Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Secret

Amanda, an attractive, thirty year old woman I’ve been seeing for two years comes in and fidgets in the chair. She grasps her hands, takes a deep breath, and sits up straighter.

“I have something I need to tell you,” she says. “And if I don’t do it right away I might not do it.”

My anxiety rises. I’m always concerned when patients begin a session in this manner, my mind going to all the most absurd possibilities – she murdered her child, she’s been secretly cutting herself, she’s embezzling money.

“I was raped,” she says. “In college,” she adds. “I’ve never told anyone, not even my husband.”

I’m surprised.  “What made you decide to tell me now?” I ask.

“Rebehah Havrilla.”

The name sounds familiar, but it takes me a minute to realize who she is – the army woman who testified before the Senate about her rape.

Amanda knows a lot more about her. “We’re the same age. She defused roadside bombs in Afghanistan. She was raped by someone from her own unit. And she never reported it. But then a friend told her he’d photographed the attack and that he’d posted it on a porn site. It’s so disgusting! So she reported it. But he claimed it was consensual and that was the end of that. It’s not right! She was defending our country! Defusing bombs for God’s sake. And she gets raped? My story’s not like that, but if she had the courage to tell, I feel I should too.

“What is your story, Amanda?” I ask softly.

She immediately begins crying. “I knew you’d ask that. And I knew I’d have to tell you. But I’m still afraid. I’m afraid you’ll think it’s my fault. I know you won’t, but I was stupid. I knew I shouldn’t have invited him into my apartment, I knew I shouldn’t have been going out with him to begin with. He was a lot older than me. He didn’t go to school. He just sort of hung around at the pizza place we all went. And he was good looking. I guess I was flattered he chose me, that he was interested in me. My roommates weren’t home. I just invited him in, kind of spur of the moment. I liked it when he kissed me. I didn’t even mind when he touched my breasts. But I sure wasn’t going further than that. Except he wouldn’t stop. I tried to push him off me. He called me a “cock teaser.” He said he knew I liked it, that I just wanted it rough. It was awful. It hurt! I was a virgin. Probably the only 20 year old virgin on campus!”

“I’m so sorry, Amanda, sorry that you were raped and sorry that you’ve had to carry this secret for so many years.”

“You don’t think I’m awful?”

“Why would I think you’re awful, Amanda, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“My mother would have said it was my fault. I know she would have. She would have said I never should have gone out with him, let alone let him in my apartment. My mother never wanted me to have an off-campus apartment to begin with. She said I’d get into trouble. And she was right!” Amanda exclaims, sobbing.

While I quickly consider which direction to take, I feel a flash of anger at Amanda’s mother and the path becomes clear to me. “It sounds as though you’ve spent a lot of years being angry with yourself for a brutal act that was committed against you. What about your anger at your rapist. Do you feel angry at him?”

Amanda drops her head. “I have fantasies about killing him,” she says softly. “Violently. Doing all sorts of awful things to him and then killing him. But I feel terrible about that too. I shouldn’t think those kinds of things.”

“They’re only fantasies, Amanda. You can have whatever fantasies you have. And maybe they’ve provided an outlet for you, a way for you to deal with the feelings that you’ve kept bottled up all these years.”

“Are you saying they’ll go away now?” she asks, brightening.

“I can’t say, Amanda.  I don’t know. We’ll have to talk more about what all this means for you, as well as how you feel about telling me.”

“Do you think I should tell my husband?” she asks suddenly.

“What do you think?” I reply.

“I want to. But I don’t think I’m ready. Not yet. I think I’ll get there, but not yet.”

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