Rape: From Victim To Survivor
by Christine Albert

     On October 28, 1981 I was raped by an intruder in my home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Sixteen years later I still feel a surge of anger and fear in my chest when I think about that night, but my life is no longer consumed by it and I have made the transition from victim to survivor.  At the time, I had no idea how long it would take to make that transition, or if I ever would.

     The police officer who responded to my call was less than compassionate.  It took me quite awhile to convince him that yes, I had been raped and that this person was not invited into my home, but had climbed in a window.   Finally he agreed to take me to the hospital.  There I was subjected to the clinical and humiliating process of collecting evidence and answering questions.  I was in shock, confused, terrified, and felt totally alone.  Looking back, my first step on the road to healing took place when a representative from the Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center showed up at the hospital.  She was my angel and I clung to her for dear life...dear shattered, broken life.  She explained the procedures taking place, stood by during my interview with the detective that had been called in, held my hand and let me know that someone understood the depths of what I was going through.  Simple empathy is a powerful thing.  As she left the emergency room, she gave me the phone number for The Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center and encouraged me to call if I needed help or wanted to talk.

     I stayed with a friend that night, knowing that I could never go back to my house.  Luckily I had been planning to move the next day anyway (a touch of grace in the midst of all that darkness).  Gloria welcomed me into her home with a bubble bath, white towels and a four poster bed with clean white sheets and a mountain of pillows.  I felt so raw and filthy and violated and she had tried to create the perfect environment to make me feel cleansed and safe.  Still, I woke at dawn after one hour of sleep and before my eyes were even open, deep sobs were shaking my body and I knew that it would take more than a bath and a good night's sleep to heal this wound.

     I hadn't planned to call The Center, thinking I could handle this alone.  I had already kicked into my spiritual overview, forgiving my rapist in my prayers and taking solace in the knowledge that karma would take care of him.   He was never caught, but I knew he could never really get away on the "cosmic" level.  So, if I had made my peace with him and this experience, why could I not sit in my house with the curtains open?  Why did my heart start to pound if I found myself in a room or on the street facing a man alone?  Why did I rage at my boyfriend if he was not there when I needed him to be, forcing me to come into an empty house?  Why was I not sleeping?  Why did I suddenly hate having all those eyes on me when I was on stage?  Why was my immune system failing, manifesting in chronic illness?  I made the call to the Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center.

     I only had a few visits with a counselor at the SFRCC, because I chose to move to Austin soon after the attack.  But, a lasting and powerful memory of my sessions there is a perspective that my counselor shared with me, that gave me hope and the courage to move towards the future.  I told her that I felt my life had changed overnight...there was life "before rape" and "after rape".   She reminded me that as time went on, I would have many experiences, both good and bad, painful and joyful, and that the assault would become one of many dramatic points on the continuum of my life, but would not always be the defining moment.  She was right.  October 28, 1981 is a part of who I am, but so is getting married, being hit by a car, becoming a mother, ending my marriage, traveling in Europe, making records and countless other peaks and valleys I have encountered along the way.

     After moving to Austin I continued with counseling and therapy.  I signed up for an intensive self defense course to try to regain some sense of safety in the world. I was carrying around so much adrenaline from fear that it was making me ill.  During the class, we acted out attack scenarios with our fully padded and protected teacher/attacker.  We practiced the skills we were taught until we were fighting back with enough strength and commitment to successfully defend ourselves in a real situation.  One evening we were practicing the strategies for the "lying in your own bed" victim position.  Real fear grabbed my gut and paralyzed me, then the tears of past trauma came rushing in.  My teachers and classmates were patient, quiet and supportive.  As I cried away the fear and sadness, I made room for the anger still lurking in my psyche.  When we ran through that exercise again I was a different person, dealing blows that would have knocked my attacker out cold within two minutes.  I was not only claiming my future and my autonomy, I was finally venting the rage that I had swallowed for a year.  Another step down the road to healing.

     I am a singer and songwriter by trade, and often contribute my talent to raise funds and awareness for issues that are important to me.   It is the most effective voice I have.  Soon after moving to Austin I began doing benefits for The Austin Rape Crisis Center, and publicly disclosed my personal experience as a survivor of sexual assault.  I feel a debt of gratitude to rape crisis centers everywhere, and am determined to pay it back by doing whatever I can to see that these services continue to be available to anyone, anytime.  The only way I can fight back is to take the darkest moment of my life and transform it into energy that actively promotes healing for fellow survivors.  My involvement with ARCC has grown over the years, and I now serve on the board of directors and act as their public spokesperson.  I knew I had come a long way when I recently read an article about yet another sexual assault here in Austin.  Those news reports used to fill me with more fear and helplessness.  This time I felt anger, and the anger fueled and renewed my commitment to my activities with The Austin Rape Crisis Center.  Another step down the road to healing.

     It was only within the last couple of years, when I agreed to be spokesperson for the ARCC, that I became aware of the term "survivor" instead of "victim".  They kept using that word, and I slowly began to realize the difference, and to recognize that I had become a survivor.  The victim was unable to walk to her door alone at night.  The survivor has taken self defense, stays alert and aware of her environment and moves confidently where she needs to go.  The victim couldn't take a shower if she was home alone.  The survivor makes sure that her doors and windows are locked and lives her life in peace.  The victim had lost her power and trust, and the survivor knows that no one can take away her strength and inner faith.

     Once a year I gather together fellow Austin musicians and we raise our voices in song to raise money for the "Christine Albert Survivors Fund", which helps pay for counseling services at The Austin Rape Crisis Center.   It is more than a night of great music to me.  It is a celebration of the healing that has taken place in my life, and the lives of countless others, that has transformed a victim into a survivor.

 Christine Albert
published in New Texas Magazine  October 1997