The Secret Sexuality of a Rape Survivor

I should be able to enjoy my body without having to please a man. 


I used to feel that its only purpose was to please them. 


Since my miscarriage & PTSD episode in 2018, I have slowly shared more and more of my story with the public. It has been far from easy. The more exposure I have received from telling my story, the more attention I have received as a result. What I have come to learn is that when it comes to attention, you can’t really pick between the good and the bad: you have to learn to deal with yourself and your own emotions. People have seen my aesthetics and said, “You’re so pretty you could have anything and anyone you want, the world is yours.” While I understand that this is meant to be a compliment, I often think to myself,  how they have no idea the burden and struggle that comes with being an attractive woman. 


The criticisms are endless, and you’re looked at as a sex object due to the unconscious biases the media has embedded into Americans’ brains about curves and a woman’s body. I’ve been objectified in sweatpants, a hoodie, and no makeup. I’ve been raped in military cammies while covered from head to toe, literally speaking. I have been groped walking through the mall with my dad. One time, a guy walked up to my father when I was about 14 and asked if he could milk my breasts while my dad and I were checking in to our lodging accommodations. My father has had to deal with a lot of McNasties in my lifetime. I even remember this older man following me home from the bus stop and trying to lure me into his car. I distinctly remember feeling fear and trying to walk fast to get home, and I remember when I made it to my front yard, my dad was cutting grass and I started screaming for him. My entire life since I hit puberty has been having my body objectified. What made this experience so incredibly hard for me is that I did not grow up with healthy boundaries and standards; this left me extremely vulnerable. 


These interactions with men were so normal to me because of how frequently they happened. I would pump my gas and have men come up to me and tell me my legs or feet look sexy. When I was 17 and in the Marine Corps, I had this Gunnery Sgt who would call me into his office and tell me my breasts and nipples were staring at him and that I needed to tape my breasts down. This man scared the fuck out of me because he had immense power over me. One time, he got other senior staff NCOs and he started making these statements in front of them. I was so terrified, as they circled around me repeating his comments. I felt like trapped prey. I ended up peeing on myself and crying. I complained to the Sgt Major on my base, who sent me to get larger cammies and advised me to tape my breasts down. FYI, nothing changed. The harassment continued and just got worse over time. 


I’ve shared many parts of my story during my time in the USMC and what I dealt with from hazing to sexual violence and harassment. Sexual violence runs rampant in the military in a way that it’s unfathomable to the American public, but talk to another veteran and they innately understand these horrors. There is a larger systemic issue than what happens in the military, it just manifests horrifically in the military because of the fact that it’s severely male-dominated. When I joined the USMC it was comprised of only 6% females and 94% men, which will provide some perspective into why sexual abuse is so severe. After reporting being raped while drugged, and I was thrown in a military jail, I obviously wanted out. Due to childhood physical and sexual abuse combined with military sexual trauma and harassment, I couldn’t take life anymore. My mental health had deteriorated and I saw suicide as my way out of this hell I was unwillingly born in to. Abuse is all I knew up until I was 21. When I got out of the USMC, with no benefits or resources, fighting to survive was even worse. I had a retaliatory discharge, I was homeless and on drugs, because I had no medical benefits and my brain was straight fucked. The trauma was so severe, that I was high or drunk all the time, often with cocktails of drugs and alcohol in my system just to numb the unbearable pain in my body. I often dealt with re-victimization because I needed money and let’s be honest $11.00 an hour part-time in Westchester County, New York doesn’t get far. I lived in a crack house where drugs were the income for everyone. I remember one time the cops raided the place and I did a pull up to the roof and hid there with my drugs as everyone else in the building got arrested with the exception of my roommate and me. I knew this life wasn’t sustainable. This is why I fought so hard to get promoted in finance. 

At first, it was weird to me: here I am in stilettos and sexy designer dresses for work with my hair and makeup done. In this environment, I would expect harassment and sexual violence to be worse, and I had the exact opposite experience. I spent 12 years of my life in finance, climbing up the corporate ladder and getting promoted due to my talent and skills. I felt so safe working in corporate America in a way that I had never experienced before. I still dealt with harassment from time to time but nowhere near the severity of what I dealt with in my past. This alone created a sense of safety as to why I was able to succeed on Wall Street. It’s hard to function when you are in fear of experiencing violence every day. It feels good to be safe and recognized for your skills. As I was promoted, I purchased a home and left the illicit trades behind. That’s not without much damage to my mental and physical wellbeing. 


A lifetime of trauma and fear is going to lead to a strong flight or fight response. I was struggling to function as a normal healthy person. Due to the fact that I boxed and did sports throughout school and then I went to the USMC, I was obviously extremely physically fit. When my fight response was triggered, it was uncontrollable. If I felt my physical wellbeing was at stake or someone else around me would be harmed, I became violent while often having flashbacks. I couldn’t decipher between reality and my memories. This caused me issues in my personal and professional relationships. At 22, I started attending CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) at the VA and started to learn on a very basic level how to manage my PTSD. 


