To be a victim is disempowering in the absolute sense – there is no opportunity for healing there. I have been raped but I will not refer to myself as a victim. In my search for healing I’ve concluded that there can be no such a thing as a victim, for if there is, healing would be impossible; it would depend on what others do, and that is something I have no control over. The best I could do is attempt to influence, and hope for the best, and this is emotionally draining and frustrating at best.
The victim mentally is a pervasive and disabling part of our culture. It is woven into the way we speak to each other, into our language, when we say “you make me so…” or “he makes me feel…” or “she made me…” Whether the feeling is positive or negative is irrelevant, when we believe others have the magical ability to make us feel something, we believe ourselves to be a victim. But how can I say that in the awful scenario or rape, for instance, that the person raped is not a victim?
Let’s be clear, a person who is raped has had a horrible thing done to them, but no one can control how they will react to and feel about the rape. In the climate of a victim mentality culture, however, most people who have been raped expect that others should do or say something to make healing possible for them. Feeling retraumatized and revictimized by the reactions of others is common. Many people who have been raped report that the reaction of the community, that often protects or apologizes for the rapist, was just as, if not more traumatic then the actual rape itself. I can attest to this since this has been my experience. I was expecting my friends, family, and community to rally around me, and instead I was met skepticism, silence, and even anger. In order to heal, it has become blatantly apparent to me that I cannot rely on others, and I cannot wait for them to “come around” to my point of view. I have allowed myself to be “revictimized” because I felt powerless, because I felt like a victim, because I believed that others have the power to give me my health and happiness or take it away.
A victim is by definition powerless. A victim has no control, and is at the mercy of others. I am convinced that even if a person forces another to submit to them physically, power – true power – has nothing to do with a physical offence. Only the perpetrator’s fear, self-hatred, and feelings of powerlessness can inspire such acts in an effort to regain the lost sense of power. Again, it is magical thinking at work when the perpetrator believes that power can really be taken or exchanged between individuals. If your friend felt powerless could you offer to give him some of your power by choice if he insisted he was hopeless? Could you choose for him? No.
Understand that the definition of power I am referring to has nothing to do with money, or politics, or hierarchy. That has to do with material control. I’m talking about another person’s ability or inability to control your internal state of being, of feeling, of thinking. It cannot be done! Only YOU have the power to control your inner state and that is the only true power that anyone can ever have. All other “power” is an illusion, but the illusion undoubtedly looks very real simply because so many of us buy into the belief that we can be made to feel like a victim by someone else.
I know all this and yet the victim mentality is still the default explanation my mind resorts to whenever I feel imposed upon by others or by situations. It is like a software program that runs in my brain, and healing is going to require my full attention and a commitment to changing the false belief that others can “make” me feel anything at all. Even in the positive instance, for example, when I feel swept off my feet by a lover, I must recognize that the feeling comes from me, and not from them. Another might not feel such lust or love toward that person as I do, therefore my feelings comes from me and only me, and have nothing to do with the inherent qualities of that person.
To heal I must change my fundamental beliefs I have about the world and myself, I must see things through new eyes. What it really comes down to is destroying my belief in a lack of free will, my belief in thought control, for when I acknowledge my real power I see that no one can control my thoughts. In fact, to believe such a thing is in the interest of those who wish to “take power” away from me. It is to their benefit that I believe I have no control over my emotional reactions to them, that I fear them and fear how they can “make” me feel.
Once again I must be aware of the flip side of the coin here. If I allow myself to have the belief that others can take my power away, then I must also believe that they can give it back to me in a gesture of “helping.” The only real help others can give is to show me how to help myself, to inspire me to be the change I want to see. But the belief that another can simply give me power, that I can simply buy my healing from a therapist or a pharmacy, is nothing but a illusion, and indeed it is “giving away” my power to another. This is dangerous, for it even allows for self-interested corruption to function under the guise of helping. There is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist, as long as I am not expecting them to “heal me,” but instead expecting them to partner with me and show me the work I must do for myself. In terms of taking pharmaceutical drugs, I can’t see any potential for healing, only numbing.
The expectation that others need to do something differently or change in order for me to heal or be happy will forever be unfruitful. No one is going to give me anything, even if they wanted to they cannot. Even the truly benevolent do not have any power to help me, just as the truly evil do not have any power to hurt me. It is a choice, and I must defend against my false belief in either sense and take my healing into my own hands. I must work with others who inspire me to find that truth again and again, others who know this and practice it in their own lives. When I take stock, it’s true that the only time I’ve ever experienced any real healing is when I took responsibility for my own health and happiness. Others can point toward the path, but I must walk it myself.
