Warning! The following article discusses sexual assault and may trigger reactions if you have been sexually assaulted or abused.
It was part of a running dialogue between the nurse and I, right after my blood pressure and oxygen level check.
“Do you drink alcohol?”
“Do you use nicotine?”
“How many sexual partners have you had in the last year?”
“One.” I sat straighter as the alarm bells started going off in my head.
“Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”
“No,” I answered like a dutiful sexual assault victim.
“Have you ever had an STD?”
I instinctively connected the two questions.
“Have you ever had PID (Pelvic Infammatory Disease)?”
A trick question to see if I lied about the STDs.
At this point, I felt violated, disappointed in myself, and shameful. All as a prelude to the vaginal exam I was about to consent to for something I now connected to being raped 35 years ago.
This was a new line of questioning than what normally occurred for the GYN appointments on post. In fact, I could not remember ever being asked that before any exam in the last 20 years. I felt they should give you a warning similar to the one at the top of this page. But that wasn’t what bothered me.
I routinely talk about, have a website dedicated to, survivors finding their voices and not being ashamed to talk about their abuse and experiences. And yet, I had answered automatically that I had never been sexually assaulted – which was complete bullshit.
How was I so caught off guard that I reverted to the safe answer, the one that let no one in, the one that allowed me to be whole, unbroken…undamaged?
In the past, when I’d initially reported my rape, I was told that I needed to learn to say no. This is still a very voracious issue for me. (How about waiting until I said yes?) Ever since that day in the detective’s office, I’ve only once admitted to a doctor that I’d experienced trauma and rarely shared the experience in any other setting other than connecting with a fellow survivor.
In the past, lying or omitting that fact had become who I was. The rape victim that never experienced abuse. PTSD? No, not I. Depression? No, never. I was the epitome of mentally healthy.
But I wasn’t. My journey of healing started with self-reflection after I’d locked myself away in the house years after my rape. How was I to get on the other side of the pain? The shame? More importantly, how do I make sure it doesn’t happen again (like it had throughout the previous marriage as well)?
With determination I’d decided that we survivors should have a voice. We shouldn’t have to keep abuser’s secrets. We weren’t in the wrong – they were.
The line of questioning at the doctor’s office had me reeling. And later leaving the doctor’s office, I speed walked and felt as though everyone knew I’d lied. I couldn’t get to my car fast enough.
So here I sit, day two in the same pajamas. Self-reflecting.
There is this film playing in my head:
“Advocate for Sexual Abuse Survivors Lies to Nurse” runs across the TV screen in bold letters. The news anchor droning on in a callous accusing tone “…when asked by nurse, she lied and said she’d never been assaulted…”
There is no relief in this moment and I’m aware that I have been reduced to my assault once again. That my PTSD is momentarily in control. I use my rules that help me get through times like this.
I look at myself in the mirror and remind myself that I am beautiful even when I haven’t showered. That I am beyond blessed in my life. That I am a child of God and am supposed to be here.
I give myself 3 days to wallow in the pain, to feel the abuse, the shame as it floods my consciousness regardless of my wish to be back in control and whole again.
Then I ask myself if there is anything I can change.
“Yes,” I say.
In the future, I will pause and reflect about who needs to know when asked that question. I will answer with purpose after consideration. Maybe I’ll eventually answer as automatically as I do about drinking and smoking.
“Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”
“Yes, when I was 15 and during an abusive relationship,” I’ll answer with my self-respecting survivor voice.
“Yes, I am a survivor of sexual assault.”
If you are a victim of sexual assault, please contact:
RAINN – National Sexual Assault Hotline