I’m not entirely sure what I was hoping to find
When I started Googling the name of the man who raped me in 2016. It had been kind of a difficult week for no particular reason. I’d just been feeling down, out-of-sorts, and lonely, so on Friday night, I drove to campus and went out to eat with some friends instead of going to synagogue, as I’d planned. All in all, it was a good choice, and I felt a lot better when I got home.
Still, for whatever reason, some insecure and unstable part of my mind was hung up on the idea that Tim had moved to New York and had died there. I started Googling his name and various versions of whatever alias I thought he might have been using, the entire time arguing with myself, “What are you doing? This is stupid and only going to upset you,” versus, “I have to know. I cannot rest until I know he’s dead.”
Turns out, he’s not dead. He was arrested about two months ago in a nearby city for possession of methamphetamine and released the next day. Surely, there would be a hearing or a trial, I presumed. A few more days of obsession and digging revealed that the charges against him had been dropped. Needless to say, I was distraught. I wanted him to be punished. I wanted him to be locked up for a good long while. Most of all, I wanted to stop thinking about him.
I talked to one of my friends from River Oaks, the treatment center specializing in people who have suffered extreme traumas where I was admitted twice after everything that happened with Tim. She said it’s probably pretty common among people with PTSD to look up their abusers on social media and other places online, that she does it periodically too, and that I shouldn’t beat myself up about it.
My therapist echoed the sentiment in the extra session I was able to schedule on short notice earlier this week. I have this tendency in therapy to tell my therapist all the highlights and good things that are going on and gloss over the areas that need work because they’re “not that important.” But as I cried and cried in her office on Monday, she gently asked me when the last time I genuinely let myself rest was.
I had no idea what this had to do with any of the issues at hand, and she went on to say that I have worked so hard in school, spent so much time and emotional energy on my novel, and pointed out that when the prospect of relaxation comes up in our sessions, I usually reply with, “I’ll relax when I’m dead, thanks,” and change the subject.
Still, I didn’t quite understand the connection between bringing old trauma to the surface and giving myself downtime. As we continued to discuss it, I realized that the reason I feel like I have to be moving around, be productive or creative all the time is because I am scared that I will fall apart if I slow down. Without my good grades, my publications, and my “never bother anyone,” attitude, what is there outside of that? If I’m just a person sitting on the couch reading a novel I chose for pleasure, not for class work, then, what does that make me? Objectively speaking, it makes me a regular human being who takes downtime as she wants to, as she is entitled to. And still, even the mental image of myself doing that makes me incredibly anxious.
I left my therapist’s office feeling slightly better and much less self-destructive. It has been almost six consecutive months without any form of self-harm, a feat I have never attained before in over a decade of the habit. When I got home, I went for a run, which has been crucial in my journey out of a self-harming lifestyle. My head was full of noise, and I felt so angry–at myself for looking up all this info, but even more so at Tim for what he did all those years ago.
I got home, took a cold shower, and practiced “opposite action,” basically replacing an unhealthy coping mechanism with a healthy one, which is to say instead of cutting my legs, I shaved them and put sweet-smelling lotion on them. My therapist and my friend from River Oaks both reminded me that there is no timeline for this sort of thing, no “You should be over it by now,” and that healing is definitely not linear.
In the driveway of my parents’ house, I related all of this to my mom. “Look how far you’ve come,” she said emphatically. “You’re about to graduate, you’re published, you’re so much healthier… And he’s still out there fucking around like he’s always been.” She hugged me hard, the only physical contact I’ve been able to accept this week without cringing.
I am writing a novel about a woman whose baby dies in utero. All of the characters are devoutly Jewish, and part of the reason I am telling this story is not only to evoke questions of the Divine in readers, but to seek answers and closure for myself. Needless to say, this has been an emotionally draining story to write, and as I am still reeling from my little foray into the the bowels of the internet, I don’t intend to make any major headway on the story. However, when I last worked on it, my narrator, Edith was, preparing to begin, “the silent agony of putting things back exactly the way they were,” after she delivered her stillborn baby.
As I think about that scene, particularly that line, I wonder if attempting to simply go back to the pre-trauma life that Edith had is really the best course of action she could try to implement. What I have planned for the second half of the story is something at least vaguely hopeful, the possibility that Edith, who has so far, been a very flighty, dreamy, suggestible character, will stand up for herself and take a more active role in her own life.
Regardless of whether one believes that “Everything happens for a reason,” or that trauma is a cosmic learning experience, or that the universe is a cold, unfeeling place, or something else entirely, there is no question that trauma changes a person.
What I did and continue to do with my trauma is up to me. Tim is no longer a part of my life unless I make him a part of it. On the days I cannot put it out of my mind, I will do my best to be compassionate with myself and to remember that those who truly know me love me regardless of any external accomplishments. My partner constantly reminds me that I inspire her to create more art and engage with different mediums of art. That is more of who I am than any part of my past trauma. As I look towards a future that was once so uncertain, I now see good things on the horizon. I see grad school, writing a novel, and other academic endeavors. I see making an effort to let myself relax when I need to. And I see that there will be slips and bad days, but I also see myself making it through each one of those bad days. I once didn’t know who I was without self-harm. Now, I am discovering a person who has room in her life for so much more. Life is going to keep moving on, regardless of how much mental time I spend in the past. I would rather be fully present, an active participant in my own life, rather than dwelling on a past I cannot change. By letting go of the painful past, I am able to embrace the present with open arms.