Archive for August, 2014

A rapist tried to steal my body. Instead, he stole my words.

Posted in Personal on August 22, 2014 by Diana S-V

[Trauma warning: sexual assault]

You workshop titles. You workshop styles, and sound them out in your head.

“What I Talk About When I Talk About Trauma.” You will write like Murakami on a good day. Frank, honest, weird, imagery like a brick to the nose. You have not written enough fiction or a good enough memoir to write like this, and so you scrap it.

“Nancy Drew and the Case of the Rooftop Benzodiazepine.” Classic, old-timey, perhaps humorous. Black humour. You mentioned black humour to your supervisor when you told him what had happened, who said, “This is in no way funny.” He also said, “Fucking bastards.” It felt like a kindness and a relief, that curse. Honestly, humor may not work for this. No, it’s a bad idea.

“PTSD; or, How I Learned to Stop Intellectualizing Trauma and Start EMDR.” This will be five thousand words in which you try to discuss not intellectualizing trauma. It will turn into a five thousand word diatribe that intellectualizes trauma. You wish to break your bad habits. You will tell your therapist that you avoided this title and style. It is she who has recommended that you write, finally.

“Trauma in the Big Apple: A Wild, Frightening Text-Based Adventure!” You have friends who would appreciate a text-based RPG version of your story. You do not have the time for this. You must write this, now, in any way that it comes out. Is it perverse to hope that it will be good reading? Does it matter anymore?

You storyboard, and you make an outline.

An afternoon in early June. You forget the exact time. You wake up face-down in a pool of your own vomit in a hotel room. Your left hand is in the brushed-steel garbage pail, which is itself around a quarter full with vomit. Your right hand has a death grip on the hotel room key. When the key card is finally released, the joints of your fingers ache.

Someone gave you a benzo last night in an attempt to have sex with you without your consent. This is the second time in your life that this has happened to you. The first time, your would-be rapist did not succeed, that is, if the barometer by which we measure the relative success or failure of a rapist to date-rape a woman is anything along the continuum of sexual assault. Because when you were drugged the first time (at seventeen) and the second time (at twenty-seven) and on neither occasion were raped, the rapist did not technically achieve their goal. But if the barometer by which we measure the relative success or failure of a rapist is the victim’s loss of control, their sense of powerlessness, their body succumbing to the biochemical mechanism of the toxin that has been mixed into their drink—then, yes, you would have to say that the rapist succeeded, if only partially.

It was not the three men from the conference, because the only time you left your drink unattended was to go over to them. It was not the bartender. You do not think it was the bartender. It would not make sense if it was the bartender. But it could have been him. It may have been the men by the pool table, or the chess set. Maybe it was the one man from the conference. Three weeks after getting drugged, you will have a flashback of this man whispering in your ear that he wants to finger you under the table near the couch on which the two of you have been seated for the last twenty minutes. You will vomit again, in your mouth, when you remember this. Vomit becomes the visceral, knee-jerk reaction to your flashbacks. When you read the introduction to Powers of Horror, one of your favourite pieces of writing, you will be unable to read all the way through it without vomiting. This will continue into August. When you finally manage to re-read Powers of Horror and not vomit, you will close the book and sob on and off for three hours with a mixture of gratitude and shame—gratitude because it feels like a victory, and shame because reading without vomiting now qualifies as a victory in your work and personal life. Shame because it did not happen sooner.

You make a scene.

You went to the conference closing party on the roof of the Hotel Empire. It has a large, fluorescent sign on the roof. You ordered a single gin-and-soda that cost eighteen dollars. Later, in a moment of curiosity, you will research the puzzling cost of this drink and discover that you were drinking Death’s Head gin. It comes in a skull-shaped bottle. You cannot even take morbid delight in the fact that you were drinking something kitschily related to your research. Eventually you and the three men from the conference will arrive at their hotel, The Hudson, and make your way to The Library Bar, one of the hotel’s rooftop bars.

