Okay, actually, here’s something first:
I already mentioned that I don’t really like/use the term “survivor”.
Well, to add to the list of perfectly reasonable terminology that I have some sort of issue with, I don’t really like/use the term “recovery” either. I’m not totally sure why. I guess, in some capacity, it has to do with the fact that “recovery” makes it sound like reactions to sexual assault are some sort of “disease” that you need to be “cured” of, and that you can reach a Recovered stage where it will never bother you again. Well, ma’am, it seems your case of Raped By A Sadistic Bastard With A Taste For Nonconsensual Bondage is clearing up pretty nicely. “Recovery”, by its dictionary definition, is the act of returning to Normal. Thing is, after a sexual assault, your “normal” changes very dramatically. Good luck getting back to the old one.
Maybe I’m being unfair, but I’m going to allow myself to be in this situation.
Still, for lack of a better word, I’m going to have to stick with “recovery” at this point for the purposes of this post (my pocket Thesaurus didn’t have any better ideas, either).
Back before I’d ever had anything Like This happen to me, I’d always imagined a sort of linear (or exponential) function representing recovery. You start out really, really fucked up and kinda lose it for a while, but then you start improving (either slowly and surely, or at an increasing rate) and then at one point Yay All Better. I think part of this is also what little media portrayal there is of rape victims as anything other than something for the rapist character to stick his dick in on-camera. On the rare occasion that the victim is shown as an actual 3-D character rather than an eroticized plot point, this is generally how her recovery goes. Total frigid-emotional mess to doe-eyed well-adjusted woman in 90 minutes, rated R for sexually explicit content and frightening imagery.
The truth, as I’ve found it to be*, is much different. I was kept sheltered for a long time after the initial incident by shock and denial, and the nature of the assaults made it even easier to do that. I never really had to consciously think “no, it couldn’t be Rape, because xyz”, because the idea that it could have been rape at all didn’t hit me until about five months later, when I finally had enough distance from the immediate situation to slowly realize what had gone on.
Phase two was an insane flurry of trying to rearrange my life to ensure that It would never happen again. At my best friend’s encouragement, I built a heavy reliance on him as a source of support and meanwhile worked toward trying to restructure my personality and lifestyle in every possible way. I wasn’t exactly happy, but at that point, all forward motion counted.
Since, I’ve experienced all sorts of highs and lows, not necessarily in any sort of identifiable order or with any reasonable impetus most of the time. In some ways, I am Getting Better. In others, I am getting much worse. In the past year I have fluctuated between periods of intense social life and near-absolute self-isolation, fulfilling sex life and being unable to even masturbate, excelling academically and barely being able to keep my focus in class, never sleeping and napping for most of the day. There has been no general trend that I can see, except in my own thought patterns, which are often just as disorganized and subject to change at any given moment. Some days, I am the victim. Other times, I am overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Some days I want nothing more than to be around friends; other times, the idea of being in a closed car or room with anyone else makes me lose the ability to breathe.
I guess the moral of the story is, if you’ve experienced anything like what I’ve experienced and feel like you’re not Recovering Right, don’t worry. Neither am I. And I think maybe that’s okay.
I think there are many ways to recover. And maybe I’ve just been choosing all the wrong ones, or maybe this is how it happens and nobody ever talks about it. Ever.
*Who knows? Maybe I’m an anomaly and some people really do follow the aforementioned pattern. Frankly, though, I can’t say I know any of them.