Warning: This article contains graphic accounts of Military Sexual Trauma.
The person sitting next to me in school at Advanced Individual Training was a Sergeant there to train for a new Military Occupational Specialty. When I extended my arm to cut the inside, he noticed the cuts on my hand and wrists. He turned my arm and saw the other cuts. I smiled and said, "Doesn’t hurt." At break, he reported me for cutting myself. I was called to the office of the training school. I had a choice, either tell them why I was cutting myself in class or get charged with destruction of government property. I told about the rape and named the rapist. I didn’t want to get in trouble and wanted him to pay for what he did to me. I don’t remember what happened the rest of that day. I do know that Molina was arrested in class and carted off in handcuffs in front of everyone. And then my life went to hell, fast.
I had to tell the story to military police. When it was determined that the incident happened off post, I had to talk to civilian detectives. My chain of command decided to move me to another platoon so the rapist would not be removed from his support system and because they said it was easier to move a female. I was referred to alcohol assessment because drinking was involved. My rapist’s name was on the attendance list, but he didn’t show. I was sent to a military psychologist who wrote on the report that I had anger issues and should be in a rape victim support group and receive treatment for the trauma. I hand carried that report back to my company and never saw it again. The only support group I was sent to was a general support group and everyone there attacked me saying that I was lying. They defended him because he threatened to kill himself. I wished he had. They felt sorry for him, and I was the evil one bucking the system we lived under.
My female drill sergeant called me into her office with several other people to include some who where at the party and some who were not. She wanted to hear what happened and why the incident wasn’t reported. She told me, looking straight into my face, that because I had been drinking, I put myself in that position and asked for what I got. I deserved it. I was to stay away from Molina because he threatened to kill himself. I never went near the prick and someone should give him a loaded gun and be done with it. I’m the one with no support system. I’m the one being humiliated…again…in front of others.
My Drill Instructor proceeded to tell me that I didn’t act like a rape victim. She had a friend who was beaten and raped and her friend hid from the world, especially men. I was numb. I didn't know how to act or react much less what I was "supposed" to act like. I was trying to show her I was tough enough to "adapt and overcome" as the Army drilled into us. That didn’t change that I was raped. She had no sympathy for me and wanted me to stay away from everyone.
My class of 13 was moved to another company further separating me from the rapist. I thought I had a chance to start over. My new first sergeant immediately made it known that he had heard from my previous command about what happened and none of that shit was going to happen in his company. From the lecture he gave me, he was told and had decided that I was full of shit and a trouble-maker and liar. He immediately jumped on everything I did and I avoided him as much as I could. I avoided many things. I went on sick call so much that I almost got held back to the next cycle that was three weeks behind mine. I tried to be invisible. I tried not to do or say anything that made me stand out from anyone else. I just wanted to blend into the background and be lost.
At the same time that I wanted to go unnoticed, I also wanted companionship. In the new company, I had a roommate I got along with. She already had friends and tried to include me but it wasn’t all that I was looking for. I did want friends and appreciated her being there and not judging me. I was sure no man would look at me or want me considering what happened. My only course of action, in my mind, was to take the dredges I could get and pretend to like it and want it just to not be alone for a few moments. I wanted someone to put their arms around me and tell me that everything I feared would not happen and the fears themselves would go away. I wanted someone to put their arms around me and tell me I was safe. I wanted too much, so much more than I felt I should expect or deserve. I wanted the fairy tale I thought in the before was still possible and in the after I didn’t stand a chance of getting.
This state of mind is how I ended up with my first husband, Steven. I think he was as desperate as I was to be loved. He said he didn’t care what happened. Looking back, I think he just didn’t want to be alone.
My parents didn’t want me to join and this was their big "I told you so" moment. If I had only listened and not joined that damned Army, everything would have been fine. My mother never said those exact words, but I still can easily hear them in her voice in my head.
