Happy Anniversary, Ana

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the first time I was raped. Tuesday 14 December 1999, around 8pm, at the house of my parents’ friend. What does a 12-year-old do anywhere other than at home at 8pm on a school night? Believe me, I’ve asked myself that same question many times, and, knowing what they know now, so have my parents. But it’s irrelevant. Sitting on that couch, I wondered why my parents’ friend had brought me to his house instead of mine. He gave me Coca Cola, which at home I would only ever get on Very Special Occasions. I remember thinking the kitchen looked like a bar, with a high kitchen top and stools (although, strangely, I don’t remember actually seeing that kind of kitchen top or stools). We chatted, him in the kitchen and me on the couch, until he sat next to me and put his hand on my knee. He said he liked my corduroys, and started stroking them. Of course I knew things were not right. I wasn’t stupid. I was just paralysed.

I have two kinds of memories of what happened that night. There’s a factual account of events, all nicely aligned in chronological order (I think). There is also a black box filled with memories of myself experiencing these terrifying events. It’s the black box memories that bother me. I remember loosing my body, for example, stroke by stroke. As he touches me, his hands leave traces of tar on my skin. I literally, physically, ghastly, feel that my body is being taken from me as he draws his thick lines of tar. Until there’s nothing left that’s mine.

I’m not the only anniversary girl today. In a tiny country like the one I lived in at the time, 90.000 women and girls per year fall victim to sexual violence. Assuming rapists don’t take days off for Christmas, that’s 246 women and girls each day. And, assuming no lunch- or cigarette breaks, that’s more than 10 women and girls per hour. If my stats are correct, these numbers add up to 3.198 Dutch women and girls having their first-sexual-assault anniversary today. And then another 3.198 tomorrow, and again the day after. I like statistics, but these numbers are not particularly uplifting…

Anniversaries, for better or worse, are special days, and special days should not go by in silence. Which is why I’m telling you about mine, 14 December. If today is your anniversary too, you need to know you are not alone. Today will be tough, and that’s OK. It’s your job to take good care of yourself. What is it you need today? What would make you feel better, even the slightest? If you need to reach out and talk to someone, permit yourself to do so today. If you need to roll up in a blanket and watch the Gillmore Girls all day, go for it. If all you need is a hug, make it a good one. Go shopping, stay in bed, drink hot chocolate, read a book, order pizza, or have your lover make you breakfast in bed. Spend this day on you. It was never your choice to have this kind of anniversary. The least you can do is be kind to yourself, even if just for a day.

Me, I will not be celebrating my anniversary alone this year. I totally panicked when I was told my PhD defence ceremony would take place on 14 December. It took a few months, but I can now honestly say that I like the idea. This year on 14 December I will be celebrating, drinking with my friends and dining with my loved ones. I was twelve years a child, then seventeen years a survivor, and now I want 14 December to belong to me again.

My stats: one-third of victims are victimised only once, which makes a conservative proxy for ‘being sexually assaulted for the first time’. The average Dutch person is now 39 years old. 246/3=82, 82*39=3198

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15 thoughts on “Happy Anniversary, Ana

  1. What does anyone say to another who has suffered such a horrific event?
    That you accomplished the highly challenging goal of receiving a PhD is greatly commendable and admirable.
    The additional work, diligence and focus it must have taken because of the severe trauma you experienced heightens the awe inspiring achievement ten-fold. I am in awe. Congrats!

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  2. My anniversary is on the 19th of December. It will be exactly a year. Last year I struggled with accepting what happened. I’m so glad I told someone. Now I’m not living alone and in fear.(or not fear that he can do it again.)

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    1. Thanks a lot Lauren, it must be a difficult time for you knowing that your day is approaching. I’m glad you told someone and I hope you also share your feelings around this upcoming anniversary, when needed. All my best and I’ll be thinking of you next week. Love, Ana

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      1. Dear Lauren, I’m so sorry about what happened to you. I hope you can find the courage to share your feelings with someone. You are not alone, and there’s no need for you to be alone in these difficult times. Take good care of yourself and surround yourself with your loved ones. I wish you all the best. Love, Ana

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It doesn’t feel right ‘liking’ this post, but I have. Just want you to know that I’m thinking of you on this tough day. What a powerful post, and it is so wonderful to hear how you have taken back your life and reclaimed December 14th with a positive purpose – Congratulations and enjoy the PhD ceremony!! x

    http://www.invisiblyme.com

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  4. Dear Ana,

    I have just come across your powerful and inspiring blog. I am also a neuroscientist, also an Ana, also did my PhD in The Netherlands, and am also at Oxbridge at the moment. And I, too, am living in the present while re-living a serious trauma (of a different kind).

    I am touched by how you now take care of your 12-year-old self, and I share in your elation when I see you taking control as an adult. I hope that you are also able to take care of your current self, and that you know that, even now, it’s OK to sometimes be helpless and dependent and weak.

    I wonder whether you are familiar with the work of Bessel van der Kolk? He is a psychiatrist who specialized in trauma. I recently read his book ‘The body keeps the score’, and I found it very insightful. The neuroscience part was not that strong I thought, but he articulates the effects of trauma very well. It can also be a triggery book, though, so I do not recommend it outright.

    I will keep reading your blog and following your story.

    Take care,
    Ana

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    1. Dear Ana, thank you so much for your message! That’s a scary number of similarities! 😉 Happy to connect.
      I’ve heard of the work of Bessel van der Kolk, it pops up every now and then and each time I think: “I should read it”. Thanks for the reminder! If I’m not mistaken he emphasises a rather physical approach to psychological trauma, right? It’s certainly something I would be very interested in, as I struggle a great deal with my body. Anyways, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words! I’ll go check out your blog now 🙂 Warm wishes, Ana

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      1. Bessel van der Kolk emphasizes disruptions in interoception, yes. His work is on how to reconnect to your own sensations in a safe way, i.e. how to learn to handle the threat that these sensations sometimes bring. For instance, he describes how hard it is for sexually abused people to take part in yoga – your ballet post was a perfect example.

        I got so caught up with empathizing yesterday that I forgot to congratulate you on your defense! I hope the day was all you hoped it would be.

        Cheers,
        Ana

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