In a previous blog post I touched briefly on my experience of sexual assault. As a result, someone has asked me what I wish people knew about the emotional aftermath of sexual assault. This is a question I've been really excited to answer, because there is so much that I learned from my experience that I didn't know before.
I figure the best place to start is, well, at the start. Immediately following sexual assault, you begin to experience the emotional fallout. For me this consisted of my mind going wild with questions. Should I tell anyone? What if the people I tell don't believe me? What if I don't tell anyone and someone else gets hurt? What if it happens again tomorrow night? What about when I get home? Do I just pretend nothing happened?
After this mental whirlwind, I did tell someone. They believed me. They helped me to tell the other people who needed to know, and they believed me too. However, this wasn't the end of the emotional torment. I refused to leave the bedroom while my assaulter was in the apartment. He was asked to leave. When he did, so did we, and we went out and had what was, all things considered, a good day.
One thing I noticed that day, and for months afterwards, was that my mind kept going back to what had happened. I would get stressed every time and come crashing back into the here-and-now. Every time this happened for the first week, my memories got a little hazier.
A week after getting home, my memories were riddled with holes, and what remained was incredibly hazy and disjointed. In a fit of tipsy desperation, I contacted my assaulter. I trusted him to tell me the truth about that night. By the end of the conversation I'd accepted complete blame for what had happened and began to calm down. As I calmed down, the gaps in my memory started to fill themselves in, until I had a clear picture of what had happened. The nightmares returned, and I hid from everyone.
This continued for two months. Since then I've dealt with the self-blame through CBT. The nightmares are few and far between, and I've been able to speak publicly about the experience. I've expressed my anger at my assaulter letting me take the blame for what happened. I've realised that consent isn't always a case of yes or no - body language plays a big part. If someone spirals into a panic attack when you start kissing them, it's probably safe to say they don't want to be kissed, let alone anything else.
What happened to me still hurts. A lot. People seem to assume that because I'm continuing to meet new people and travel, I'm over it. I'm not "over" anything. However, I am not about to stop living my life because one person treated me badly. Travelling and meeting new people are very much a part of my life. Nobody is going to take that away from me.