It is extremely important though.
When we can, we talk about what we've gone through, what we're going through. We try to be there and see those going through the same things, or those who have been through it.
Because we know, from personal experience, that no one actually understands unless they've gone through that same hell.
“Make one more move, and I will kill you.” His voice wraps around Sarah like hot oil, burning and singeing her skin. His hands squeeze her neck, pushing her tendons into her muscle until she can feel nothing but numbness. Lost. Disappearing inside herself.
Images blur, shifting from blue diamonds behind her eyes to red triangles. And bright stars--stars like she once saw in the beautiful night sky on the Syrian border. Stars that she lay under, planning her future, her bright career as she climbed the ranks. Stars that now dim and burrow into the background, hidden away in the depths of her mind.
Her body jerks awake, attempting to protect her. Even now. So many years after that night was first burned into her dark skin.
The trip to the hospital. The rape kit. The feeling of being violated all over again while someone probed and pushed and “sweetied” her to the point of tears.
“I know, honey. It hurts. But we have to do it,” the nurse had said. Sarah could remember nothing more about her beyond the smell of lavender oil and latex. Her body curling into itself. Her mind blaming and shaming her for every movement.
How could I let this happen to me? Why didn’t I fight harder? I am trained in combatives, and I still froze.
Sarah had tried to tell herself the things she knew, or had heard in the classes she had been forced to attend. “Rape is about power, not sex.” “No means no.” “Rape is never the victim’s fault.”
But that word had hung around Sarah’s neck like an albatross: victim. Victim felt dirty. Weak.
And if she is honest, weak is how she feels. Day in and day out. As he moves every step with her, infiltrating her mind, and working so hard to maintain his control.
He follows her into every dream. Each dark night when she walks alone. Her arms wrapped tightly around her. Her dog tags around her neck, reminding her that she is trained to fight. Enemies. Surprise attacks.
But never one of her own.
Never someone she had trusted. Never someone who was supposed to protect her at all costs.
It all swirls and wraps her in ratty sheets. Each thought. Each memory. Each moment not feeling like her own.
She pulls the covers from her sweat-filled bed. An outline of her body stays behind. A reminder of the shadow of a person she has become.
She moves into the bathroom and turns on the shower. The hot mist slowly snaking its way across the mirror—pulling her tear-stained face with it. A face she hates. Despises.
One that feels like it should be ripped apart with razors. Scarred for life so that no one would ever want to touch her again. Ever want to put his hands over her throat to keep her silent.
It takes a lot to love a face that only holds shadows were light and joy once existed.
If she goes deep within herself, down to that very core that beats with the self-loathing she has come to live with, eat with, drive to work every day with—like a dark companion that moves and glides with her, just one step away at any given moment—she hears that dark thought that keeps her from going to sleep at night. The one that echoes at the bottom of an empty beer bottle. The one that rattles in a bottle of pills.
You deserved it.
The rational side of her, the one that takes a shower, does her PT every morning, makes sure her short hair never touches her shoulders—that side knows the voice is wrong. That it is the darkness calling to her. The words his hands used as they attacked her. The hopes he had when he left her on the floor, broken, beaten, bleeding. That he would forever win.
But there is a piece deep inside her that he will never be allowed to touch. The one that she hid that night—in the protective corner of her gut.
That little piece of her that pushes her to actually step into the shower. Face the day. And walk into work. Her uniform crisp and perfectly set. Because she knows the price she paid to wear it. The battle she fights every day to come into the office, feel them all snap to and say: “Good morning, ma’am.”
Some days she wonders what they see in her eyes. Can they feel her fear? Her worry that she will be found out? Exposed? Again?
Do they wonder why she never goes out for beers? Never wants to stay for a bit and “chat with the guys”? Can they see through her? Or do they only see the cold exterior she works to keep her locked away?
She keeps her eyes straight ahead. Steely and always ready. Away and untouchable.
Until she sees eyes that mirror her own. Eyes that look down, unable to maintain eye contact. Bodies that step to the side, too quickly, too easily. Fear of being known radiating from them.
Those eyes get her up every day--the ones who need to hear the story, who ache for someone to understand. She pushes herself out of bed and onto the floor for those who need her to stand. The ones who are looking for someone, anyone, who is willing to protect them. To hear the words, “I will fight for you.”
This is how she wins over him—how she regains her control. She will say the words that spewed from his mouth, the words that she trusted. Only she will embody them.
His hands will not destroy her. And she will do all she can to ensure no one ever feels alone ever again.
Not on my watch.
She steps forward to the eyes. The ones that have changed since the last time she saw them. The ones that look away just a little too quickly.
“Good morning,” she says, quietly. She looks just to the right of young woman’s face, beyond the demand that is well known in the military. A way to let her escape eye contact. A way to offer control for someone who feels powerless.
“Good morning, ma’am,” she responds.
“I have some paperwork in my office I need to discuss with you. Come with me,” she says.
Sarah can feel the eyes move. The fear permeating the air. Boots squeak over the linoleum floor.
She opens the door and waits for those boots to walk through. She closes it quietly behind her. Forcing the dream-like hands from her neck and into submission.
She clears her throat, taking a deep breath and feeling the strength in her tendons and muscles as she prepares to utter the most important words she can say to a person who has been crushed with the weight of pain and shame:
I believe you.
If you need help, please reach out.
We have been here. Lived here.
You can learn to make plans for next year.
Please, reach out. To us, or one of these groups:
Consultant Line: 1(800) 342-9647 Web: www.militaryonesource.mil
Military Crisis Line: 1(800) 273-TALK (8255)
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE
1 (800) 273-TALK (8255) Web: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE
1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) Web: www.thehotline.org
NATIONAL SEXUAL ASSAULT HOTLINE
1 (800) 656-HOPE (4673) Web: www.rainn.org
NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE HOTLINE
1 (800) 4-A-CHILD (422-4453) Web: www.childhelp.org
NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN
1 (800) THE-LOST (843-5678) Web: www.missingkids.com
Note: Many of these have options for those with communication
needs such as Español only or hearing impaired. Check the organization’s website for details.