Several years back, if someone told me I would be making such a statement as “Thank God I was raped,” I would have considered them cruel and crazy. So, I’m aware of how disturbing this may be for some people to hear or understand.
I didn’t wake up one day and ding! – suddenly find myself thinking, “Hey, G-d . . . thanks for the rape.” It was so-o-o not like that, my friends. It was quite the opposite. I could not understand why G-d would let this happen to me. I went through unspeakable pain and anguish, and I saw my family’s hearts break for me. Yet here I am writing about my rape, and I really am earnestly thankful to G-d for it! How did that happen? I’ll tell you a bit about myself before the rape in hope that you’ll see how life so cleverly prepares us for our personal tragedies. It took me some hard, painful years to figure this out. So here is a brief history of my background:
For the first thirteen years of my life, I suffered from a chronic illness. Going through the hardship made me want to help those who were in need. I worked as a crisis counselor, advocate, and support group facilitator for survivors of violent crimes. For ten years I worked directly with victims of sexual assault, rape, incest, elder and child abuse. Working with such heavy situations is draining, and I felt the signs of burnout. Taking a leap of faith, I resigned from my job, and co-founded a consulting business in New York City, where I’d always lived. But after several years I felt I owed it to myself to get out of my comfort zone and go to live on the other side of the country.
The several times I’d visited San Francisco, I enjoyed the aesthetics and the laid – back attitude of the people there. My family and friends were apprehensive about my moving to a place where I had no friends or established means of income. I understood their concerns, but I was determined to make a life for myself in California and I went ahead with the relocation. This was during the dot-com explosion, and most people were willing to pay a disturbing amount of money in cash to get an apartment, something I obviously was not able to do. So after I had found a full-time consultant job, I still needed a part-time job to make ends meet.
I applied for evening and weekend bartending jobs and got a Sunday interview appointment at a high-end restaurant. It was not far from my place. This made me happy because commuting would be easy and the tips would be good. Being new to the city and wanting to take precautions (I am a New Yorker, after all), I asked a new friend to go with me and wait while I interviewed. My counseling experience made me think about safety issues.
I struggled, he was too strong… so strong that the bruise of his hand-print on my right arm remained for a couple of weeks.
The restaurant was both lovely and busy, and the hostess directed me to the manager. After I gave him my resume, he told me to sit at one of the tables while he tended to customers. Finally, he got back to me and proceeded with a friendly and informal interview. I had already learned that in San Francisco even employers were super casual and laid back. The manager even introduced me to his wife, who was dining with some of their friends. He finally offered me the job and insisted that my companion and I stay and try some of the cuisines so I could become familiar with the food. I thought, how generous! And I was happy to get the job.
After some time, the restaurant manager asked me to go to his office to fill out some forms. I told my friend I would be right back. The manager went over to his wife’s table and said something to her, then motioned for me to follow him to his office. He was walking quite a bit ahead of me, and I had to take large steps to try to catch up with him. Losing track of where he had gone, I asked an employee, who pointed to the manager’s door. When I knocked, he called to me to open the door and come in.
This is when my true journey began.
I opened the door but didn’t see him. Suddenly, I felt a hand around my face, covering my mouth. He pulled me down to the cold, hard floor. I could not believe it! What was happening? I screamed, but no one heard me. The office was far from the noisy dining room, and no one heard my pleas for help. He held me down and took off my clothes. I struggled, he was too strong… so strong that the bruise of his hand-print on my right arm remained for a couple of weeks. He raped and sodomized me, and I immediately knew that he had done this before because he was so methodical and quite confident that he would not be caught.
Time stood still, and I began to experience what many survivors of trauma describe as an out-of-body experience: as he raped me I felt like I was watching a movie of someone being raped. But that someone was not an actor… it was me, and it was real. I am not sure how much time passed, but when he was done with me, he calmly got himself together while I lay there bleeding, shocked, and in disbelief. Slowly and painfully, I got up to put on my clothes. He turned to me, kissed and thanked me, and walked away. Yes, he did! I could not believe it myself, and it happened to me.
