his penis.
(1) Ask him “is it in? Really? Oh… are you sure?” Roll your eyes and get annoyed when he insists that it is, or laugh and say “No way! Seriously dude, I can’t feel a thing.”
Steal His Fire
A lot of rapists enjoy the satisfaction of having their victims struggle and not be able to get away, so they can feel like they have control over them. Fuck up his head by insisting that he’s fulfilling one of YOUR fantasies, that he’s not actually controlling you.
(2) When he’s clearly enjoying you struggle, say “oh goodie, rape fantasies are my faaaaaav! Yeah, hold me down, that’s what I like, yeah!!!”
Compare Him To A Woman
In our hyper masculine culture nothing cuts down a man’s attempt at domination quite like telling him he’s womanly. It’s no different for rapists.
(3) While he’s raping, giggle and say “It feels like you’re one of those trans folks who just has a really big clitoris.” When he gets mad, just say “don’t get me wrong, having a clit is nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Make Him Think You’re A Guy
If you just met your attacker, he probably thinks you’re just a regular lady with regular lady parts, and he wants to show women who’s boss. Fuck up his head by making him think he accidently forced himself on a dude who’s had sex change surgery.
(4) Deepen your voice a little and say “Does it feel like a real pussy? The doctor said he was the best gender reassignment surgeon in the country.” When he pauses to look at you more closely, give him a wink, and whisper “I won’t tell.”
Scare Him With Phantom STDs
Nobody wants to catch an STD, not even a rapist, so tell him he’s in the middle of rubbing herpes all over his dick.
(5) “Could you move a little to the left? You’re really chafing my herpes blisters. Thanks.”
If you have any boner shrinker ideas for rapists, please share in the comments 🙂
I feel abandoned by my mother, because I know she doesn’t want to believe my dad could be capable of sexually abusing me. She sends emails that start with what I see as a courtesy disclaimer, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but…” and then tells me all the reasons why she thinks I could be mistaken. It tears my heart out, but I try to be understanding. She has been going through a lot since I broke the silence and told her about the memories I’ve begun to recover, and admittedly she’s in the most difficult position of all.
The little child part of me wants nothing more than for my mother to believe that what I’m telling her is true and choose me over my perpetrator. It doesn’t look likely though, so I tell myself that’s just a childish dream that she could ever choose one family member over another, that she’s built a life with this person, that it’s selfish of me to put expectations on her. But it’s like a knife to the heart. I actually find it hard to value my own life if she doesn’t believe me, and thinking about it too much is the one thing that can send me back into that dark suicidal place I was a few months back. In that place I feel half dead, have rotted, half decomposed, and yet I haven’t taken my life. I am still walking around trying to find a way out that doesn’t depend on her or what she does. Just to feel alive again.
I know on an intellectual level that I can choose whatever experience of this that I want. But that little girl is convinced, “If my own mother won’t believe me, won’t choose me, who would?” She takes it to mean she is worthless, that others’ words to the contrary are meaningless gestures of etiquette, rather than heartfelt truths. The whole world becomes cold and fake to her. This is no way to live.
Accepting that my mother has the right to deal with this situation however she wants has been the most difficult emotional challenge I’ve ever had. The truth is her words and actions have no meaning except the meaning I choose to give to them, so the impact on my self worth comes from my beliefs rather than from her. The clincher is that I know this intellectually, but it still feels like abandonment. It still feels like I have been ousted from the tribe, left to fend for myself, like death is after me, already eating through my flesh.
My only choice is to wholeheartedly accept that only I can give my life whatever meaning I choose, and that yes, expectations and wishes for my mother to do this or that are in fact, just childish dreams, based on the false belief that my self worth comes from her. In truth it never has, and it never will. How much longer am I willing to spend trying to barter for these childish dreams? That I don’t know, but I hope it’s not long. There’s a big beautiful world out there waiting for me.
~ “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
Have you ever made a sexual comment to a woman and were confused about why it was offensive to her? Admittedly, it’s rare that I come across a man who doesn’t properly understand when making sexual comments about a woman to her face is inappropriate, but unfortunately I find myself living with one these men at the moment. Although he has agreed not to do it again, he does not feel his comments were inappropriate.
It appears my new male roommate is a bit confused about the meaning of sexual harassment. He made some comments about “enjoying the view” of my body after I’d only lived with him for a few days, which was quite upsetting to me. I did my best to explain to him why what he did was harassment, and he disagreed with me. He said it was all a matter of perception. I said he could look up the definition of the term on the Internet. So which is it?
I guess the real question is, at what point does it actually become appropriate to make sexual comments to a woman you’ve recently met? Answer: Once you’ve reached a certain level of intimacy, which must include her clearly signaling sexual interest to you! That means that if you misinterpret her signals and think that she likes you when she doesn’t, she’s going to be very creeped out by your comments. The safest bet is to come right out and ask her if she’s interested in a date, and don’t be vague about it; anything else is a gamble.
The whole creep thing was once very well explained by Joseph Maldonaldo of IAM Center as one person moving too fast down a continuum of relating between two people. On one end are the complete strangers; on the other are intimate partners or friends. Moving along the continuum takes time and a willingness of both parties to move the relationship in that direction. To move too quickly along is to be a creep, literally creeping along the continuum to a point where the other party isn’t comfortable. It’s forcing one’s way past another person’s boundary with no regard for that person’s comfort. Sexual harassment is, in the general sense, being a creep. It means making sexual comments that would only be acceptable if you and the other person were further down the continuum, except that you are not. And after only knowing me for a few days in the context of being roommates, we are still at the level of acquaintance.
