My Fight Against Rape and PTSD in College
I don’t remember much. I remember the stench of alcohol. I remember the grasping, and the reaching. I remember being forced down to the bed. I remember the fear and confusion of what was happening to me. Then there was the laugh. His awful laugh. I remember pain and heartbreak. Then, the next morning I remember him asking me if I could remember anything from the last night. I responded, “No, nothing.” I was too terrified to tell the truth. At that point I remembered everything, but I didn’t want him to know that. As it turns out that felt like the right decision, because his response was, jokingly, “Good. If you remembered I might have to kill ya.” Those words are what struck a deep fear into me. It was those words that kept me quiet for a long time. He was supposed to be my best friend, but he was taking advantage of me at my most vulnerable moment.
Rape and PTSD — Surviving, Then Thriving
I was in my freshman year college when my roommate raped me. I had gone out to drink and party with him, but I thought it was strange that he didn’t really drink that night like he usually does. I drank. I drank far too much, and he was pushing me to keep going even though I already felt plastered. I was too drunk to walk or even function, and I was certainly too drunk to give any kind of consent.
We then went back to our dorm and he did what he did. He raped me. I lived with him for about six months after. I was terrified of him and didn’t know what to do or who to talk to. For those six months, I lived in fear, while pretending nothing happened. I ignored everything, even the continuing abuse of my insecurity and my fear. He verbally abused me regularly, but I could not see it for what it was. It was part of his obsession to control me and keep me afraid. Even still, it was easier to ignore than to face what happened. For those six months, he manipulated me into believing that I was the one with a problem. I was always too distant, too cold, too mean, I was never caring enough. I was the monster. The worst part is that I believed him. I wasn’t the only one pretending. We both acted like nothing happened while knowing that it did.
My girlfriend at the time didn’t believe me. I told her everything I could remember the very next morning, while my roommate was in class. I tried to explain what happened to the best of my ability, but it wasn’t enough to persuade her. She said, “You’re joking, he’s such a nice guy he wouldn’t do that.” After she said that, “I think I just convinced myself that it was a bad dream, or that it didn’t happen.” This only exacerbated my inability to get out of the situation I was in. It made me feel like I was going crazy and making memories up in my mind.
Months after the incident, I started seeing my therapist again. I had gone to see her for anxiety and depression before, but nothing like this. She said my subconscious may have repressed the memory of my rape in order to protect me against the trauma. I didn’t know this when my girlfriend expressed her disbelief, but I was not going crazy. I was experiencing something completely normal for victims of trauma. She may have felt guilty, but my guess is she just didn’t want to believe it. It wasn’t victim blaming outright, but it seemed to me to be implied. She did not blame me directly, but it felt like she was.
About six months after that conversation with my then girlfriend, something snapped, and the memory of that awful night came rushing back into my mind. I remembered everything from my drinking, to him eventually raping me. My roommate and I were out drinking again, and we went back to the room. That is when I remembered the night of the rape. The realization was almost like reliving it all over. All of the repressed memories hit me like a truck. I stayed in a friend’s room that night and never saw my roommate again. The next day, I moved out of my dorm room into a room by myself in a different building. I had two friends to help me move out, which was much appreciated. I was happy to finally be moving out, even though that meant living by myself. I was excited to finally feel safe in my own room.
Consequence of Remembering
The person who raped me was an RA working for the university at the time I moved out. I received no support from the university as they wanted to cover it up and keep me quiet. I felt as though they showed little regard for the students they were supposed to protect. I was angry because I realized that the school’s concern for victims is a farce. The protection they provide for students only extends to the point of being able to protect the University legally. They are more concerned about the institution’s well being, not the students that are a part of it. To say the least, it was disappointing.
I had broken up with my girlfriend recently, so I no longer had support in that way. I only had myself and an empty room. It wasn’t so bad at first. I had the room to myself and I could do what I wanted to. Then, I stopped going to my classes. I was in two classes in which my ex-roommate was also enrolled, and I didn’t want to see his face. I eventually stopped going to all of my classes, entirely. I was experiencing symptoms of PTSD.
I couldn’t take care of myself anymore because of the immense amount of stress and anxiety my body was going through. I experienced periods of not sleeping, then I would sleep too much. I was sleeping all day and then partying all night. I started using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain that I was in. I used anything I could get my hands on including alcohol, marijuana, and benzodiazepines. I used the benzos the most. They made me feel nothing at all and I thought that was what I needed at the time. I was avoiding sleep because I would have nightmares that felt like I was living my rape all over again. I was avoiding sleep to the point that I was not sleeping until three or four in the morning. I would go out and party, listen to music all night or read; anything to keep me preoccupied.
