Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Story: Another Post

This is a post I wrote to help me cope with the PTSD episode I'm fighting right now. It tells more of my story, albeit in a rather disjointed fashion. I wish I could say I came up with a profound conclusion at the end, but no, it's just a long entry with a jumble of thoughts and excerpts from some of my writing.

Sometimes I can't explain it-- I just shut down, sliding away inside myself, feeling dissociated and disoriented and somehow just not here. I feel myself staring blankly into space; I curl up and am silent, lost, sad. Sometimes I'm actually actively thinking about what happened; sometimes it's just a fleeting thought that thrusts me into this haze, this daze. Sometimes it happens, and I withdraw from the world around me.

It's been happening a bunch lately; I've just Yesterday I was feeling depressed and irritated and suddenly the word "rape" was there, hanging in the air, and that was it-- the doors behind my eyes shut and I had to leave, to go up to my room, where I sat and stared at the wall and couldn't feel anything. Today it was a combination of things, too. So much happened earlier that night, that Friday night last March; it seems so separate from The Event. I started to tell a story tonight-- and people tell this story fairly often-- and then I realized it was That Night, the Same Night, and he was there. Funny how I forget these things. I freeze up when someone else starts to talk about how we were so awesome that time when we went to other houses and stole their pong paddles because our pledges had taken ours hostage in exchange for who-knows-what, I don't remember anymore. But then I start to tell the story, and then midway through I realize where it's going and the words freeze in my mouth and I'm not sure how to continue.

And then there's the shirt. (I seem to focus on items of clothing, don't I?)  This summer I found out that my fraternity still has his shirt. There is a social collection of our official shirts, which we call "blues," and I picked one up one day and saw the name "Anvil" in block letters on its back. I dropped the shirt. Later, I told the president about it, and she shrugged at me and pretty much couldn't care less. We still have his official blues. Wtf.

I am disillusioned with my fraternity (point of clarification: it is co-ed, and he and I were both members of this house). I'm not sure I consider it my house anymore. I don't know if I feel safe here. I don't trust half of my brothers. I remember how I had such ideals about being part of a real family-- and then I remembered how shattered I was to find out that their camaraderie and love only extended to mundane superficial everyday things, that people turn away when the proverbial shit hits the fan and you need them.

Maybe I expected too much, but I don't think I did. I don't think it was unreasonable to expect that no one would tell me to keep it a secret to protect the reputation of the house-- but one of my brothers did say that. He told me it would be my fault if word of my rape got out and the reputation of the house was ruined. I don't think it was unreasonable to expect that everyone would tell the truth during the police investigation, even if they were embarrassed by their own actions-- but one of my brothers didn't. The morning after, my rapist confessed to him, and then proceeded on a long ramble about how I was just a drunk and crazy bitch who actually wanted it but then freaked out afterward. My friend, my brother, listened, said nothing, didn't even tell me about it until a few days after I opened up to him about what had happened to me. He said he was embarrassed by his failure to stand up for me; I told him that it was all right, that I just wanted him to tell the truth about what happened that morning to my fraternity and to the police. He didn't. He had the most important testimony because my rapist confessed to him, and he lied to the police and didn't tell them what he told me.

I still feel guilty about not going through with criminal court. I was not the first girl he hurt; I wanted to be the last. I asked myself why I felt unable to go through with pressing charges, and part of the answer was the lack of support and validation I received from my fraternity. For a long time I struggled with my anger at myself and at people I considered my friends. In February, I wrote a piece for the Speak Out event held on campus. This is an excerpt:

Apathy is just as hurtful as direct antagonism, even more so. I wanted so badly to put him behind bars so he wouldn't hurt anyone else. I went to the police. The criminal court system is not exactly gentle and supportive of rape survivors, and I was terrified but determined. I was willing to come forward to testify if it meant he would stop. But if people who were supposed to be my brothers couldn't rouse themselves to care, how would I convince a jury? How could I find the strength to stand up and finally put a serial rapist behind bars?

