“For this week’s writing challenge, channel your inner Abigail Von Buren. Experiment with the question and answer format. Taking inspiration from a question you’ve been asked recently, whether in conversation with a friend or sent in from a reader, don your best counselor hat and share your expertise.”
I’ve been in therapy for 4 months now. I’m in therapy because I was sexually assaulted 6 months ago. I wasn’t raped or viciously beaten, just groped. It happened at a clinic. For extra money, I would sometimes be a lab rat for clinical trials. For this one trial, on the day of sign-up, they said the clinic needed to perform breast exams as part of the physical, since it was a trial for birth control. There was a male nurse doing the exams on women with no one in the room with them. I should have said I wanted a female nurse, but I didn’t. When my name was called, I said I wanted a female present. It took them 10 minutes to find someone. When he examined me, it just didn’t feel right. I had breast exams before and I never had those feelings. What made me really know something was wrong is when he took my hand, without asking me, and pressed it against my breast, showing me how to perform self exams. There were no gowns or sheets, so I had to just pull up my shirt. When he was done, he kept talking to me and didn’t tell me to pull down my shirt. I had to ask if I could pull down my shirt. I went home that day and felt physically ill. I slept in my bra and a heavy t-shirt. I didn’t even want to look at myself. I filed a complaint with the clinic, but they said their review board found nothing inappropriate happened. I went to the police, but they said there was nothing they could do since I had no evidence. I called a lawyer and she said my case would have little to no chance of winning. I also filed a complaint with the nursing licensing board, but all they did was note that my complaint was filed.
I can’t sleep. I lost weight. I hate people looking at me. TV shows I used to love, I now hate because they are too sexually graphic for me. I can’t stand being anywhere near a medical building; those florescent white lights make me anxious. I hate taking a shower. I hate looking in a mirror. My breasts don’t feel like they are connected to me anymore. I have violent thoughts now about killing every man I see. I’m always angry and always tense. I feel like I’m on the outside of myself, looking at me interact with people. I pretend nothing is wrong but on the inside, I am numb and I just want to disappear. And I feel really horrible about myself because there are women who have actually been brutally raped, and I can’t get over just having my breasts groped. Please help me get over this. I just want to go back to who I was before.
Can’t stop hurting-
Dear Can’t Stop Hurting,
I am going to say this three times because I need you to truly hear me: I believe you. I believe you. I believe you. Something DID happen to you. Please do not diminish your experience by saying you were just groped. You were sexually assaulted and for you, it was a vicious attack against your body, against your spirit, against your soul. You don’t need to show physical wounds to be sexually assaulted. What you are experiencing, which I’m sure your therapist has discussed with you, is PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not something you can ‘get over’ in six months. But you can get through it. It may take years. It may even take a lifetime. But you CAN get through it.
Know that you did nothing wrong. That is one of the hardest parts for survivors of sexual assault: thinking that they are to blame. The system failed you, and for that I am deeply sorry. You are very strong for pursuing justice for yourself through all of those different avenues. Unfortunately, sometimes bad guys get away. But you were brave for speaking out and there is now a record on file of that nurse’s vile actions.
What you are experiencing now with your emotions is normal. There is no wrong or right way to feel. Your emotions will run the gamut. Your therapist will be able to help navigate you through that emotional firestorm. One very important thing you need to do, is allow yourself to grieve for the person you once were. You suffered a traumatic loss that day; part of you died. But you can be reborn, like the mighty Phoenix and rise from the ashes strong, healthy, beautiful and whole again. The journey will be long and arduous, but I promise, if you continue with therapy and continue sharing your story, there will come a day when you hurt less. And less, and less. Then there will come a time when the good days greatly out number the bad days; and you will not only have survived, but you will thrive. I believe in you. Please, believe in yourself.
With much love and faith,