"Talking to someone allowed me to start to believe in myself again."Steve Johnson/Pexels

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of sexual assault and emotional abuse. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised, please scroll to the bottom of the article to find a list of useful resources.

This is my experience of my recovery from being raped in an emotionally abusive relationship. For me, the most traumatic thing was the effect it had on my connection with my body, and having a chronic pain condition only exacerbated this. It has taken an entirely new perspective on all aspects of my life to start to heal, to finally feel safe again in my own body. I hope through sharing this, it might offer comfort for those also going or supporting someone through this, knowing you are not alone.

Speaking to someone, trusting my voice

Rape and emotional abuse took away my voice, it made me doubt whether it really happened at all. My body knew it happened, which is why I had nightmares every night and anxiety attacks during the day. I only thought of rape as possibly happening by a stranger, not the person I was most intimate with. Being in a relationship where there was gaslighting and painful sex stripped me of my own self-confidence as my muteness and passive stance became essential for my survival.

“The real strength I found was in embracing myself...”

When I finally spoke to the Sexual Assualt and Harassment Advisor (SAHA) at the University Counselling Service (UCS), she really listened to me and said, “I notice you don’t use the word rape, but it was rape, it was emotional abuse”. It was such a relief to feel like all the pain I was going through was real; I hadn’t made it up.

I have had, and continue to receive, support from Cambridge Rape Crisis who provide an invaluable service of counselling. It seemed really scary at first to talk about something I wanted to shut out. It gave me a safe space to really feel and process the terror, the anger, the sadness I felt. It helped me realise it wasn’t my fault, I was surviving the best I could, and now I could find a place to start my recovery. Speaking to my friends in between sessions really complemented this counselling. Whether they knew about what happened or not, they have been an invaluable source of support. Talking to someone allowed me to start to believe in myself again.

I didn’t have to endure

I have a chronic pain condition called hypermobility syndrome, so I am used to enduring high levels of physical pain. My physical body pain increased after the rape and further into the relationship to the point where I would feel sick and exhausted the whole time. The thought of sex led my whole body to shut down. My muscles were filled with stress and joints aching so much. I saw this as an ‘issue’ that I had to endure, get through, beat. I endured the relationship, because I thought that was the strong thing to do.

“...I am taking as much time as I need, and I will heal when I’m ready.”

After I broke up with him, I took to sport thinking that I could escape this physical and emotional pain by pushing new boundaries. It created more stress and pain in my body and when it became too much, my body shut down again. Cambridge and work were no different, either. After so many cycles of this, I realised maybe there was another option. I tried a few weeks of yoga, a couple of hours of work, and taking time to listen to what my body was telling me. I told my counsellor at my next session:

“I was standing on my head digging through the soil thinking the sky would come through, but all I needed to do was stand up”.

I realised I needed to slow down as far as I could and to listen to my body, to connect. Over the last term I’ve learnt a lot about what my body signals are telling me, and how to sit with the anxiety and panics. I had to relearn how to enjoy sport and work , trusting that I can do it and I am safe. This often just means sitting on a yoga mat listening to Yoga with Adriene or going for a jog knowing that I can stop and I am safe.

The pain has become so much less, and I’m no longer scared of it. It’s about saying hello to the trauma, letting it stay until it’s ready to leave. The real strength I found was in embracing myself, especially my body as my own, and relaxing into it rather than pushing through and ignoring. This is something I remind myself of all the time and hope it will soon become automatic to have a kindness towards my body as my own and to trust it.

I have agency


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Mountain View

What to expect at the Sexual Assault Referral Centre

This part of the process has only just come to me in the last few weeks. What happened was horrific and has affected everyday aspects of my life. Yet, by practising sitting with myself, I am realising that I also have a choice for it to not define me anymore. After having a lot of nightmares about my ex, last week I had a dream where I realised mid-way through that he didn’t have to be in them anymore. I now get to choose my presence and future even if he tried to control my past. It is likely that at many points in the future I will experience more PTSD, but I can let it exist in my body until it’s ready to go. I can’t change the fact that I was treated badly, but what I can change is how I treat myself now.

I can take as much time as I need

It took me 10 months after I was raped to end the relationship. It took me another 8 months to find the initial support. It took me another 8 months to stop blaming myself for what happened. It will take years to feel fully healed from it. It’s not going to be a linear path or a quick fix. I learnt that being patient and understanding that just existing is an incredible feat for the trauma I have been through. So I am taking as much time as I need, and I will heal when I’m ready.

The darkness won’t ever go, but my own light - supported by my wonderful friends, counsellors, and the wider community talking about rape and emotional abuse - now shines so much brighter.

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