I was no longer the person I was before I opened those doors. The person before would have thought the same thing that some of you are thinking now, which is, “Why didn’t you run after him and try to kick his ass?” I tried to fight him off during the rape, but at some point I disconnected. I was in shock and felt broken. Then denial set in . . . I just could not accept what had happened to me – after all, I did everything I thought I could to do to be safe. I had someone go with me to the place of the interview, and I told her that I was going to the office and would be right back. The place was crowded, and an employee sent me to the manager’s office, so this person knew I was in there with the manager. (Much later, I found out he was his lookout.)
Why didn’t the red flags come up? How could I let this happen?
The whole thing was like a nightmare. I don’t remember going back into the restaurant’s dining room. I finally found my friend, who was waiting for me. She was upset and began to yell at me because I’d taken so long that she thought I’d just forgotten about her. Then suddenly I blurted out, “I was raped.” Naturally she freaked out – she was very upset. We left the restaurant, and she wanted to call the police. But I said no, and we got a cab home.
Once home, we talked about it, and I decided to call the police. I knew that in rape cases the victim is basically the evidence, so I didn’t shower or change my clothes, although every cell in my body wanted to scrub the rapist off me. I could smell him on me, and it made me want to throw up and peel off my skin. The police came, took my report, and drove me to the hospital. They were insensitive and dismissive. I spent about seven hours waiting for a rape crisis nurse to do my rape kit. In the interim, the investigators interviewed me several times. I was in pain and exhausted. When the nurse finally checked me, she said that in all her time doing this type of work, mine was the most terrible physical trauma she’d encountered, adding that she would be more than willing to testify to that in court. She was very kind and compassionate.
I took emergency contraception, an HIV cocktail as a precaution against possible exposure, and an STD test. For weeks I was weak from the side effects of the HIV cocktail. I was relieved and grateful that my test results were all fine, but can you imagine how awful I felt during those weeks, not knowing if I was okay?! I tried to get counseling, but the referrals I got were not helpful, and I couldn’t afford to pay for therapy on my own. I told no one but my sister; I simply worked like a robot, just existing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t eat and couldn’t sleep – I just worked – until about a bit over a month after my rape, when I ended up in the emergency room with a severe asthma attack, during which I was pronounced clinically dead for about four minutes. Actually that was the only time I had felt any peace since the rape. Then I was brought back to my so-called life, and I was not happy to be back!
Why? Why would G-d be so cruel as to have me go through the agony of physically dying? Why did I tease? I felt the deliciousness of being on the other side. I had peace, absolute love, and joy when I was dead, and then bam! I got the Cosmic Boot™ (which I wrote about in detail in my soon-to-be-published book, Death Didn’t Want Me Getting the Cosmic Boot).
I returned home to finish my recovery and wanted to know about my case, but the investigator was dismissive and unresponsive. I tried many times to find out what was going on, but couldn’t get any answers. It took me many months, with the assistance of an advocate, to find out the status of my case: It was closed. The investigator in charge said that I never showed interest in pursuing the case – a completely false statement on his part.
It took years for me to finally have the satisfaction of knowing that my rapist was behind bars for the crime that he committed against me. Even though I was relieved when they put him away where he cannot hurt anyone else, I remained inundated with a rage that was destroying me. After a while of searching, I found a therapist in California who helped a bit. Meanwhile, I was trying to live my life, which I did very poorly. I was a walking, talking, breathing ghost, and no matter what I did to help myself, nothing worked. I remained stuck in “Why did this happen to me?” and unable to make progress in my healing process.
I went through all the stages common to someone who’s had a traumatic incident: denial, shame, self-blame, anger, and so on. Clinically I knew why I felt and behaved in those ways. But that didn’t help me from feeling it. I had worked with rape survivors for many years, and I had taken a self-defense class. I felt that somehow I should have known better, that I should have been able to stop it. I should be able to “get over it” because I knew what steps to take to heal. My life was a complete mess, and I felt no zest for life. I had no direction with work and no personal social life.
