If You're Silent About Your Pain, No One Will Hear You: My Rape Story

by Jennifer Arnise Carter

I still remember feeling him hook the inside of his huge forearm around my neck and pile-drive me to the bed. I landed so hard the impact made both of my Etienne Aigner sandals fly off and hit the wall on the other side of the bedroom. I was only 17 years old and I was being raped by the first of two men who would change my life forever.

It has taken me 23 years to tell my story of sexual assault. Up until the day I recorded the short video and posted it to social media I had no plans of ever talking about that night again. I equated the telling of those details with reliving the trauma and grief all over again and I wanted no parts of that. I spent years in therapy and counseling fighting my way out of a debilitating depression and just wanted to get on with my life. The problem was, I wasn’t really getting on with my life. I was an over-educated, unemployed single mother living back at home. One day in the middle of a small melt down in my mother’s kitchen I had a moment of clarity. “You need to deal with this shit once and for all Jennifer so you can truly move on,” I told myself. In that moment I stopped hiding and gave in to my story.

I admit that even after so many years, it was heartbreaking and terrifying to go through the details of that night again. But there was an even greater, overwhelming feeling of relief that washed over me. It was like the elephant standing on my chest walked off and I could breathe again. Since publicly sharing my story I can truly say that I am free. The crazy part is I didn’t know I was in bondage. I thought the fact that I didn’t want to kill myself anymore meant I was good to go. I was wrong. I realized I had just become good at managing my pain and not healing it.

There is a supernatural power in acknowledging your most painful experiences. It is not logical. But healing never is. Healing is done at a soul level. Psalm’s 23:3 says, “He restoreth my soul.” That’s what honoring your story does. It restores your soul. In the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, gold lacquer is used to rejoin pieces of broken pottery back together. The art is not in the vessel that was never broken. The art is in being able to see where the broken pieces are put back together. Telling my story allowed me to see the beauty and miracle in my brokenness.

If telling your most painful story is so cathartic, why don’t more women do it and when they do, why does it take so long? The idea that time can diminish the power or validity of your story is preposterous. It is simply another tactic used to disempower a survivor. My rape is my story and I can tell it whenever the hell I please. That’s the difference in you owning your story and it owning you. We are the only ones who can assign value to our lives and experiences. This erroneous thinking is also a huge part of the rape culture we live in today.

Not telling my story came at a great cost. I silently suffered through depression during my late teens and early 20’s and was borderline suicidal through much of my college years. At any moment a flash back would hit me and I’d have to leave class to go hide in a bathroom stall to bawl my eyes out. Now that I have clarity, I can see exactly why I didn’t tell anyone what happened back then.

Rape is an unimaginable act of terror disguised as sex. That’s the biggest mind fuck. How can the deepest form of connection and intimacy between two people be used as warfare? There is no logic there. The entire act is incomprehensible. Sometimes it is still hard to believe it happened to me. After being raped, you might say to yourself:

“They’ll never believe you.”
“They’ll think you’re exaggerating or making it up.”
“How did you not know he was a rapist?”
“Spare yourself any further humiliation and keep your mouth shut.”

I used to believe rape was worse than being shot or stabbed. At least then, there is a physical wound you can associate with the pain. When you are a victim of rape or incest, you often go back and forth in your head about what happened. It’s not concrete and that makes it impossible to accurately communicate the abysmal depths of pain and suffering you endure even after it is over.

It was so bad for me that for the first three years, I could not say the word rape. Instead of words, there were only tears. I see now that my brain was in survival mode trying to protect me from something too horrible understand.

As African-American women, we have an especially difficult time sharing our most painful experiences because it forces us to expose our vulnerability and admit we have been powerless. This so called failure causes a great deal of shame and guilt for us. In our culture, we are raised to be strong. We are taught, either by word or action, that we will experience hardship and unfair treatment in life. Not only are we raised to believe we will endure heartache, we are also taught that there’s a good chance that no one will be there for us. So we need to learn to fend for ourselves in a dangerous world.

While well meaning, this slave-rooted thinking does more harm than good to our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual bodies. In trying to protect ourselves we end up failing to protect ourselves. When we don’t tell anyone we are in trouble or need help, they can’t come to our rescue. They can’t comfort, protect or help put us back together again. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You see, I am alone. No one cares about me.” We then begin a terrible cycle of denying our pain. And in the denial of our pain, we become bitter, disheartened and dangerously silent.

Shame and hurt can only live in our silence. So the answer is in being brave enough to expose our wounds and tell our stories. Then we can experience the miraculous healing power of love. Then and only then can we regain our divine powers of compassion, connection and joy. We have to begin to believe that we deserve to be heard. We have to reprogram our hearts to the truth that no experience can tarnish our worthiness of love. When we share our story we take back control of our lives and give other women permission to do the same. Our power is not exercised in being able bear great burdens. Our power is in our ability to transcend tragedy and become the light this world desperately needs.

Photo: Shutterstock

Jennifer Arnise Carter is a writer, artist and Empowerment coach, helping women heal trauma by teaching them how to tell their story. She currently lives in North Carolina with her son Vincent. You can find out more at JenniferArnise.com and on social media @JenniferArnise.

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