What Being A Survivor Has Taught Me
Disclaimer: There could be trigger worthy content in this article. Please proceed with that understanding and knowledge of my willingness to discuss whatever triggers come up for you.
As I prepared to sit down and write this and given that I am a millennial, I googled “what I’ve learned as a rape survivor”. Few results fit my search query leaving me with little direction of where to take what I’m about to say.
I found one piece of writing by a dude who used to date a survivor of assault; but I noticed that very few survivors themselves have written about what assault feels like years down the line. This is understandable because identifying yourself as someone whose endured such an act leaves you vulnerable for reliving the event and for other’s commentary on an experience that they could never know about unless they have walked in similar shoes. Not very many people willingly sign themselves up for this kind of vulnerability. So as I sat in front of my computer screen finding nothing within Google that I craved to know, it affirmed to me that this is worth writing.
Today, I am living my fourth anniversary of my sexual assault. I don’t celebrate it. That word feels wrong. I acknowledge it.
In fact, I acknowledge this part of my identify all the time.
To provide context for all of those who are new to my story, it began August 22, 2013. I was drugged and raped by an acquaintance — an event I won’t describe in much detail since I’ve done so publicly and the direction of this story is going somewhere new; however, you can learn more about what happened here.
Rape is a vile breach of our humanity. What makes us human, what separates us from the carnal instincts of the animal kingdom, is the ability to rationalize, evaluate and decide to say no to something. To deny that basic human quality from someone is the grossest of acts.—Quoted from an exchange with a dear Scottish friend
The following statement may be surprising but August 22, 2013 was not the hardest day of my life; it was the days following. It was the following morning when I returned home from his bedroom to find the fingerprint bruising on my neck. It was the subsequent 24 hours when I went to the hospital to get tests done. It was the days that involved picking up my body and pretending like I could still function the same way as I had before. It was the days where flashbacks pieced together parts of the story that the drugs had blocked out. It was the days after I went on television with my personal story and walked around campus while people stared at me and whispered “that’s her”. It was the days where people told me I deserved it.
With every hard day there was, I am very cognizant of how my support system got me to this day I live now, of how utterly privileged and lucky I am to have had them.
Four years later, I think about the first woman I told. I am grateful she told me to call my mom, pointed me in the direction of where to receive help, and told me that she loved me. What if she had told me that what had happened to me wasn’t a big deal—a sentiment other survivors are often met with? Would I have had the wherewithal to overcome opposition from someone I deeply respected? Research suggests I would not so I will always feel as if Brittany was the first person to save me.
Four years later, I think so very deeply about my parents… My heart stings every time I think of what it must have been like for my mom to hear my voice on the phone the morning after and what the reality of my words must have felt like. I think about how my mom, dad and I walked by my perpetrator on the sidewalk within less than 48 hours of what happened. With every fiber of my being, I am grateful that my parents decided to fight this battle with me, that they were understanding of the rollercoaster ride of emotions, and that they had the financial stability to put me into the therapy I needed. How did my parents have that much internal strength?
Four years later, I think about the night that one of my girlfriends walked me home from a party—a normal life experience that I was hypersensitive to for a long time—and sat with me for hours while I cried every droplet of water out. That night she took off her mattress pad and let me sleep on that on her floor; but many nights following, she helped me through each trigger until I felt whole again. I am grateful to be even partly worthy of such a friendship and incredibly grateful for her patience.
Four years later, I think about the work Caroline Heres, Julie Gelb and I (and company) achieved with The Girl Code Movement. Together, we crafted a message that was received by a national community… an impact we never sought out to make; but, an impact created because the world needed our message at the time. I am grateful for all the media outlets who saw value in our words. I am grateful that I was a part of something that gave permission to others to talk about their experiences allowing hundreds of women and men to share their stories with me. I am grateful of how that message eventually saved another woman from the man who raped me.
One day at a time, goodness started replacing pain, sadness, and anger. One of my biggest takeaways from the past four years is to be grateful for what is good in this world, in my world. For that is the only way to survive.
But that is not the only lesson my assault has taught me:
- My assault gave me a new way of looking at my surroundings. I could be angry at my perpetrator and a lot of days I was. Slowly overtime, I realized he was a part of a greater problem. He was a result of a society and a culture that created him, a society and a culture that told him that his actions were okay. Achieving justice for me meant attempting to have an impact on that culture.
- With my changing view of culture, I have a very particular view of how I want to raise my future children. Besides teaching them how to love and respect other humans, I will do my best to teach them what the education system fails to about their bodies, the construct of gender, and consent. I will be a sex-positive parent.
- I’ve learned that rape might not be the only trauma that a survivor experiences. It might just be the start. You might enter into toxic relationships that will add to your list of memories you don’t like revisiting. You might abuse substances to deal with the pain and when you do, you might make decisions that add to your list of memories you don’t like revisiting. No matter how a sexual assault survivor copes — and I’ve seen it all — that trauma will need to be cleared at some point in order to feel joy again.
- I’ve learned that my rape had a ripple effect. One night, one action, one person affected not only me, but my family, my friends, my college professors, my romantic relationships. He affected the entire Syracuse community and an audience that eventually grew much bigger because my voice and my story spread. If he knew that I would became so enraged and would start a national movement to talk about sexual assault, would he still have chosen me? He clearly did not understand the kind of woman he was dealing with.
- Lastly, I’ve learned first hand that healing is a journey and comes in many forms. Personally, mine started with therapy until that no longer was effective. It morphed into blog posts, painting, and activism. Now, it resembles the form of wellness. Exercise and nutrition give me complete control and authority over my body—something I lacked four years ago. I meditate. I journal. I’ve taken one Kundalini yoga class and a course in EFT. I’ll do what I have to until it no longer lives in my nervous system, until I’m fully healed.
Overall I have learned that on August 22, 2013, an inner voice and a fuel was ignited. If I could go back in time and do my life differently, I would never voluntarily go through what I went through again; but, the past four years have made me exactly who I am and I rather like the woman I have become.
No matter where my life takes me and what stressors I come across, I know so deeply that I can make light out of the darkest of days. I have done the hard shit. I’ve survived.
If you’ve gotten to this part of the article, I want to thank you for finishing and seeing value in my words. Recently, I have been on a spiritual journey in an attempt to heal from all negative energy I have experience in life. This article is a part of this ongoing healing. I know very strongly that part of my purpose is to educate others, create positive space in this world for other women, and (attempt to) put an end to the shame sexual assault survivors feel. With that being said, I wrote this article today solely in purpose to let go of the trauma I still hold on to. So once more, thank you for allowing me to have the space to be vulnerable and to heal.