Warning: subject of sexual-assault & adult language ahead.
There’s a universal pain that’s shared between so many women.
This morning I woke and could feel it in my system—I could feel the pain of those millions of other women melt in and sit with mine. I could feel it wash over the skin of my aching body, diluting and uniting the pain that was already there.
Something happened three and a half years ago that I never, ever, thought would happened to me—I was raped.
Sharing this experience that so many other women have experienced, too, leaves me also sharing this pain.
This universal trauma.
By sharing it and knowing this, I can feel connected rather than solely alone. My pot of pain, sorrow, anger, rage, heartbreak and shock isn’t the only one in the world, and it’s not the only one I feel, either.
I feel it all.
I can see that my world won’t end because this hideous thing became my own tale, too, because it wasn’t the end of theirs. I can live with the trauma as part of me, rather than live with it as a heart-shattering dream that lives in secrecy.
It can be with me as I walk, without needing to look over my shoulder.
It can be with me whilst I’m afraid—it can be the tears that fall or the shadow into which I retreat.
It can be the strength that guides me forwards, ensuring I’m protected and safe.
It can be the voice that reminds me of my boundaries, my limits.
My outsides can become more my own, rather than a coat of protection and terror—my skin can feel safe to be in, again.
It can be a chapter of my story that is read aloud, rather than one that rattles un-read, inside.
Something I’ve run from, something that I’ve longed to hide and bash back, deep into my internal tide, is something that can be safe to be here.
Sharing it with other women—next to me or worldwide—feels like maturing. I’m allowing myself to be a woman in all my fragility, my vulnerability, my fire, my power, my strength, and my wounding.
By leaping out of my pocket of fear and into the arms of the other women—metaphorically or literally—who have also experienced this pain and trauma, I’m allowing myself to be the whole of me, to see the whole of me.
What happened, happened when I was travelling in Morocco.
I’d headed out for a two-week surf trip and last-minute adventure before I began a PhD. I went solo—as I always did, whenever I travelled—to meet folk to explore with.
During the second day of my trip, I went in search of a beach I’d read about. I stepped out of the walls that surrounded the town I was staying in, and walked down the dusty track towards where the beach was supposed to be.
As I walked, about ten minutes in, I heard her boom:
“Turn around, Amani. Turn around.”
I carried on walking.
I’d never heard her—my instinct—speak to me like this before and I was breathless and baffled by the volume of her voice. The strength of her pull within my body and the effort it took to continue walking in the direction I was is something I’ll never forget.
She was offering a blanket I had not yet learnt how to reach for, keep myself warm with, and ensure I feel safe beneath. I ignored her because I didn’t know how to do anything different.
I began to realise that the beach was miles further from where I thought it would be, so I gave up looking.
I stepped off the dusty road and headed down a litter scattered path, towards the water. I sat there for a few moments and felt my enthusiasm quickly dwindle. Exhaustion and deflation surfaced—inside me lay a of solid determination to follow my drive and stick to my plans but my instinct was still swirling around and knotting my belly telling me something wasn’t right.
I got up to walk back to the town. As I did, I remember catching a glimpse of a his yellow t-shirt out of the corner of my eye. My defences sprung up immediately and we weren’t even close, yet. I felt terrified. Apart from an old guy sat on a wall near to where I sat and gazed at the sea, I hadn’t seen anyone else for what felt like miles.
I walked as quickly as I could with the dry sand beneath my feet. I headed into the entrance of some old ruins that stood behind where I’d been sitting.
Suddenly, the guy was behind me, pulling my baggy harem pants out behind me. He’d flung spit onto my trousers, and pointed down to it, as if he was catching up with me to do me a favour and let me know it was there.
Confused—and terrified—I frowned and said, “Thank you.”
The spit looked a little like the white milk sap that falls out of some plant stems, if broken. I remember wondering, in that moment, whether perhaps this was just some sap on my trousers—perhaps this guy was just showing me, just helping me out.
Even within the terror of the situation that was beginning to unfold, hope, possibility, and best-case scenarios floated in, too.
Except that there wasn’t a plant in sight.
I felt sick.
I had begun to survive: my body flushed with fear, my eyes had blinkered to only see what was going on around me. I was more in-the-moment than I had ever been. My heart beat loudly, screaming out to him to get the hell away from me. My breath was far away—light, short, faint—but keeping me above the surface.
I turned and started walking again, thinking it was over.