When I began to read Susan Brison's account of her trauma, one of her sentences rang raw and true to me: “One of the most difficult aspects of my recovery from the assault was the seeming inability of others to remember what had happened.” I have since distanced myself from that frat, but I am still hurt by their equivocation and non-response. I struggled with my pain and self-doubt, recovery always seeming just out of my reach, every time I realized I could no longer count on my friends. I felt alone, alienated, and betrayed, like my friends had abandoned ship at the first sight of stormy clouds.

Perhaps this is an excessively bitter account of the aftermath of my assault. After months of waiting for support, I finally chose to embark along the path to recovery on my own. I could not go through with criminal charges then, but maybe one day I will find the strength and support to do so. I write this to emphasize that support is crucial for a rape survivor, and that looking away isn't just “trying to not rock the boat.” Not only is it hurtful, but it supports the rapist by default. Equivocation and non-response aid and abet him to continue his predatory behavior. Your support and acknowledgment of the crime really does make all the difference. When it happens, please don't turn away.

A few months later, I did end up returning to that fraternity when I returned to student life on campus. A part of me yearned for the illusion that everything was fine, that the most I had to worry in life was homework, that my life just centered around classes and parties and friends. I came back here partly to try to convince myself that I was over it and everything was fine.

The other reason I came back was that I wanted to make a difference. One of the turning points for me was the Take Back the Night march on campus in April. Here is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote after it:

At the end of the march, a woman I really respect talked about how allies need to take action to deserve that title. Saying you are an ally against rape means nothing if you do nothing. Her words inspired me to think again, to bring back those year-old feelings of bitterness and examine them. I waited for [my fraternity] to come out strong against rape and do everything within its power to make it clear that victims are supported and rapists condemned. I waited. As time went by, I shrank away and began to hide, watching from the sidelines, because when nothing happened, I felt alone. And then I became bitter because everything stopped and life went on as normal for everyone else while I still struggled. I became bitter, and angry, and frustrated. And I have spent a year in this state, speaking to few of my old friends and wielding my anger blindly, flailing, almost.

It hasn't really done anything, though. Maybe that year away was just for me. But it has done nothing to effect change in anyone or anything else, and this is why I feel compelled to come back.

Sure, I have my grievances against [my fraternity], but when I'm not feeling angry at them, I miss them. I miss having a social space and friends. I want to be back there to help kick-start the change I expected from them. Maybe apathy or the desire to forget won't be so overwhelming when rape is no longer just an abstract idea to be denounced, but rather there is a living, breathing reminder of it in their midst. My anger from afar does nothing to help other victims of rape. I'm not sure it even helps me.

It's time for me to look beyond myself and my bitterness. I want to *do* something. Last night's march was a real turning point for me. I am back-- back with a vengeance. *dramatic music plays*

...No, not really, but I am back, at least. I don't expect this to be easy, but I do expect it to be productive. I really want to use my experiences to make a change. And I can't do it alone. 

I want to believe that I can make a difference, which is one of the reasons I started this blog. I'm still struggling with my feelings about my fraternity. Tonight we had a Rush event, which is when we try to convince people to join us. I felt so out of place, because I wasn't sure I could honestly tell someone about how cool we are, about how we're a family that takes care of each other. I still attribute much of the intensity and duration of my PTSD to the lack of support and validation I received from said "family." I still wonder if I might have been able to go through with pressing charges if I hadn't felt so alienated and dismissed by people I considered my friends. So many "what if"s, so many "I wonder"s.

I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing here. I really do want to make a difference. I am considering going to grad school to pursue this passion academically, to study post-traumatic stress disorder and the awful epidemic of sexual assault and what people can do to make the world better. But first I need to sort out my own life, my own feelings of guilt and anger and resentment. And I guess here I am, one blog post closer to that goal.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had something helpful to say. What the house did was wrong and I still feel betrayed by it. I can't get over some of the alum responses and the stupid politics that happened. I don't understand how not everyone was enraged...

    I also still feel ashamed for not speaking out more, for not bringing up the issue until I felt it was adequately resolved. I suppose my only defense is that I lost my motivation in the face of that overwhelming apathy and, like you, withdrew from the house to a certain extent, but I still feel as if I should have persevered. I apologize for that failing.