I was raped. There, I said it.
And although this incident happened nearly 25 years ago those three words were hard for me to voice. As a writer I have written about my experience but to actually say them it was way harder, I couldn’t even utter them.
At the time of the incident I was married and a mother to four small children. I thought rape doesn’t happen to women like me. I went to church, read my bible and prayed, hell, I was even the director of the children’s Sunday school department.
But it did happen.
Before it happened, I had never met a woman who had been raped and it certainly never crossed my mind that at the age of 27 I would be sitting in a room with seven other women who experienced the same terror as I did.
I learned that one in every six women in America is a victim of an attempted or complete rape and many never report it, especially if it was someone they knew. I lived with shame and fear and, to be completely honest with you, I still carry some of that with em.
While the doctor at the hospital examined me and the nurse held my hand, I wept and stared at the wall. She patted my hand and said, “You are safe now.” I remember the pictures taken of my blackened thighs as the doctor remarked, “You will be fine honey, you put up quite a fight and that as*hole should burn in hell for what he did.” The next thing I remember is putting myself to bed and not being able to get out of it for a long while.
One early morning I heard my six-year-old daughter enter the room. I closed my eyes not wanting to be seen but she touched my forehead with her chubby hand and laid a note on the nightstand and quietly left the room.
I laid still and motionless, not even wanting to breathe. The hurt, the pain and the betrayal were too much. Eventually I turned my head towards the nightstand and saw a crayon drawing on the piece of paper my daughter brought me. I opened it and there it was, my daughter’s handwriting, “Dear Jesus, please help mommy get better so we can have a Christmas tree.”
Tears started falling down my cheeks as I felt strength growing in my heart. For the first time in months I allowed myself to take a deep breath. I was stronger than this. I was not going to let anyone take my life from me anymore.
I opened the drawer next to my bed and found a card the nurse at the hospital gave. I slowly dialed the number and heard the voice on the other end of the phone, “Rape Crisis Hotline, this is Suzy, how can I help you?”
I shared my painful story with her as she reassured me that I would be okay and that she would do everything she could to help me on my journey. She asked me to come to a new support meeting that would meet the following day at 1 p.m. and if I needed a ride they would come and get me. I wrote down the address and told her I would be there. My hands were shaking as I put down the phone but I knew that I needed go.
The next morning I showered, got dressed, got myself in the car and drove to downtown San Jose. I found the address, parked and sat in my car for about 15 minutes until I gathered up the strength to go in.
This was a club that I never wanted to be a member of. I signed in and was directed to a room that had a few couches and soft lighting. There I joined seven other women, all older than me. As we each told our stories I found that most of these women were just beginning to deal with a rape that happened many years ago. I din’t want to be in their shoes in 20 years so I vowed then and there that I would work through whatever I needed to.
I went to those meetings for about three months and each meeting made me stronger. I no longer walk in fear and shame, they are not something I need to live with.
So how did I become the woman I am today? I realized that the rape was not my fault. I realized that I have four children who needed their mother and I realized that no one can take my power away from me.
The first few years were very difficult, I won’t lie. I struggled with fear, depression, anxiety. Some days I would start crying and I just couldn’t stop. Some days breathing seemed to hurt. But each time I looked into my children’s eyes and saw their faces I knew I would not let that incident define me.
The one thing that helped me on my healing journey was writing. I wrote every day—I wrote in my journal, on scraps of paper, in the sand. I wrote until it didn’t hurt anymore. I wrote it because I couldn’t speak about it. But finally, like Anais Nin so wisely said, “And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
I was raped. The first time I voiced those words and told my friend about it, the shame began to fall away.
Today, I am a woman of 50 and as I look back on that young woman I once was, I hold her gently and kiss her cheek and say, “You are strong, you are a survivor, you won.”
Author: Tammy Coia
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Guilherme Yagui/Flickr