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Eventually all of the stress came into my head and I was hospitalized twice because the stress and anxiety were tearing my body apart. I started getting chronic dizziness and fainting. I was hospitalized because of the physical stress that my own body was experiencing. I was so unstable on my feet I thought there was something physically wrong with me. My doctors told me I was most likely experiencing acute stress manifesting as physical symptoms.
I was experiencing paranoia and I couldn’t shake the feeling that my rapist was following me everywhere I went. I never saw him, but in my head, I was convinced he was always there. This lasted for almost a year. I couldn’t go outside and walk through campus without constantly looking over my shoulder. The doctors told me I needed to see a therapist. I went through months of weekly, and sometimes bi-weekly therapy. I am still in therapy today, though not as often. It helped me greatly on my path to recovery. My therapist offered an objective medical view of what I was experiencing. They assured me that my anxiety, paranoia, and my dreams were normal for what I went through. If I had not gone to therapy, I would not be in the place I am today emotionally.
Recovering from Rape and PTSD
It is a cliché, but I turned myself around when I met a woman. She was beautiful, caring, and compassionate. I told her my story and she still wanted to be with me. At the time, I did not trust many people, but I felt an immediate connection to her. I told her what happened to me a few weeks into dating. I felt as if she would find out eventually so I might as well tell her and get it over with. As a straight man who was raped by another man, I thought I was damaged. I questioned my own sexuality because of it. She proved to me that I was not broken. She helped me on the path to healing and I am forever grateful to her, and a few close friends that supported me. I didn’t understand why it had happened to me. I felt unlovable, but she proved to me that that wasn’t true. I felt loved again and I could see some resemblance of a light at the end of the tunnel. I still had a long way to go in my recovery from my trauma, but I saw the direction I needed to go. I felt hope and acceptance. I could imagine a future again.
I started seeking help through therapy as well as addiction counseling. It helped, but all in all, I was the one that pulled myself out of my depression and my strife. I wanted to be better for my partner and for myself. I started by trying to do one productive thing every day. If I could do that, I figured eventually I could do bigger things and I was right. I started going to my classes again, I found a job to occupy my time, and I found a passion. That passion is writing, and it has helped pull me out of the experience that haunted me.
It does get easier. If you are like me, you will never forget what happened, but you will rise from the ashes of your past self and become something new. I am more defiant and passionate. My goal now is to live my best life in defiance of what he took from me. I chose to not let him, or my disease win. I have taken the anger and rage that I have felt and weaponized it. I have turned that white-hot rage into a tool I can use to further my life. I was mad at myself, I was mad at him, I was mad at God, and mad at the world. It took me a long time to turn my rage into something productive, but I had to make a conscious decision to move forward and keep going.
In order to move forward, I had to turn my rage into something useful. I used my anger and my anxiety as a tool to succeed. If I was ever feeling this way, I would take that as motivation to overcome it. I would take that anxiety, and do everything in my power to control the situation I was in, whatever it was. I used it as motivation to do everything I could, then let it be. I trained myself to feel sound in doing what I could, and not worry about what I could not control. In this way, I conditioned myself to use my anger and anxiety to try to control and solve my problems, rather than create them. For example, the summer after my sophomore year I received my letter notifying me that my grades were not up to par and I would be dismissed from the university. I was angry. I was anxious. I took that anger and that anxiety and used it to push through and keep moving the only way I knew how. I tried to control whatever was possible. I called the Dean of the school. I read Title IX to find any clause that may help me. I controlled what I could and it worked out in the end. I appealed for readmission to the University and it was accepted. I did what I could with what I had. It was still a tough situation to be in, but I had to work through it.
For a long time, I thought my life was over, that I would never be normal again. One day, in a therapy session, I had an epiphany and realized what I had to do. I took all the fire I had inside of me and I decided to beat it all. I defeated my rage, my sadness, and my self-loathing because it was the only way to survive. Then, I could thrive. I wanted to be the best man that I could possibly be in defiance of what he did. I used my anger to get justice. I filed a report to the school. They tried to silence me, but I fought it and threatened to go public if they didn’t punish him for what he had done. The university complied. He lost his job, his housing, and his funding. Finally, I realized that I can win. I live in defiance every day.
Unfortunately, I know many do not receive this justice. It is not often that cases are taken seriously by organizations and Universities. These institutions are more interested in protecting themselves. It is situations like this that Universities have the tendency to do the bare minimum that is required by law. It is an unfortunate truth, but it is the state of the world today.
I fight for myself and those like me. I still struggle, but I am not a victim. I am a survivor. I am not defined by what happened to me. It started with baby steps, but eventually they turned into passionate leaps into my future. Remember: small steps. Be strong, be bold, be defiant. You will survive, then thrive.