Thursday, May 19, 2011

I am a Victim

You won't read those words very often. They are taboo. We associate them with being weak. To say you are a victim is to claim you've been defeated. That you aren't strong enough to overcome something that has happened to you.
Or is it?

From Webster's:

Victim: one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions

one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment

The definition itself doesn't suggest anything about weakness, fault, or guilt, but we have come to associate it as such.

Let me back up a little. I haven't written here in ages, and I've made excuses to myself and others as to why. I have been much busier than usual, but I could have found the time. The truth is, I've been struggling to put into words what has been on my mind for the past several months. And I didn't want to say it the wrong way, because I think it's important.

So here's what happened. I was home, snuggled in bed with my baby, nursing her to sleep, watching Private Practice. And then it happened. At the end of the show, just briefly, you got a glimpse of KaDee Strickland's character, Charlotte being attacked from behind. It was evident from the final scene of the show that she would also be raped. I sat staring at the TV in disbelief. Blink, blink, blink. It felt so horribly real. I couldn't move. I lay in bed shaking. I didn't sleep much that night. The scene was horrific and scary, and brought about a reaction in me that I'm sure a lot of viewers experienced.

I was molested.
I wasn't raped.
I wasn't beaten.
It wasn't a stranger.
I was 15.
It was dirty. It was slimy, and it was degrading, and it was wrong. I felt that in every inch of my body. I tried to get out, attempted to "take myself to another place" like they say on TV, but there was no escaping what was happening to me. It took only minutes. It felt like hours. Days even. It only happened that one time. That night, after I was able to get away, I cried to my dad riding in the passenger seat of his police car. It wasn't easy, but I told him everything that happened. It never happened again.

That's all I'm going to say about "the event." I'm not going to talk about him. I'm not going to say his name. It isn't important now. What I want to talk about is what happened after. I began going to therapy, and almost immediately, I remember the therapist saying to me, "You are not a victim, you're a survivor." Okay. I had heard it before. I had heard it on Oprah, or a movie, or read it in the monthly issue of my Teen magazine. I couldn't recall exactly where, but it was familiar to me, and it sounded like the right thing for a therapist to say. I've heard it many times since then. I heard it on Private Practice the week following Charlotte's rape. I recall her saying, "Stop looking at me like I'm a victim." If you go online and Google, "I am not a victim," you will get thousands of hits. It is a mantra that many embrace.

Now maybe these words help a lot of people out there. And if they do, great. Go with that. I realize they are meant to be empowering. They are designed to give the power back to you when you feel like it has been ripped away. But I must say, all those words did for me was push me to pretend that I was okay. I wasn't. Hearing that I wasn't a victim, but yet a survivor, gave me this impression that I needed to act strong even though I didn't feel strong. It said to me that I should just overcome what happened. But I hadn't. I hadn't even began to scratch the surface on dealing with what happened. I immersed myself in this role of playing a survivor. But that's all it was, an act. So, I started stuffing all those "weak" feelings deep inside myself. I pushed that victim away as hard as I could. I didn't want to be that girl. I didn't want to be vulnerable. So, I wasn't weak or vulnerable on the outside. I smiled, I laughed, and I just kept stuffing that victim down. I acted like the girl I was before. But I wasn't the same girl. Whether I wanted it to change me or not, I had been changed forever. What I didn't realize at the time, was that I was trying to stick bandaids over a gaping hole. I wasn't being honest with my parents, my therapist, or myself about how I was really feeling. Because I was strong, remember!? I was a survivor. I wasn't a victim.

My quest to appear strong led me to a slew of bad choices throughout the years. I just kept pushing that victim down. Eventually, I had to put Xanax and Prozax and Zyprexa on top of her. She was starting to get out of control in there. I even found a man who I allowed to push her around and remind her of how weak she was. I did so many things to drown out the voice of that weak, pathetic victim inside me. But as much I tried to silence her, I could still hear her from deep within. And finally, after a breakdown that would lead me to a week in the psychiatric ward, I came face to face with her. She told me all the things she had been wanting to say in those years I had stuffed her down. She cried for days and days. She forgave me for what I done to her. And on the day before I left the hospital, I finally realized something about that girl. She may have been a victim, but she wasn't weak. She was vulnerable, but she wasn't a push over. She was damaged, but she was honest. She just wanted to be heard. I just wanted to be heard.

I finally stood inside of what had happened to me. I told that 15 year old girl that I was sorry. I told her that it wasn't her fault. I told her that she didn't have to be strong until she was ready. I told her there were people who loved her enough to hold her up in those moments when she couldn't stand by herself. I told her it was okay to be a victim. I told her that I believe a person can be a victim and a survivor at the same time. I told her that there was no shame in feeling whatever it was she needed to feel to move on. And eventually, she did. I finally moved on.

Do I still have moments when I'm effected by what happened? Yes, of course. Every experience that I've had in this life made me the person I am today. But now, I love that person. All of her. Even the victim.


1 comment:

  1. Leslie this is so beautifully written. I could totally feel your pain and your strength! I am so very sorry that you had to experience this pain:( I felt like this was your summary of the story you started sharing on WTE. You are such a great writer:)