“What’s going on?” my counsellor asks me after what seems like the longest pause in the world, “where have you gone?” I don’t respond, there’s another long pause “I don’t know” I finally say, “nowhere, everywhere”. I stare into the nothingness and no more words come. My head feels like its about to explode, but I just don’t know how to explain. I just don’t have the words.
Neither of us many be speaking, but it’s definitely not silent. The clock ticks, the chairs squeak, the road noise infiltrates from through the badly insulated window. And the noise in my head is unbearable.
The best way to try and describe my flashbacks is like a film preview that you’re taking part in, but with my feelings providing the narration instead of a cheesy American voiceover. If you could see inside my head at that very moment it would look like this.
*I’m outside the back of the court room smoking, the sun sits low in the winter sky, it is so beautiful so crisp, so clean, the trees are bare, the sky is a brilliant blue, the clouds wispy elongated and white, I’m numb, I wish I could stay here, outside all of this forever.*
*I’m there, it’s happening, he’s on top of me, he’s inside me, he’s raping me. I’m frozen.*
*I’m standing outside his back door, my SOIT officer and the DC decided that we could just pop there on the way to my first interview “seeing as it’s so close” I’m petrified and alone, he could be right there. I run.*
*I’m in the waiting room at the police station I’m waiting to go look at the video identity parade. A fight breaks out, the room is suddenly charged with aggression, it whirls through the room like a tornado. I try to shrink into my seat, my breathing quickens, my skin tingles, but the police officer assigned to me that day just continues to talk on her phone, like this is an everyday occurrence, like I can cope with men, with people in my personal space, with aggression.*
*I’m smoking on my friend’s balcony with my phone hanging dead in my other hand. I know I have to call my parents and tell them we’re going to trial but I just don’t want to, I don’t want to have to deal with their reaction as well as my own. I feel exhausted and all I’ve done all day is sit and wait for the phone to ring.*
*I’m abroad, it’s that first year of denial before the Police came into the picture, I have run half way across the world to escape. My friends cradles me as in my panic I struggle to breathe. As we sit on the sea wall and stare at the sun going down on the Pacific Ocean I realise that however far I run, for however long, I cannot forget. The world is pressing in from all sides, I’m half a world a way but I could be right back in his flat. There is no escape.*
*I’m in court, the defense are questioning. Question, question, question. As they ‘put it to me’ his version of events starts to consume my mind, I’m scared. I’m doubtful, I’m alone. That little bit of me that has so far survived this all crumbles, breaks, and leaves me, I’m not sure if it will ever return.*
*I’m panicking and hyperventilating. I’m somewhere on a London street. I’m lost. I’m alone.*
One after another the scenes play out and I have no control over what is coming next.
On the outside my breathing speeds up it’s shallow and erratic, my eyes flicker, they are unfocused and darting, I’ll touch my face, my hair, I’ll bite my nails and finally one of two things will happen, I’ll either go still, my eyes will stop darting and I’ll stare into the nothingness of everything around, I’ll be gone, in a different place, alone. Or alternatively it will develop into a full blown panic attack, I wont be able to breathe, I’ll struggle, and in the panic without words I’ll plead for the help of the person there, because I think I’m never going to be able to breathe again.
Any time any place this can happen, in bed is a common place, but it also happens in crowded busy places, in the pub with friends, on trains, when I’m stirring the dinner at the cooker, when I’m trying to pay in a shop, at a meeting, when I’m on the phone.
It’s horrid and it’s debilitating. I’m constantly scared of it and constantly trying not to think about the things that have happened over the last few years in case it triggers an attack.
That’s why I’m sitting here, not saying anything, in the not so silence of this room, with a counsellor. Three years after I was raped finally the legal process is over and I can access support from my local Rape Crisis. It’s hard but I know to get though this I need to find words, otherwise all of this is going to stay in my head forever and it’s slowly going to take away all that is good. So bit by bit we unpack the flashbacks, we use words like guilt, self-blame, confusion, pain, self-hatred, anger. We use the word rape. A word I didn’t use for nearly two years. A word I only came to use when I first went to the police. Then it was clinical, it was an act that was committed against me, there were no emotions, no feelings, no pain allowed to infiltrate. Now finally released from the legal system here in this room with a counsellor to help I can begin to go deeper. We take it, we mould it, we analysie it, we normalise it. I begin to understand it. I feel better, lighter, calmer. I feel slightly more in control.
I leave the room feeling good and go home. I feel ready to face the world. I put my key in the door and climb up the stairs. I come in and take my coat off, I sit down on the couch, I try to tell my boyfriend how the session went. My mind goes blank, my throat gets dry, I mumble something about it being ok and change the subject.
That night I twitch as I try to sleep, as I drift off I writhe around and lash out. That night might be one of the nights where I wake up in the middle of the night, in the middle of one of these scenes, sweating, panicking, struggling to breathe. He’ll wake up with me and comfort me. We’ll hardly talk as he tries to calm me down. I’ll fall back asleep, engulfed in his arms, the one place I feel safest in the world. I’ll wake up in the morning and get up as if nothing had happened. We’ll both go about our days.
It’s not that he doesn’t care, or that I don’t want to talk. In fact he cares more than I thought was possible and I think if I started talking I wouldn’t be able to stop.
It’s just somehow we don’t quite know what to say.
It seems there are many more words to find.