Confusion, humiliation, and physical pain are what I felt as I came to on a strange, foreign basement floor. Confusion regarding the fact that my underwear was missing from underneath my short denim skirt, pain was radiating in my vagina like nothing I had ever felt before, and the humiliation of the fact I had to turn to my male friend lying next to me and ask, “Did I have sex last night?”. He looked at me with concerned eyes and nodded his head up and down. “Fuck, there goes my virginity” I thought to myself. All I could think about through my hangover fog was I just want to go home.
Unfortunately, I was 15 without a car or valid driver’s license and again at a stranger’s house. I scrambled and called one of my girlfriends who was 16 and had a car, explained where I was, then left the stranger’s house through a sliding glass door. I walked through backyards to get to a side street because the stranger didn’t want his neighbors seeing me leave. This stranger, like myself, was 15 and having a house party while the parents were away. I walked through dew-kissed, freshly cut green lawns in my mini skirt and flipflops with no underwear, to my girlfriend’s mini-van, ashamed and still confused. She drove me home, a short 5-minute drive, not talking which for 15-year-old girls is bizarre. I had nothing to say.
I climbed out of the van, still with no underwear and went inside my childhood home on Golden Harvest Lane. My mother was eating breakfast and I quickly scurried past her as she asked how my sleepover was. I mumbled, “Fine, I’m tired” as I ran up the stairs to the bathroom. I removed my mini skirt and tank top, realizing still there wasn’t any underwear to remove. I took a long, hot shower, focusing on the pain I felt throbbing between my legs and trying to reach through the fog to remember what happened. The night came to me in pieces, the beginning excitement of going to a party and getting dressed with my besties. Changing my top five times. Squeezing my non-existent stomach fat in the floor-length mirror, applying seven coats of mascara and just the right amount of roll on glitter to my eyes. We arrived at the house party excited and hopeful.
There were various forms of alcohol which I was more than happy to partake in, a mysterious clear substance, various cheap beers, and maybe even a stolen bottle of wine from one of our parents. I remember the basement and the kitchen, the bathroom, and a bedroom. I remember the color of carpet on the basement floor I was left on, and the small blanket that had covered my body. There are flashes of being in the bathroom with people around me and then it’s all black.
I stood in the shower for what felt like an eternity willing the warm water to somehow force me to remember but it failed. I finally gave up and removed my body from the bathroom. I slunk to my room, found a clean pair of underwear, finally, and some sweats and I slept. And to be honest I think I have been sleeping for thirteen years.
The days that followed shaped my high school years into ones of complete pain and anxiety, physical and emotionally. I was labeled a slut, a whore, an easy girl. Which was weird to me because I couldn’t even remember the sex to begin with, so how could I be a slut if I didn’t even remember what sex was like? My friends faded away and so did I. I withdrew from things that I loved like lacrosse and hanging out with my girlfriends. I would beg teachers to allow me to eat in their classrooms at lunch to avoid the toxic environment of the cafeteria where I would hear whispered words behind my back and search for a safe place to sit. There were rumors I was pregnant which again I didn’t fully understand because I thought how could I get pregnant if I don’t even remember the act?
When I finally mustered the courage to ask a friend who was at the party if they remember what happened, I was told I was drunk and told everyone I wanted to have sex, and that was the end of the conversation. The justification of what had happened to me was that I wanted it. I believed this and was mortified all over again. I began to hate myself so deeply I am still ridding myself of that hate today.
I found ways to physically injure my body with razors and other sharp objects. I binged and purged because damnit if I was going to be labeled a slut at least I would be a skinny one. I stole alcohol from my parents and attended any party I was invited to which was slim to none due to my reputation of being a whore and boyfriend stealer. Worst of all I continued to have sex and let my body be violated, over and over again. To me it was just a physical act that I removed myself from. I would think about my day, what I would eat for a snack after, and if I had a pimple coming in on my forehead. I thought to myself this must be it. This must be what everyone talks about. It was pretty boring and I didn’t understand why people made it such a huge deal– it was a penis entering a vagina, big whoop.
I thought of suicide daily, and had various plans but thank God I never followed through. My saving grace was getting away the summer of sophomore year to work at a camp half an hour away from my hometown that was for adults and children with special needs. There I could be Olivia, not slut or whore, and I could help others. It was at this camp that I started to feel safe again and build my self worth. Worrying and caring for others was and continues to be my Band-aid.
