My rape is stuck in my head: what do I do to get it out?

This is an odd question, and I really hope I don't disturb anyone here, it's not my intention. Anyway, I'm 16, and I've been raped, about a month ago. I'm kinda going nuts here, it's being sorted out legally. I'm not pregnant, I don't have any infections, and the guy's arrested, and I could really care less about the incident, except it's really stuck in my head. I guess this isn't sexual... but, it sort of of is, so I decided to pose it here. I have dreams about my rape, every night I can remember dreaming. It's really starting to mess with my brain, and I've broken down crying more than once, which is bringing me close to insanity in its own sense. Am I going to need therapy, or some skitzo drugs, or something? I really don't want to be crazy over this, I just want to move on, get past High School, and get a life. I talked to my dad about it, and he said his dad had something similar, like a severe form of PTSD after he got back from serving in Vietnam (or Korea, I forget... We were talking about -my- insanity, sorry, I forget). Said his dad had flashbacks sometimes, which I guess would qualify for these dreams. I know you guys aren't psychiatrists, so I won't bore you with the specifics; it's just like a replay of the rape, over and over. Sometimes a few things are different, sometimes I'm watching it happen, sometimes it's just how it happened. Am I insane, or unstable, or just having nightmares? Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask it, but a friend of mine said the help here was really cool, but I mean, I don't know if you guys do stuff past pregnancy scares and diseases all that. -- Abba
Heather Corinna replies:

Abba: this isn't an odd question at all, and we do counsel users with rape and sexual abuse quite often. I'm also a survivor of rape and sexual abuse myself.

Rape is a violent crime, and it is normal for any of us to experience trauma from a violent crime being committed to, on or inside of us. It's highly unusual for any of us who have been raped to just brush off our knees and go forward without any kind of deep, emotional impact from that trauma at some point. Rape is a unique trauma in that it is composed of so many elements of abuse and assault: it is physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, psychological, interpersonal, not just one of those things.

One thing I suggest you first perhaps consider, especially looking at your dreams, looking at how you have been feeling, is that it's probably not true that you could care less about your rape. Obviously interpreting dreams is pretty subjective stuff, but my impression reading you, and after years of talking to other survivors, is that your dreams are perhaps trying to get your attention and make clear to you that you're not as fine as you're saying you are, and you need to deal with the effects of your rape.

Clearly, some part of you is troubled and has been deeply impacted. I know it can be tempting to think that if we just convince ourselves it was no big deal, we'll move forward that way and heal, but that doesn't tend to work very often. I also completely understand the desire to just feel normal again and move forward as if nothing had happened. But usually, part of healing is recognizing that what happened to us was traumatic, and accepting that it is an alteration of our life and person. It's from that place of acknowledgment and acceptance, with the right supports and real patience with ourselves, that we can start healing and moving forward.

What your Dad was describing to you about his own dad was PTSD, or post-traumatic stress, and it is something that rape and abuse survivors often experience as well. Flashbacks, waking or sleeping, or night terrors certainly can often be part of PTSD.

Know, too, that you may also find that some things get worse before they get better. For example, right now, this seems to primarily or solely be happening in your dreams. That may change: you may, for instance, start to have waking flashbacks, panic attacks, trouble developing trust with people, especially sexual partners, and trouble with partnered sex. You'll likely have phases of time where you feel sort of empty, others when you feel depressed, others when you feel very angry, and other times altogether where your trauma does take a backseat to normal, daily life. You can read more about Rape Trauma Syndrome and these kinds of effects here (take a look at the part of that page which describes the outward adjustment phase).

Some of why I tell you about all of that -- all, some or none of which may be things you might experience -- is because those things can be a lot tougher to deal with if you have the expectation that things will always kind of be on this curve where you feel one way when or right after being raped, and it's this constant, decreasing trauma until you feel better. What's more common is to have times where things feel bad, then a bit better, than maybe bad again, and better again. As time passes and it's been months, years, even decades, those bad times and traumatic effects will tend to diminish more and more, and things will get better, but it'd be very unusual for a rape or abuse survivor to be totally fine after just a few months. If and when someone appears that way, what's often happening is suppression of trauma, and it will usually show itself later on at some point: it just can't be put off or put away forever.

I know that's not the best news ever, nor what any of us would ever want to hear, but it is the way it is, and it's part of why rape is such a heinous crime: the effects of it tend to have legs and take a good deal of time and energy to work through.

Let's unpack some things, okay? First up, PTSD or stress and trauma after a rape are not schizophrenia. That's an entirely different disorder, and while some survivors are also bipolar and treated for that separately, rape trauma is not normally treated with medication first, before trying anything else, both since depression or anxiety due to rape is situational, not chemical, and because a psychiatric medication also is not likely to really address all that usually needs addressing. Let's also go ahead and let go of ideas about craziness. Again, it's not crazy to experience trauma from a traumatic event. If I told you someone who got stabbed and mugged expressed or experienced no extended trauma at all from that event, you'd probably -- and validly -- have a tough time comprehending that. Same goes here.

What's usually suggested first to heal from rape is talk therapy, be that with a counselor alone, with support groups of other survivors, or both. Many general counselors and therapists can help you through rape, but you also have the option of seeking out counseling from someone who specializes in this arena: when you dealt with the legal aspect of your rape, you should have been given resources like that, and if you were not, you could call back your lawyer, advocate or the officer you worked with to get them. If therapy or groups make you feel nervous, you can even just dip your toes in the water with online help and support first, beyond this post. We have forums for survivors to talk together or with staff at our message boards.

Sometimes, if a survivor is having an exceptionally tough time, a therapist might prescribe a sleep medication, anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication to help them get over the hump. But too, we're all different, so we might find that what works for other people isn't as great for us. You can also consider bodywork like massage, acupressure or acupuncture, EFT, working through your feelings via creative outlets (like writing or painting), talking more to friends and other people close to you, making changes to your environment (like a move or a switch to a new school) with or without other therapies. You might also find that reading stories from other survivors about how they worked it through to heal helps you out: you can do that with online forums, articles, and books you can find at most bookstores.

Additionally, you seem to have something a lot of survivors don't have, that's probably going to help you work through this a lot. Having a supportive parent you both can disclose rape to and talk with about it is a wonderful situation, and I'd say that having that openness and that family support is going to make getting through this easier for you.

Overall, we're much more likely to heal when we don't try and deny, diminish or avoid what happened to us. I know that it can be really hard to fully acknowledge a rape that it is something big, and also that it can feel scary to even think about doing that. But as with anything else, when we face something tough head-on as much as we can, allow ourselves to fully experience and express the feelings it leaves us with, and do our best to ask for help as we need it, we will be able to work through it, even if we can't get back to life as we know it as quickly as we'd like to. While we can't exactly say anything good comes of rape, healing from rape and abuse is usually something which makes all of us stronger in a very unique way, and that process of healing, even at times when it's difficult, is something I think is very worthwhile. I certainly do not want to be raped again in my life, but I also know that the years I have spent healing built my character and made me more than I was before.

Hopefully, I gave you some starting points and some comfort. Hopefully, I also said something to make you feel like it's not only okay, but therapeutic, to let yourself be more accepting about the way rape can make us feel. Hopefully, you understand better that healing is usually a long-term process that sometimes has a lot of stops and starts, but that we can all make progress and can reclaim our lives and get back to living them, without having to pretend that nothing happened, or that what happened to us wasn't a big deal when it was. I'll give you a few more links which I think might help, and wish you the very best in working through this.

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