What does Silence taste like? An interview with a rape Survivor

Laura: Thank you so much for offering to speak to me about what has happened in your life. I want to begin by letting you know that I appreciate your open vulnerability and honesty. What you are about to tell me is going to help those who have been raped as well as family members who do not know how to reach out and help their hurting family member that this has happened to. So, thank you. So, let’s begin. How old were you when you were raped? Can you tell me the story of how it happened and what transpired in the days following the incident?

M.C: Thank you. I hope this helps someone. I hope my story reaches out and touches a life somewhere. I had just graduated from high school. I turned eighteen in July. I was a funny, chatty girl who had a big personality. I had a promising job at a law firm. I was raped in October of 1990, twenty-seven years ago. There was a boy that I liked and I chose to go on a double date. My friend and her boyfriend went with us out. We were drinking. I was drunk. We stopped at a park to make out. My friend and her boyfriend were having sex in the backseat of the car so this guy and I walked through the park talking. He began to kiss me and was aggressive. I was a virgin and uncomfortable with where this was leading so I ask him to stop but he didn’t listen. He pushed me onto a concrete park bench and tore my clothes. I don’t remember the physical pain. I remember laying on my back, staring at the stars in the Texas sky asking God, “Why? Why me? Why is this how I will remember my first time? Why do you allow this?” I have many repressed memories but in those terrifying moments my mind escaped and found a protective place to go. I visualized a laundry basket and I was folding clothes and wash cloths. A mundane, repetitive motion. Mentally folding washcloths until he was done and through with me. There was blood on my legs and I tried to clean up the best I could. I was numb and hurt and didn’t know what to say to him as we got back in the car. At the time, I didn’t call it Rape. I convinced myself that he liked me so much that he just couldn’t help himself. I was too timid and weak to go to the police. I was afraid of the repercussions. What would people say about me? Would I lose my friends? Would everyone blame me? I was drunk and barely dressed in skimpy clothes…this was all my fault. I turned him on and he had no other choice.

Laura: What coping mechanisms did you use in the following days, weeks and months to survive and try to move on?

M.C: I have so many regrets about being too scared to go to the police. I could have prevented him for eventually hurting others after me. I had to live with that knowledge as well. There was so much mental torment. It was hell. I experienced a nervous breakdown. Coping mechanisms do not work. People who have been abused sexually often turn to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity to make them forget the bad that has happened to them. I did all the above and more. I want to talk about all of that but also, I want to address the ‘acceptable sin’. Gluttony. Food became a god to me. My comfort. My best friend that I could turn to and feel complete. Once I got in church and was filled with the Holy Ghost, I turned to overeating, binge eating. I couldn’t turn to drugs and alcohol like I had for years in my past. I wouldn’t allow God in to touch that wound in my heart. I didn’t think he could fix me. I wasn’t honest with him about who I had become.

First, for days and months after the incident, I was a nutcase. I was nervous all the time. I couldn’t make choices…I had made a choice about going on a date with a guy I liked and he hurt me. What would my next choice do to me? Just choosing where to go to lunch was a life or death situation in my mind. I was so afraid all the time. I couldn’t sleep in my bed. My roommate tried to talk sense into me but I would rip all the clothes off my hangers and hide under the pile of clothes in my closet shaking. I would try to go to work and hid in a corner of my office and cry. I couldn’t tell my parents what happened. My boss sensed something was wrong so he changed my office to one in the back and just gave me files to work on but I couldn’t even do filing. My thoughts in my mind were so scattered. I had panic attacks, broke out in cold sweats, nausea, feel like I was going to pass out. I couldn’t even go out in public hardly. I daily second guessed my instincts and decisions.  I didn’t even want a man to look at me. Then I was angry. There was a rage inside of me. I knew I had to do something different. I couldn’t live like this any longer.

Laura: Did you try to go to counseling or therapy?