I didn’t have time to think about what had happened to me, I was awake at 6 am to give showers to the campers in wheelchairs and didn’t go to bed until after 10 pm when all the campers where safe in bed, waking up throughout the night to check beds. High school drama faded away and I began to feel thankful for everything I did have. I had arms and legs that worked, I had average intelligence, I had my eyesight, and I had a voice. High school seemed so far removed from this world and it was through learning this gratitude and realizing there was more to be thankful for than to be scared of that I made it through the last two years of school. I began to make new friends and turn a blind eye to the nasty looks and become deaf to the nasty words.
I buried my trauma and never thought of the effects that it would have on my adult life– boy did I underestimate the effects it would have. I refused to watch movies that I knew would make me cry. I didn’t want to cry, I didn’t want to feel anything. I drank often and drank to get drunk and when I was drunk I was angry with those closest to me. Most specifically my dear husband. I would scream and yell and tell him he didn’t love me and that he would be happier if I was gone. I would apologize after these episodes and go back to not feeling and waiting for the next eruption.
I would apologize constantly, starting conversations off with, I’m sorry. When girlfriends would talk about how they lost their virginity I would shrug it off and say I don’t really remember, I think maybe I was awake when it happened, I don’t know, and then I would move on. I wasn’t able to connect with my children the way I wanted to. I became an ICU nurse because it gave me a way to help others and mask my own pain by dealing with the pain of others. I thrived off the adrenaline of saving a life, never realizing that my life was the one that needed to be saved. I focused on being perfect, a perfect mother, wife, daughter, friend, and nurse. I needed other people to validate me, overthinking everything I did if I did not receive words of affirmation. I constantly replayed encounters over and over in my head if I believed I didn’t perform correctly. I had something planned at every moment of the day so I was never left alone with just silence. I ridiculed myself if I didn’t get “enough” done in one day. And ultimately I really didn’t like myself, no matter how many people I took care of or lives I saved. I didn’t like me.
Then I met my therapist, a complete cosmically random event. I took my boys to the playground and struck up a conversation with another mamma on the playground and one way or another because we are both healthcare providers we got on the subject of mental health. I expressed to her that I was having trouble finding a therapist in the area and she recommended J.
I reached out to J right away and she actually texted me that evening after I had sent an email. I was recovering from the trauma of my oldest undergoing brain surgery from a benign brain tumor among other shitty life situations, and was in complete crisis mode. I met J and she asked for me to start at the beginning. I told her of my childhood, my alcoholic father, my parent’s divorce, meeting my husband, my husband’s infidelity, and most recently my baby being sick. It wasn’t until the session was ending that I word vomited in a soft voice “I think I was also sexually assaulted when I was 15, at least I think I was.” She looked at me and said “Wow, let’s talk about that, the RAPE.”
RAPE. I was taken aback, I wasn’t raped. Was I? No, no, no I was drunk and I woke up and someone, hopefully just one, had had sex with me. “That’s rape Olivia.”
The word slammed into me. I kept repeating it to myself, rape, rape, rape. It was rape.
That’s what that was.
And something inside my soul shifted.
I left that session feeling lighter, I felt as if something had been released from inside of me, a heaviness was gone.
I went home and I told my husband, “I was raped.”
We cried together, and it was beautiful. He said he was sorry and I told him it’s not his apology to make.
I told my mother and we cried together and it was beautiful. She said she was sorry but again I told her it wasn’t her apology to make.
My life is not blissfully wonderful now. There are dark days where I still feel like that broken fifteen year old girl in her denim skirt on a damp, cold basement floor. I have so much more to work on but giving my trauma a name has given me a way to work through it. I will tell you this though, I am calmer and less irritable now. I no longer feel the need to always have something planned to do. I don’t remember the last time I drank to get drunk and exploded with anger. I find peace in the quiet moments just watching my boys play in the backyard. I only start my sentences with “I’m sorry” fifty percent of the time. I try so incredibly hard not to focus on being perfect, and the word now actually makes me sick. I am no longer an ICU nurse and have taken a job as a hospice nurse, something much more ethically aligned with my personal beliefs. I feel closer than ever to my husband. And I am learning everyday how to like myself, value myself, love myself, and respect myself.