02 May, 2009

Analysis of project

Contrary to what many would think, I did not become interested in rape trauma immediately after my rape at age 13. I spent several years in denial before the reality of the situation finally sunk in. Looking back after becoming more knowledgeable about the after-effects of acquaintance rape, I began seeing the effects in my life throughout high school and most of college. In the course of my research in the past two years, I began making connections and realized how typical my reactions were of an acquaintance rape survivor. The more I researched, the more I wanted to know. It is cathartic for me to share my story and learn more about how this situation affects other survivors. The most troubling thing that I found in the course of my research was how few people truly understand what the survivor has experienced. That inability to empathize, coupled with the tendency to rationalize the rape and/or blame the victim, provided me the impetus to do this project.

I never experienced to trauma narratives before taking this class. When it was discussed at the beginning of the semester, it seemed like an ideal way to convey the depth of emotion experienced by the survivor. How better to explain what the survivor is feeling than to have access to her journal and read her thoughts? Of course, when I initially conceived this project, I did not anticipate that I would be using my own story or emotions as showcase.

Using my story as fodder for the narrative was born from trying, (unsuccessfully), to create a fictional narrative. It seemed so contrived to fabricate emotions and situations when there were so many people who had real stories and real emotions to share. Selecting my story had an empowering effect, so I knew it was the right choice. The next hurdle was trying to remember exactly what I felt at various times in my life that would fit well into the narrative. Since it has been ten years since the incident and only about five years since I truly accepted it, my emotional experience was interspersed with many other factors in my life. Thankfully, a solution presented itself. In February 2003, I began writing in an online journal. In it, I recorded mundane happenings in my life, big events, song lyrics, personal surveys, notes to myself, and various other textual accounts of my life as I experienced it. I spent a few hours going back through my archived entries and trying to stir up memories that I could use in my narrative. It worked. Three hours and a box of tissues later, my memories were fresh and ready for recording. Since my healing took place over a ten year period (and is still not complete), the applicable entries were dotted quite sporadically. I read them closely and came up with a more reasonable time line for my purposes.

My first entry is unlike most of the other entries. The writing style is immature and choppy. I intended it that way. I wanted to convey the awkwardness and naivete of a virgin girl who had little prior sexual experience. I wanted to highlight that immediate recollection of the incident to contrast it with later entries as the depression becomes more apparent, but also the growth takes place. Rape forces a young woman to grow up quickly. That is what I hoped to portray by differing the writing styles. In addition, the first entry discussed the event from a detached perspective, indicating that there was a sense of shock and denial (i.e. the reality had not yet “sunk in.”)

The July 4th entry was a textbook demonstration of the second stage of the grief process—pain and guilt. I wanted to experiment with font and capitalization to convey the first tiny question why followed by greater and greater urgency and pain associated with this basic question. It conveys a sense of loneliness and isolation (I just want someone to hold me) coupled with the reality that at the moment, there was no one to talk to except the journal and God. The section at the end is almost a poem—a prayer—an urgent plea to take away the pain, but to no avail.

With the July 6th entry, I wanted to show examples of the ways that rape trauma can manifest physically and mentally. Mentally reliving the incident caused nausea and loss of appetite. It also affected a part of my life (horseback riding) that up to that point had always been a source of solace. I hoped to convey the idea that even after a few days, a rape victim can lose interest in food and other activities that would normally be sources of enjoyment. The July 7th entry travels along a similar vein, with the continuation of no appetite but with the added symptoms of crying and sleeplessness.

In the July 10th essay, I took a break from first person and gave it a bit of a second person perspective, in an attempt to draw in the reader. It had to be believable, so I couldn’t use “we” as academics sometimes do to make the reader feel included. I used “you” to drive home the idea that it can happen to “you” the reader. It seemed to make it more real. The tone and tempo of the entry when I wrote it felt almost like running when out of breath. There was a sense of heart beating faster, desperation, trying to run unsuccessfully.

The August 21st entry, over a month later, feels angry. There is bitterness and resentment. There is full realization now, and the social implications have already begun to manifest. Survivors feel objectified. It’s a learned objectification, as a coping method in some cases. Sexual assault is polarizing, and while some survivors become asexual, many become hyper-sexual. This entry served to foreshadow how that would affect my life in the months and years to come.

Depression is one of the most common developments for rape survivors. It can range from daily sadness to thoughts of suicide. That was a particularly low point in my life, and I distinctly remember the desire to cease my existence. It was unbearable to be in so much emotional pain. I never actually made a formal plan to kill myself; I just toyed with possible scenarios.

I chose to include a poem I’d written that I found when going back through my old journal entries. It is another example of the tempo I described above, the mood seeming to indicate someone running but not fast enough to outrun the pain. The allusion to “My solace/my sanctuary/my school” came from my desire to get as far away as I could from my high school. I wanted to put lots of distance between the cruel students in my school and myself. I chose an expensive Catholic school near Philadelphia because only two students in the history of my high school had ever attended there and I would be able to start anew. I discovered within the first year of my attendance that although I could put distance between myself and the incident (and my high school classmates), I could not get away from my own mind. After I began repeating old habits and getting a bit of a “reputation," I realized that I couldn’t outrun my past.

The January 2nd entry allowed me to have a self-talk to admit that my behavior had been spiraling out of control and that I was to the point that I needed help. It took many years but finally in April of my sophomore year, I stood up at the Take Back the Night speak out and publicly admitted what had been done to me. It was a turning point.

The final entry is bittersweet. I wanted to show that with therapy, one can begin to heal, but I didn’t want to end it on a completely rosy note because although the healing process had begun, I was still far from being okay again. The difference was that I now had a commitment to myself to change. Hence the Dashboard Confessional lyrics at the end, “This is where I say I’ve had enough/And no one should ever feel the way that I feel now.” It was a call to action, a promise that I would devote myself to trying to prevent this from happening to other women. I finally realized my true purpose in life. That entry was written on April 25th, 2009 directly after my final therapy session.

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