Survival

by Michelle Ben-Dov

My name is Michelle. I prefer to be called Shelly. It gives me a new beginning at life. Im a mother of two exhausting yet loving boys. I will be forty-two in June and I will be twelve in November of 2014. I say this because my life ended and began over thirty years ago, on the night while I was in a hospital after a dog had just mauled my face. I was molested by a person I thought I could trust that quickly turned into rape.

Those of you who have been raped probably can relate with figurative death. You are no longer the person you were before you were raped - that person is gone. You are transformed into the person who was raped - the person who is afraid of the dark, has nightmares and flashbacks and battles depression. The saddest part to all this is I was never given a chance to see what type of person I was to begin with. It started at such a young age that it ended up molding me into the person I am today. I went from three to thirty-three overnight.

Understanding the person I was before I was raped is a very difficult task for me. She is a shadowy figure, transformed not only by time, but by the scarring of rape. When I look back on her now, my first instinct is to be angry with her - for being naive, for being young, for trusting so quickly. There were many times during the past thirty years that I hated her - I blamed her for being raped and I cursed her for the problems I encountered after I was assaulted. But when Im being fair with myself, I can catch a glimpse of who she was or who I was supposed to be.

The "before" me

I had lived in a small suburb of Los Angeles, California for most of my life. I am the oldest child of three, with a younger brother and sister. Growing up, I was always on the older side of my peers. When they were interested in dress up and make believe, I was interested in boys. By the time eighth grade rolled around, I had an extreme interest in the opposite sex.

Since I was only three when this all began, its truly difficult for me to say who I really was before. The only thing I can say is that I was a Daddys Girl born on fathers day. I walked and began talking early. Then in a blink of the eye that all changed. I was brutally attacked by the family dog. Now I couldnt speak and was having one surgery after the other. I was no longer the little vibrant girl ready to take on any challenge that came to me. Now I was made to once again rely on others for EVERYTHING.

One night, around midnight, he asked my mom if he could stay with me at the hospital so she could go get some rest. Of course my mother jumped at that chance, she was looking forward to a good nights sleep. But that was when he decided to creep. With nurses constantly walking in and out of my room, he began rubbing my tummy under my gown. He then slowly began moving his down, first on top of my panties. But as times passed without anyone noticing, his hand slipped into my panties. He began to slowly rub my genitals. And no one knew. Every time a nurse would walk into the room, I would look at her with fear in my eyes but I couldnt mutter a single word so there was no one there to rescue me

Horribly out of control

After a while, he leaned over and began caressing my cheek while continuously whispering, Shhh into my ear. I pulled away and tried to sit up in the hospital bed but he just pushed me onto my back. I began crying slowly. My jaw was wired shut so if I cried too much I knew I wouldnt be able to breathe at all. I wanted him to stop or at least have someone walk into the room and make him stop. None of that ever happened. It was a very long terrifying night. It was from there that things began spinning horribly out of control.

He didnt stop and although I started getting to an age where I said "no" many times and tried to fight him, by 9 he raped me. I dont remember how he got my shorts off, and sometimes I still am angry at myself for not being strong enough to fight him off, but he won.

After it was over, he threw my clothes at me and told me to get dressed. He had ejaculated on my stomach and I can still remember what he said, "That stuff sticks to everything. Use your shorts to clean yourself off."

He told me to stop crying several times. Then he said that he wanted to "hold me," and he didnt let me go until he had "held me" for what seemed like an eternity. Then he walked out of the room and lit a cigarette like there wasnt a care in the world.

He told me no one would believe me

I made up this alternate reality for myself, in which I had some control and I made myself believe that what he was doing was normal. I dont think the word "rape" was in my vocabulary just yet. It certainly didnt occur to me that a crime had been committed when I was playing in his backyard, or taking a shower to clean his stench off of me. This was how a normal family worked. I believed this so strongly because in my eyes there was no way that no one in my family didnt know what was going on. I was so ashamed and felt like I had done something bad - and I was afraid to tell my parents because he said no one would believe me. Everyone loved this man and hung on every word he said. I kept it a secret and didnt say a word about it for sixteen years.

My life was hell

By the time I was nine I stopped eating and used food as a weapon against myself. I would feel good if I could make it through an entire day without eating. I became dangerously thin and at times I would make myself throw up because I felt guilty about the food I had eaten that day. Again, I didnt know that what was going on with me had a name - anorexia - nor did I know that many survivors of sexual violence develop eating disorders in an attempt to control something in their life, or to punish themselves because they believe what has happened to them was their fault.

