Trauma & The Beach Ball Analogy

We all have a story. We carry them within us. Some of us carry them deep down inside, while some of us wear them on our sleeves. I am mostly a member of the “buried deep inside” camp. For years I internalized everything that’s ever happened to me. A friend of mine told me that when we internalize our “stuff”, it’s like trying to hold a beach ball deep under water – when you finally let go, it smacks you in the face with enough force to knock you flat on your ass. That’s what happened to me.

I wasn’t even 24 hours into being 16 years old the first time I was raped. I was dating a boy a few months older than me. He told me he had a surprise for me; that I had to come over to his house to celebrate my sweet sixteen. I did. I was expecting a cute picnic or dinner, at the very least, flowers. Boy, was I wrong.

When I got to his house, he was playing a soccer video game with one of his friends who left moments after I arrived.

The thing about being taken advantage of by someone you think you love, is that it’s hard to decipher in the moment if what they did was wrong. I remember after everything was said and done I was very quiet, for the rest of the day. I remember just “going with the flow” (which would become a way of life for a long time after). I remember telling him that I wasn’t ready to lose my virginity. I remember him asking if he “could at least finish what he’d started.” I remember not knowing what that meant. I found out.

What kind of sick person puts on a condom before his girlfriend even shows up?

The kind of of person plotting to take advantage of that girl.

That’s the actual answer to my question, but back then I had no answer. I didn’t even really understand the question, or that one should be asked at all. I thought I loved this person and so when he wanted to get physical that day, I went along at first. I remember asking him to stop. I also remember telling him to stop. He asked if he could “finish what he’d started,” and I didn’t understand what that meant. I just laid there quiet. I don’t remember after that. I blocked out the remainder of the day, but I’ve been told he took me to Panda Express afterwards, which is where my parents picked me up. I know my trauma response in the moment was not fight or flight. It was freeze. I can also recognize that I dissociated during the event, which is why I can’t recall the rest of the day.

Another thing about being taken advantage of by someone you think you love… not only is it hard to understand that what happened was wrong, but it’s easy to believe that person when they apologize and tell you they love you. My sixteen-year-old broken heart wanted to be loved so badly that I slept with him again, thinking we would have this very romantic, special moment. Instead, he bent me over a log in the woods while I cried. I found out a week later he was cheating on me.

At that point, I would say my heart went dark… I’m not sure how else to describe it, but in addition to feeling violated and unloved, I tried to confide in my mother – I wanted, no, I needed to share my pain.

I wouldn’t get that chance until 11 years later. I tried to tell my mom I had lost my virginity, but before I could tell her how, the moment became my hers. Her response was one that forced another level of degradation. I remember her questioning how I could make a choice like that, saying that she had raised me better. Later she gave me a small black book of reasons to keep virginity sacred. I was so ashamed, I couldn’t tell her it wasn’t a choice. That along with my virginity, my choice over losing it was also robbed. The darkness in my heart got darker. I remember almost deliberately thinking, “since my virginity was taken, why should I keep sex sacred?!”
My teenage rebellion was defiance against purity, and defiance toward anyone who pushed that idea on me. My new attitude: FUCK IT. I decided to throw caution to the wind and I also started partying A LOT.

At 16, only a few months later, I was raped a second time.

I have almost no memory of this as my drinking was out of control. I do remember making a conscious decision to hook up with a guy I’d been hanging out with all night at a party. At some point during the hooking-up, though, I blacked out. I woke up with one of his friends on top of me and blacked out again. When I woke up in the morning, I knew I’d been raped. I also knew the guy who raped me was my best friend’s boyfriend. I tried to talk to her about it, but as the story goes, he just slut shamed me in the hallway at school and told his girlfriend I was full of shit. She bought it. Unfortunately, so did I.

For years, I believed both of those events were my fault. I believed that because I got so drunk the night I was raped for a second time, I must have done something when I was intoxicated that indicated I wanted to have sex.

My partying hadn’t really subsided after this, and six years later, at 22 years old, it happened again.

Rodeo Weekend in Prescott… for those of you that aren’t familiar, this is the weekend of all weekends in Prescott, Arizona. A total shit-show. Many former graduates come to town to go to the World’s Oldest Rodeo with their family, followed by the Rodeo Dance, followed by a short walk to the bars. I was one of them.

My friend from PHS was in town from Florida and we went out together.

We started at the rodeo, talking to people we hadn’t seen in a while, watching bull riding in the crowded bleachers, and rocking our obligatory cowgirl outfits. As is protocol, we went to the rodeo dance afterwards. And again, for those of you not from Prescott, let me paint a picture.

I’m talking a huge red and white striped tent in a parking lot, booming live country music, hay bales for benches, and seasoned women in old-timey dresses serving Jack Daniels and Coca Cola in an endless line.

I had a great time, and I followed the crowd to the bars afterwards. I wasn’t drinking heavily, and plus, the constant dancing forces you to sweat it out anyway, which is probably why the line’s always so long.