He grabbed my arm, and pushed me against the wall of the ruin.
“No fucky fucky,” he said.
I could feel confusion swamp me.
It was in that moment that my innocence was permanently lost. Despite the terror of the situation, I had never contemplated forced sex as something that might happen. In that moment, my body and mind were imprinted with terror. The way I saw the world—the way I saw men—was flipped upside down, and it has been like that since.
He didn’t want to have sex, so what the fuck did he want, then?
I began to show him my camera, my purse, the bunch of bananas I had, pleading with him to take these things—to take anything but me. I felt desperate and scared. I wanted to give him anything but me.
The more I offered belongings, the more agitated and determined he became. He wanted me, as though I was the ultimate object right there, in his reach.
He picked up a rock and imitated bashing it against the wall, beside my head.
I shut down.
The idea of running or fighting back didn’t even come to me—I was frozen.
“Okay, okay, okay,” I said.
We walked over to another wall, his arm directing me. He gestured to his crotch, as though I would know what to do—as though I’d done this before.
I had, but never in this way.
I felt sick, confused, and so alone.
He undid his trousers, and flipped out a limp, gross looking dick. I took it and rubbed it, over and over, not saying a word. The action familiar, the situation foreign. He reached for my breasts and rubbed them aggressively, as though he had been there before.
No wonder I haven’t let anyone else—not even me—touch them, since.
My body was on autopilot, in survival—we were in it together. Even though we’d never been there, she knew what to do. She kept me safe despite the intrusion, she kept me whole despite the breaking that was going on inside.
I remember feeling confused that something so gross and totally unromantic could be something so thrilling, for him.
Did he think I wanted it, too?
He came all over my chest as though I was there just for this very reason, this very climax, this very ending, this very beginning of a new kind of life—one in which I was numb for a long time, and then one in which I was overwhelmed with fear, flashbacks, and pain.
I felt relief and a panic to move—it was over.
I grabbed my flip-flops and bag. I walked over the little hill of sand above the ruin, sand falling behind me. There sat the old guy I’d walked past, still in the same spot. If I’d have screamed, he would’ve heard the lot.
If only I’d known.
As I reached him, I realised I only had one of my flip-flops. In the immediate aftermath of the most terrifying situation of my life, I wanted—and needed—my other flip-flop. My heart had begun to open wide again and wrap me in her hold—tears fell, I breathlessly sobbed.
I asked the old man to go get my flip-flop. In return I gave him my bananas.
I treaded back along the path where my instinct had boomed, just an hour before. Beneath my sunglasses, tears fell and fell and fell, all the way to the closed door of my hotel room. Confusion, isolation, and a depth of sorrow that I had never felt before, washed over me as I walked.
I lay on my bed and sobbed.
I felt numb, sick, dirty, and so, so, alone.
I will never forget the need to shower, that I had that day.
The realisation that I could have died and no-one would have known until I didn’t return on my flight home, flooded me—nobody knew where I was, and at this point nobody even knew my name.
I doubted the desperate need to call a friend out of fear of it not being a big deal. I doubted the desperate longing to fly straight home out of fear of the embarrassment of heading home only two days into my trip.
I buried the experience and the trauma because I didn’t know how to do anything different.
I wish I had known then, what I know now.
At the end of my trip, I returned back to the town I’d been in with friends I’d made. Talking with a local, he pointed in the direction of where I had walked that day and said, “Never go up there, bad people live there.”
My heart skipped a beat, shock washed over me, and I could’ve been sick.
If only I’d known that that day.
I don’t want rape to be a word I’m ashamed or afraid of.
It’s hideous, gross, and fucking horrible, but it doesn’t need to be scary anymore. It’s a word that can be hand-delivered onto a palm of understanding, rather than a word buried deep in secret.
I still can’t believe it happened to me, and I still want to pretend it didn’t. I know I won’t ever be the same, but I also know that I am okay.
I am strong, I am tough, I am fragile, I am wounded.
I am beautiful.
Tonight, as I finished writing this piece, I lay in bed and cried.
My whole body sobbed, and a voice inside said, “You can be free, my love.”
Something that has sat with me, in me, and haunted and burrowed so deep into my being, can now begin to move from the shadow into the openness and understanding that lies within me and around me.
I feel naked, exposed, scared, and at risk, but the risk of staying quiet is a risk that feels so much greater than the risk of letting the rape be here, with me.
“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin
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Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Jeff Frazer; Thea Bee; elephant media album