Today’s guest post describes the experience of a survivor of male-on-male rape, which has not yet been discussed here on Betty’s Battleground. As last week’s Tales From the Other Side guest post pointed out, some people just do not believe that male rape can happen or that it doesn’t matter. But it can. It does. And it’s not okay.
In this incredibly candid post, Justin describes how he began to allow himself to recognize that the rape occurred. This isn’t a “Healing Words” article like others in the past.There won’t be a neat “how-to heal” section; instead we get insight to the acute recovery from rape. The ways in which the human mind adjusts and begins to heal from the idea of having been raped–which is not something that is given enough attention.
This post opened my eyes a lot. It has touched on some topics I need to focus on more as well. I am extremely proud of Justin for his candor, and to have the honor of publishing his eye-opening piece on my blog.
Justin Coleman is a student. He loves books and board games. His interests are maps, politics, elections, Latin America, Greece, feminism, the environment, PredictIt, Paradox games, soccer, and music you probably haven’t heard of. He has been journaling for over a decade to process the intense emotions and mood swings of his bipolar disorder. You can connect with Justin on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The Effects of Rape Can Last a Lifetime
I don’t think many people realize how traumatic it is to be raped. I don’t just mean the immediate physical trauma, either, but the mental and psychological trauma that can last a lifetime. I only became aware of my own trauma in the last two years, though I silently and unknowingly carried those mental wounds for over fifteen years.
I’m not even entirely certain how long ago it was. I believe I was eleven years old, but I could have been ten instead. It’s not that I don’t remember what happened – I definitely do, in terrifying detail – but I didn’t know how to cope with it so I did all I could to keep myself from thinking about it. This avoidance stripped away most of the context of the event from my memory. Just as I forgot precisely when it happened, I gradually forgot other details that connected the rape to my normal life. In my mind it became a sort of weird isolated event, as if it happened in a vacuum. I downplayed it so much and became so skilled at psychological avoidance that I felt like it had no lasting influence on me at all–it didn’t change me, and I had nothing to worry about. I could not have been more wrong.
Even Though I Denied Anything Was Wrong, My World Changed
I was living deeply in denial, pretending that if I did not acknowledge my wounds, then they didn’t really exist – that they couldn’t hurt me or scar me. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, though, because in spite of my attempted avoidance of the subject it became one of the biggest formative events of my life.
In hindsight, I easily notice the inflection it produced in my life. I started seeing the world differently; my goal and desires shifted dramatically. I immediately withdrew from my family, as I was secretly suffering from something I was far too scared to share with them. I knew that what happened was very wrong, so I was certain that if my parents found out I would be punished, possibly even for allowing myself to get into such a situation in the first place. I didn’t understand I could seek help, or that I didn’t do anything wrong.
I immediately became paranoid it would happen again. I refused to ever again be in the presence of the boy who raped me – at least as much as I possibly could. Some contact was however impossible to avoid. The next time he saw me after it happened he noticed my fear and threatened to hurt me and to “tell everyone what I did” if I ever revealed anything about it to anyone. He was four years older than me – I was scared for my life. I became deathly afraid of being alone, irrationally paranoid that somehow he would suddenly show up and violate me again. I couldn’t even be alone inside my own home without panicking, even when my family was right outside in the yard. Sleeping at night became nearly impossible and I developed extreme insomnia that still afflicts me today.
My World Remains Twisted By The Rape I Experienced As A Child
This existential fear has become a part of me. I’m always irrationally paranoid of the everyone’s intentions around me; full of worry that if I let my guard down someone will hurt me and take advantage of me. I even developed an unwarranted suspicion of my own parents, misinterpreting their behaviors and detecting sexual undertones where none existed. To this day I still feel a vague yet pervasive discomfort within my childhood home. The feeling worsens the longer I stay under my parents’ roof, and for years I would angrily lash out at my parents at the slightest provocation.
All of these feelings and behaviors originated when I was sexually violated but for most of my life I never realized any connection at all. It was an unpleasant memory that I never liked to think about, and I quickly became adept at distracting myself from my own thoughts, developing a deeply ingrained defense mechanism of pure avoidance. I could never forget what happened to me, of course, but whenever my idle mind drifted towards that horrible memory, I reflexively distracted myself by any means possible. I never realized how much the rape had changed me because I never allowed myself to connect the dots. It quickly changed my entire life, but I never allowed myself to realize my life had ever been any other way.
Being Raped Left Me Feeling Overly Vulnerable And Powerless All The Time
Perhaps the biggest personality change developed from the loss of power I felt after being raped. Even today, so many years later, my personality still contains significant influences from that part of my childhood, when my entire outlook on life was completely transformed. I was weak, utterly powerless, and I didn’t like it at all. My avoidance instincts kept me ignorant of the root cause, but I could tell something wasn’t right. I sought power and control because I needed it to feel safe. I constantly craved approval from others because my own self confidence was shattered, and because I knew if people liked me then they wouldn’t want to hurt me. Popularity became a crucial goal for me because I knew it would bring both approval and power in my social life.
At first it was hard to make friends: I was constantly anxious, and I had taught myself to “cope” with uncomfortable thoughts by distracting myself until they went away. Eventually I became more social, but I still struggle with an extremely powerful urge to ignore any serious problems in my life.
I Used Sexuality To Distract From And Re-Enact The Trauma
Being sexually violated right after reaching puberty led me to develop a very unhealthy attitude towards sex. While a serious issue in its own right, it also made my other problems much worse. At the extremely young age of eleven I taught myself how to masturbate by remembering how my rapist did it. It immediately became the most prominent weapon in my arsenal of ways to distract myself. I mentally retreated into a vivid imaginary world in which sex made me popular and powerful, as if I was stealing the weapon that had been forcefully used against me and appropriating it to give me the security and safety I had lost.
As I grew up, my social skills developed and by age seventeen I started noticing that some people genuinely found me attractive. I foolishly took this opportunity to try and actually live out those imaginary sex fantasies I had been dreaming. I sought physical intimacy whenever and wherever possible, as if it would somehow make me whole again. I was convinced I had found the way to regain my long-lost confidence.
I became extremely reckless after leaving for college. I slept with dozens of people, chasing ephemeral sensations of confidence, power, and intimate affection. I became addicted to sex, chasing those brief moments where my psychological scars almost seemed to disappear. This addiction is something I continue to struggle with – I’ve ruined every healthy relationship I’ve ever had because I literally couldn’t stop myself from cheating.
In The End, My Rapist Doesn’t Live With His Actions; I Do
Every day I’m forced to confront the numerous ways my life is still influenced and shaped by what my rapist did to me so long ago. An unhealthy attitude towards sex, an unbreakable habit of avoidance, a ubiquitous sense of anxiety, a crippling lack of self-confidence, and a sycophantic desire to be liked are all ways that the psychological trauma of being raped still affects me today – and these examples barely scratch the surface.
Just a couple of years ago, I had no idea that a single incident had any lasting impact on my life, and I was definitely unaware of the extreme influence it had on me. This is a topic I’ve only recently understood thanks to the unwavering support of a close friend and the assistance of an amazing psychologist who has shown me how to untangle the web of cognitive distortions that is my mind. Some rape survivors might not even be aware of how it has affected them. The psychological trauma is real – and it can last a lifetime.