Sunday, 7 April 2013

Five Years, My Story

This blog comes with a very strong TRIGGER WARNING.  It covers details of rape, PTSD and suicidal thoughts.  It’s also longer than the typical blog, but I’m grateful for you taking the time to read it.   Reading it may trouble you, especially if you know me.  I’m still here, and I’m planning on staying here.  This is an account of what happened, how it impacted me at its worst, and doesn’t represent all of me.  I know that I’m feeling especially low at the moment, simply because it’s the 5 year anniversary.  The nightmares have re-started.  I’m feeling very jumpy and on edge.  I know that after Wednesday, I’ll start getting better again.  I know these things.  But I wanted to write this.  It’s my truth and I wanted to get it out of me.  Getting it out of me seems to help, if only temporarily.  But, please don’t worry.  My friends, you are one of the main reasons why I’m still here, why I’ll stay here; thank you.

Wednesday, 10th April 2013 marks five years since it happened.  It was a Thursday then.

I wasn’t entirely well before it happened.  I had gotten divorced a few months before, well, left him a year before, after 10 years of marriage.  I was suffering from depression, actually on anti-depressants, I’d seen a therapist and done some CBT to stop the cutting I had started in adult life, and I was using coke ‘recreationally’ – which was a bit more like habitually.  I was drinking a lot and controlling my food.  But, for the first time in years, I was skinny, and felt sexy.  Whilst, looking back, I wasn’t well, at the time, despite the evident problems, I did feel invincible.  I felt free, liberated, like my life could become anything I wanted it to be. 

But, well, I wasn’t well.  I have to remember that even before the rape, I wasn’t entirely well.  The way I am now, it’s not entirely to do with that one night.  It makes me worry that if I ever do recover from the PTSD my new psychiatrist says I have, and that she can possibly cure using the new EMDR approach, it makes me worry that I won’t be well, that there are bigger problems in my psyche.  But I need to hope I can get better, because I cannot live another five years in this abyss.  I simply won’t.

There is something about it being five years now, that seems harder to cope with than when it was four years, or three years, or two… I feel like after this length of time I should be over it, or used to it.  The fact that it still dominates my life, it makes me feel so useless, so broken.  Five years feels like a milestone that is also a millstone.

That night I did mostly everything wrong.  I have no memory of what I was wearing, but knowing me, it probably showed my best asset, which is my cleavage.  I probably wasn’t wearing heels, because I just hardly ever do, and if I was, they would only have been an inch or so, kitten heels.  I was probably wearing jeans, but maybe it was a skirt.  We met at a restaurant in Southwark, one I’d been to before and had suggested because I liked it.  We’d spoken on the phone a couple of times, flirty, getting to know each other, he seemed nice.  We had a drink first, I had a vodka based cocktail.  We both smoked and chatted in the smoking area.  We ordered.  We ordered vodka for the table, it was the way the restaurant did it, being a Polish restaurant.  I remember between the starter and the main course, at the smoking area, telling him that he seemed good company but I didn’t fancy him; we could be friends but that was all.  I don’t remember much else until I was home.  I’ve wondered if that’s when he decided to do it, because I’d rejected him.  Or maybe, he was going to do it anyway.

I suppose I drank far too much.  The police later said that according to the bill at the restaurant (which was apparently paid by cash) if I’d even consumed only a third of the vodka that was charged to our table I would have been way past the point of consent.  With that knowledge, I’ve always wondered why the CPS didn’t prosecute.  But my apparent drinking was one of the reasons they decided not to.  I won’t ever know if I drank too much, or if I was drugged, or both.  The police did take a sample of my hair when I reported it a month later, and for months I was explaining why I had a big chunk of my hair cut out, but they never actually sent it off to be analysed.  They said it wouldn’t work and was very expensive.  I wish they’d never taken it if it wasn’t going to work, would have saved so much humiliation in the months afterwards.  I know now it doesn’t matter if I was drugged or not, the vodka didn’t rape me.  But for a long time, I needed to feel that I was drugged because then it would be proof that it wasn’t my fault, that he had planned it.  Because for a long time, I blamed myself, for drinking, for dropping my guard, for trusting.  It took a long time for me to realise that what happened that night is that I went to dinner with a rapist and what happened was not my fault.

I don’t remember the end of the meal.  I don’t remember getting home.  I think I must have told him my address because I was no longer carrying my driving licence with my address on it in my handbag since I’d had my bag stolen the previous Xmas and my identity stolen along with it.  So, yes, I must have told him where I lived.  The first thing I remember is waking up to discover him fucking me.  And all I could think to say was, you’re not wearing a condom. 

