I’m one of the lucky ones. I have an honorable discharge from the military. Because I’m service connected, I’m being treated for physical disabilities and for Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), as well as for Military Sexual Trauma (MST), which in my case means rape. I’ve already gone through a bunch of individual and group therapy in the civilian system earlier for childhood issues which haven’t been a major issue in my life for some time. Though I will add this codicil: something always pops up once in awhile. You can’t go through all I’ve been through and come out completely unscathed, no matter how much therapy you get. And maybe I’ll talk more about that down the road someday, or if you have honest, reasonable and respectful questions you want to ask me in the comments section.
Now I’m dealing with the military rape, which was a particularly brutal, physically abusive rape. I’m receiving individual therapy and am also in group Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). It’s the first time I’ve actually told anyone what happened to me in detail. Even myself. I’ve not sat and thought through what happened. Maybe that sounds odd to you. Flashes of memory have hit me and I’ve stuffed them down with work, with drink, with food, with whatever. But I never let myself sit and think through the events of that night. I couldn’t. It was too painful and degrading, and I felt too alone.
There’s something about being in a room with my military sisters who have been through some version or other of what I have been through that makes it easier to face the demons that haunt my nightmares.
It’s easier to see the strength and courage in my sisters than it is to see it in myself. It’s easier to see the blamelessness in them. It’s easier to stand up for them. And slowly I begin to be able to see and do these things for myself.
Rape is not just sex you didn’t want, so you can’t just get over it. Besides the physical damage that’s often done to your body, there is the psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage. It is a violation of the most fundamental and personal kind. It isn’t even about sex. It’s about power. It’s about your rapist(s) demeaning you, treating you like you are something less than human, stripping you of your most basic human right–to determine who will intimately touch your body and in what manner and when and where and why. It affects your ability to make these choices in the future, because even with therapy there will be times when something reminds you of your rapist(s) and the beautiful man or woman you are with now, who accidentally triggers that memory with cologne, or touch, or words, or … will end up paying for that mistake by a ruined moment. If they’re a good, mature and compassionate person, they’ll stay and work it through with you or give you the space to work through it. If they’re not, let them go, they have a lot more growing up to do.
Think of it like being thrown into a POW camp for however long the serious and pervasive sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and/or rape AND RETALIATION lasts (because all of those come under the definition of MST). Only to make it worse, it is your brothers-in-arms, the ones who are supposed to have your back (or your superiors), who are doing this to you. When you bring a complaint, like you are told to do, the retaliation makes it even worse. You can’t leave. You have to work with your rapist(s) and their friends every day. You are subjected to daily retaliation that terrifies you, humiliates you. And NO ONE believes you.
Now imagine all your friends and family back home telling you to just get over it, asking what you did to cause it.
The point is, it will get better. But it will take time, and you will never really be over it. Not completely. Something has forever changed. YOU have forever changed. You are a different person now. You will need to grieve the person you were before, the trajectory of your life before. Most likely you will need professional help to do this well. When you do heal you will still find times that it may come back to haunt you in surprising ways, though without the intensity and crippling symptoms of your pre-therapy days.
I know this because of all the things I’ve already worked through. But some days it hurts so bad it FEELS like it’s never going to get better. I just keep reminding myself I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still alive. There are so many who aren’t.