OVERCOMING DENIAL

[Tag: Men survivors]

I didn’t talk to anyone about my assault for fifteen months. In fact, I don’t really think I even acknowledged it had happened myself until I finally spoke about it. I had tried to rationalise it, to retain some kind of control, so that on the surface nobody would know that anything had ever happened. Not even myself.

I went as far as to befriend my perpetrator, to convince myself that we had some kind of friendship. We’d not known each other before, but somehow the idea that we had some sort of “relationship” helped make sense of things. I continued to let them message me. I’d occasionally even meet up with them, responding to their compliments and their jokes with subdued nods and an empty smile.

It was six months before I started to break off contact, and only then really because I was busy and had no real interest in them. Looking back across the whole fifteen months, I realise now that I was most likely depressed, although I also kept that buried.

Although I’m truly an introvert, I’ve always been able to masquerade with a gregarious manner and strong outward persona. I don’t think anyone would have suspected. I’ve always been a performer.

It definitely began to manifest in different ways, in my friendships, in my sexual and romantic associations. The trauma of the assault no doubt influenced my decision to remain in unhealthy situations and, whenever it truly started to rear its ugly head, contributed to the messy fallout of those relationships.

When I finally did vocalise the fact that I had been assaulted and start to accept it myself, it began to have a massive physical and mental effect on me. Sometimes when triggered or sometimes even for no apparent reason I would have an ‘episode.’ This could go in one of two ways: I might become catatonic, completely drained of all energy to the point I feel near death; I might also go into complete overdrive and have a panic attack. Both were unpleasant, although I found the panic attacks more manageable.

For a brief period, I used smoking (cigarettes) to help regulate my breathing if I even I felt a panic attack coming on or was winding down from one. This also forced me to get out of the house, which was probably beneficial. However, I knew this wasn’t sustainable and I didn’t want to have to go through the financial or emotional strain of becoming dependent on them. I ended up practising circular breathing and grounding techniques which, once I got better at them, had the same effect.

This was back in April (2020). I feel guilty saying this, but in a way I was very grateful for the pandemic as it allowed me to completely withdraw and take the time I needed for myself. I still had to finish off my classes at university for the year, so I reached out to student services. The biggest benefit of this was that they were able to communicate to my departments that I was having a tremendously difficult time – I cannot urge people enough to keep in touch with student services, not necessarily for support, but so they can intervene if need be when it comes to academic arrangements. They also took note of the fact that I’d discussed the assault, and they’ve told me that if I ever decided to pursue a case against my assailant, they would be able to provide evidence of my conversation with them.

I still never have opened a case with the police. The perpetrator doesn’t go to the same university, so I didn’t go through disciplinary procedures with student services either. I honestly am reluctant as I doubt whether I’d have enough evidence to corroborate. If I had gotten a forensic done at the time, it might be a different story.

Another way the assault has affected me is the way it has impacted my sex drive. I rarely get aroused now, but when I do, it’s intense. I’ve been struggling to get an erection though, which inevitably leads to stress, which then makes sex even more difficult. Erectile Dysfunction is actually pretty common amongst survivors of sexual assault I’ve discovered.

I went to Boots to get some Viagra. If you do this, you have to ask at the pharmacist’s desk and they will ask you to fill out a quick form which is incredibly straightforward and discreet. In fact, they almost make it so discreet it’s weird… be prepared for someone at the desk to refer to the blue pills as “the product” and to make narrow, shifty eyes as they slide you paperwork furtively across the counter. Alas, I’ve yet to try it and see if it will make a difference, but perhaps post-COVID I can give you all an update.

Now, I’m in a position where I can talk more openly about the assault. I always get a little worked up whenever I know I’m about to tell someone what’s been happening in my life, but then I honestly feel a bit more relief afterwards. This is the way I really regain control: not by warping things, but by being honest. It normalises the experience.

I was assaulted. It happened. Of course, nobody should ever have to experience what I did, but in a way I have to own it now and not let it hold me back the way my fifteen months of denial did.