I won’t lie, when I started this blog I had a vague idea about the topics I wanted to discuss, and this was one that I knew was essential, but that I wasn’t looking forward to writing. So I’m just going to get it out of the way, rip the plaster off, until I can discuss it a bit more profoundly.
Rape hurts. I mean physically. The emotional ramifications are more numerous certainly, but it would be silly to ignore the very real physical stuff: it hurts. And it hurts in lots of different ways. There was the pain of being hit, of someone grabbing my throat and tightening their grip, of my knees hitting the floor from a height. It was immediate pain, and curiously familiar – being smacked in the face was a shocking new experience for me, but I recognised the pain from being hit in the shins by hockey balls, and walking somewhat clumsily into a lamp post. I knew it.
Then there were new types. The inevitable pain the first time someone penetrated me, tearing into my body. And this incredibly foreign feeling of pain deep, deep within me, as he slammed into my pelvic region, again, again, again.
Just a few months before I had been studying for a psychology A level, and listening to my teacher as she discussed the process of rape. She talked in a matter-of-fact way about how most rapists were turned on by the struggle, and that to avoid further damage to yourself, the best thing to do was to go slack, or even to feign enjoyment. She told us that the only moment of weakness was the only time he had one hand on you, when he undid his flies.
I still respect her for having the balls to talk about that level of brutality in such a prissy, protective independent girls’ school. But it’s difficult to hide a grim smile when I think about how little it applied to me. I struggled, and I wept, and I tried to scream, and at no point did a rational thought enter my mind except “God, when will this end? Get him off me. GET HIM OFF ME.” About halfway through, I just screwed my eyes shut and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.
So that was the initial pain. That night, I was aware of what happened to me for a few hours, as I sobbed into a pillow and tried to make myself small, to wrap myself inside of me. When I woke up, it was gone. Not the memory, just the emotion. I woke up, and I felt stiff, and in pain, with the sorest throat I had ever had, feeling deeply, deeply unnerved and uncomfortable with myself. This will sound incredible, but not once did I attribute that to what had happened the night before. I didn’t know where it had come from. I spent a day exploring the island of Gozo being as silent and far away from my mum as possible.
The pain in my pelvis and throat stayed the longest, but gradually faded. Eventually, I only had the occasional twinge of sharp pain in my abdomen, whenever I twisted quickly or moved awkwardly. And the pain stayed away for four months, until the next time someone penetrated me, someone I was deeply in love with. There wasn’t much pain that time – it didn’t last very long – but on the subsequent occasions when we explored each other, I discovered I had to be very, very careful when he was inside me. If he went too deep the pain was intense, almost bringing tears to my eyes. I was nonplussed, assumed it was a virginity thing, that I just needed time to ‘open up’. As that relationship ended as a result of my flagrant infidelity and I slept with more and more men, the pain never went away. It was always there, and sometimes I protected myself, pushed them away, and at others simply closed my eyes and didn’t say a word, letting them hurt me.
Months later, as I finally began to think about what had happened to me, I realised the connection. I also reasoned that there was no way that the pain could still be from the rape itself – it had to be psychological, since anything else would already have healed. I began to regain control, to only trust a few people with my body, to those who I could explain things to, and they were cautious with me. This June, I finally told my parents the full extent of my adventure in Malta, and upon my return from university, they shipped me off to doctors under slight protest. The doctors did some tests, and their poking and prodding was excruciating. It had been almost four years, and the pain had not gone away. At all.
The results came back, and they told me I had a form of pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. An infection had been there for four years, eating away at me. After two weeks of fun injections and enough pills to turn me into a rattlesnake, they asked me back for another examination. That morning I was an emotional wreck, and I suddenly realised how terrified I was that it hadn’t worked, that it was psychological after all, that their diagnosis had been wrong. My mum had to convince me to fulfil my appointment. The doctor poked and prodded, and I cried again. She was really concerned, because I was crying more than I had originally, but I finally managed to explain, when I got my breath back, that there was no pain, and I that I was sobbing embarrassingly huge tears of relief and delight at the realisation that for the first time in my life, I could have sex without it hurting.
I’ve had sex twice since, with my (now ex) boyfriend. Throughout, I couldn’t stop thinking “My god. This doesn’t hurt. Do you realise? It doesn’t hurt!” Being free of that pain lifted something huge from me that had been there for years.
So. Tip of the day. No matter how long it’s been, if it still hurts, if anything hurts, go to a doctor. They might not be able to help. But they might be able to. And god, it’s fabulous.