Eventually I was able to leave Aberdeen and return home. It took a Senator’s intervention to make it happen, but I was home. Steven was so insecure about who I was talking to at the same time talking about a woman he had met, I made the assumption he was cheating and projecting his guilt onto me. I worked in a factory surrounded by men so Steven made me quit my job. If I was not home for his calls, he gave me the third degree as to who I was with and if I talked to any men and who and how long and what did we talk about.
I didn’t believe a decent man would fall in love with me and want to be with me. I believed if anyone was with me, they had nothing better going on and were settling. When my marriage to Steven fell apart, I had an affair with a nice, married, sergeant from my Army Reserve unit. It started out with just talking, some flirting, and then I fell back into not saying no even though I very much wanted to. I talked to him because he was married and I thought he was safe and wouldn’t try anything. He was a serial cheater. I was the fourth and not the last. I didn’t want in that relationship but there was one more thing I wanted, and he was willing to give it and walk away. I wanted a child. By that point in my life, I knew as fact that I would never find a man who wanted me.
I got pregnant, he walked. I told Steven, we got divorced. I went on to marry ex-husband number two. We were friends for three years. I liked him. He liked me. He was lonely and had been single for three years. I was damaged goods with a baby on the way. I thought it would be a good idea to build a relationship with a friend, he agreed. Joe took my daughter as his. We had another daughter. We had a boy. Then we had another boy. One day, Joe threw our two-year-old son across the room for bumping into him with a butter knife. And that was it. The marriage was over. I got out and started a new life. I got married again.
The way my therapist explained it to me, I had buried Aberdeen under a mountain of problems. Some of the problems were mine. More often I took on someone else’s problems to keep myself busy and my mind occupied. When I remarried, I married someone I loved, not just friends. I didn’t have to worry about burying my problems to deal with his. He was financially stable, lessening another worry. My kids were getting older and needed me far less. I had overwhelmed myself with work and volunteering but cut back because of the stress on myself and our family. With more time to myself and less of other people’s garbage on my mind, I had uncovered the trauma I had never dealt with. I was now in a safe environment where I could deal with these issues and my mind decided I had to whether I wanted to or not.
There had been signs something was amiss for a few years. I had a really great job as a Training Specialist for the same military trucks I drove and repaired in the Army. That job also meant I was around military men. Subconsciously, I resumed the defense mechanisms I needed in Aberdeen because of the rape in and my Army Reserve Unit because I was a woman. I was antisocial, critical, cynical, and obnoxious. I was fired after nine months.
I fell into depression and blamed it on losing my job. That was when the infrequent nightmares became nightly. That was when singing along to the radio in the car became dwelling on every minute detail of my experiences in Aberdeen. That was when I started taking closer looks at people, first the men that resembled the rapist and then at everyone paranoid that they new I was anxious and damaged. That was when my world shattered like a mirror into thousands of shards that only showed a small piece of who I was and none of them fit back together.
I did two things to fight this. First I fell back to trying to be invisible. I had to split myself into the public me the private me that hid tears and anxiety and paranoia that people knew about the nightmares and insomnia and knew about my hyper vigilance and new about the rape. And then I tried to bury that second self and make the images in my head go away. It has been fifteen years. I should have forgotten. I should be fine and normal. And I couldn’t feel farther from all of that.
In September of 2008, I attended a weekend conference for women veterans. I sat in on a session about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of Military Sexual Trauma. I spoke to the lecturer who is a woman in the military whose job it is to educate the military on sexual assault in its ranks. She encouraged me to file a VA claim to get help and called a couple of times after the conference to make sure I contacted a therapist. Finally I did overcome my fear that talking about what happened would make it real and I wouldn’t be able to bury it and hide it anymore. I can’t bury this anymore because it is digging its own way out. I can’t hide it anymore because it isn’t my shame to hide. I was raped. It happened. I couldn’t stop it. I have to let myself believe that I am not weak. I did not ask to be raped. I did not deserve to be raped. I am not a whore, I am not worthless. I am not damaged. But right at this moment I don’t really believe it…yet.
February 4, 2013
Warning: This article contains graphic accounts of Military Sexual Trauma.