Sunday, April 3, 2011

Unearthing Buried Emotions

I was having a conversation the other day with a gentleman with whom I have a great deal of respect. We were talking about child sexual abuse, rape to be more specific.  And we got on the subject of male child rape and he said to me that for a male, the most horrible thing that can happen to him is to be raped.  And something odd happened inside me.  I became enraged.  It was immediate and it was alarming. It was alarming because I wasn’t feeling rage about the fact that this occurs, I know it does. I was feeling rage that what he was implying was that this is how it is for males, not for females.  Or is that what he was implying?  You see, my perception was that this is what he was implying.  It wasn’t in fact, what he was saying at all.  It was how it was hitting me.  Triggering me.

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.  I am a survivor of rape.  I was raped as a small child, starting while I was still in diapers.  I was raped at various times throughout my childhood, adolescence, and into my adult years.  And I’m not going to get into the specifics of this, but I just want to convey my own experience with this subject and show you how a person becomes affected by rape.

It took me several days to unravel what happened in that one conversation, what was being triggered in me. The first reaction was internal and it was immediate and it was an emotion of rage.  And the rage was directed toward the gentleman with whom I was having this conversation, although he didn’t know it at the time.  My rage was directed toward him because I misunderstood his meaning, but the key here for me is that the rage was real and it is valid. 

I later sent him an email, telling him that what he said felt like a slap in my face.  As if I had in some way been invalidated, he knows my own history of rape.  I sent quite a lengthy note telling him of what exactly it is that a woman goes through when raped.  Telling him all the things that I was feeling at that moment about rape.  About how it messes with your identity, you are no longer a little girl, or a lady, you are now a whore. About how society labels victims and shames us into silence, once again - disgusting, dirty, somehow infectious like a disease that people may catch just by being in their presence.  About how rape changes the way she views her body, views her place in the world, views her worth as a person, or non-person to be exact.  I went on and on, because in my mind at that moment, I was setting him straight as to whether women were AS affected as men when raped.

Today, well, things look a little different to me.  I realize that I had been triggered.  And it had nothing really to do with whether males or females are affected equally by rape, because of course they are.  It had nothing to do with this at all.  What it triggered in me was an emotion that I didn’t know I had about my own experiences with being raped.  I had never faced any real emotion at all over this.  I had acknowledged in my head the horror of the experiences.  I had faced the memories and faced the understanding of what my life had been like and what it had done to me, how it changed the course of my life.  But until that moment in our conversation about male rape, I was unable to touch any kind of emotion attached to my own experiences.  They have been buried so deep in me and I have not wanted to feel them.  But things have a way of finding their way out.  And I have some very real rage going on inside of me that has yet to really see the light of day.  I have a lot of very real emotions of all kinds going on inside of me that I have not been able to face, not been able to allow out.  But they are making their way out; they are finding their way to the surface.  And I now know that they are coming out in ways that are not immediately apparent.

Triggers are like that.  They unearth buried emotions at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected ways.  And sometimes it takes a lot of work and a lot of patience to figure it all out.

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