I had the common faulty belief that those who have difficulty
letting go of childhood experiences are weak, stuck, and need
to move on with their life. In spite of that opinion, I made my
way to therapy and an outreach group at the age of 33, when a
verbally abusive boyfriend became physically violent. For many
months, I maintained the I-wasn't-impacted-because-it-only-happened-once
denial, both about my relationship and any other trauma I'd experienced
previously. (I wonder if a disaster survivor says, "I wasn't
impacted because it only happened once.") However, it was
a combination of my new journey and a TV movie that inspired me
to deal with a sexual assault that occurred when I was 14-years
old. Even though the movie was about date rape, I identified with
the victim because she feared she was going to die.
I was a virgin. It happened the night I purchased rubber bands
from the neighborhood store only a few blocks from home. My mother
was concerned with my going out at night, but I reassured her
that I would run the entire route. After making my purchase, I
returned via a shorter route through a nice neighborhood with
expensive homes. Halfway down the long block, positioned near
a large hedge, I spotted a man dressed entirely in black standing
in the shadow. I immediately moved to the other side of the street.
After I passed him, he said, "Miss, can I ask you a question?"
My heart beat quickened as my fear response took control. I was
relieved when he asked me for directions to a neighbor's, although
I communicated I didn't know the person. I returned to my original
position, confidently continuing my route.
With one arm, he covered my mouth and lifted me entirely off the
ground, leaving my feet dangling. My attempt to break his grasp
by using both hands and all my strength and body weight failed.
He was very muscular, and I weighed only a 115 pounds. My struggle
ceased when he said he had a knife. He carried me into a yard
and laid me behind a bush. I was desperate to communicate. After
several minutes, he uncovered my mouth after I promised not to
scream. He told me he wouldn't hurt me if I cooperated. I asked
him if he was going to rape me. He said, "No." I was
relieved until he told me that he was only going to show me what
husband did to wife. I knew what that meant.
I heard the voice of a boy I had a crush on walking just feet
away. I wanted to cry out, but was terrified of being killed.
The man unzipped my pants. I made up a story of leaving a record
playing and how my father would come looking for me when it stopped.
I didn't really have a father. He penetrated me with his fingers.
As we stood up, he bent down to pick up an object. I feared it
was the knife. Instead he picked up sunglasses he'd been wearing
that night. He later walked me to the corner, made me kiss him,
and promise to see him again. He then disappeared forever.
I pounded on the door of the basement, where my mom and boyfriend
were making love. Initially, they thought my story was a ploy
for attention. When the police arrived, they questioned my honesty
as well. After answering police questions, an artist created a
composite image from my description of the attacker. The man had
short dark hair, brown eyes, pale skin, broad nose, and a muscular
build. After everyone left, my mom told me I was lucky I wasn't
raped or beaten. I now have a better understanding of my mother's
response. As a young woman, she took a severe beating, fighting
off an attack from a date. However, because of her reaction, I
didn't have language to explain my experience. As a result, I
later told a close friend I was molested. It wasn't until years
later, when a therapist told me I was sexually assaulted, that
I was really able to clearly articulate the nature of my experience.
I also call it rape. It really doesn't matter if someone rapes
you with his penis, fingers, or an object. Rape is rape!
I was too frightened to walk to school by myself, which was only
a few blocks away. My mother drove me to school in the morning,
while a male friend drove me home afterwards. One morning out
of anger, my mother refused to drive me to school. While I was
walking, a dark-haired man driving a white car honked at me. I
was terrified because he looked like the man who had attacked
me. However, at that time, ALL MEN with dark hair looked like
the man who raped me. I ran to the detective that was stationed
at the school. When I arrived to class late, my teacher stated
to the entire class that I would never be successful because of
Even though all of my problems were not related to this one event,
it had a tremendous impact on my life. After the assault my grades
went from A's and B's to C's and D's. I became sexually active
sooner than my maturity warranted. I later dropped out of high
school and was sent to continuation as a result. I even made a
poor attempt at suicide. Denial covered up the shame and fear
of being both sexually abused as a child and sexually assaulted
at the age of 14. The survival instinct is strong, and I naturally
contracted my life to feel safer in my world. For 20 years I needed
a companion to walk streets during daytime hours for fear of being
attacked. I didn't acknowledge that fact to myself, but instead
just stopped participating in my life in ways that made me feel
Years later, when I started therapy, I changed my major from business
to psychology in order to help others discover their barriers
to happy, healthy lives. During my first counseling class I learned
that people who grew up in alcoholic homes, that people who were
sexually abused as children, that people who were sexually assaulted
are at greater risk for suicide. I was shocked because they were
describing my life. I learned that I had symptoms of post traumatic
stress disorder, which include numbness in the chronic phase,
and exaggerated startle response and nightmares in the acute phase.
I learned that rape victims naturally reduce their life without
their knowledge as a response to the trauma. I was shocked to
learn that 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually
abused by the time they reach their 18th birthday.
My commitment to face my past accelerated. I requested copies
of elementary, junior, and high school records. I studied the
teachers' comments about my disruptive behavior and wondered why
no one was there to help me. I called the junior high school and
complained about the teacher who said I wouldn't succeed. Of course
she had since retired. When attempting to acquire a copy of the
police report, I was told it had been destroyed because it didn't
involve a homicide. Most importantly, I returned to the store
where I bought the rubber bands 20 years before. Since the store
had changed ownership, the new store didn't carry rubber bands.
They seemed puzzled by my request for an empty paper bag (which
I still possess today). Carrying the paper sack, I walked the
long block to the house where I'd been assaulted. I rang the doorbell.
The man, who answered the door, gave me permission to explore
his property after I explained the reason for my visit.
I found the outreach groups, dealing with the issue of domestic
violence, extremely helpful --probably life saving/certainly life
changing. An unexpected side effect was having role models, who
were not only rebuilding their lives but were also "Speaking
Out Against the Violence" by writing and performing. Most
of my work on trauma related to sexual abuse/assault, occurred
on a one-on-one basis since the denial had lifted from multiple
Feelings flooded as a result of my examining my assault and childhood
sexual abuse. I woke with nightmares and extreme terror, as if
the threat were current. Even though I slept with several lights
on, I'd awaken in fear with myself repeatedly checking locks and
closets for intruders. One night, too frightened to sleep in my
own bed, I slept in the middle of the living room floor wrapped
in my comforter. My pain was so great and my life so impacted
that at one point I felt suicidal. Then there were the minor annoyances
when I'd get lost or miss a freeway exit. One day I even left
my groceries at the store. This went on for several months. All
the while I was dealing with my past; I was getting a degree in
Child Mental Health. I eventually graduated Summa Cum Laude.
I have to say that my life is much better for the work I've done.
I can walk down the street during the daytime by myself. For the
most part, my numbness has been replaced by feelings, sometimes
good, sometimes bad. When I cry, I often say, "I paid good
money for this!" Today when I have a bad dream, I recognize
it as such and not the terror of times past. But most importantly,
I can talk about my experience, understand the impact, and know
it's not my fault.
© 2003 Valley Trauma Center