By Delaney McLemore
A four letter label is what separates me from normal: PTSD—Post-traumatic stress Disorder.
But it’s a misnomer if it’s anything – let’s break it down. Post – the past, something that has already happened. Traumatic – something that has caused trauma, significant damage, pain (be it mental or physical or both). Stress – that force in our lives that constantly makes us feel like what we have and are is not enough, not befitting of our believed possible life. Disorder – the state of being that is outside what is normal, what is accepted, what is right.
So I’m past something that hurt me that shouldn’t have happened and rearranged my life.
But that pesky past…
This week, every possible media outlet is sharing the aftermath of a rape case in southern California. The survivor’s letter that was read to the attacker has been an incessant feature of the news cycle. I have shared it. My friends are sharing it. We’re reading her story with a lump in our throats and our own attacker’s breath on our ears.
The first day I read the letter was the one-year anniversary of when I was last raped by a professor at Oregon State University. On June 4th, 2015, at four o’clock in the morning, I was forced awake by someone I trusted, whose couch I was trying to sleep on, by his hands taking mine in his own and placing them on his body. That part. In my mind, it is foggy, amorphous, blacked out by some force of my defense mechanisms. I wasn’t drunk or high, like the times it had happened before, but my mind isn’t able to clearly see him.
I see me.
And when I read about women like the woman in California, or like Terry Mitchell in Utah, or Larkin Grimm in New York (and on and on; there are hundreds of incredible, vocal survivors), I see myself. Again. Crouched in pain against his entry. Standing in his bathroom as his sperm slipped to the floor. Staring at the gun closet as he told me, “You have to, it’s never been this big.” I see my nurse between my legs, near tears as she measures the bruises on my back, thighs, pubic bone.
I can’t stop seeing this day.
Sometimes, I make it worse for myself, clicking on the articles about attackers willy-nilly, this one in Texas, this one Oklahoma, this one Oregon. The detective in my case suggests books about surviving and I focus on the parts where people tell their stories. They sound so much like mine.
I have an illness that keeps my mind in a place it hates to be, in the past where I cannot avoid the hurt that has been inflicted upon me over and over and over again. I cannot say how many men have raped me. That is a hideous truth. But every time I see something, anything, about sexual violence or rape culture or surviving, I am put back in that space, every time it happened to me. I remember my friend’s brother, pulling out his gun from his waistband. I see the ex-boyfriends who thought they were owed my form. I hear the closest people to me saying, “It’s not your fault.”
And it wasn’t. Just like the woman in the Stanford case. There is no part of this that falls on us. As much as the deluge of stories, think pieces, reports about her experience hurts me, puts me in the worst part of my illness, I know how powerful it is. I’m willing to be triggered for her, to help her. I’m willing to compromise the safety of my habits in order to share what has happened.
I’m mentally ill. It’s completely terrifying a huge part of the time. When I lose control to the dark of my memory, I feel like I am no longer myself, that something has fallen away. I fight the people I love, scream about justice, scream at God for what he failed to provide. And I don’t have the power to say when these moments will come and go, as I can’t control the world around me. I’ve tried. It’s not possible.
I will probably be fighting that dark for several years. There are small acts of self-preservation that I’ve learned how to do – leaving parties, drinking less, taking care of my apartment. I use the tapping method in order to calm panic attacks. I learn something about this illness every day.
What I learned through processing the Stanford case is that there are no limits to the depths of my rage. Anger is a power that I didn’t realize I had. I’ve spent so long ignoring how I felt or wallowing in the sadness that anger never had room to grow, only coming out in lashes towards those who still loved me. I couldn’t see how anger could help me survive.
The woman in Stanford has given me that anger back. And it’s not just to the men who raped me or Brock Turner, the man who raped her. I am furious with the way we have let this become our society. I am furious with the capitulations we have made to toxic masculinity. I am furious with the way that men are still able to rule our lives, to be more powerful and worth more than we are.
Brock Turner is made to be. My rapist was made to be. So was the first that attacked me.
This cannot be the way we go forward.
I think back to the definition of my illness, a point past a bad thing where life cannot be ever what it was. It’s simplified, of course, but it demonstrates so well the way that life after violence is lived. I can’t go back to who I was before these men hurt me.
But I can go forward.
And I will fight.