M.C: My decisions did not make my life better. My friend told my parents what happened. I went to group therapy but it was a nightmare. They told me to get glass and shatter it in a dumpster, scream, yell, do whatever it took to relieve the pain. I hated therapy and only went about six weeks before I stopped. I began to make myself believe the theory of Mind over Matter. I just had to talk myself out of fear and self-doubt. At one point, I did try to open up to a lady I looked up to. She worked in the same law office. I told her what happened to me when she walked in my office one day and saw me huddled on the floor crying. She immediately reacted to the news with anger. She had two teenage boys. She began screaming at me. “IF you couldn’t stand the heat, you should have gotten out of the kitchen. You shouldn’t have put yourself in the position.” She blamed it on me. Looking back now, knowing what I know, her reaction was a trigger because of something that had been repressed in her mind of what happened to her before that she was trying to forget.  It was not a normal response and it made me close myself down inside even further. I couldn’t talk about the rape. I couldn’t trust people. Look what happened…. again, I second guessed my choices. My decisions. I hated myself even more. I needed to change my life somehow.

Laura: At that point, what did you do to change your life?

M.C: I decided to move out-of-state. Reality crashed in about six months later.  I couldn’t keep the job I had. I wasn’t doing well there. I was not a good employee, roommate or friend. I pushed my friends away. I didn’t do my job. I would go to the break room and eat all the other employees’ food. I would take tiny bites at first so they would have food left to eat but eventually I would eat all their food and place the containers back in the fridge. No one suspected it was me. I was less than 115 pounds at that time. I would take my lunch break and go to four or five different fast food places and order huge amounts of food and gorge myself. Only in those moments did I feel loved and comforted. Food became my best friend. It touched me in ways no one else could.  I would eat until I was sick.  Then the guilt and shame and disgust of myself would come. I would stare at myself in the mirror and wonder why I was acting like that. I knew what I was doing was not normal. I was out of control. I never put the two together though. I didn’t realize that I was trying to fill a hole inside of me…. fix a part of me that was broken. So, I moved to New Orleans. I left everything and everyone I knew and found a new set of friends. They didn’t help. I began to take any drug I could get my hands on. I would take a fistful of pills with no care of the side effects. I hated myself. I hated everyone else. I was angry and determined never to be a victim again.

If you are the victim of any other crime, there is no attached stigma. With the crime of rape, there is a sense of shame and somehow this was your fault. That is why people go years in silence, because they don’t know how to speak up about what has been done to them.

I was not going to ever be a victim again. If I continued to allow fear of men to control me then I would have eventually lost all attraction to the opposite sex and I didn’t want that. I began to evolve. My pep talks to myself taught me to become the aggressor. If they were determined to take from me, then I had to become the controller. I had to give instead of it being taken from me. I had no self-respect. No control. I became very sexually active even on the first dates. What others viewed me doing, and assumed I was having a good time…was me covering a wound…making sure I would never be powerless again. I would never take on the role of the victim.

Laura: You mentioned hate. You hated yourself. Did this lead to self-harm in any way?

M.C: Yes. Absolutely. I hated myself. I blamed myself for being weak and not speaking up or going to the police. I blamed the rapist. I blamed my friends who saw the blood on my legs and said nothing. I blamed God for allowing this to happen to me when I was a virgin. Within six months of the incident, I had evolved. I cut all my hair off, I dressed differently. I moved to another state. I needed to take control of my life and this was the only way I could.  I got to a point where I couldn’t cry. I would need to claw myself with my fingernails until I bled to allow myself to cry. I was tormented with suicidal thoughts but I knew I would go to hell so I couldn’t kill myself. I had no care in the world for my life so I was a thrill seeker. I wanted my life to end without me taking my own life, if that makes sense. I dreamed of cutting my wrist but I also knew about hell and wouldn’t do it. I dreamed taking a gun and sticking it in the rapist’s belly and pulling the trigger. I had no care or fear of jail. I needed relief and the pills I would take weren’t working. I was not afraid of overdosing. I wasn’t afraid of a STD. I just didn’t care. I hated everything I was becoming.

Laura: Let’s talk about when you first received the Holy Ghost and started to come to church. This is skipping forward a bit in your life. How did you continue to deal with what had happened to you in your past?

M.C: Yes. When you have done all you can do in the world…what is left to do? God kept his hands on my life for a reason. I should have died but he kept me alive. Receiving the Holy Ghost and knowing I was ‘saved’ did not heal me. I was 150 pounds when I started going to church. Over the next twenty-five years I doubled my size. Food was my drug of choice. I was over three hundred pounds and this acceptable ‘sin’ was ok in the church. It was not frowned upon. In fact, it was encouraged. I blocked healing from God even after salvation. Eating was acceptable and that was my new coping mechanism. I did not allow the Lord to heal me. Food continued to be the band-aid I placed on my wounds. Eating was my crutch. I could be the funny fat friend. That is what I labeled myself….and everyone would laugh.

