The Sexual Assault was familiar

Julie, Boston


Dear Dr. Patti,

I am nineteen years old. When I was 13 years old and beginning my freshman year of high school, I stopped eating. I had a history of excessive dieting prior to this but took it to such an extreme once I entered high school. I nearly ended up in the hospital on many different occasions. I tried it all out—the laxatives, diuretics, exercise sprees, etc. I was in self-destruct mode always. When I reached tenth grade, my eating still wasn’t great and I began cutting myself. It started on just my arms but over the course of 4 years, it continued onto my breasts, hips, thighs, butt and stomach. Throughout high school, I was always extremely depressed and anxious but nobody ever knew. I always smiled and got good grades and maintained my friendships. For some reason, I was just never happy and never felt that feeling of safety that I think most people naturally just have within them. I always felt crazy because I never understood why I was so self-destructive and unhappy. I figured that once I went to college, things would magically get better for me. I was really wrong.

I just completed my second year of college and I’m at my lowest point. Crying all the time, still cutting sometimes, extremely anxious, barely sleeping, barely eating, etc. The only time I feel like I can breathe is when I go on long drives, roll down the windows, and blast the music so I can’t hear my own thoughts. Unfortunately, I can’t do that all day so I’m forced to hear my own thoughts most of the time. Last October, I was sexually assaulted in my car by a guy I had been on a “date” with (we just went for a drive and talked a little). When I dropped him off and pulled over, it happened. It was during this experience that I realized something felt really wrong with me. I didn’t respond with fear or shaking or yelling etc. when he began sexually hurting and overpowering me—I just sat there and let it happen as if I was sitting there lifeless with no power to move my body. What’s weird is that it seemed like this event sparked a flame that had already once been lit. The feeling felt oddly familiar. It didn’t feel like the first time but I also couldn’t put any other event or information to match up to it, which left me very confused. My point is that it didn’t feel like a first-time violation and I’m not sure why. I tried to forget all about everything and “move on” but it was eating at me. I recently hung out with a guy friend and when we were fooling around, my body started to shake uncontrollably. He didn’t hurt me at all but my body responded with so much fear when he put his fingers in me. I’ve had such abnormal reactions and startle responses to things lately and I don’t really know why. I don’t drink often at all and have never done drugs but when I look back on all of the experiences I’ve had with boys in the past 6 years, I realize that every time I was physical/sexual with a boy, I was a little drunk. Without realizing it at the time, I could only hookup while being a little drunk. That’s not normal at all.

For the past 3 years, I’ve had terrible nightmares of being molested and raped with no understanding of why. I feel scared all the time and sad and anxious and can’t put together a whole story. I only have different pieces to explain why I’m so messed up inside. I just finished your book and it felt like you were speaking directly to me. Very intense things came up for me during my reading and more things about me and my life began to make sense. I have so many gaps in my memory beginning when I was little. It’s hard to paint a picture that makes sense and explains all of my issues. I have a lot of fears that are eating away at me. I remember a lot of frightening situations that I faced but most of my childhood is blurry to me. So much of it seems like it's missing in my memory. All I know for sure is that I’m suffering so much now and don’t know how to make it stop. I’m just on a downward spiral and so very confused and hurt all the time.

I know you probably get a million emails a day but if you’re reading this, I thank you very much. Your book is eye-opening and inspirational and you seem like an unbelievably smart and caring therapist. Your clients are so very lucky to have you helping them. I’ve never met you but when reading different parts of your book, I felt like you were talking to me, understanding me better than anyone in my life has. I want to heal and feel normal because I never have but I don’t know how because I don’t have much support at all and so much of my life makes no sense to me. It’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know if you’re able to speak or respond to me but if you are able to, I would really really appreciate it.

Warmly, Julie.


Dr. Patti responds: 

Dear Julie,

Well....First of all, I am really glad that you have read "Invisible Girls," and I hope you keep it near you so that you can find comfort in the book at all times. Second, I hope you can stop hurting yourself. I don't know what happened to you that you were so depressed and self-hurting in High School, but I am guessing that you can't go to your family for emotional support. Please find someone professional at your college counselling center. First trust them if you don't find someone else–you do not have to open everything up. It is very important that you can trust the person you are opening up to. I find that when girls get to college or get to move out of their homes they can begin some deep healing. You are a PERFECT AGE to start that process. Clearly, there were things happening to you that may not have been sexual, but you are smart and you know that there were other reasons you were unhappy in high-school. 

Your symptoms sound like there is some reason that you are afraid of touch and sexual touch. Do not berate yourself for that, and do not think that it will be forever. Just reading "Invisible Girls" will help you to feel better, and not isolated and alone in your feelings. Please be careful when drinking–try to at least have a friend with you and look out for each other. I also know many girls who did cut and now do not for years and years–so everything you are telling me feels as if you are on the verge of doing some deep healing and changing. I want you to look into some counselling at school so that you can help yourself out of this spiral. Also, if you love music, make a mix of songs that help you feel better. Find ways to get out of your head–get active. You are in a place to heal. 

................................All the best–xx dr. p.