December has never been an easy time for me. My days yawn out before me, vast and unstructured. I have blood work appointments, psychiatrist visits, and counseling sessions on the calendar, while all around me, Christmas is in the air.
This time of year holds memories of a sadistic ex-boyfriend from high school physically breaking my will in order to bend it to his. Memories of being raped and manipulated by a meth addict with whom I had the misfortune of becoming involved. Sinister memories from my childhood that remain just beneath the surface of my consciousness, like murky water beneath a frozen lake. I fear what might happen if I take a wrong step.
I have undertaken the task of writing my life story, or more accurately, chronicling my long battle with mental illness. The last time I embarked on a major writing project was around the time I started this blog. I wrote a young adult novel, loosely based on a concept from a fellow patient’s story at Magnolia Creek. She blamed herself for something for which she couldn’t possibly be at fault. In my novel, a young teenager dies and the protagonist, Tabby, blames herself. She carries this blame with her for all of her young life until a college classmate and friend helps her to unburden.
I’ve noticed that oftentimes, my fiction parallels my reality. While I was writing this novel, I was dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault, neither my first, nor my last. It occurred on a college campus while I was abusing my newfound freedom to experiment with drugs. The man who attacked me was also on drugs, but had his wits about him more so than I. He kept telling me he wanted to be alone with me. “I should have known what he meant,” I would tell my counselor at the Creek. The assault happened in the backseat of my own car. “It was my choice to give him the keys. He said we would just sit in the car. Why did I believe him? Why did I trust him? I was an idiot.” Even now, I have a hard time admitting that it’s not my fault that I was sexually abused. I have a thousand excuses as to why I deserved every instance of it all.
In my novel, The Sea of Jessica, Tabby is only able to relinquish the burden of Jessica’s death when she tells her confidante, Carly, the truth–the whole truth–about what happened all those years ago when she was young. Tabby believes that if she hadn’t confessed her childhood crush on Jessica and Jessica hadn’t gone screeching away on her bicycle, only to be hit by a car and killed, then Jess would still be alive. “She died because I’m a lesbian,” Tabby believes. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a fallacy, a “cognitive distortion,” as a therapist would put it.
I tried to make it abundantly clear throughout my writing that Tabby was carrying an unfair burden. I had so much empathy for the lost little lesbian I created, but I was angry and ashamed of myself. I viewed Tabby as my child; I created her, after all. But I couldn’t give myself the same compassion.
With the anniversary of my rape fast approaching, I can’t help but reflect on these events. I ask myself, “Why me?” Did Tim, my meth-addicted rapist, single me out of the crowd at GSA when he met me? Was he on the prowl for a naive, young woman to harm? And if so, what was it about me that made it seem like I was easy prey? These questions are probably better left unanswered.
In the past, I’ve wrapped every post on this blog up in a neat package. “First, it was really, really hard. But then it got easier! And I’m okay now,” was the basic message when I first started writing. I am okay now. Tim is far from my life, blocked on all social media, and doesn’t know where I live. But these facts are hard to hang onto in a haze of psychosis. Last night, as Rebecca and I lay snug in bed under the heated blanket, I murmured into her shoulder, “Does Tim know where I live?” as if she knows what Tim knows. I’ve learned that I can’t trust my senses, so I put my faith in others. Rebecca seems pretty sane to me, so I trust her. She reassured me that no, Tim does not know where I live, and he has no intentions of harming me anymore. I know she must have some logical basis for telling me this. Perhaps she remembers that I told Tim where I work, and she knows he hasn’t shown up at my workplace. Maybe she knows that when I see him across the quad at campus, he doesn’t approach me. These are also things that I know, and have to hold onto.
Today, I overheard a man telling a group of people that he used to work in an acute care psychiatric ward. “The people in there, they wanted to kill themselves,” he said. “And they were just so sad and scared about where their lives were going, or not going. Because they couldn’t let go of the past. They were just wrapped up in it, obsessed with it. It’s the past. You gotta let it go at some point.”
The man’s words held value, but still made me angry. Sometimes I feel like the past has a hard grip on me, like I relive my trauma every day. Other days, I don’t even think about the horrors I’ve endured.
In all honesty, it is time to let it go. As my mom likes to remind me, I’ve done the hard part: surviving. In the words of The Interrupters, “And all my scars remind me/my worst days are behind me.” I have a lot of living to do, writing, learning, singing, photographing, and loving. No one can take that away from me.