How do you remember the details of a rape?(6 Posts)
I was raped over twenty five years ago.
At the time I didn't think it affected me that much. Denial is a useful defence mechanism. I've discussed being raped in a casual, matter of fact way and argued against rape myths etc., in a detached and rational manner, talking about rape has never upset me.
Recently I've been discussing rape a lot and blogging about it and I think that has triggered a very long overdue trauma response. I have started to get flashbacks and panic attacks, but here's the thing, they're not about the predictable things - the other day I got an e-mail from my work colleague asking if we could have sit down and discuss xyz straightforward easy uncomplicated work issue and my response when I looked at the screen was sheer terror. No reason as to why that should have triggered that reaction. Later on I got some dickhead posting rape-apologist shite on my blog and it didn't bother me at all, I just wrote an energetic post listing all the reasons he was WRONG. The stuff that should upset me doesn't and the stuff that is unconnected and should be innocuous, leaves me shaking and crying.
I went to see a counsellor and she suggested that maybe it was the language used - "can we..." - she said that maybe the rapist had used similar language and that that's what my unconscious was picking up on. Or not, that's just one possibility.
I have been trying ever since, to remember the exact details of the rape, to remember what he said, how he touched me, how he talked. But I just can't remember the detail, only the rough outline. How do you remember something that happened so long ago and that you've probably blocked out? Does anyone know anything about this? I can't see the counsellor for another 2 weeks and I wish I could remember so that unexpected stuff doesn't trigger me.
I'm not sure I'm 100% able to help you but I did go through an odd period of flashbacks, I was in therapy at the time (saw my therapist every two weeks), but it would happen at very odd times, usually when discussing something with a female colleague. (?!) It was quite distressing, and I did discuss it with my therapist, though we weren't able to get to anything more than what surfaced in the flashbacks. He said that the presence of stress hormones make it difficult to lay down memories, but that the feeling itself was the 'memory'.
In this way,the detail of what happened wasn't the thing we had to deal with, the thing we had to deal with were the emotions that I experienced, which I had suppressed because I thought they would overwhelm me. I particularly felt that the shame might make me stop breathing, and I was physically sick during one therapy session. I therefore wonder if it's really the detail of what happened that you need to focus on? My therapist and I managed the flashbacks by first of all helping me to recognise that the spiralling panic and feeling that I couldn't breathe was a 'memory', so when a flashback happened I was able to sort of detach it from the present, name the feelings of panic as a memory, and recover quite quickly - I don't think anyone I worked with knew I was having panic attacks.
I wonder if instead of trying to deal with the images, you could turn your attention to the actual feeling of panic? My therapist encouraged me to notice how I was feeling, label it as memory and tell myself that I could try to remember it in detail, and I could talk to him in therapy about it later. Somehow, entering into the panic in this way meant that it diffused - I would just excuse myself and go and quietly experience it, and try and think that it was a sort of gift, because it meant that I was opening up this part of me for healing. The attacks didn't suddenly stop, but they sort of faded; I can't remember the last time I had one. I did have to work in session on the whole thing, too, but because I knew how to manage out of session, this was never a big thing.
FWIW I have never found 'triggering' things triggering - it was always odd stuff that set me off.
Bluberry, do you think it will be helpful to you if you remember? Do you think it will make things easier to deal with if you have a clear memory of it?
Perhaps one of the reasons the work situation triggers you is because it is somebody actually asking for something from you while the rape apologist is something you can deal with more easily because they are not talking about you in particular. It is often easier to go out and campaign for somebody else than to be assertive in your own relationships, including work relationships. So perhaps that is why. Perhaps it is when it is personal that you are triggered.
It is sometimes easier to feel stronger as part of a group, or by spending more time building up trust by being with friends you feel close to and don't need to assert yourself with because there is little conflict or power in the relationship.
Mulling over the replies, thank you
Like Sparkly, my counsellor works on the feelings that arise about my rape. Sometimes memories trigger off the feelings, sometimes reading certain subjects (not always about rape) does. My counsellor explained it by saying that when I am triggered, my subconscious thinks that I am in that situation so it reacts by sending me feellings of panic and fear.
I don't remember all of the rape. There are 3 or 4 parts of it that I recall. We normally find an aspect of it that triggers an emotion but doesn't send me into overwhelming panic, and we work on that. Last week I could only work on the look that the rapist gave me afterwards.
My counsellor uses tapping (one on one counselling, not group as in the article) which I was very sceptical about, but it is working, I'm getting fewer triggering events and I feel as though I'm actually getting through it.
My rape happened 19 years ago and like you, I denied it, I didn't even call it rape. I pushed it away and refused to think about it.
I wish you well and I hope that you get some peace soon x
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