I still dealt with getting involved with violent men who would hit me and treat me poorly. In my entire 20s, I was in and out of court from some boyfriend, fiance or husband beating me. I didn’t really understand that I had a negative attraction pattern until my then-husband hit me in the stomach while I was pregnant and I miscarried. The pain of losing the baby just made me feel like a failure of a mother. How could I let my baby die from harm at my baby’s most vulnerable point of life while in my body? That was a sobering thought. It was also a life-changing one for me. 


I went to VA Mental Health and decided I was going to get my shit together. I enrolled in bonding and attachment style therapy, wellness programs, CPT/CBT, exposure therapy and any other program I could take advantage of. I was tired of living in this mental prison. I felt like I was in a maze that my brain could not get out of. Living that reality was living hell on earth. 

My concept of sex was so fucked. I really thought that my mind and body were tied to a man’s gratification. It’s so degrading, to feel those emotions. If this is the best life gets, then it’s not worth living anymore. The process of peeling back the onion (those layers of trauma) working on examining my emotions was challenging, to put it mildly. It was deeply triggering at times, so  I had to commit to attending sessions and be disciplined in practicing what I learned. 


In the last two years that I have been in treatment consistently, I  have had a variety of trials and triumphs. When I had to discuss the shame, humiliation, and fear that have been ingrained in me from various life experiences that made me feel like a worthless sex object, I would get so triggered that I often wanted to quit. That was when I realized that I needed to get serious and become open to taking medication. I was at this stuck point of feeling like I capped out on functioning and I knew I still wasn’t healthy yet: medication made a huge improvement in my trauma recovery. I have come to the realization that healing is a slow process, but every day I am getting better at managing my disability. I still struggle with romantic relationships. It is so challenging for me to feel truly safe with a man and feel confident that he will have my best interest at heart. While dating after divorce and pregnancy totally changed my trajectory for my love life, while I feel more fulfilled, I still deeply struggle with accepting true and authentic love from a partner, having a sense of wellbeing and emotional security while bonding, and developing healthy behaviors that create a stable relationship.  That is the nature of what PTSD due to sexual violence feels like when bonding: it is a mother-fucking struggle. These days, I am much better at handling the waves and hurricanes that come my way. I feel a sense of freedom in knowing that I will be okay. I know that I can make healthy choices for myself that feel good to me. I am hopeful about my future. 

My life has drastically improved in certain areas. My relationships are feeling healthier, and I am much happier. I also needed to make the choice of going on medication to manage my disability effectively. I also had to learn how to set healthy boundaries and decide who is worthy of being in my life. These lessons helped me to love myself. I’m thirty years old, and I just learned what self-love feels like. It’s so sad to me that I lived so much of my life in self-hate. It’s in this newfound love that I feel so connected to nature and consciousness. I’ve learned that love is so powerful that it motivates me to think about an entire generation of women to follow. I want them to know self-love much sooner than it took me to arrive at this point. It’s such a heartwarming feeling that makes every day seem like a gift. I lived so much of my life feeling like I am not skinny enough, I am not pretty enough, I am not sexy enough.

Now, I look in the mirror or at photos of myself and I tell myself that I am enough. I am sexy, powerful, beautiful and most of all,  I love and care about myself. I love my thick curves, cellulite, muscles, fat, etc. I love everything I come with. I am okay just being Janelle Marina Mendez in the world. I feel proud that I could be so severely disabled and making a positive impact to help others. I often struggled with my body image since I hit puberty. Was I too skinny? Too fat? Too curvy? Too sexy?  Too muscular? I have heard so many criticisms and critiques about my body and clothing that I struggled to just love and accept myself. When I look at myself now, It’s a sense of accomplishment and most importantly self-worth. The journey to self-love and self-acceptance is what strengthened me to ignore the critics and keep pushing forward. As women, when we learn to love ourselves, we will end up having families who live and embody love as a value. This is how we create change in our communities. 


This journey also changed my experiences with sex. I often felt like sex was more about surviving than connection and love. It was more about pleasing my partner than embracing connection. Sex while damaged feels exactly like the nightmare that it is. It’s a numbing of emotions and disconnection during such an intimate moment. I would disassociate and fantasize to prevent my emotions from connecting to my partner. I felt that way because I felt so vulnerable I just couldn’t tolerate that level of connection because of my trauma. I was in fear that I would be hurt if I truly fell in love and my partner betrayed me. I avoided love altogether. The journey to self-love took courage and dedication, more than I had. It was a struggle to reach these new standards, let alone, maintain them. We are meant to heal and while having a disability is a struggle it is possible to live in dignity. It’s just a vastly different journey than the average, healthy person. I believe that on my journey of learning to value myself, loving my flaws and my body was a battle I was able to conquer. I hope that the next generation of young people can learn these skills sooner than I arrived at these critical lessons. I hope that leaders of organizations start to raise their standards on how they choose to show up and lead. That is an impact on the world that I would love to see. 

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