I met Renee DeVesty on BraveHeartWomen.com, the social network for women who want to change themselves and save the world. Founder Ellie Drake says that this online community "brings together women from all around the world to share and receive inspiration. Through conversation, compassion, and community, BraveHeart Women empowers women of all ages to discover their own voices, expand their potential, and be the change they want for themselves, their family, community, and the world."
Renee Devesty is truly a BraveHeart woman, who was raped at 19, recovers daily as all survivors do, and tells her story to help other women break the silence and seek help so they, too, can begin to thrive, not just survive
She has agreed to be a guest blogger and share her story below.
BREAKING THE SILENCE SURROUNDING ACQUAINTANCE RAPE
It's been almost three decades since I was raped -- not by a stranger, but an acquaintance. The man who held me down was someone I knew and trusted. It happened among people who were lifelong friends; and like so many women, I was terrified, confused, and blamed myself for far too long. I'm telling my story now because I am ready for this with every bone in my body. I've been waiting to heal for 30 years. It's time for the silence to be broken.
I'd gone for an overnight trip to my best friend's camp on a lake in upstate New York. There were 10 of us who'd gathered there, all 19 years old. We had all attended school together, lived nearby and knew each other most of our lives.
I rode to the camp with my best friend and her husband. They had married young because he had joined the Navy. Though they now lived out of town, they'd returned for the weekend while he was home on leave. When we got to the camp, my best friend told me I could have the best bedroom upstairs, since everyone else was sleeping on the floor. Excited, I put my belongings in the upstairs room and changed into my swimsuit for a day on the boat.
Back then, the legal drinking age in New York state was 18 and we'd been drinking on and off all day. When evening came, we were all hanging out on the deck enjoying ourselves. I wasn't much of a drinker and after being on the lake all day, I was the first to go to bed.
I awoke to a feeling of pressure. When I opened my eyes, there was my best friend's husband standing over me, one hand clamped against my mouth while he held me down with the other. He was a big guy and I was frozen with fear and intimidation; I absolutely could not move a muscle. His buddy, another friend I had known all my life, was now on top of me also holding me down and grabbing at my underwear. It was the middle of the night; I was half asleep and thought I must be dreaming.
Soon, it became evident I was not dreaming. It was real, but psychologically, it didn't make any sense.
Where was everyone? Where was my best friend? Why were these guys -- my friends -- doing this to me? It was all over quickly and they left immediately; but before he walked out, my best friend's husband warned me not to say anything or he'd deny it.
I was definitely afraid of him. I was raised a strict Catholic and immediately thoughts of fear, shame and disgust filled my head. I began to think this was all my fault. I thought I must have done something to encourage this. And then it hit me: Was it really an attack because I knew them? Was it actually rape since they were my friends? My head was spinning and I was physically sick to my stomach.
"I never said a word"
When I awoke next morning, I was still terrified, and it got worse when I went downstairs and saw my attackers in the kitchen. I didn't know what to think or say. My best friend's husband just stared at me. My best friend appeared to be acting normal. "She'll never believe you," I told myself. This is her husband and she loves him. Silently, I packed my things and rode the whole way home in the car with my rapist. And I never said a word.
I immediately blamed myself and thought if I had only slept downstairs with everyone else, it wouldn't have happened. Or if I didn't wear my swimsuit, I would have been safe. My mind could not comprehend this whole scenario, so in order to cope with it, I blocked it out as if it never happened. I shut down completely and decided I would never tell anyone about it.
Pregnant from the rape
A few months later I realized the nightmare wasn't over. I had become pregnant from the rape. I went into shock again. Being a strict Catholic, I thought, "How could God allow this to happen to me?" I was convinced I was being punished. I felt enormous shame and guilt. This was 30 years ago. Practically no one went to counseling then or openly sought help for such things. I could not tell my mother, and I was too ashamed to tell my friends. And who would believe me now two months later? I still could not believe it myself.