Before it happened, I never thought rape could happen to me.  First of all, I naively assumed that most, if not all, rapes would be reported in the papers.  In fact, when I reported the rape later I half expected the local journo’s to come knocking for the story.  I also thought most rapes were stranger rapes, and if date rapes happened it was to drunk cheerleader types.  Not well brought up professional women like me.  I’d been drunk with men before, they hadn’t raped me.  I’d even taken a guy home with me only a couple of weeks previously, changed my mind half way through, and he’d been quite happy to sleep on the sofa. (OK, maybe not exactly happy, but he hadn’t pressured me in any way).  I thought rape was rare, and I never thought it would happen to me.

But, it was happening.  I’m very murky about the details, I was slipping in and out of consciousness, but it was happening.  When the police interviewed me they forced me to try to tell the story in a chronological way, with specific detail, who was on top, what position was I in, what position was he in.  At the time, I was still having flashbacks and remembering things through flashbacks.  Having to do that just increased the flashbacks and the detail of my memory but thankfully a lot of that has faded now, although I suppose it would make me a terrible witness now to my own rape.  I say thankfully a lot has faded, although there’s a part of me that wonders if some of my troubles about it, why it’s on my mind every day, is because I can’t remember, and maybe remembering would help.  Although my psychiatrist says not.  In fact, she’d be saying that writing this is a very silly thing to do.

It was violent.  At some point I must’ve started resisting.  Because I’m kinky, there was a cane in my bedroom.  He used it.  He used it so hard he cut me repeatedly.  When I went to the police a month later, I still had the bruises.  I can still see the broken veins on my right thigh where the cutting was worst.  He assaulted me anally.  He rifled around in my kitchen and took the handle to my krupps espresso maker and penetrated me with it.  I think he tried it in my arse as well, I remember a huge intense pain.  I stopped resisting.  I remember him blindfolding me, I remember the clicking of a camera phone, I remember being told to suck his cock and swallowing and calling him sir.  I remember ice. I remember calling him a taxi and collapsing to the floor behind the closed door, numb, and then sobbing and sobbing. 

The photographs were another reason why the CPS didn’t prosecute.  He produced them when he was interviewed to prove consensual activity.  I was never able to see them or comment on them.  I have to take the police word for it that they were erased from his phone, and hope that copies weren’t made on any of his other devices.  Most likely, he still has them, I know that.  And it makes me sick.  I probably had stopped resisting when he took them, I was all fought out, just going along with it, hoping it would end soon.  My psychiatrist, who is a PTSD specialist and deals with a lot of rape survivors, tells me that taking photographs is a sign of a professional rapist, it’s a way of creating their alibi, showing a visual that creates doubt.

He did that too with the text he sent me next day.  He called me a young lady and said he’d had a lovely time and did I want to see him again.  Or words to that effect.  I used to know it off by heart, but I’ve forgotten it now.  It really confused me, I wondered if I was mistaken, had I asked him to do all that?  What had we talked about at dinner, in the taxi?  My ex-friend C said to me several times that I must’ve been mistaken, that was I sure I hadn’t wanted it?  She’s no longer my friend, because she simply couldn’t accept that I didn’t want that.  I didn’t consent to being fucked without a condom.  I didn’t consent to anal.  I didn’t consent to penetration with other things.  I didn’t consent to any of it.

The next week I went to the STD clinic and got all the tests for everything.  They gave me the meds for gonorrhoea, just in case.  It turned out everything was ok.  But my injuries were visible, I had to tell them the story, they were kind, but it was horrible.  I didn’t want to tell it again.

I wasn’t going to go to the police.  I’d been drinking.  I was kinky.  I didn’t think I’d be believed, and I thought I’d be blamed.  But whilst his profile had been removed from I saw it on another dating site – a different user name, but it was him, same picture, similar details.  I knew I had to report him, I didn’t want to feel responsible for him doing it to someone else. 

