After I received the following letter, I reached out to reader, Kim Souder, and asked if she’d be interested in drafting a response. Luckily, she said yes. Kim is a geologist who spent three years volunteering as a rape crisis counselor through the YWCA while in graduate school (and received an award for Volunteer of the Year). Her work involved extensive training to complete crisis-counselor certification, answering hotline phone calls, accompanying victims to hospital exams and police interviews, and training to assist in hospital exams involving children.
Here’s where it goes bad: While out with girlfriends a few weekends ago, a man came up to me introduced himself as a friend of my boyfriend’s, and told me my boyfriend asked him to make sure I made it home safely. At this point, alcohol had greatly impaired my judgment and I agreed to let him walk me home, even though I had never seen met him before. While walking home in the dark I started getting a creepy vibe. I called and texted my boyfriend several times to confirm this stranger walking me home was a legitimate friend of his. No answer, no reply.
When I got to my door the demeanor of this man changed instantly. He forced his way in my house and assaulted me. He made a point to leave my boyfriend voice mail messages from my phone of me crying and asking him to stop while I was restrained. Skip forward five days after the hospital visit and police reports, and I am staying with my boyfriend’s parents. My boyfriend comes to me and says I need to stay with my family for a few days instead. I agree, thinking it’s a good idea to spend some time with them. The next day my boyfriend broke up with me. He told me he loves me but he isn’t in love with me. He still wants to be here to support me and visit my counselor with me. I can still call him when I wake up with nightmares. But our dating relationship is over.
My boyfriend does not know the man who assaulted me; the police (so far) do not have any leads on this person, and I feel like my life has been turned upside down in the last week and a half. The person I need for support the most has virtually walked away from the situation. I have lost 15 lbs. since the assault, my hair is falling out, and eating is nearly impossible. Why is he walking out on me? Does he feel like I’m dirty or tainted? I’m so confused and scared and hurt all at the same time. I feel like this person used me as a tool to satisfy a vendetta against my boyfriend, and that my boyfriend is running from that. How do I start picking up the pieces? — Upside Down
Kim writes: First of all, I want to start by saying I’m so sorry this happened to you — something horrible that nobody should have to experience. It is not your fault. You are not dirty. You are not tainted. I applaud you for having the strength to report this to the police, go through the hospital exam, and share your story with your family, boyfriend, and us. I commend you for doing what you can to make sure this person can’t hurt someone else. It’s completely normal that this horrible incident would occupy your every waking moment, cause confusion, make you feel scared and hurt, and cause physical, as well as emotional symptoms. But by seeking help and going through the process of feeling and dealing with your emotions, you will be on track to heal. At some point you will find yourself thinking about this event only 16 hours a day, then only 12 hours a day, and so on until you have some days that you don’t think about it at all. It will never go away – it will always be a part of you, but it won’t consume you anymore.
Now onto your ex-boyfriend. When a person you love and care for is hurt as badly as you have been, it can be hard to deal with (not nearly as hard as going through the event yourself, but still hard). Your ex-boyfriend is probably very angry and scared and doesn’t know how to process his feelings through this either. Also, this may have been a targeted attack on your boyfriend through you, and he may blame himself for your attack, making it difficult to look at you without feeling guilty and confused himself. None of this is your fault, and it does not make you dirty or tainted. My take is that your ex-boyfriend freaked out and didn’t know how to be your boyfriend anymore and bailed, which is a pretty jerky thing to do when someone you love needs you.
What does this mean for you? It means you need to find other people to rely on, so make a list of friends and family who can fill that role. Maybe in time, once your ex-boyfriend is able to process what he’s going through himself, he will want to come back and be more involved — maybe he won’t — but the key thing here is for you to find someone else to rely on and not worry about your ex-boyfriend’s issues right now. You both need to heal independently before you can really deal with your relationship. I hate to say forget about this long-term relationship with so much potential pre-assault, but for now you don’t have the emotional energy to deal with him and his issues while healing yourself. And you need to be your top priority.
As for your last question, you are already working towards picking up the pieces. You’re seeing a counselor (if he or she doesn’t specialize in assault, find a new person who does) and that’s a great first step. The process is different for everyone, but here are a few tips I can provide that may help. This is a bit trial and error, so do what feels best for you.
* Say these phrases out loud until you believe them: “It is not my fault.” “I am a good, strong person who will get through this.” “What I’m experiencing is a normal response to an abnormal situation.” “It’s OK to feel ______ (insert confused, scared, hurt, whatever you are feeling).” Add to this list with your counselor and support network.
* Take advantage of 24-hour crisis lines. I don’t know where you live, so I can’t point you to a location-specific one, but here is the link to the one I used to volunteer at. You can call any time (day or night) and talk about anything with a trained counselor. We would get calls from all over the country and never turn down people based on where they live. If you can find one specific to your county/state they can provide you with information on additional resources you can use, but you can call any 24-hour hotline just to talk.
* Look around this website to see if you can find any resources for your area.
* Continue seeing your counselor.
* Try to eat as much as possible. It is totally normal to struggle with eating and to lose weight after something like this happened. For now, it’s not atypical, but for some it can turn into anorexia or bulimia as a way to regain control over their lives. Be aware that these conditions can develop following an assault. See what you can do to force yourself to eat enough to stay healthy. If it’s simply that you just don’t have the energy to obtain food yourself, find a friend/family member who will arrange for your food for the next few weeks. If it’s a matter of nausea, see if the doctor can recommend anti-nausea medication to help you keep food down.
* Look into victim witness to see if you qualify to receive money. The funds are good for life, but you have to apply quickly after the assault. So even if you don’t need the money now, apply for it in case you want it later. The money can be used to pay for counseling, lost wages due to police interviews, and many other things.
* Try journaling your feelings. Write down everything you are feeling to help process your emotions. Sometimes journaling for an hour before bedtime can help people sleep better and get fewer nightmares.
* Another thing that can help with nightmares is putting Christmas bells on your door so you can hear if anyone opens your door. It sounds weird, but I’ve heard a number of people say they slept better after this.
* Do some physical activity. This can be running, going to the gym, playing a sport. When you do physical activity, your body releases endorphins and this can help you feel better.
* Do something to make yourself feel normal. Was there a hobby you had before this attack that you can start up again? Pick one or two things from your previous life that you can do start feeling like yourself again.
* Let your anger out. Punch some pillows, take a boxing class, cry, scream, whatever.
* This is more of a long-term thing. Assault is about power and control. Right now, your power and control has been taken away from you. Find some way to get that back. Work with your counselor to make a plan.
Not everything will work for everyone, but try some of these things to see what helps. Also, talk with your counselor or a crisis hotline about other ideas based on what you currently are feeling (your needs will change over time).
The road to recovery is long and bumpy. You will have good days and bad days, but hopefully with time the good days will get more frequent. You have shown that you have the strength to get through this. You will never be who you were before this happened, but you can hopefully find a new normal where you consider yourself healed. And you can never hear this enough: it was not your fault.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow me on Twitter.