Get Well

After the Assault: Learning to Love and Trust Again

by Annie Behrens

Desperate is the word I use to describe how I felt about dating. I have always been a romantic and like many people do, I hoped for a ‘happily ever after’ in my life.  But after I was raped, I became desperate in another sense. I was desperate to feel love or any kind of affection, or what I was interpreting as affection. In my desperation for positive attention from a man, I utilized dating apps. Living in a big city like New York, it’s not unusual for someone to have multiple dating apps (I have opinions on each one, just ask) and I made time for every one of them. After being assaulted. I had plenty of hookups that left me feeling worse and more useless than I had felt before. But I kept at it because I wanted to find a positive connection. I was desperate.

On one date a guy said he could see how I “might be a lot for other people.” A man that met me an hour ago for a movie date decided that I was “a lot”. It’s not the comment that necessarily stirs me up but just the idea that he’s decided something about me that I’m going to have to adjust in order to keep seeing him. This date reminds me of my feeling of desperation. I didn’t like this guy when the date was over. I could have just let it be and we could have parted ways. But he asked to see me again and I wanted to convince myself that maybe he wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t going to work for a myriad reasons so I eventually shut it down. I received some textual harassment that led to my ending communication and blocking the number. The fact remains that my desperation and my trauma wanted me to seek love wherever it seemed like it could be available.

“I wanted to simply breathe instead of hyperventilate”

In the months following the Weinstein exposé in 2017, I was exhausted from panic attacks  and sleepless nights. I was making avoidable errors at work and beating myself up about an assault perpetrated on me; an assault I hadn’t dealt with at all.

I went home to Oregon for a week to sleep, to be where my parents could hug me, and hopefully, feel stable again. I deleted dating apps and cut ties with anyone with whom I was communicating. I wanted to simply breathe instead of hyperventilate. I spent a month focusing solely on myself, on getting enough sleep and enough time at the gym, I did everything I could think of for me. Soon I was waking up in the morning and feeling strong or at the very least, capable of taking on the day. This was my first ‘go’ at self-care and it didn’t even involve that much wine!

As the holiday season neared, I was curious to see what talking to guys again would be like and if I was ready to test the dating waters again. A few days away from heading home for the holidays, I thought to myself “fuck it” and downloaded Bumble. I knew I had been sleeping and eating right, doing positive self-talk, I was ready! And if that wasn’t enough, there was security in knowing I wouldn’t have to meet someone due to the non-refundable JetBlue flight to Portland I had departing in two days.

“How could I not be frightened of his maleness and how he could potentially hurt me?”

I started talking to a wonderful man and we started dating in January of 2018. He’s a delight and he’s funny and dorky and attractive and he likes me!  So, why was I nervous all the time? Why was I suffering panic attacks about how I didn’t deserve him or happiness? How could I not be frightened of his maleness and how he could potentially hurt me?

With every panic attack or fit of sobbing, I called my mom and projectile-word-vomited my every thought and fear that could potentially derail this budding relationship. Although these fears were just barely based in rational thinking, it was clear that the trauma I thought I had dealt with through arduous self-care was still there, waiting for me.

I have had enough therapy in my life to know that I couldn’t rely on someone else to fix me but that I had work to do. I knew that despite all the love and sympathy and support my boyfriend showed me after I told him I had been raped-if anything new and wonderful was to fully flourish- I had to look at my trauma and put it in its proper place in my life and psyche.

Self care can hurt. To make myself better and ultimately take care of myself, I choose to confront my demons head on. I choose to relive the worst moments of my life, only to realize that I made it through another hour session and I’m still alive. To face our worst trauma, our worst fears is to fight for ourselves in a way that a bath bomb can’t (although I thoroughly recommend both, not just one or the other).

I chose to go to therapy because I knew I knew that my life was worth this fight. I sought out a therapist who specifically treated sexual assault trauma. In my research, I found that Crime Victims Treatment Center was at the top of many lists. CVTC was especially appealing because it was a non-profit and able to help me for little-to-no cost. In a time when it’s difficult to attain health insurance or even find a therapist that will take any insurance, CVTC was a godsend. One with great reviews, and the utmost dedication to privacy, with a warm welcoming environment that made me feel comfortable even during my consultation. My first time there, I sat down with a male therapist which made me nervous but in no time, he was tearing up right alongside me.

I am luckier than most. My first relationship after being assaulted is one where I am able to grow and communicate and divulge all my insecurities with someone who makes me feel safe, someone who hears me.

There is no end in sight for my therapy appointments. I am not cured but I am in progress. I still get scared sometimes, I still have nightmares and flashbacks but through this self-care and self-discipline. I am able to cultivate useful tools that would help me get through these traumatic moments.

My story has given me the motivation to encourage others to take personal time and to listen our inner voices. My gut told me to go for it with James and we just celebrated our first (really long) year together.

And I’m happy. Like, wake-up-and-not-feel-stressed-or-useless-or-broken happy. I’m happy I listened to my instincts and did what I thought would be best for me in the long run. The best thing to do when facing a trauma is to choose yourself. In choosing myself, I went to therapy and relived each painful memory, I went through having flashbacks and panic attacks that left me exhausted for days. I know now how to care for myself after these things happen. I’ll go to a spin class to relieve anymore tension and emotion I have, I’ll take a nap, I’ll get my nails done when I need someone else to focus on me for a bit (and a little hand holding doesn’t hurt), above all else, I have learned how to love Annie again.


Feature Image via Victoria Morris

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