PTSD: My Silver Lining

PTSD: My Silver Lining

Tonight my thoughts are with my dear friend and fellow WYR blogger Elizabeth, who, on the anniversary of her attack, is reflecting on the 3 years since it happened and how far she has come. Needing some inspiration? Read her post and just try not to get goosebumps.

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I read her post, and re-read it – trying to recall what I felt like 3 years after my rape. I’ve got 12 years more post-traumatic experience under my belt, I wanted to relate with a story about how it will just keep getting better. But I don’t know if it will – I don’t remember much of anything about the rape itself, the immediate aftermath, or the years since. Entire years are missing from memory.

Six years ago, just before I moved to Toronto, I remembered. I was home in Oregon for a few weeks, relaxing between Amsterdam and my next adventure. Until then, each time I had moved from one city to the next I’d stop by my mom’s place and drop off a few boxes – stuff to sort through later, stuff I might need someday, stuff I didn’t feel like dealing with (this is becoming an unintentional metaphor, but a perfect one). The stuff was everywhere – my old bedroom, a storage unit, the garage, the attic. I decided it was time to finally get around to sorting through it (and by “I decided”, I mean my Mom decided she wanted her space back).

Breyer horses, prom dresses, stuffed animals, cassette tapes, platform sandals, Jelly shoes, notebooks covered in doodles and daydreams, my dance team uniform, a Dairy Queen name tag, Winnie the Pooh everything, Cherry Coke LipSmackers, yearbooks, horse show ribbons, snow globes, tiny butterfly hair clips, a pukka shell necklace, a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper, the medal I won for accounting in Future Business Leaders of America, the ‘participation certificate’ I got for C-squad volleyball, a Clueless poster, the notebook from my creative writing class in college, a business card from my first job interview, honours cords from my college graduation, an apron from my waitressing job, toe socks (wtf?), at least 5 keychains that said “Princess”, 10 years worth of letters between me and my best friend who spent summers in Alaska, a Tamagotchi pet…the garage looked like a tornado had blown through a museum of 90s memorabilia.

Random junk was loosely sorted into piles I intended to sell, keep, or donate. About two days into this epic cleaning adventure I came across an otherwise mundane item that triggered a memory I had buried deep for eight years. Soon, I was frantically searching for something very specific, something I hadn’t come across yet in the mountain of junk but knew I had to find: a metal box with a combination lock where I kept my journals. I had to find it, and when I did I carried it out into the sunshine, abandoning my mess.

The lock combination was 628 – that’s the day I lost my virginity. At 16 it was basically, like, the day I became a woman and, like, a day I’d remember forever [eye roll]. Somehow, eight years later I did remember it – the combination, not the sex. There were 4 or 5 journals in the box, all full of loopy handwriting in various colours of gel pens. The journal from that summer was written in turquoise.

I sat on the picnic table reading stories I didn’t recognize. I skimmed through dramatic accounts of best friends turned backstabbers turned back to soul mates – I admitted (not out loud) that Mom was right back then when she told me that in a few years none of this would matter. I flipped to a page somewhere between 628 and my 17th birthday and found what I thought I was looking for. I thought I would find a terrified account of what had happened to me on the night I was raped, I thought the journal would help me fill in the blanks. I thought I was ready to process what had happened all those years ago.

Turns out, thanks to alcohol my memory back then was just as foggy as it is now. I read what seemed like a stranger’s account of all the things she did wrong, complete with a bulleted list of why he couldn’t have meant to hurt her: he was drunk, she probably led him on, maybe he didn’t hear her say no. Her fears? That everyone would find out she was a slut. That the popular girls would turn on her if they found out. That no boy would want to go out with the school slut. That she’d go to prom alone. In case you’re wondering: this is the effect of victim-blaming – I was raped and the first thought in my head was to list the many ways it was my own fault.

I kept reading, and it kept getting worse: some things in high school won’t matter in a few years, others will stay with you forever.

My mom came out to check on my progress, but found me distraught over the journals. She suggested I burn them, so that night she built me a fire in the back yard and I did just that. There was no cathartic release of pain and suffering, no weight lifted off my shoulders – I didn’t feel better. Watching the pages burn, I was overcome with anger that didn’t go away for a very long time. I stayed up for hours with the fire, trying to make sure every piece was incinerated and there was no chance of a rogue page floating out into the night sky to be discovered by someone else. Burning those pages wasn’t letting go of anything, it was burying a secret even deeper.

I don’t regret burning them, and even as I launched this Project and shared my stories I was glad to be limited to the things I do remember – even though they’re stupid. The fucking wood paneling pattern and the fucking smell of cheap body spray.

Tonight, as I try to recall what I felt like in the years after my rape, as I try to relate to a friend, I can’t. My brain is protecting me from the details of the trauma – not just the trauma of that night but of the aftermath. I don’t remember prom, I barely remember graduation from high school and certainly nothing about my graduation from college (which was a few weeks after I had been raped again).

My sister knows about my PTSD now, and my memory loss. She fills me in on the details of things I said, things that happened to me – both good and bad. I have only a handful of actual memories, which is probably why I tell the same stories over and over. I’ve learned to stop arguing over facts, I can’t trust my recollection. When I realize I’m missing some time, I try not to dwell on it. I try to see the silver lining in this horribly frightening sounding condition: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you can get past the flashbacks, the panic attacks, and the generalized anxiety (honestly, who can though?) you can thank biology or physiology or whatever science it is that protects you from the things you shouldn’t have had to experience in the first place.

Author

Lauren

Lauren

Lauren Reid is the founder of When You're Ready.org, a three time survivor of rape who built this community to let other survivors of sexual violence know that they're not alone. When you're ready, I'll be here.

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