Because of my shame, fear, disgust and the belief I had no one to turn to, I regretfully made the decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Trauma and aftermath of being raped
The rape and then the trauma of the subsequent choices I had to make as a result of being raped haunted me for years. I found that although my body healed, my thought process and my inner core were deeply damaged. Because I blamed myself, I hated myself. I became a severe alcoholic, drinking seven days a week to numb myself.
I had a job that I should have been fired from because I would show up late and sleep on the couch in the restroom during my lunch hour. Bill collectors called me non-stop. My relationships with men were abusive.
I was terrified to sleep alone at night, had horrible nightmares and finally resorted to sleeping with a baseball bat, a butcher knife and a cordless phone because of the fear that it would happen again. This act that had ended years and years ago continued to torture me every minute, every hour, every day of my life.
It wasn’t until I was married and then pregnant with my son that I became sober and started counseling. I was 31 years old, and it had been 12 years since I was raped. In my first session, I ran to the window and tried to physically open it because I felt like all the oxygen had left the room. I truly could not breathe. I stayed with it, but the pain of uncovering these old wounds was mentally and emotionally traumatizing.
Caught in the cycle of abuse
Because I stopped using alcohol to soothe the pain, I chose food as an addiction. My weight fluctuated constantly until I stopped eating at one point altogether. My counselor told me if I didn’t start eating I would be put in 30-day treatment facility. I remember days of physically forcing myself to eat one slice of cantaloupe, because I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from my son. I would eat not for me, but for him.
That’s how psychologically devastating rape can be. Rape takes away your sense of self. You disappear. In order to survive, you don’t exist in your mind. It is too painful to see yourself through the pain, through the action that has taken place. Your body is your canvas, the picture you show to the world. And if someone has violated your personal canvas, how do you remove that image in your mind? You become disconnected from your body and are convinced that nothing will ever erase the marks that are left behind. Nothing.
Having my son forced me to take care of myself. I had someone I loved so much who needed me, I had to get better. I worked extremely hard to get the help I should have gotten for that beautiful, innocent teenager all those years ago.
Because of what happened to me and how deeply affected I was by the entire experience, today I am a rape survivor, not a rape victim. There are so many more places available to address issues similar to mine than there were 30 years ago, including many community-based rape crisis centers. No one should ever have to suffer in silence.
Helping others to survive and thrive
I currently am a high school youth leader and I conduct retreats for women and teenage girls on self-empowerment, teaching a sense of belief in and love for yourself, and how to make healthy choices despite your circumstances in life.
I've come forward with my story after so many years -- and am now an advocate for ending abuse and violence against women and girls -- because the psychological damage caused by rape takes its toll unless women seek immediate help. To reclaim their lives and become rape survivors, rape victims need to realize that they are not to blame The negative thoughts of self-destruction that follow rape or sexual abuse are so detrimental that it is imperative that some form of healing begin immediately.
We are pure, whole, and beautiful
We need to remember our beautiful canvas is ours and ours alone. Nothing or no one ever can -- or ever will -- be able to alter your inner core, your center of purity, wholeness and beauty. Only we have the power to continually wipe it clean and begin again.
And we must believe that, indeed, we are important enough to begin again.
Professionally, Renee is a Marketing Consultant with over 25 years experience in the management, coordination, and promotion of corporate and non-profit events, concerts and fundraisers. She is the founder of Blossom/Take Root & Grow, wellness retreats emphasizing the importance of emotional, physical, spiritual and financial health and well-being of women and teen girls.
She has been a featured public speaker at events including V-Day's Vagina Monologues, Junior Achievement's Young Women's Symposium, and an exhibitor at WISE—Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship in 2009 and 2010. She is also a member of WomenTies—Together Inspiring Entrepreneurial Success. As a high school youth leader, she works with teens on projects that emphasize service in the community, support of self-esteem and self-image issues, and how the choices you make directly impact your future. Renee is passionate about community service, and her commitment to helping others is at the forefront of everything she does.
For more about Renee visit http://www.reneedevesty.com