Authorship

Each life is a story, structured with a beginning, middle and end. It is a work of collaboration: the author changes. As babies, we are carried by others who write our lives for us, who determine what we shall wear, when we shall eat, and even what we will be called. Gradually we grow, and we learn that we can have some control over our lives; we reach teenage years and realise the importance of autonomy and freedom. We start to consciously mould our own personalities, and that is when we truly become authors of our own lives for the first time.

At that age, we tend to assert our new-found freedom somewhat falsely; we rebel against the previous authors and embrace whatever they would not choose for us. But that limited experiment in self-definition is powerful, and we greedily indulge again and again. We gradually shape ourselves more: we decide on a career, we develop tastes in music and literature, and we choose our friendships. We create ourselves, and we decide on a plot for our stories, for our lives. “I am going to be a successful children’s book editor, and I will spend my twenties living in an attic bedsit in London.” Whether or not this comes true is far less important than that I decided on that plotline for myself.

That is why acts of sexual violence are so shattering. Someone else’s brutality threatens to derail the story that we want to tell, and it sweeps our power and confidence from us. At 18 I was bullish, confident with men, and sure of where my life was heading. Then in fifteen minutes one night in Malta, my world was ripped apart. My life was irrevocably changed, and my personality altered immediately – although you’d have to have been looking for it to notice as an outsider.

I would be lying if I said that before the rape I was some wallflower – I have always been a terrible flirt, and I had kissed my share of boys. But I was very clear at 18 that I wanted my first time to be with someone I loved – indeed, my now-lapsed faith had persuaded me to wait until marriage – and instead, a selfish man deprived me of the right to give my virginity to someone I chose. Having said that, as far as I’m concerned I did lose my true virginity to the first man I loved, a few short months later. What is important is how you choose to view experiences, and I refuse to give that hotel clerk, Mark – his name badge was glinting at my eye level continuously as he moved on top of me  – that honour. So that was the first time that my authorship was removed by him. And then it continued. Unbeknownst to me on any kind of conscious level, most of my actions then became dictated by him, and that experience.

I grew suddenly reckless, going out of my way to walk down alleyways at night, talking to strange men. I didn’t realise it then, but looking back I am clear in my mind that I was doing my very best to stick two fingers up at him, to state defiantly that he had not scarred me. In fact, I was giving him the power by letting him write my story. Similarly, once on my gap year and travelling I was no victim rocking slowly against the wall of a darkened room. I was a near alcoholic who partied every night and slept around. Contrary to tradition, I reacted to rape by becoming incredibly promiscuous. I don’t mean that I had occasional one night stands. I mean I slept with four people in one week. I hasten to add that that was an abnormal week, but still. I was out of control in a very dangerous way.

Why did I react like that? Theories differ. Perhaps, as with the dark alleyways, I was trying to say that I was just fine. Perhaps I was trying to take back control of my sexuality. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself that the rape didn’t matter, because sex wasn’t important, it was run of the mill.  It could be any one of those ideas, or a combination, or something utterly different, and I may never decide. However, what I have learned since – after doing lots of digging online, because it isn’t easily found – is that my reaction to rape is not a singular experience. Plenty of women attempt to get over it by sleeping around, but we never talk about it. This has to change – I thought I was thoroughly alone, but instead, untidy experiences were being hushed up. It is so much easier to sympathise and pity a mute agoraphobic than a drunken slut – so those are the life stories that get printed.

I digress. My promiscuous behaviour continued when I reached university, and only gradually started to get better halfway through first year – which is exactly the time I first told a friend about the rape. In other words, as soon as I took control and began to be the author of my life once more, I prevented the hotel clerk from dictating my life. Thank heavens I went to a university like Durham, which has a total of four clubs surrounded by a close-knit community. That meant that my behaviour was easily found out – and no one likes to be called a slut, no matter how true it is – and that I was limited in my opportunities to go off the rails. Durham has some drugs, but in a very innocent way compared to a lot of unis. I am convinced that if I had gone to Leeds or Nottingham, with a big city culture and lots of ways to get into trouble, I would have been a drug addict within months. In fact, the sometimes irritatingly welfare-based nature of Durham saved me, and helped to put me back in charge of my life.

I gradually got better – I still have bad days, such as when after receiving particularly bad news about a relative, I started drinking at 10am and rounded it off by sleeping with a pseudo-ex who I knew was a prick. Occasionally I have panic attacks where I lose control, and if I’m struggling with something really huge, my gut always tells me to reach for the wine and the nearest penis. But by and large, this thing which dominated me for years – and which will always be a part of me – is now in the background, no longer  steering me. My personality has been irrevocably changed, but not necessarily in a bad way. Dealing with my rape has helped me to find a resolve and strength within myself that I had no idea of. And the self confidence that I now have is utterly different from the one I had at 18. Now it is quiet, determined, and in some strange way, very peaceful. I have a faith in myself that I can deal with anything, and it is that knowledge, more than anything else, that has helped me to regain my authorship.

