*Trigger warning – this post is about sexual assault and its aftermath in my life.*
“Occlumency, Potter. The magical defense of the mind against external penetration. An obscure branch of magic, but a highly useful one.”
Severus Snape, a professor at the school for wizardry that Harry Potter attended, gave Harry this definition. Harry wasn’t a great student in these one-on-one lessons but eventually he figured out how to block another from his mind. It seems to me that he figured it out once push came to shove and he really needed it.
In Harry’s case, they were trying to keep him from connecting with one person who was getting into his head. Through the books, though, I started to think of Occlumency as keeping evil out. And I think I’m still learning.
I thought of all this a few days ago. I’d been reading book 7 of the Harry Potter series with my son in the morning and that afternoon I was triggered. Over two decades ago I was raped. I’ve dealt with it, seen therapists, and live a good life. But it still sneaks up on me sometimes.
At first, shortly after I was raped, memories of it would bury me. They’d overwhelm me completely and leave me disoriented, in tears, and needing time to recoup. In the years since my attack, I’ve learned how to function and respond to triggers. But they still feel like that rug’s been pulled out. When this happened most recently, I was in a very public location. I was thankful that I was sitting down because I certainly got lightheaded as I realized the feeling of being back there, under him. This time, though, I knew what was happening immediately and stayed rooted in my seat, acknowledging where I was in the present. The way I forced the fear and pain out of my mind reminded me of how Harry does it – in a way that takes incredible energy and effort.
In the books, it talks about how Harry “wrenched himself to the present.” Another time it says that, “With an enormous effort he pulled…back to where he stood, swaying.” Those words clearly explain how I felt the other day. But I did it. And I felt a bit proud of myself for regaining control and composure without ever really losing it completely.
However, that said, I do find it necessary to let the emotions wash over me at some point. I don’t like it, but I always feel like I need to acknowledge and struggle through those triggered feelings. My preferred method is in a hot bath or shower and to just cry, mourn, feel angry and sad, and finally to come back to the good life that is my reality now. The exhaustion is complete, but life goes on. So must I.
Last week when this happened, I finished the day – shuttling kids, working, dinner, laundry, and all that is life. After a restful night’s sleep and that cleansing shower, I thought I was good to go. Normally I am. Turns out, though, that I need some more practice as an Occlumens. I’d cast off the initial attack and knew I wasn’t in danger anymore, but the fear and sadness and more stayed with me for a few days. I haven’t felt that suddenly and utterly depressed in a long time.
I looked at every person around me and wondered if they’d been wounded like I had been. Or, worse, I wondered which of those people walking past me were rapists. When I heard someone laughing I suspected it was at some cruel joke at someone else’s expense. I assumed the worst of everyone and everything for days. Each time I realized I was doing this I felt worse thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I pull myself out of this?” I was detached and felt alone. I started to worry I wouldn’t be able to find a way out from under the thick, heavy fog that surrounded me.
I was ready to pick up the phone this morning and make an appointment to talk to a therapist, but I woke up feeling better. I don’t know why. I don’t even care why right now. I’m just so completely relieved!
I’d already written most of this post. Usually writing my thoughts helps put things in perspective. This time, though, I just considered deleting the whole dang thing, wanting to get as far from the past few days as possible.
But something tells me I’m meant to open this part of myself to you.
Someone needs to hear that they’re not alone. That the aftermath of being raped never goes away. That even though someone smiles on the outside and says they’re, “Fine, just tired,” they might be scared that they’ll never be fine again. I hope this post reaches that someone.
I don’t know where the dementors were lurking, but they were surrounding me somehow (that’s more Potter terminology to lighten the mood – dementors suck all that is positive and good out of the people they’re near) and it was scary, indeed. And telling you this feels vulnerable. Even though I’m exposed, it’s worth it to inspire someone to reach out for help and to let all survivors know they’re not alone.
I still think, though, that there is something to this Occlumency idea. It is always helpful to keep the evil out of our minds – to block it from coming in or force it out before it can do more damage. I guess I probably wouldn’t have done any better than Harry at learning how to close my mind. Also, like him, though, I figured it out when I had to.
I hope you do too.