You will admire The Library Bar. You love the ladders and the wood in the room, and while you think that the chess set is hokey, the low lighting and warmth and all the books lining the high walls makes you feel glamorous and at home. You are in New York for the second time, but it is the first time that you have been there alone. You have not traveled alone since the summer before moving to Ontario for your Masters degree. You went on a two-week vacation to England that you paid for yourself working fifty-hour weeks all summer at a restaurant that objectified your body, but which netted you enough of an income to move to London and make a small dent in your debt. You went to two conferences for a field in which you no longer work. You went to Birmingham, London, Coventry, Liverpool, Stratford-upon-Avon, all on your own dime as a last hurrah before you moved.

You construct a timeline.

In The Library, it does not take you very long to realize that you’ve been drugged. You vaguely recognize the feeling from the first time, when you were surrounded by friends who realized what was happening and kept you safe. They held your head while you threw up, fetched water for you, and didn’t allow anyone else to come near you. They washed your face and chest and hands, and one of your female friends removed your eye makeup so that you would not wake up feeling like a mess or have sore eyes in the morning. There will be no one there for you when you wake up the second time.

The room feels warmer, you begin to feel drowsy, and the lights begin to take on more of a glow. The halos of light around the yellow lamps get slightly bigger. Blinking is no longer seamless. Instead, it feels more like a camera shutter clicking closed and then opening again. Your limbs become heavy and clumsy, and you begin to feel sick to your stomach. You have been drugged. You take five minutes or so to ensure that your purse, your wallet, your hotel key, and your phone are all with you. You stand up suddenly from the couch where you are sitting with the man who has just asked you if he can put his hand down your pants in a bar. Standing up is a good idea, but the speed at which you’ve moved is not. You tip gently to one side and put your hand on the couch to steady yourself. You adjust your feet so that they are squarely beneath you, mumble a goodbye to the man on the couch, and start to wheel around the bar. You are wearing flats, which you later realize may have been the difference between you falling down (and not getting up, and getting raped) and moving out of the bar and to the elevator.

The nicest of the three men who have come to this bar with you, the one you think is cute and who will later become a Facebook friend. This man catches you right before the elevator doors. He tells you that he was looking in all the different bar areas for you and his two friends. Earlier in the evening, the men (who are old friends with one another) have entertained you by singing as a barbershop trio despite not having seen each other in many years. They have good singing voices, and you are impressed. This one has the nicest voice. You tell him that you have to leave, and that you don’t feel well. He looks genuinely sad that you are leaving, and you are surprised when he later adds you to Facebook. You do not tell him what has happened to you, but you give him a hug, and you mean it. He really does seem nice. He wishes you a safe ride home, and thanks you for coming out with them.

You are in the elevator, and this is the part of the evening that gets blurry. You take an elevator down to a floor that you will later remember had an escalator all lit up with bright green lights. You will exit the front doors of The Hudson, and there will be a cab waiting for you. Perhaps not for you, but it is waiting and it has an open door and you stumble to it. After you sit down in the cab, the rest of the night becomes a dark, blank hole until you wake up the following afternoon. You will later have flashbacks from your time in the cab. The cabbie calls you “lady,” and tells you that Canadians are his favourite customers. He asks if you’ve gone shopping, and if you want to teach. He is Trinidadian and has driven a cab in Edmonton for a few years. He said it was too cold for him.

One thing that you do not remember, that you forget more than once because it is not your memory in the way that the rest of the night is a memory that belongs to you, is that you called the man who was your lover at the time from the cab. You have to ask him more than once to tell you what you said when you called. Your inability to hold this information in your mind embarrasses you. You are tempted to call him now and ask him again (this must be the fourth or fifth time) exactly what you said when you called him from the cab, but you do not. You do not want to bother him with this again, because you know it will make him sad and because it is late at night. It is he who has, more than anyone, helped hold you together over the last two and a half months.

The flashbacks come more frequently when you begin EMDR therapy. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it is used primarily for individuals who have PTSD. Your therapist suggests it, after telling you that she believes you have intellectualized your experience in New York to the point that you can no longer process it as something that has happened to you. She is not wrong, and the EMDR helps, although it takes some time. It is a therapy that relies on narrative and signification to function, as are most therapies and methods, and it makes sense to you as a researcher. You hold the most traumatic image you can find in your mind: the sight, the smells, the sounds, the way it made you feel, and try to understand the negative connotation attached to that image.

You set the stage.

You are in a pool of your own vomit. You have just woken up and pushed yourself up, and you are staring at what’s come out of your body below.

