The after-effects of abuse and rape show themselves in situations that even I may have not necessarily thought of, right up until that moment. Such as, airport security…going beep as I walk through the security thing, and having to be patted all over my body.
It beeped. I stood still, put my arms out like requested, and then in that moment realised what was coming next. A complete stranger patting me, quite roughly, all over my arms, legs, torso. My mouth went dry, my heart rate racing, I felt myself starting to tremble. I focused on not throwing up on the poor security person. I told myself repeatedly that this system is there to protect us, not to harm. But it didn’t really matter, my body felt imposed upon, reacting to a situation where I don’t have the right to say ‘no’, but have to stand and let a stranger pat me all over.
I know they get it over and done with as fast as possible, and are as clinical and professional as is possible, short of being a robot. They don’t touch in any intimate areas, obviously. But it doesn’t matter. It’s still frightening, and still triggers me, no matter how much I try to control it. Instantly I felt my mind fall backwards, I heard the whispers of memories, the sensation of being pulled underwater. I fought against the incoming flashback like my life depended on it, and managed to escape a full blown flashback. Instead, behind the security person, I watched a scene…a scene of me, aged 6, whilst a strange man I’d been given to for the night ran his dry hands all over me and proceeded to rape me. I watched the scene, wanted to scream at someone to help the little girl – why wasn’t anyone helping? But I knew nobody would. Nobody could. The girl was invisible, as I had been even at the time.
I watched her eyes move from terror to empty, as she dissociated, as she switched off from reality and went numb, so she could feel almost nothing, and just become the floppy ragdoll the stranger required. A 6 year old child who already knows how to survive rape. That was my life. Sometimes watching it is worse than reliving it. It just breaks my heart.
I wanted to cry. My eyes filled with tears, tears about the memory and tears about the panic of the security guard having to pat me. I felt dizzy, really extremely dizzy, and part of me hoped I would pass out and escape the memory in front of me and the distressing – yet innocent – situation I was currently in.
Then they finish, and I’m expected to pick up my bag and walk off like I’m okay. That’s what everyone else does. I want to stand there and howl…to just stand there and loudly cry my eyes out. I want someone to notice the 6 year old. I want someone to notice me. I want to be able to do something normal like airport security without being transported back to hell.
But I don’t. The panic attack was bouncing around my chest but I was hyperventilating so quietly, I was sure nobody will notice. I know how to swallow back tears. I know how to look like I’m functioning perfectly fine, when in fact I’m hysterical inside. I learned all of this as a small child. I told myself, you’re safe, you’re safe, you’re safe. But it doesn’t always help. What upset me was the memory as much as the situation. I can never say I was safe aged 6. I can never look at that tragic memory and change it. I can never pretend I was safe then. I couldn’t cry then, I couldn’t feel the sadness – I hadn’t learned yet it was so wrong in any case. I couldn’t afford to feel all these emotions. But I had a right to them. They were bottled and now come out when triggered.
So telling myself I’m safe means very little.
I cry because I wasn’t safe, for such a long time. 20 years. 20 years.
I cry because I can never go back and rescue that little girl, and nobody else can go back and rescue me either. It doesn’t matter how wonderful my life is now, my past will always be horror and pain. That little girl will remain a child who begged for ‘just the rapey.’ That was me. I hear kids begging for a new phone, an ipad, some sweets. Me? I remember being barely 5, and tearfully asking for “just the rapey.”
I cry because how can I not?
And something so innocent and disconnected from my life as airport security brings all of this back.
When through, I turned to my partner and silently fell into her, whilst she hugged me very tightly. I didn’t need to say anything, and maybe she had worked out what had triggered me, or maybe she hadn’t. Either way, it didn’t matter. I needed a tight hug, for someone to make me and my younger self feel protected and loved, and she – as ever – provided that unconditionally.
Being a survivor isn’t easy. Being a survivor trying to lead a normal, functioning life with a smile on my face is even harder. Sometimes, I just need to cry.