After several years in San Francisco I moved back to New York City and my family found out about the rape – I was no longer functional. I stayed home, unable to go out by myself. I wore baggy clothes and hats, so that no one could see me – even if it were hot outside, I would cover my body. Back in therapy, I still had to take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication in order to become functional again. The medication helped, but rage still filled me. I simply felt hopeless. I finally decided to end all the pain, so I overdosed on the pills. I ended up in the emergency room, where they gave me an enormous amount of charcoal to help rid my body from the toxins of the pills. I have to tell you there’s nothing more mind clearing than seeing the image of yourself with your mouth and teeth stained with thick black coal goop. The thing about hitting rock bottom is that you have only the top to go to. It took me some time to ask myself why I was still in such pain and despair. I knew I was stuck, but how do I give myself the nudge to begin healing?
I thought about when I worked with my clients, and what they shared with me. I remembered the feedback that they gave about me – how compassionate and non-judgmental I was with them. I seriously began to meditate on why I was able to show compassion for others but not for myself. On one of my many sleepless nights, I opened a big box of my old journals and started to read both the pre- and post-rape ones, and I sobbed uncontrollably. I finally allowed myself to grieve for the person I had been before the rape. I decided to bury most of my journals symbolically, which allowed me to say goodbye to that part of me that I felt was gone.
But after a while, I realized that part of me was not gone. What the rapist had done had changed me forever. That was a fact! But now it was up to me to decide how it had changed me. Was I going to be a lost soul? Someone scared of her own shadow? Someone who did not trust her judgments anymore? Was I going to continue to see only the ugliness of life and marinate in bitterness?
I re-read the journals from after the rape and tried to objectively see the things that I was going through. I really tried not to judge anything. I just recognized all the things that I had been doing that were not allowing me to heal. I finally did for myself what I was able to do for the clients I worked with: I showed compassion and worked on not being judgmental. By doing so, I ended up forgiving myself. Through doing these things, I became less angry, and started the process of letting go of the rage I felt toward my rapist. He overpowered me that night. But I realized that I could have that power back by not letting what he did prevent me from having a happy, fulfilling life. So I simply began to forgive him. This does not mean I wanted to hang out with him and send him holiday cards. But holding on to the rage was not hurting him – it was hurting me. I know it sounds cheesy, but just because it’s cheesy doesn’t mean it’s not true.
I wondered if my working with victims of violent crimes years ago had been a way for G-d to help me prepare for my own personal tragedy. I know it might sound strange, but I do believe this to be true. Once I took those huge steps of self-compassion, forgiveness, letting go, and re-claiming my life, I reached out to others more and talked openly about my rape. In time, I could again go out by myself and I started literally taking off the layers that I carried. An artist friend of mine knew about my rape and told me about a radio show called The Rape Declaration Forum in New York on radio station WBAI, which his girlfriend hosted and produced. He suggested that perhaps I would want to go on and talk about what had happened to me. It’s a live call-in show, where people can share their story on the air. I decided to do it, and Rebecca Myles, the show’s host, invited me to be in the studio while she played my pre-recorded interview.
I went to the studio; it was my first time doing any radio, and I was nervous. After Rebecca played the tape of my story, people called in to share their own stories, saying that in my telling my story I had inspired and helped them. It truly was powerful. That’s when I really began to thank G-d that I had been raped! The pain and anger that I had for myself, my rapist, and G-d had transformed to inner peace and purpose. I was able to see the person I am now – a woman who has survived a personal tragedy and has found her power. I have the power to claim my life. It is me and not my rape that defines it.
I know that compassion and forgiveness starts with me. I know that being in a state of gratitude allows me more things to be thankful for in my life. I have the courage now to be true to myself. I now embrace the writer and artist in me by way of my poems and books. I am an activist and public speaker, spreading the message of self-empowerment and inspiration. The biggest blessing for me is that I found my purpose: to do radio broadcasting. I was graciously asked to co-host The Rape Declaration Forum at WBAI with Rebecca Myles. I also produce and host my own radio show, The Jay Grayce Radio Variety Show, on Tribecaradio.net.
It is a place of gratitude that allows me to see and understand the great opportunities that can come from my struggles. It has taken me a long time to understand that. I really did not believe that I would find joy in my life again. So for anyone who is lost in despair, I would suggest that you feel what you are feeling. But please also be patient and compassionate with yourself. And I thank G-d for allowing me the honor of having you read my story.