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"I refused to say the 'R' word. After my sexual assault, I gaslighted myself for 18 years.”

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

Gaslighting. It’s one of those terms.

The first time you hear it, you have no idea what it means. But as soon as someone explains it to you, you realise you’ve more than likely been a victim yourself.

But have you ever heard of self gaslighting? I hadn’t either.

But when I fully understood what gaslighting was, I realised it was something I’d been doing to myself for almost two decades.

When I was 16, I was raped.

Only, at the time, I wouldn’t have described it that way.

I would have said, my violent ex boyfriend who I had attempted to break up with had sex with me. That “sex” just so happened to be in the middle of a physical assault – and I was too scared to move.

Sounds super romantic and consensual right?

I didn’t tell a soul, not one single person for at least three years.

I look back now at my time at college in the years that followed and remember feeling desperately lonely and sad. But I don’t ever remember putting the two things together.

In my first year of university, with a new boyfriend, I suffered vaginismus. Didn’t connect it. I drank heavily and recklessly. I was just a typical student right?

When I eventually did confide in a friend, it was about the violent assault I had suffered that day. About the black eye I’d received, which made me too frightened and embarrassed to leave my house for two weeks.

Watch: Women And Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Post continued after video. 

I did not speak of sexual assault. I wasn’t even sure that was something that had happened to me. In my mid and late 20s, I suffered depression. I went to therapy.

I told the therapist about my nan dying, about a friend passing away, about the termination I’d had. About how I just felt really sad sometimes. The thing that happened that day? Didn’t mention it.

The real reason I was there was like an elephant in the room only I could see. As my last session with the therapist ended, I turned to leave.

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“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been able to help you.” I took my elephant and I left.

A few more years later, hammered in a quiet corner of a bar with a close girlfriend, I told my story again.

“He raped you,” my friend whispered, tears spilling down her face. I had never used the ‘R’ word. I didn’t feel I had a right to. He was an ex boyfriend. I went willingly to his home. We’d had sex on numerous occasions prior to that.

What about those poor women and girls who were dragged into alleyways or drugged at parties? I wasn’t one of them. I was just an idiot. Someone who made bad choices.

I couldn’t say the ‘R’ word that night. But I finally said it years later. To another new partner.

When he hugged me, held me tight, didn’t question me, I thought, am I lying?

Have I remembered this wrong? Did I make it all up?

Because that’s what gaslighters do. They make you question everything. And I was doing it to myself.

When I had those fists in my face and those hands around my throat, could I have just said “no” a little more forcefully?

Would that have stopped it?

Or would I be dead?

Even now, 18 years later, saying I was raped sometimes feels like a fiction. A gruesome fairytale I read when I was 16 and have been reciting, word for word ever since.

I doubt myself.

Partly because I just can’t quite believe that happened to me and that I am still here. (I do not even know how I got through all those lonely years of living with a trauma I wasn’t even able to face up to myself.)

But mainly because I read on a daily basis that the clothing a woman chooses or the number of cocktails she drinks or the method of travel she uses to get home can all be to blamed for her being assaulted.

And I think, well mine doesn’t count then.

Because I made a million bad decisions. Before that day. On that day. And in the 18 years that have passed since. And I think, somehow, it’s just far easier to gaslight myself.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The featured image is a stock photo.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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