I am so grateful that most of you get this, no explanation necessary, but I guess I just needed to vent about how frustrating this can be. He actually said to me, “I thought you were the fun type,” as an excuse for saying what he said. So I guess he is right that it is a matter of perception, the problem is that his perception of our “relationship” was way off, and unfortunately I now perceive him as a creep and he perceives me as uptight. I’m just so disappointed in both of us for not being able to communicate about this better. Thanks for listening.
This isn’t a recent post, but a great one nonetheless that discusses some preliminary studies on what proportion of the young male population has engaged in rape. Two studies are discussed where men were surveyed about past sexual activities that involved the use of threat, force, or intoxication to gain compliance of their victims without consent. The word rape is not used in the survey, and that is likely why the men felt comfortable self-reporting these activities, though it’s unclear if any men declined to report truthfully. The conclusions of these two studies were that roughly 13% of the male population have raped, and between 4% and 8% are serial rapists. These numbers could potentially be even higher if some men declined to answer truthfully. Of those admitting to rape, only about 30% reported using force, while the remainder went for intoxicated victims in what are likely to be socially sanctioned acts of rape, since the guy can easily claim confusion about her consent since she was not in her right mind. That means a large proportion of guys opportunistically take advantage of intoxicated women because they know their friends won’t question them about it. Anyway, have a read, this is a great post.
A huge proportion of the women I know enough to talk with about it have survived an attempted or completed rape. None of them was raped by a stranger who attacked them from behind a bush, hid in the back of her car or any of the other scenarios that fit the social script of stranger rape. Anyone reading this post, in fact, is likely to know that six out of seven rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. It has been clear for a long time, at least since Robin Warshaw’s groundbreaking “I Never Called It Rape,” which used Mary Koss’s reseach, that the stranger rape script did not describe rape as most women experienced it. It’s easy to picture the stranger rapist: a violent criminal, not much different from the violent criminals who commit other violent crimes. This guy was in prison before, and he’ll be back…
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I sometimes wish that I could remember all of the abuse from my childhood, just so that there would be no more surprise landmines to step on every time a new memory surfaces. I know that memories come back when a person is ready to deal with them, but some days it’s just really hard not knowing everything. I still can’t seem to remember anything around third grade when I must have been seven or eight years old, I don’t even remember the name of my third grade teacher or what my classroom looked like. I know my brain must’ve shut off in some capacity in order to protect me, but protect me from what I don’t exactly know.
I’ve discovered that my feelings, the same feelings I was blaming myself for or numbing myself from for so many years, are of paramount importance. I’ve only just begun to respect and trust these feelings, and I’ve also learned that feelings are the essence of a memory, far more so than any narrative of a recollection. I’ve come to trust and respect my feelings through ceremonial shamanic use of ayahuasca in Peru, and also through dreams, particularly because the inspiration I’ve had from dreams have been instrumental in helping me to heal from a more recent rape that occurred in 2007. I’ve been allowing myself to feel more lately. I try to remember how it felt to be seven years old again ask the feeling to show me where it goes next. I’m having more information come to me in dreams when I do this. Specifically, I had a dream of my father voyeuristically staring at my naked body, where I am blind and struggling to open my eyes as l try to cover myself and get away from him.
I’ve also been appreciating triggers in a whole new way because they always point the way to something important. I now know the reason they “trigger” any response at all is because of prior experiences. I’ve been observing myself and I find I am often on guard with older men. It’s something about the way some of them covertly sexualize me that makes me suspicious of their motives. If they do or say anything to me that is flirtatious or suggestive, if they try to touch me or my clothing, I immediately dissociate. I get extremely angry, but feel paralyzed to respond in the moment. I then avoid them and carry myself with an attitude of anger in the hopes of repelling them. Unfortunately, this sometimes brings me the attention of men who have a sadistic glint in their eye, and that makes me even angrier. I’ve had other women ask me what the big deal is. “That’s just how men are,” they tell me. All I know is that for me, it is very, very triggering.
If a much older man makes overtly sexualizing comments about my body I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin. I am repulsed and disgusted by it. They don’t even have to say anything but if they are obviously leering at me, it stokes the fires of rage in my heart, and they’re probably left wondering why I’m acting so cold and bitchy towards them. That’s one conflict I keep running into. Older men sexualize me, either with stares or comments, and I feel powerless to respond. I react by dissociating, ignoring, hoping they will just go away. And I end up feeling vulnerable and angry. Even at 30 years old I have a terrifying and irrational fear of saying something to these men.
In the past I’ve had well meaning people try to warn me about my angry attitude, women who say that it might not look that bad at 29, but at 35 or 40 it’s going to look grotesque. I only thought to myself, “good, it’s working.” The whole point is to drive away men who might hurt me. I now fully trust that there’s a reason why I feel compelled to act this way, why I feel safer when I do it. I trust that my triggers reflect to me a deeply ingrained emotional reaction to some original situation where I was hurt or threatened, a situation I cannot recall to memory yet. On the flip side, I trust that reacting to present circumstances through the lens of the past can lead to revictimization. It’s those men with the sadistic glint in their eye, that see me more easily since my anger freely promotes the fact that I feel threatened, which could lead to me being a target. Even knowing this, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to feel vulnerable, but I’m going to overcome this, and in the meantime, I am going to trust that my feelings, dreams, and triggers have meaning.
~“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson