I have friends who blog. Sometimes, like everyone, I feel a desire to rant and put my words somewhere Out There, but mostly I always felt that blogs were pointless unless they dealt with more than the minutiae of daily life. So now I have something to write about, that I hope might help other people. And now I blog.
When I was 18, and working for a human rights charity on my gap year, I kept getting ill. And ill. And ill again. The doctors couldn’t figure it out, except that maybe I was exhausted – so they shipped me off to Malta with my mum to ‘convalesce’. Looking back, the irony strikes with the force of a sledgehammer. While I was out there, I would read in the lobby of the hotel at night so as not to keep my mum awake when I couldn’t sleep. On the first night, the hotel clerk was friendly, brought me a hot chocolate. On the second night, he was friendly again, and I was naive enough to accept his invitation to have my hot chocolate in his office, where he raped me.
That’s the bare bones of the story. But the interesting bit is what follows – the revelatory stuff in life isn’t necessarily the traumas or the achievements themselves, but how we choose to deal with them after the fact. I didn’t think about ‘Malta’ – how I now refer to the rape – for months. Not once. I didn’t tell anyone for about 16 months. Then it started to gradually come out in trickles. And perhaps the proudest achievement of my life was the first time I really got up the courage to discuss it publically, in an article I wrote for the final edition of Palatinate, the Durham University student newspaper, in the year I graduated. That started what this will hopefully continue – talking about different reactions to trauma, and widening common conceptions of how we deal with rape.
“I’ve been stripped by this…”
The title of my blog comes from an excerpt of an article from The Independent that first inspired my article, and that I still think about every day. In a piece about grief, the wise Phillip Hodson was recorded saying “”In fact, the brave thing to do is to let your feelings affect you. Because, in effectively saying, ‘I’ve been stripped by this’, you’re telling the truth.”
The rape stripped me to the core. And it’s taken years, but I’m finally in a place where I can start talking about it. It’s important we talk about it, too. After my article appeared in Palatinate, girls I had never heard of or spoken to humbled me by emailing me and trusting me with their stories. For some, it was the first time they had told anyone what they’d been through. The first time you say the words out loud “I was raped…”, or put them on paper, or on screen, is a turning point in starting to face the experience, and I was so honoured to have been allowed to be a part of that process. My hope is that this blog will help to heal others too.
It won’t be utterly depressing though – I don’t have frequent enough revelations for this to be a totally rape-based blog, plus it’s important that all survivors of rape aren’t just that. There is more to me than what happened four years ago in Malta. So apologies, but the occasional rant about the scarcity of publishing jobs or my excitement over going to the Singalong Sound of Music might slip in occasionally.
And finally – just because I adore it – another quote from Phillip Hodgson: “After all, all tears end with a shudder of relief.”