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  1. #1 by Olivia on April 16, 2011 - 5:09 pm

    Thank you SO SO much for writing about this. You are so right. There is scarce little on the internet about promiscuity after rape. And the internet, well it’s known for being definitive, having everything. “If google can’t find it, it doesn’t exist”. I was so scared, so ashamed that I was the only one that has responded to rape this way. I am still working up the courage to tell my therapist. You made me cry, knowing that I wasn’t alone. Thank you. Thank you!!

  2. #2 by none on January 20, 2012 - 3:48 am

    thankyou

  3. #3 by Therese Martin on March 9, 2012 - 4:19 am

    Thank you for writing this. I was raped 35 years ago, and dealt with it almost exactly as you did. Wanting to be strong. I am just now talking online to a counselor, after all these years, not having realized all this time what a devastating effect on me the rape really had. I too acted like it was no big deal, like getting off a bus, my way of dealing to survive (it was a stranger rape, similar to yours). I see now that it impacted me greatly, in ways that I never knew.

  4. #4 by Anon on July 16, 2012 - 10:30 am

    I am so grateful for your blog and Im sobbing as i write this, i have run and i have hid from this for so long. I have slept with more men then i care to count, faceless and nameless men, usually abusive in themselves. It was my way of controlling the situation, I CAN CONTROL WHO HAS ME. I was the one who never called the men back, sex was not about emotion it was cold hard detached sex. It was the rape all over again, but this time i was the one in the driving seat. It earned me a great reputation, i was labelled a ‘Black Widow’ for my ferocious attitude and i played to this so much that i didn’t know where i started and where my alter ego ended.
    We all know how dangerous the internet is, but as a 14yr old girl and the start of the www revolution i didnt. I befriend a guy who after a year of speaking we met up and he brutally raped me and to top it all he convinced me that this was ‘love’ and it was what i wanted. It wasn’t what i wanted in any sense of the word.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. To know im not alone. To know that im not a freak and that this is just the way i tried to cope with something that destroyed part of my soul means everything.

  5. #5 by Ashley on August 29, 2012 - 3:31 pm

    This is such an amazing article. I am 23 years old and was raped at the age of fifteen by a classmate. He was a guy I was interested in who took advantage of me after I had too much alcohol. I was naive to think that he was giving me alcohol because he wanted to have fun with me. The reality that he took advantage of me after I had too much to drink was something that I decided not to label as rape. Instead I blamed myself for drinking too much, and excused his behavior as something that happened because he was too drunk. To make matters worse there were rumors that other boys raped me as well. I never got the full story because I was too afraid to find out the truth. After the fact this guy never gave me the time of day and completely discredited my feelings, he simply didn’t give a damn enough to ever even ask if I was okay. Silly me to think that he would have, but I was fifteen and grew attached to him (pathetic) because this is how I lost my virginity! For years I have continued to abuse alcohol and use it as a means or better, as an excuse to let my inhibitions go. Rape has undoubtedly unleashed promiscuity in me. The only thing that has saved me from having an enormous amount of partners is the fact that I was in a relationship for five years. Well, I have been out of that relationship for four months and didn’t sleep with anyone for the first three..
    Just this month I slept with two different people. Never in my life have I voluntarily given myself away as I did with these partners. I feel like my new found freedom after getting out of a relationship mixed with my alcohol abuse and the fact that I have never dealt with my issues stemming from the rape have all come together in a way that makes me loathe myself. I realized after this last partner that I have the ability to disconnect emotionally from sex. That is a scary place to be. The next morning I felt zero for that person, but I was left with a feeling of disgust for myself. I don’t want to be the cause of my own pain. I do not want to self-destruct because of what happened to me. I am seeking therapy now to deal with these emotions. I have taken responsibility for all of the shame and guilt I feel from being a rape victim and accepted it as something I deserved because I drank too much. I am continuing to act out in a terribly slutty way which only causes more shame and guilt and makes me hate myself.
    In the end I want to thank you for your blog. It has allowed me to have hope that I can take control of my life if I put in the work. I do not have to be dictated by my rape. After nine years I just told my mother about what happened to me this morning. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

  6. #6 by Therese Martin on September 3, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    I feel very sorry for you, Ashley, I am a rape victim, too (a stranger rape). I, too, blamed myself for stuff like wearing a 2-piece bathing suit at the pool (what else does one wear to a pool?), or for being stupid for letting in a stranger to use the phone (he could have kicked in the door). Blaming yourself is common — it is frequently a coping tool (if I don\’t do THAT again, it won\’t happen again). Then you realize the truth (it was not your fault) and put the anger where it belongs (on the rapist). You tell yourself it (the sex) was no big deal, but that leads to more problems — sex itself becomes no big deal and promiscuity is sometimes the result (glad that didn\’t happen to you). I feel for you. Most of us, as young ladies, are naive and trusting and simply trying to be nice. These rapists are not normal guys (remember that) — they are sociopaths looking for easy victims who are available. Hang in there.

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