So, a month or so later, I did eventually go to the police.  My bestest friend took some time off work and came to London so I didn’t have to go through it alone.  We arrived at the police station about 10am, we didn’t leave until after 5pm.  I went up to the desk and said I wanted to report a rape to the Sapphire unit.  They were confused, I was breaking due process, I was supposed to report it first to a police officer who would then refer me to the Sapphire unit.  I said I didn’t want to go through it more than I needed to, and they got the Sapphire unit people down.  During that day, I first talked to them about it, then I had to talk to them again, this time with them writing it down as a statement.  Then I had to go on video and do it all again, more and more details being asked each time.  It was intense.  I spent most of the day in tears, unsure of my memory, trying to tell as much as I could, apologising all the time for not knowing details which I was sure I should know.  I feel so much guilt that my friend had to listen to all of it; I couldn’t have done it without her, but it wasn’t a story that anyone should have to hear.  I owe her my life.

They took photographs of my injuries, the bruising was still visible.  They took the sample of my hair.  They took my mobile phone because of the exchange of texts with him.  They arranged to come to my flat a couple of days later to do their forensic thing.  It’s nothing like CSI.  They were there for most of the day, taking photographs, packaging things up.  When they left I had to go out and buy a new duvet, pillows, sheets.  I had to buy a new laptop as I was self-employed at the time and I needed it – they took it because of the exchange of email we’d had via the dating site.  They took glasses, they took the coffee machine.  They took my coat, the clothes I thought I’d worn (but wasn’t sure).  It was a whole month later, things had been washed, things had been through the dishwasher, but they took them anyway.  They kept everything for a couple of months, until after the CPS decision not to prosecute, some of it I told them to just keep. 

I always wonder about the myth of false allegations.  If I hadn’t been raped, how would I have managed to keep up the pretence during the whole day of police questioning and doing it on video?  Replacing my laptop, the duvet, coat, everything – the cost was towards £800.  I was lucky I had that money.  Of course, I’ve never been compensated.

I did try.  The police referred me to Victim Support, who gave me details of the CICA, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.  I completed all the paperwork, sent it off, chased every few months.  It wasn’t so much for the money, but I really wanted something official that said I’d been raped, that gave me some kind of closure.  Two years later, they wrote to me to tell me my claim had been unsuccessful based on the reasons why the CPS hadn’t prosecuted.  The police never told me why the CPS hadn’t prosecuted, just that there was a lack of evidence, and it would come down to ‘he said, she said’.  But the CICA did, two years later.  Reason 1 – I had waited to report.  Most rape victims do.  Reason 2 – I had been drinking.  That should have been evidence of lack of consent.  Reason 3 – the photographs he took.  Which I have never seen, been able to comment on or give evidence on, and which people like my psychiatrist who work with victims know is a method rapists use to produce doubt.  My view of the CPS is not a kind one.

At the time I didn’t really question anything the police did, trusting that they were doing everything they could.  Certainly, the fact that I had a named Sapphire liason officer to support me was really helpful, and without that I probably wouldn’t have made it through even as well as I did.  But they said they would do things that they didn’t do.  They said that they would interview the friends I had initially told and I had to give names & addresses and warn my friends that this would be the case.  They didn’t follow up with any of them.  They said they needed the hair sample to test to see if I’d been drugged, they never sent it off for analysis (and it was returned to me along with all my other things too! I mean!…. There are no words…).  I’d been foolish enough to tell a friend I didn’t want the cane in my flat anymore, and he’d thrown it in a skip – so there never was chain of evidence.  With regard to the photo that another friend took of my injuries, the police said they needed the camera to do their chain of evidence, the photo by itself wasn’t enough.  She was having her own domestic violence case go through its process at the time and didn’t want to get involved, she refused the camera and refused to make a statement.  So, no chain of evidence.  I suppose, there really wasn’t much tangible evidence and waiting a month hadn’t been the thing to do.  But I was processing, I was in shock, I didn’t want to face it as a truth. 

It took the police several weeks to track him down.  I had forgotten his last name, and although it did come back to me a few days later, the police had to wait for mobile phone companies to share his details and things like that before they could make the arrest.  They told me they arrested him first thing in the morning and made him sit in the cells all day before interviewing him.  I suppose that’s something.  But I know if he told anyone what had happened to him, I will be another ‘example’ bolstering up the myth of false allegations.  It was another few weeks until the CPS made their decision.  It really hurt.  The police had believed me, I knew that.  Whilst before I reported it, I didn’t think I’d be believed, the fact of being believed had given me hope that justice would win out.  I had a very strong value & belief system in the power of justice; to have been believed, but for there to be no justice, spun me into a very dark place.  The process of reporting, going into the details, reliving it, having hope and then getting no justice, to experience all that on top of the rape itself, was too much to bear.  My whole world order was knocked off balance.

