My Own Journey Through Victimization, Trauma, and Redemption Through My Dog
I never thought of myself as a victim of Domestic Violence (D.V.). When I first got involved as a writer with the Pets Empower blog, I did so because I was passionate about the idea of pet fostering. Never in a million years did I think I would find myself identifying with the victims of D.V., or that I would learn more about myself through my research than anything else.
I remember meeting a cute guy late into the evening one night when I was at a party. He was a friend of a friend, so when he asked me to go home with him, it didn’t occur to me that I would be in any danger. We started kissing on the couch and then moved to the bedroom. I had “hooked up” with plenty of guys, so this move was nothing alarming to me either. We started making out on his bed and then everything became a blur. There were no words; just hands, clothes being ripped off, and pain- intense pain. I felt paralyzed under his weight. I couldn’t think, let alone talk to protest. I just laid there confused as the world swirled around me in a whirlpool of soft light. It was over, as quickly as it had begun. He told me to go to the bathroom; that urinating might help get some of the semen out of my system. Confused by everything that had just transpired, I complied with his request and went to urinate. There was blood and as I looked at it I started to realize what had just happened; that I had just had my virginity ripped away from me. When I got back to his room he was already asleep. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to stay, but even more afraid to leave. See if I left, I would have to admit to myself and my friends that I had just been raped. I crawled into bed next to him and prayed for the morning.
I told no one what happened after that night. I carried the grief and deep shame alone. It never occurred to me that what had happened was not my fault. I went home with him, I was drunk, I didn’t say no. I was so ashamed of this fact that I took all responsibility for that night. The truth of the matter is I couldn’t say no. See, before that night, I had never had sex. So, I legitimately did not know what was happening as he stole my virginity. In fact, until he told me to urinate to help to get out the semen, I did not know that I had even had sex. I just knew something strange and painful had happened. This fact made me more ashamed than anything else about that night. How could someone not know they were being raped? How could someone be stupid enough to not even know they were having sex? It never even occurred to me until years of therapy later that as a virgin, it was normal that I did not know what was happening to me in the moment. That is was not something to be ashamed of or blamed for.
Just as I never thought that I would identify with as a D.V. victim, it never occurred to me that I had been traumatized by that night. As I researched trauma symptoms for the blog, however, I slowly began to see my behavior coming into focus. See the trauma was fierce for me. As with most trauma victims, I blamed myself. This threw me into a steep increase of anxiety and depression. Also, like most trauma victims, I did not deal with these issued head on. Rather, I’m ashamed to say, I spent the next five years engaging in more and more reckless and dangerous behavior. I figured I had already let the worst thing happen to me; so, what more did I have to lose? I embarked on a journey of substance abuse and shame fueled and risky sexual encounters with strangers. After about five years of this though, it all became too much to bear. A mixture of shame, depression, and substance abuse drove me into the ground so far that I began to feel there was no coming back. With all hope finally lost, I cut myself off completely from the world and began months of the hibernation that a deep depression brings.
Redemption Through a Rescue
My family, rightfully worried about me, finally intervened about six months later. I entered therapy and spent about a year after the hibernation trying to figure out just what had gone wrong in my life to lead me to this place. I talked about what happened to me that night and processed it to the best of my ability, but still felt damaged and depressed. Then, I adopted a dog. I felt the companionship would be helpful. What I did not know when I took Charlie home with me from the shelter with me, was that he would end up saving my life. See, with Charlie there, my life suddenly had meaning again. For the first time in a long time, I had a reason to get out of bed again. I had Charlie depending on me for his very livelihood. I felt wanted, but more importantly, I felt needed again. This gave me an intense feeling of satisfaction that I had not felt in years. Taking care of Charlie became my reason to live when I deeply needed one. He snapped me out of my rut. I began to engage with the world again. Charlie made me see that good things were possible and that everything was not hopeless. His joy was contagious. I started to enjoy our walks and play time. I found myself smiling and laughing more than I had in years. With Charlie, I found a sense of self that I had not had since before the attack. I began to gain perspective on my life again. He showed me that I was worthy of love, and I began to realize that maybe that night was not my fault. Through him, and a lot of continued therapy, I started to realize that I was not to blame for what happened to me that fateful night. Charlie showed me it was time to put the assault behind me. But most importantly, he showed me it was time live again.