Necropolis: Eraser Marks
a monthly feature by Robin Anna Smith
Ink and paint on paper - Smith, R.A. (2017) Afterward
There’s been a lot of talk recently about survivors of sexual assault and rape not reporting the incidents in what some consider a timely manner. I’ve read countless accounts just on Twitter, under #WhyIDidn’tReport. Reasons have ranged from the survivors questioning whether they were to blame for the incident, to the perpetrator being a relative or someone else very close to them, to attempting to report but being shut down by the very people who should have been protecting them. And there are many more.
This week, I’m sharing this haibun I wrote about the very first time I told anyone about my experiences with sexual assault and rape. There were many over my lifetime. The first time was at five-years-old. I was told that is what girls were for and threatened. Every time I got into a similar situation after that, I froze—I dissociated so that my brain didn’t have to process the horrible things that were happening. I got to where I would lose days and have no recollection of what happened during that time.
In my early twenties, after leaving an abusive husband, I started to see a therapist because I was having disturbing behaviors that were affecting my work. I was diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder. I started medications, and while they didn’t really do what they were prescribed for, they did make me too tired to do much of anything.
Over the years, in my search for improvement, I switched doctors numerous times, and was admitted to mental hospitals five times. I tried every mood stabilizer, anti-depressant, and anti-psychotic there was because nothing controlled my issues. All of the odd behaviors and symptoms I told doctors about during that time were dismissed as part of my Bipolar Disorder or a side-effect of medication.
Finally, when I met my last therapist, who just happened to be an expert in trauma, she sensed at my first visit that I had experienced something traumatic, although she didn’t tell me until after I brought it up later on in our sessions. At the time, my five-year-old daughter had been sexually harassed at school and I had begun having panic attacks and losing time again. After a few visits, something clicked in my brain and the voices I’d heard for the majority of my life finally came out. Once they started, there was no slowing them down. Gradually, I was able to discontinue all of my medication, and admit to and work through all of the traumatic experiences I’d had.
It took me thirty-five years to tell anyone, despite many years of therapy. I don’t think my situation is unique. Everyone is affected in different ways and to different degrees, and there are many variables that affect how we respond and cope. Therefore, the ability and willingness to report is understandably going to vary. My hope is that survivors, along with our allies, can draw recognition to the devastating long-term effects of sexual assault and rape, and turn around the widespread acceptance of these behaviors as insignificant.
Having just moved, I’m hunting for a new psychotherapist. Researching the potential candidates from my insurance website, I don’t find much additional information, so I choose the lady whose Facebook profile picture is a green M&M. I accept this as a sign that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. My only concern is she’s a trauma expert but that isn’t an issue for me. I’m just hoping she’s adept at other conditions as well.
the density of mental illness gravity anomaly
To some, I imagine her office is considered cozy. For me, it’s like sharing a coffin with a stranger. I have to try really hard to not panic and run out. While she looks over my paperwork, I stare at the angel nightlight on the wall opposite me, wishing I had those wings. Increasingly anxious, I begin scanning every detail of the room in attempt to find a mental escape.
convergent boundaries the sweat begins to flow
The therapist starts by asking why I’ve come and what I hope to achieve. All I know is that I’m supposed to be here and I don’t want to die. She begins the scripted inquiry I’ve heard dozens of times until she suddenly stops and tilts her head.
“What was that?” she asks.
“What?” I respond, my eyes glancing at her and then quickly looking away again.
“You just paused and changed position, and facial expressions, as if reacting to something. What was it?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I just get…stuck.”
someone from the inside screams subglacial eruption
Suddenly, her line of questioning pivots and she poses questions I haven’t been asked since I was first diagnosed, despite seeing numerous practitioners over the past twenty-five years.
Do you experience this? Do you do that?
“Yes! And yes! I’ve been telling them this for years!”
Finally, she asks about abuse, and instead of holding it in as I did previously, I start to tell the truth.
stratigraphy layer by layer I uncover my past
(originally published in Scryptic, Issue 2.1, June 2018)
Robin Anna Smith is a nonbinary, disabled writer and visual artist residing in Wilmington, Delaware. Her work appears in a variety of international online and print journals as well as Unsealing Our Secrets: A Short Poem Anthology About Sexual Abuse. She has forthcoming work in Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Into the Void, and You are not Your Rape Anthology. More at her website: robinannasmith.com and @robinannasmith on Twitter.