Around midnight, I remember consuming a drink at a bar… a bar known for roofying girls. I’m officially putting my name on that list as I can’t remember a thing after said drink.
I woke up early the next morning on someone’s back porch, sleeping under a dog’s bed.

I still have no idea who’s house it was. Fortunately, I was able to track my phone back to a friend’s ranch… about ten miles out of town.

Apparently, I left their house in the middle of the night, walked nearly five miles to the house I woke up at, and walked back and forth from highway to highway three times before a girl stopped to see if I was okay… I was obviously not. All things considered, I likely walked about 20 miles that night / early morning.

When I finally got home, I remember my mom asking why I was covered in blood. I lied. I told her I was on my period. I showered. I slept for the entire day. I pushed the night deep below the surface with the rest of the shit. “This was probably my fault too,” I thought.

I bought that last bit of the bullshit for five more years. I pushed those events so far under the surface, you can only imagine the amount of force they had when they rose back up. And my drinking wasn’t for fun anymore. It became the only way I could cope.

School got hard, so I got drunk. Relationships were shit, so I got drunk. Times were great, I would celebrate by getting drunk.

By 2016, I’d formed quite the unimpressive resume, and by the end of that year, I had a whole new batch of sullied situations to add.

I quit caring about myself to such an extreme, that really, I didn’t care about the way my actions affected anyone else either. I slept with a boss. I slept with friend’s boyfriends. I slept with a friend’s husband. And I watched as life continued to unravel.

During the whirlwind, though, I actually took a little “break” and spent a week at a treatment center in Arizona – The Meadows, where I completed a trauma survivors’ workshop.

The beach ball under the surface began to slip out from my grip.

When I came home, I acted like things were fine when things were not fine. I would get a DUI not long after my week in treatment. I also got a boyfriend that had serious drinking issues… they say you attract what you are, so this made sense. Because of my court mandated therapy, though, I was able to see how harmful his behavior was, which I didn’t hesitate to point out. All the while, continuing to ignore my own issues.

Our unhealthy relationship was forced for about a year until I got nice and liquored up one night.

On August 3, 2017, I went out to celebrate my 27th birthday. I was seeing a friend’s band – Jared and the Mill. I remember the night in one-scene memories.

Leaving the bar. Arriving at my boyfriends. Starting a fight. Knocking over a potted plant. Knocking over an expensive sound system. Waking up in jail. For the second time. I got to read the rest of what happened later, in the police report. I like to joke that when I wouldn’t leave his house that night, my ex kindly called me an Uber. And when I wouldn’t get in the Uber, he kindly called me a cab, and when I wouldn’t get in the cab, he kindly called a cop car to give me a ride home.

Waking up in jail again isn’t what scared me the next morning, though. Feeling a sense of familiarity and not being surprised I was there is what scared the shit out of me. I wanted to die.
The beach ball hit me so hard in the face, and all my shit came at me so hard, I didn’t want to do anything else, but die.

I ended up walking home from the Coconino County jail in the worst monsoon I’ve ever witnessed. I remember hoping lightning would hit the traffic light as I pushed the button to cross the street.

It didn’t.

I made it home and took off my heavy clothes that were soaking wet. I showered and slept, and slept.

When I woke up, I was mad that I woke up, but something new happened. I had a spiritual experience, you could say. I didn’t have the urge to die.

I called my parents and tried to bullshit my way through a conversation, and right before I hung up, I said to my dad, “oh by the way, I was in jail again last night…okay, bye!” I didn’t get away with trying to shut that conversation down. My dad passed the phone off to my mom and before I knew it, she was at my apartment, helping me move back to Prescott from Flagstaff. She showed up for me that day, for what felt like the very first time.

Overnight, my life began to change. Ten days later, I went to rehab.

I’m sober 2 years, 8 months, and 21 days as I type this out (but who’s counting?!). It has taken me SO MUCH THERAPY, but I know the truth today. I know that those horrible experiences weren’t my fault… okay, the DUI was definitely on me, but I don’t blame myself for being raped anymore. I am able to see that drinking became a way to cope with everything I had pushed so far down inside of myself. Drinking made it easier for me to forget what happened to me; to check out and disengage.

I am still in therapy for a lot of the stuff I went through. I am still working through my response to the things that happened to me and to the way my family chose to act around it.

I wish my mom had been a support system to me, rather than shaming me. I wish she had taken me to the ER when I was raped at 22. But I cannot rewrite the story by wishing it had gone a different way. I can only accept that she was doing the best she knew how. I can also forgive myself for doing the best I knew how, and for showing up the only way I knew how. I have finally been able to share with her the truth around my rapes and around my choices because of them. Today, I show up differently. I show up engaged in my own life, available for others.

Shitty things were done to me, and I also did some shitty things. But there’s something so special about hitting rock bottom and seeking help because ultimately, nothing worthwhile comes from keeping your stories buried inside – they just end up smacking you in the face like that submerged beach ball.

There are hard truths in my story, but my hope is that in sharing it, maybe someone reading it will be able to relate, find hope, and release the beach ball.

Katie Chatham

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