By the time 4th grade came, I was miserable, thin and running out of reasons to live. At the end of 6th grade I caught mono, and because I was so weak, my body couldnt fight the disease. I ended up in the hospital and missed two months of school. And guess who was at my side the entire time. It was around this time that I began to realize that my family knew. He got sickand now so was I.

He was rushed to the hospital with extreme abdominal pain. They found cancer in his pancreas. It was so sever there was no survival. My family was weeping dailywhile I was dancing around with joy. I was loving every minute of watching him slowly die an agonizing painful death! My life was finally about to begin as quickly as it had ended.

My Life Was Shattered Never To Return

I always had this pit in my stomach wondering if anyone in my family knew and would they believe me if I told them? But I kept telling myself that the horror movie was almost overbut just that quick I was dead.

He was brought home from the hospital to be able to die in peace in his own home. The house of horrors is what I always called it. He had only a few days to live. Of course because my mother was over there every minute of the day by his side, I was always made to tag along. I remember sitting in the living room far away from his chair where he used to sit me on his lap while running is fingers up and down legs no matter who was around. My mother and grandmother were talking in the hallway. I was only paying attention to the sounds of his door opening and closing not what they were saying. At that age Im sure I wouldnt have understood what they were saying anyway. But then she came into the room and took me by the hand and began to lead me back the hallway to his room. All she said to me was, He wants to say goodbye. I was led into his room and told to get onto the bed so he could see me. Then she walked away and shut the door behind her. I remember hearing the door make a clicking noise so I got off the bed and went to the door only to realize it was now locked. I started yelling for my mom and the only one who answered was him. He kept telling me to come tell him goodbye. After awhile I finally went to his side. He asked me to get on the bed and before I knew it, he had his limp body on top of me. I was helpless. Even at his frailest, he still over powered me. After a few minutes of him ripping my insides, I began to realize I was no longer crying. I had no more tears to run down my face. This had to be the norm since they had both knowingly put me there. I just allowed my body to become as limp as can be knowing it would all be over soon. And just like that he was done. He rolled off of me quietly calling out for my mother. His voice was so soft that no one heard him.

I had been watching my mother and my grandmother administer his medicine with a needle into this bag that was hanging above him. I had watched them so many times I knew I could do it myself. There was a syringe filled by his bedside. I had no idea what was in it I was too young to know all that. But I do remember saying to myself that every time my mom gives it to him he falls asleep. So I wanted him to fall asleep so I could get out of there. I took the cap off the needle and pushed it into the long tube that hung from the bag. Then I just stood there as he was staring at me trying to take a breath. I watched his chest move slowly up and down getting slower each time. On that last breath I knew he was asleep. I went to door and knocked from the inside saying, I can come out now. They opened the door and I ran out of the room blazing right past both of them. As I got to the kitchen I heard my mother scream a blood curdling scream. He was finally asleep.

After the ambulance came and removed his body, I clearly remember my mother saying to me, How could you do this? He loved you more than anything in the world. He loved me to much as far as I was concerned. For the first time in 12 years I was finally able to breathe. But all this combined molded me into a person I dont like. For that, the healing has never been able to even begin.

Healing

Healing for me didnt begin until I turned forty. I tried everything. I had eating disorders. I had huge bouts of depression over many years, but no one still wouldnt listen. Even after I revealed it to my father, my mother turned to him and said, I know. I was never protected as a child and I will never be protected as an adult. I have taken the wrong road in all this and have used sex as a weapon. I have always felt that that is all I am worth to others. I dont know how to show love appropriately. I dont know how to have friends that arent men.

But something has finally changed in all that over this past year. I have met a man who shows me how to love unconditionally inside and out. He has shown me that its ok in some ways to act out my aggression when needed. But theres also a time and place to discuss the past in order to let go of that long rope Ive been holding onto for so many years. I no longer fear myself but more importantly I no longer feel the need to have sex be my own demise.

Healing no longer seems like an insurmountable task - its just a difficult one, but I do feel better every time I chip away a piece of the barrier between the woman who was raped and the little girl she was before.

I think that what I need to deal with now is the feelings of betrayal I have for women in general. Why do women dismiss rape victims as "whiney" or tell their survivor friends or child to "get over it?"

I am in a new stage of healing and a step closer to recovery. It has only taken me thirty plus years. But Im sure it will take me thirty more.

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