I have never really spoken about my story widely, I still feel so much shame from the experiences and have always told myself it’s not a big deal, others have been through worse and no one really cares or wants to know. But when I heard about I am Arla I really wanted to get involved because if there is even one other woman who feels the same then maybe my story can help them feel less alone.
For me it felt like one event after another that probably started when I was a teenager and the teacher’s assistant got into bed with me on a school trip, nothing happened but I was terrified. The next time anything big happened was when I was 19 and travelling around Africa and one of my tour guides climbed into my bed completely naked, this time I wasn’t so lucky, and he just stopped short of raping me. I had to spend another two weeks travelling with him after this, I had my first ever panic attack during this time. I didn’t report it, I was scared and convinced I must have done something to instigate it. A year after this had happened, I had my drink spiked on my first night out after a year of pretty much hiding away and distancing myself from all my friends. I was raped that night. The day after the rape was a nightmare.
I had to go to work. I knew something wasn’t right, I have been drunk and had black outs before but not like this and I could feel something else had happened. I tried to ignore it and get on with work but on my first break someone asked me if I was ok and I burst into tears. The rest of the day was just one humiliation after another. I had to call my parents and tell them something had happened and could they pick me up, no adult wants to have to say that to their parents. I then had to tell my male line manager the same thing so he would let me leave, in his defence he was great but it was so humiliating. My parents picked me up and took me straight to a chemist to get a morning after pill, again another person I had to ashamedly face. They then drove me to the nearest sexual assault clinic a 30 minute drive away. These places are not fun, the people try and make it as comfortable as it can be but the first thing you have to do is lie down on a table completely naked so they can examine your whole body inside and out. Every bruise is pointed out to you, the finger marks that have been left on your body are photographed. You are painfully swabbed for any DNA. They then give you all the preventative STI drugs which messes with your stomach something rotten, I was by some miracle able to stop myself throwing up for the designated hour but not much longer. After all this you are sat in a dark interrogation room opposite a police officer whilst you recall all the details you can remember of the incident. In the following week the police also came to my home to collect my clothing and the bed sheets I had slept in that night, I don’t think I have ever had them returned but I wouldn’t want them back anyway the thought of wearing those clothes again makes me feel sick.
After this I told myself I was ok, I was glad it was me and not someone else and that it hadn’t affected me. It’s probably the biggest lie I have ever told myself.
More recently I have had a couple of incidents where colleagues I have trusted have made unwanted advances and I was sexually harassed at my last job and pushed out of the organisation by employers who believed that literally not speaking to me for 6 months whilst I was signed off on sick leave because of the anxiety and depression the situation had caused, was the best way to handle me.
There are still lots of aspects about what happened to me that I have never really told anyone because I assumed that if I shared that one little thing, like the fact that I had found the tour guide in Africa attractive or that I had taken speed on the night I was raped, they would see me for the dumb idiot I was who had asked for these things to happen to them. The fact that things kept happening over and over again didn’t help. I even got myself a full back tattoo after I was raped because I thought maybe then people won’t see me as weak or like someone they can do these things to. I now know that of course these things don’t give them the right to do what they did, that the impact of trauma and the worthlessness it makes you feel often causes you to end up in a cycle of bad situations and it was nothing to do with looking “weak”.
I sought help from a therapist about 9 months ago and I now have a much better understanding of the behaviours I have because of these events, I have PTSD and my body goes into shut down mode whenever I feel threatened, which is annoyingly often around men. I have become that liability friend on nights out as I will without fail have a panic attack and break down in tears at some point during the night. I find it really difficult to feel a connection to people. I haven’t been able to have a real relationship and tend to pick guys I know there will be no future with because if I can make them change their plans or who they are and pick me then I will be validated as a worthwhile human being.
I cannot stress how life changing seeing a therapist was for me. I was going through the sexual harassment situation at work at that point I started seeing her and could barely go an hour without crying. It had gotten so bad I was having suicidal thoughts as I felt so trapped and it seemed like the only way out. She didn’t really share anything that profound but she persuaded me talk about how I was feeling (something I rarely do) and to reach out to my friends and family, their support was so amazing and they really helped me in getting through it and seeing that there was some light at the end of the tunnel.
I am in a new job now and building back my confidence and self worth. It’s a journey but I am positive about the future and so happy that I now have the I am Arla community to help me get there.