Content warning: rape, sexual assault, PTSD, anxiety, depression, self-harm, treatment
I remember it so clearly. It was nighttime, and the January air was shockingly cold. I was in my ex boyfriend’s warm car, snuggling him in the backseat.
My ex-boyfriend and I were very different. For one, he hated cats, which was unfortunate given my love for my kitten Nio. He was also a very messy person, which made me want to go on a cleaning spree each time I visited his room. There were many differences between us, but the most significant was that he wanted to have sex and I didn’t. I felt guilty for it-we had been dating for nine months, but I just couldn’t bring myself to.
But that night, he asked me, “Do you wanna try?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I answered politely.
“Come on, we’ve been dating for forever. I’ve waited so long,” he whined.
“I’m just not ready, I’m sorry.”
The car went quiet and I thought that was the end of it. But then, he started ripping my leggings off. I told him to stop and tried pushing him off of me but he kept saying “I deserve this,” and “trust me you’ll like it.” Eventually he got his way and forced himself into me, sending a burning sensation up my spine. It hurt terribly. I cried and screamed for help, but the car was parked in an isolated area, and nobody could hear me. I begged him to stop but he kept going, a smile on his face as he talked about how good it felt.
I broke up with him shortly after that, but the experience haunted me. Every time I saw him passing in our school’s hallway I would feel my heart sink rapidly to the bottom of my body, my nose going cold like it was the night it happened. All I could see, all I could feel was the pain in my lower and upper body from trying to push him off, that evil grin shining in the darkness. My breathing would quicken and I’d go back to that god forsaken car, immediately becoming the helpless and violated child beneath his body.
My eyes would fill with tears while my friends voices faded to the background, asking me “what’s wrong? Are you okay?”. But I couldn’t bear to tell them. I felt so stupid and ashamed–nine months–we were together for nine months. I trusted him, told him about my parents divorce, cried to him when I failed my history test, slept beside him in my bed. And he was such a good guy, always buying me flowers and grabbing me breakfast when I ran late to school. Was he right? Did he deserve it? Was this my fault?
I tailored my route to class to avoid him, unadding him from all forms of social media, and still he followed me. I’d go for runs around my neighborhood and constantly look over my shoulder, convinced he–or someone like him–was after me. Anytime a boy his age walked by me I flinched, jumping at the idea of his existence. Even in my dreams he appeared, making me awake in a sweat as I cried out into the night until I remembered I was safe. I isolated myself from the world, too scared of anyone or anything to enjoy their company. I’d spend my days at school snapping at peers and becoming easily agitated by their proximity to me. In the afternoon I’d lie in bed, Nio napping by my side as I invested my time in the world of my Sims. Over time surviving the secret on my own became an increasingly lonely experience, and I began attending counseling.
I spent months doing the homework my therapist assigned to me, trying desperately to come to peace with my trauma. All it did was worsen it, my nightmares occuring nearly every night. Eventually I started self-harming, unable to handle the control this stupid teenage boy had over me, over my life. I seethed with anger, bitter at the fact that he was able to continue living without a worry as I suffered miserably despite my constant efforts to heal. After a few months I called it quits, unable to endure it any longer. The nightmares lessened but my anxiety and depression remained, constantly weighing on me.
For years I made an active effort to avoid even the thought of sex. Once I made it to college I uncomfortably dodged the topic with friends, who would talk about their partners and their inability to understand female anatomy. I sat quietly and denied sharing my experience, which had prevented me from entering the dating field ever since it happened. Instead I focused on school, drowing myself in books and assignments.
Once I turned 21 I had my first visit with the gynecologist, who noticed how tight I held the examination table when she inserted the speculum. I mentioned the pinching and wild burning occuring but after several attempts to relieve it I let it go, simply waiting until the procedure was over with. Once we were finished she asked about my sexual trauma, and to my surprise, I indulged her. I vaguely mentioned my encounter with my ex, to which her kind eyes bore into my soul.
“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” she sympathized.
I began to bawl, my knees crossed awkwardly beneath the cloth sheet she had offered me. She handed me a tissue and sat with me patiently, waiting until my tears dried to mention her diagnosis.
“Have you ever heard of vulvadynia?”
I left with several pamphlets, a couple on pelvic floor therapy as well as EMDR, a psychotherapy that specializes in PTSD. Althought expensive I was able to rope my parents into paying for both, which helped me heal my mind and relationship to my body. Over time I was finally able to heal, to share my experience with people without choking up or feeling shame. My self-harming habits came to a standstill and I found a way to move on, to stop living in constant fear. I still avoid his face at all costs–I’m not sure I’ll ever escape that–but the nightmares have come to an end, as has my suffering.