After I was raped by an American guy in Shanghai in February 2007, I had a terrible back injury, but no memory of actually injuring myself. I couldn’t even roll over in bed by myself, and you’d think that would be enough to make me clue in that something fishy had happened. Nope! There was literally a dent in my spine and I still did not suspect that the nice American guy I’d met was actually a sicko rapist. Since I had been drinking the night it happened, I figured it was simply from some obscure event that I couldn’t recall, like… maybe I fell on some stairs or something? Denial is serious business! I think the main reason I didn’t put it all together right away was that I was in a foreign country by myself and was already dealing with too much other stress at the time, like trying to figure out how to speak Mandarin Chinese. My subsequent figuring out that I had actually been raped came at a time of relatively low stress, so this is my best guess as to why it surfaced years later. Either way, I understand that it was my unconscious mind – which was completely aware of the events that had transpired – that was protecting me from being overwhelmed.
So after living with a mangled back for four years, how was it that I finally Sherlock Homles’d the case? Three things:
1. I created a safe space. For me this meant time away from my family.
I took a 6-month hiatus away from my parents from September 2010 to March 2011, at the urging of IAM Center co-founder, Joseph Maldonaldo. At the time it was not a question of recovering any memories of rape. That question was not even a consideration since I had repressed, suppressed, blocked out – whatever you want to call it – my knowledge that I’d been raped immediately after it happened. My concern at that time was overcoming other life challenges, and Joseph explained that spending time away from my family would allow me to develop a newfound strength to do so. And you know what else was “weird”? I didn’t miss my parents one bit! It was the beginning of the end of my contact with them.
2. I listened to my dreams, and emotions.
It was in February 2011 (exactly four years after the rape) that I awoke one morning, still watching a dream fade away, only it wasn’t a “dream,” it was a memory of walking out of the rapist’s apartment in a foggy haze thinking it should be 3:00 am and dark outside, but seeing the sun blazing in the sky instead. I was crying as I awoke, and perhaps there was more of this “dream” that I didn’t consciously recall upon awakening, but either way, it had a deep emotional effect on me.
3. I listened to my intuition, and trusted my inspiration.
Now awake and crying, an idea came to me suddenly. My boyfriend was already awake, asking me what the matter is. I asked him to do something for me. I moved to the end of the bed and lay on my back with my knees up. I extended my right arm out. I asked him to hold my arm firmly with both hands and first gently pull on it as if he were going to drag my body, then quickly and firmly push my straightened arm back towards my body. He did and I heard a loud crunching noise! My bones went back into place and my back felt normal again for the first time in four years. The tears came like a flood at that point – the immediate implication was that the injury has been caused a very violent dragging of my body by my arm. It hit me like a lightening bolt – rape. It was rape.
So what did I do about it? I didn’t seek counseling at the time. I was just so grateful that my back felt normal again! I spent that day crying a lot and just doing my best to take care of myself. My boyfriend thought I was mistaken and kept referring to the rape as “that thing you think happened.” It would take eight months for him to get over his own denial. He just couldn’t believe that such a thing could happen and that I would be unaware of it. Ultimately I was happy to not consciously remember the experience, and was just happy I survived it. Life goes on I thought… hoping that was the end of my ordeal. Not even close.
By the following September I was struggling with depression and major anxiety. Everything in my life was suffering, but I hoped it would simply pass. Then February came again, and I was beginning to see a full blown case of PTSD develop. Even simple activities like leaving the house to buy groceries resulted in an adrenaline rush, and not the fun kind. I finally understood the appeal of burkas. It was like being stuck in a state fight or flight with no escape. Since the rape, February had always be a hard month for me since it’s the anniversary of the incident. It was hard even when I was unaware of the rape.
It was that same month of February in 2012 when the fire alarm rang one morning, which got me out of my apartment and into a coffee shop down the street. I ordered a coffee and tried to read a newspaper, but I ended up having a complete emotional breakdown instead. With tears in my eyes I searched for “Vancouver rape relief” on my iPhone. I had to talk to someone immediately and had an appointment at the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter later that afternoon. It was a good move talking to the counsellors there. They helped me find courage to dig a little deeper and heal. Funny how it took a fire alarm to get me there.
~ “I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind. Did he rape my head, too?” – Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak
~ “I’d still thought that everything I thought about that night-the shame, the fear-would fade in time. But that hadn’t happened. Instead, the things that I remembered, these little details, seemed to grow stronger, to the point where I could feel their weight in my chest. Nothing, however stuck with me more than the memory of stepping into that dark room and what I found there, and how the light then took that nightmare and made it real.” – Sarah Dessen, Just Listen