The experience of being raped has touched every aspect of my life. People like Ron Rosenberg, the PR head for Tomb Raider, tend to talk about rape like it's some character-building challenge to overcome, a wound that heals into scar tissue, making you tougher. That's a fundamental misunderstanding. Rape isn't a scar, it's a limp -- you carry it with you as long as you're alive, and it makes life harder, not easier. Being raped does change you: it's more than non-consensual sex, it's psychic murder. The person you were beforehand ceases to exist and you can never, ever be them again.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, conditions that had flown under the radar since I'd learned to live with them over the decades. It explained a lot.
My whole life I had felt worthless. I always tried harder than anyone because I was afraid of what authority figures, those who had power over me, would do if I failed. That's not uncommon for rape victims, it turns out. Trauma like that changes your brain chemistry, makes you feel helpless and inadequate even in situations you're perfectly capable of handling. I could hold it together for school and work no problem, and friendships came easily to me, but dating was always a disaster. I undermined every relationship I tried to get into, either from talking myself out of dating the girl or not being capable of showing my feelings. It was classic subconscious avoidance -- I wanted a girlfriend so badly, but unconsciously I was trying my hardest to never be intimate with another human being. I associated sex with pain and death. Whenever I sank another potential dating prospect, I'd console myself the same way: Make it a double barkeep, with plenty of ice, same as the last four.
Thankfully, I was self-aware enough that my drinking never spiraled into full-blown alcoholism, but my depression and flashbacks worsened after some instances of adult-world bullying popped the champagne cork. When I started to have thoughts of self-harm, I ran directly to a therapist's office. Despite my skepticism, it helped a lot. Being aware of my problems has allowed me to perform preventive maintenance on them to head off what might've been a catastrophic breakdown had I left them untreated. I manage my moods far better now. I've stopped binge-drinking. My girlfriend and I are talking about moving in together.
Part of that preventive maintenance is avoiding things, known as "triggers," that might dig up the raw emotions of my abuse. If you want to know what that's like, think of Bruce Banner in The Avengers, constantly looking over his shoulder for something that might make him lose his grip on himself. I'm particularly fond of the scenes when Banner's hanging out with Tony Stark. While watching those scenes, you probably saw two science nerds geeking out together. I saw a pair of men with impulse-control issues; two brilliant people who know that a lapse in their vigilance will allow their self-destructive tendencies to consume them. Bruce and Tony don't gravitate toward each other because they share interests, it's because they understand each other on a visceral level. I get that. I also have to avoid things.
The moment I hear the name "Sandusky," I turn the radio off or flip the TV channel. I learned the hard way last year that hearing about what he did to those kids and worse, hearing people defend Paterno, made me a wreck. Sometimes the impact isn't that direct. I made it through The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo alright, but Sin City gave me a panic attack. It was the Yellow Bastard that did it -- the way he scowled. That expression of rage was the same face my abuser made. His face made it clear that what he was about to do wasn't driven by desire, it was because he hated me. He wanted me to suffer.
I stayed through the credits of Sin City because I didn't want anyone to see me shaking. Flashbacks aren't visual for me, they're more like a download of old emotions, carrying with them all the pain and fear of the moment, bringing back my old dread of dying. I feel cold and nauseous. Sometimes I feel things, like a ropy, bulging muscle inside my throat, as if someone's rammed their tongue down my esophagus. The urge to cough becomes overwhelming.