patient, kind, attentive
anxious, cruel, distant
The reality of real life after rape and abuse is complicated and simple at the same time. It's and as well as or, no and yes. I think this is what Lao Tzu meant with his teachings... that we are all of it and none of it at the same time, that we embody a paradox at all times and never.
Career, relationship, home, friendships. It all changed around the time of the rapes. I didn't realize I was so unprotected, so vulnerable to abuse until after that man raped me multiple times as I slept... until after art therapy; group art therapy; learning and practicing with DBT skills; practicing EFT; beginning again with daily meditation.
Four and a half years ago, I was in a marriage with someone I barely knew. We were together a total of six and a half years, and at the end of it I felt insignificant, devalued, and invisible. We didn't work as a couple. I tried to discuss my feelings with him, and he would erupt in anger or denial; associate me with an animal ("must be rutting season"); or say another insensitive statement, such as "let's pack up your bags and take you back to your mother's house" or "I made you." At the time, I didn't realize how insensitive this man, my husband, was to me. After years of unfulfilling romance and listening to his passive-aggressive remarks about other people, I walked into the arms of someone who showed interest in me, sexually, because I felt so attention-deprived at home. I needed to feel nurtured, wanted. So of course sex! But then... the man with whom I sexed it up, he later raped me in "our" bed because, as he put it, I was his girlfriend and he could do that. (He said this with a toothy grin, like it was a sexy thing to say or somehow acceptable if his face was cute or adorable enough.)
As I kept at it through sometimes super uncomfortable sessions of art therapy, I began to be able to see how the rapist abused me, used my emotions to benefit his perverse and cruel desires. When I shifted into group art therapy, I started to see how my emotions are valid and important even if no one seems to feel them to the degree at which I feel them. I started to maintain my own importance and beliefs even when others disagreed with me to my face. This was huge because I didn't learn how to tolerate disagreement in my family of origin. People either won or lost, and no one ever really seemed to win for very long before another win-lose situation appeared. My self-sustainment muscle developed ever so slowly into sticking up for myself in awkward yet decisive moments.
When I started out with art therapy, I didn't know the rapist was hurting me. I didn't see it. I was so far into the abuse cycle that I didn't respect my own humanity, and no one in my family seemed to fully understand my situation or help me in a way that felt real. Now, these years later... I feel compassion for former me, for my family, and yeah... even for rapist and former insensitive abusive husband. I think this is the biggest element of life after rape and abuse. Psychologically, neural pathways can shift. We can change how we view what happened and feel separate from it. Not that bad things don't happen anymore. But that... with assistance and education about new techniques for self-care, the abused among us can feel confident. We can stop feeling guilt all the time, shame for our very existence. We can take our own emotions seriously both by ourselves and in front of others.
Abuse, rape. Insensitive coworkers, family members, friends, lovers who have no idea who we are. A scary part of the art therapy process can be that when we start to see others, we also begin to see ourselves -- our own faults and capacities for cruelty. It can overwhelm us sometimes, the reality of humanity. Things are unfair sometimes. Leaders make unwise decisions that hurt many people. Depression and anger are valid responses to mistreatment, and the abused among us; the marginalized; the invalidated -- we might erupt in our fury. This happens. We keep going, learn new skills, learn how to treat others the way we want to be treated even when they act like total fu*kheads. It's a talent, a skill, a strength that is developed breath by breath, moment by moment, here, now.
Well hello there.