If I could have had a small group setting or a class to attend in church, that would have sped up my healing process. There was nothing like that in the church. No one would talk about things like that. My family never brought it up. They knew what happened but would only talk about it when I would bring it up. I felt like I was labeled ‘Shameful’ or ‘A disgrace’ to my family. I began to hoard. I would have a difficult time with clothes especially. I could never do laundry. Never fold, and put away clothes. They would be piled up around the house everywhere. I had a storage unit the back filled with clothes of every size. I didn’t have a daughter but I bought baby girl clothes. I intended to give them away. In fact, I was a very giving person and would donate clothes to people all the time but I was always go buy more. My van was constantly loaded down with bags and bags of clothes I needed to go through. Hoarding was an attempt to fill a bottomless hole inside of me that I couldn’t fill. I needed more and more and more but it was never enough. I was never satisfied.

Laura: At what point did the healing take place?

M.C: The healing process of how you see yourself and the things done to you is just that…a process. It began when I started sharing. I had to trust people and share my story with people. It was only about three years ago that I began to open up to my best friend about what had happened in my past…the things that took place over twenty something years prior. My insides are jittery right now just thinking about it and talking about it. People don’t know how to deal with this kind of thing. They need to just listen. Just be there and listen. The real healing began when I decided to have surgery done to lose my weight. I was over three hundred pounds. Losing all that weight forced me into the impossible. I couldn’t hide the pain any longer. Overeating and gaining weight made me feel safe. I looked different. My weight had become a safety blanket. I was invisible. I didn’t have to go through life scared. I didn’t get attention from men. They couldn’t hurt me because I was not attractive. Overeating had become a habit. When I had the procedure done, I was like an onion whose layers were peeled back. I was vulnerable. I began to fear again. I was scared. I was noticed. People began to comment on my body shape. I got compliments for all the weight I lost. People began to tell me I was beautiful and this made me uncomfortable. I was no longer invisible. At this point, I had to address what I repressed all these years. I was strong enough to deal with the emotions these comments and the weight loss was triggering and making me feel.

Laura: Do you love yourself now?

M.C: I am starting to love myself. I have lost over one hundred and twenty pounds. I still grieve who I could have been, should have been. I went to a Ladies’ conference recently and she ask us, ‘Even if you think you know how to forgive, can you forgive those who knew and didn’t say anything? Can you forgive God?’ I want to help someone else. I want to speak up. I think God allows brokenness so we can have empathy. He had kept his hand on me. I am who God says I am.

Laura: What do you struggle with today?

M.C: I deal with mental battles. Satan tries to speak into my mind and convince me that I am a victim, I am worthless, damaged and I can never be what God wants me to be. But I know who I am. I speak life. I am who He says I am. This event over twenty-five years ago will not define me. I have greater compassion. I am sensitive to others’ pain. I am honest. There is no stigma. No shame. I must heal so I can help others be able to openly talk. I read a book once that says, “Silence tastes like shame.” The healing process starts with sharing.

Laura: Do you have any advice to give to anyone who is walking in this situation today?

M.C: Try to talk about it to someone. Don’t be secretive. It is possible that your family may not want to talk about what has happened because they don’t know what to do or what to say or how to help. They are uncomfortable with talking about it. This action increases the guilt in the victim. They feel shame and they begin to identify as shameful. Also, rape is about control and power. Nuns are raped, ninety-year-old women are raped—it is more than a sexual act. The tool used is sexual but the act is not because the perpetrator was overcome with lust. This is about power and control. Study that. When people blame the victim because of what she was wearing or doing…. that is shaming. The crime of rape is much more to do with control and power than lust.

Laura: Thank you for that.  Do you have anything else you would like to add?

M.C: My biggest regrets is not going to the police. I was angry at myself for so long. I could have stopped him from hurting someone else. Chances are he raped another girl. Eventually, he overdosed and died. If he would have been in jail, I could have possible saved him from killing himself.

Laura: Thank you so much for having the courage to share your survivor story. I promise you this is going to touch people’s hearts. You are going to reach into a victim’s world and shine a light and show them hope and a way out of their hell into healing. Thank you so much for trusting me to be a part of that journey. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for you. You are an awesome beautiful person.