The room is cold. The air conditioning is on.

It is very sunny in the room.

The room smells stale. It smells sour and sick and there is a tang in the air that makes your eyes water.

Your face is wet, and so are your hands and hair and chest. You are covered in your own cold, wet vomit.

“I have no control. I have lost control. Someone has stolen something from me. I am ashamed.”

This is your focus for your half-hour sessions of EMDR. You watch as your therapist moves her fingers back and forth in front of your face while holding this image, these senses and sensations, this horrific mantra in your head for twenty seconds at a time. When she stops, you close your eyes.

“What does that bring up for you?”

I want to know who did it.

I feel cold.

I feel sick to my stomach.

I want to know if I called my mom or my lover first after I woke up that afternoon.

I am angry.

I am afraid to go out.

I can smell the vomit again.

I want to know who did it.

I feel sick to my stomach.

I want to know who did it.

I am afraid.

I am ashamed.

I want to know who did it.

I want to know.

I want to write again.

I don’t want to know who did it.

Now, I can tell my story.

I was drugged in New York City in The Library Bar on the rooftop of The Hudson on the night of May 31st after the Derrida Today conference. I was drugged with benzodiazepine, to which I have an intolerance and to which my body reacts violently. In the aftermath of this event, I completely scrapped a final draft of my completed field study because it no longer looked or felt like a worthwhile project. I hated every word I had written, and I did not believe in the project as it was then envisioned. It sounded juvenile to me, and foolish, and naive.

Once back in Canada, I avoided certain friends, certain activities, talking to my committee about the delays, and attempted to maintain a facade of normalcy, competency, and composure. In the meantime, I was engaging in harmful and self-destructive behaviours, suffered from a sudden and overwhelming resurgence in mental health issues including but not limited to disordered eating, extreme body dysmorphia, physical self-harm, negative self-image, lashing out at those closest to me, and an overwhelming sense of guilt.

I was incapable of writing prose. I wrote over a hundred pages of notes toward the new draft of my field study, a fifteen-page document. For most of June, I could not read most of the works relating to my project because they either made me so anxious that I vomited (Kristeva, Abraham and Torok, Freud, Lacan) or made me cry uncontrollably because I felt that I had failed in work that I once found relevant, affirming, and beautiful (Derrida, Baudrillard, Deleuze). In July, I finally began to write properly again, though at an agonizingly slow pace. I am normally an organized and fairly fast writer. I have developed and sustained a successful, reliable academic writing process that—aside from minor tweaks—has changed very little over the past six years. I now no longer know what works and does not work, but I am beginning to learn and start over. I finally started going to therapy in mid-July. I should have gone sooner, but I had hoped to struggle through on my own and “solve” the attempted sexual assault and its consequences on my own.

I have written this account for three reasons. The first reason is that it complements the sessions of EMDR that I have been doing with my therapist. The second reason is that I hope to finally finish my field study this weekend, and while I had wanted to wait until after it was sent away and received a pass, I think that I needed to write this first. The third reason is that I am in a position to share my experience with those who may have experienced something similar. Mental health issues, your sense of personhood becoming (incorrectly) devalued by your inability to produce good writing, the fear and the resistance to getting help earlier, the shutting oneself away in the hopes that isolation will help you process what has happened to you—I am not the only person who has gone through and continues to go through this. I want people to know that there is no shame in struggling with depression, there is no shame in being a victim of rape or attempted rape, and there is no shame in needing to sort out your personal life in order for you to find joy and value in your academic work again. My field study is a piece of writing of which I am fiercely proud. Every word has been a struggle, and the fact that I can read through my near-completed draft, and find my own ideas to be beautiful and important and valuable again is a triumph that still causes me to occasionally choke up with gratitude. A rapist tried to steal my body and my words, and I cannot let him win now.

If you are in London and area and have been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, and you need support, guidance, and resources, I strongly encourage you to contact the Sexual Assault Centre of London. They have a 24-hour crisis and support line, resources for youth and male survivors, and can connect you with other local organizations depending on your needs. If you are a student at Western University, there is a hub of on-campus resources and mental health services here. You also have access to Middlesex County’s Canadian Mental Health Association and all of the resources connected to it here.