It Didn’t Happen to Me
I used to sit on my mother’s lap every single morning while she read the paper. I remember her maneuvering around me to eat her Raisin Bran. Day by day, I grew older and bigger, and every morning I curled up in her lap like I was 2 years old. I was her little buddy and we were inseparable.
I found out about my mother’s rape when I was 11 years old. I don’t think anyone meant to tell me, but it just came up in conversation. It came up in conversation because it was this thing that my mom was living with, like a chronic illness. I truly believe I exhibited signs of secondary PTSD even before I knew of her rape. Together, my mom and I lived in fear. I thought it was normal. We would watch Law & Orderand fall asleep in the same bed every night until I was 12 or 13. We had a state-of-the-art camera system guarding our front door and my bedroom window. We had plans. Plans for natural disasters, plans for wars reaching the small town of Rocklin, a plan for each different motive someone could have for breaking into our house. I thought everyone had escape plans. I never had a second thought about any of it, I just remembered the plans.
When I was 12 I had a crush on a boy with blonde hair. A very short-lived crush, though, because the man who raped my mother was blonde, so I had to stop liking him.
My first thought after I lost my virginity was, “Thank God. No one can steal this from me, now.” I still didn’t think anything was wrong. I just didn’t want it to be stolen like it was stolen from my mom, simple.
For as long as I can remember (up until last year) I would willingly tell you that I would much rather be brutally tortured than raped. Again, I didn’t think anything was abnormal until I said this casually to my therapist. The look on her face told me it wasn’t normal, and it certainly wasn’t healthy.
Nine years after I found out about my mother’s rape, I was diagnosed with PTSD. It was written in my paperwork, as if it were obvious. I exhibit clear signs of depression. My symptoms are typical for someone with clinical depression. And right below “major depressive disorder” was “post-traumatic stress disorder.” I thought it was a mistake. It didn’t happen to me; it happened to my mother. I asked for clarification. I actually asked in a way that was supposed to be me politely correcting their mistake. They informed me I exhibited signs of PTSD, and the symptoms I was seeing the doctor for (nightmares, trouble sleeping, lack of self worth, plummeting self esteem) were all in line with a diagnosis of PTSD. I was confused. So of course, I Googled it.
Headlines included “Partners of Veterans with PTSD” and “Secondary Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Statistics Increase with War Victims.” It’s a real thing. And it explains it all perfectly. I went to the doctor after a particularly traumatic event occurred in my life. The event can only be described as verbal abuse, nothing physical, but apparently it was just enough to set me off and ease me back into a state of depression, a state of trauma, and a state in which I never slept without being attacked in my nightmares.
The only thing I am guilty of in this situation is loving. I love my mother above all else. Knowing that she has not had a single day of relief in the past 37 years enrages me. It brings out a version of myself I didn’t know existed. The man who raped my mother is not the only guilty one; it is the people surrounding her in the ’70s who convinced her not to get help, and that it was possible for her to be blamed for what happened to her. A 19-year-old version of my mother listened. Day by day, over the last 37 years, those wounds grew deeper and poisoned the innocent young girl living inside. My mother, a loving mother, has a cold side. A streak. A sadness. As much as we wish to help it heal, to nurture and make her feel safe, it is 37 years too late.
The most tragic part of this story isn’t even what happened to my mother. It is the horrifying fact that 37 years later, more women are being raped (or at least more rapes are being reported). More victims (both men and women) are asked, “Well, what were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “Did you provoke him (or her)?”
By the time I was 20 years old I knew seven women who were raped. I am now 21. That count is up to nine. Each time I find out I cry. I become hysterical. While one of my friends was telling me her story, I was crying and she was not. I found out about another one for someone I didn’t even consider to be a friend. I cried hysterically for several hours. Each time I cry over someone else’s pain I have to remind myself that it may not have happened to me, but something else is happening to me. It may be a lesser pain, a less vivid pain, but it is equally real. Each time I cry because there are people out there who think my tears are coming from me simply being dramatic. I cry because it is still happening 37 years later. I cry because seeing the people I love go through the pain my mother goes through kills me.
My advice to you is to feel your feelings completely. If it happened to a friend, a third cousin twice removed, a parent, an ex-best friend, a stranger, it doesn’t matter. The way you feels matters. It doesn’t matter why you feel the way you do; all that matters is what you feel. It is legitimate. Do not let anyone ever tell you, you are not allowed to feel something because it didn’t happen to you. I live in fear everyday for something that didn’t happen to me. I live in fear over something that happened thirty-seven years ago, seventeen years before I was even alive. And I can tell you the only way I began to heal is to accept that fact that my PTSD is not only legitimate, it is a part of my life.
It has to end. It didn’t happen to me, and it can’t happen to anyone else. So please join me, feel your emotions deeply. Cry for the ones you love. Cry for the ones who are hurt. And fight with me. Fight so a daughter will never have to feel this way again. Fight so a friend will never have to feel this way again. Fight to end an epidemic that hurts more than just meets the eye.
Listen. Report. Ask. Care. And for everyone’s sake, as a favor to humanity, and me, please stop victim blaming.