I lost another ‘friend’ when I said that.  I said that if a friend confided in me that they had been raped, and should they go to the police, I would hesitate, and I couldn’t recommend it.  I am almost thankful that my case didn’t get prosecuted, because I do believe that I would have not coped, that I would have committed suicide during it, or after it.  This ‘friend’ of mine told me that therefore I deserved to have been raped.  We’d been good friends – I was going to be her best woman at her wedding, we were away in Las Vegas on a trip to celebrate her upcoming wedding, my gift to her.  I told her to leave the hotel and we haven’t spoken since.  Not sure what she told her family about why she no longer had a best woman, but hey… I was learning that not all ‘friends’ were supportive.

In the weeks & months that followed I felt very fragile, I did some very questionable things but I thought I would get over it, albeit slowly.  Before the rape, I’d been very controlling about my food, I’d lost about 2 stone, and I’d felt good.  Afterwards, I ate macaroni cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I put on the first 2 stone in the first month or so, and then another stone slower after that.  In the five years since, I have hated the way I look.  Every so often I hit a peak weight and I try to lose it, usually by doing some crazy controlling diet.  I’ll lose a stone or so, start feeling better about myself, and then sabotage it because I associate feeling good about the way I look to being a target for rapists. 

I started using drink and sex as a way of exerting my control over what could be very dangerous circumstances – looking back, I know I was trying to recreate the circumstances but with one different characteristic, this time I was in control and consenting (I still do it, but now, only in safety with people – well, a person – I trust implicitly.  It’s entirely different, and now about pleasure rather than self-harm).  I had an assessment counselling session with the Havens and was telling her what I’d done the previous weekend.  The look on her face was one of pure horror.  I didn’t go back. 

I did find counselling through the Women & Girls Network; they were wonderful.  Non judgemental, accepting of my lifestyle, they gave me a life-line that I absolutely needed, first with one-on-one counselling and then in group sessions.  Back then, though, I thought the way I was feeling was temporary.  The counselling was going to cure me.  The group sessions were called ‘an ending group’, I thought it was going to end.  It didn’t.  Last year I had quite a major relapse, brought on by overwhelming stress at work, and sought help again with WGN.  Their services really are amazing, again I was given individual counselling, again I went to the group sessions, but this time I knew they weren’t going to be a cure, just a way of helping me to find coping mechanisms.  (They also gave me access to aromatherapy massages, part of their holistic treatment.  I really can’t praise or thank WGN enough for their support over the years).

I decided to tell my parents what had happened; I think I wanted to feel safe in their arms, like when I was a child.  Although, I don’t really have any memories of that happening so I don’t know why I expected it to go well.  As soon as I said it, and saw my Dad’s face just crumble, I knew it had been a mistake.  How could they be expected to deal with the fact that their daughter had been raped?  After that, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be depressed.  I gravitated away from them, hardly seeing them.  Mum would sometimes say things like ‘be safe’ and I’d take it as criticism for that night.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I told my brother; he was alright about it, but again I felt uncomfortable.  Recently, I told my parents about the PTSD diagnosis, I think things are going to get better with them; they’re trying, and so am I. 

About six months after the rape, I went back to full-time employment.  It felt strange, being around people, them not knowing the intense chasm of pain that I had inside.  My therapy sessions were happening at the same time, so I had to confide in my boss what had happened to get time off work.  She seemed to be supportive at the time, but soon got frustrated with the time off I was having, especially when I found the day after therapy to be really hard as well; I took those days as holiday rather than sick, but it didn’t go down well at all.  Eventually, I lost my job – she said it was due to my performance, but that was on the day the work we’d been doing had had some really positive feedback.  When I asked her what she meant about my performance, she said I was no longer resilient, and she couldn’t rely on me.  I was essentially being fired because I had been raped.  In the end, I negotiated some fairly decent monetary terms and resigned instead, but I will never forgive her.  I’d been at that company about 5 years, with just a short break where I was trying to follow my film producing dream.  My boss had been a friend or mine; I’d taken her to Ikea once.  I felt betrayed.

That betrayal resulted in me deciding I could no longer cope with the world.  It had been proved that I couldn’t hold down a job.  I was fat and hated myself.  I was often scared to leave the house.  I was often scared in the house (although I had moved – in fact, whilst I’ve been in my current flat for two years now, in the first three years I moved house 6 times).  I packed up my flat, put everything into storage and took a flight to Thailand.  When I was there, I wrote very amusing blogs about my travels.  But I’d planned never to come back.  Part of me was in thrall of the idea of just swimming out to sea, and never coming back.

