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Rubber Bands
By Pamela


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 tardiness.
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 vulnerable.
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 therapeutic experiences.
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.


Pamela


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