Instead, I came back early.  I had some kind of epiphany in which I decided that I needed to live, and if I was going to rebuild my life, I should start straight away.  That was harder than I’d imagined, as I came back to 8 months of unemployment and the joys of signing on.  My savings had almost entirely run out by the time I got a job at the firm which 3 years later, I am still at.  I was probably about 2 months from living off friends’ sofas.  I threw myself into my work, determined not to screw it up just because my head was sometimes in dark places, and then last year, being so immersed in my work caused an extreme breakdown.

I had been working 12-14 hour days, 6-7 days a week for about 3 months which coincided with last year’s anniversary.  The lack of control I felt over the amount of work that needed doing triggered panic & anxiety attacks, nightmares and insomnia which I hadn’t had in quite a while.  I’d always been looking over my shoulder, wondering if the nightmares & insomnia would come back, and sometimes they did, but usually only for a few nights.  This time, it was constant and I was exhausted.  I’d also always had the odd anxiety attack, walking down the street, feeling like someone was there, running up the stairs to my flat and putting the chain on, sinking to the floor in a sweat.  But this time last year, it was all the time, and I couldn’t work properly.

I ended up telling my boss what had happened.  He’s been supportive, in a way that the other organisation never was, but I feel like I’m coming to the end of that support now.  After I spoke at SlutWalk in September, I had another breakdown, this time triggered by my own actions, getting so focused on doing the speech, I wasn’t prepared for the come-down afterwards.  I took too many pills, a combination of lorazepam and sleeping tablets.  It wasn’t intentional, the pills themselves made me woozy about what I’d already taken.  But, it was too many, and not many more and I probably wouldn’t be here to be telling this story. 

I’m worried about my job.  I don’t feel like I’m doing it well at the moment.  I feel like my boss’s patience is going to run out.  I have dreams of what kind of career I want, a portfolio career with a different life-balance.  But I have so much doubt as to whether it’s something I can achieve, I used to have gumption, I used to be fearless, now all I have is self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

I have hope though.  I was diagnosed with PTSD, so now I know it’s not just me being weak and failing.  33% of rape victims develop PTSD.  31% contemplate suicide.  But my current psychiatrist says that the new therapy approach called EMDR (google it) might help, could be a cure.  She says I’m still too ill to start that, I have to be less depressed, more able to cope with the bad stuff, but soon we’ll start it.  It’ll re-wire my brain, so I don’t get triggered so much.  The idea that there really is a cure, that’s amazing to me.  And, there really better had be, because I won’t live another 5 years like this.

Even on the days that have been good, even when I’ve felt on top of the world, there’s always a nagging fear that it will all go away.  I’m always checking for danger.  I’m suspicious of everyone, even my friends, even my really good friends; I’ve been betrayed by too many.  I have no trust.  I choose relationships with people who cannot commit to me because I don’t think I’m worth committing to.  I’m lonely.  I won’t go on online dating sites, and I’m tired of making up excuses when people who don’t know ask me why not.  I’m tired all the time, but at night it takes me ages to go to sleep, I’m frightened of the nightmares that could be coming.  I think of that night every day, it is always with me.

Over the years I think I’ve used every method of self-harm there is in order to cope; cutting, starving myself, stuffing myself, drinking, mis-using the prescription drugs, taking the legal & not-so legal highs, sex and even my kink, using my masochism to hurt myself for pain not for pleasure.   I’ve hibernated, cut myself off from friends and family.  I’ve run away (to Thailand).  I’ve got angry, campaigned, blogged.  I know none of this works.  It’s going to be long hard struggle, but I hope I get better and find the strength to carry on trying to get better. 

After rape and mental illness, suicide is another of those taboos that no-one wants to hear about.  People say suicide is selfish, what about the people who are left behind?  But, what about the person who is so tired of life, in so much pain through life, has so much self-hatred that they don’t believe anyone would care afterwards, what about them?  Well, it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past 5 years.  My plan is very specific, would take energy and time to sort through; an accidental over-dose is not the plan.  I’ve always had a plan B.  I guess, suicide is just a version of that.  I hope not to need it, not for very many years, but I need life to be getting better, because this has been 5 years of hell, 5 years that I didn’t think I would survive, and I think it is a miracle I’m still here, but here I am, somehow.

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