My Path Back to Myself
TW: sexual assault I’m going to begin by saying that I have moved forward by the means that made it possible for me to do so, but I encourage others to do what is best for them. It has taken a lot for me to post to here given that beyond my attacker and myself, only two other people in my life know about my rape. I tend to internalize my problems to handle them, and only when comfortable internally do I ever truly express things externally. I am not one to ascribe to the title of “victim” despite being victimized, so sharing here I suppose is a way of expressing frustration, fear, pain, and the struggle to find a way forward in hopes of maybe helping someone else. That all being said, here it goes. I am a strong person in every sense of the word. I grew up with older brothers, played on the boys sports teams until I couldn’t, lift weights most women can’t, and push myself as any athlete would. As any of my friends will attest to, as strong as I am, I’m probably the biggest softie emotionally speaking. I trust wholeheartedly, am always willing to give of myself for the sake of others, and am a wildly hopeless romantic. Though not looking for likes or love, it would often find its way into my life due to just seeing the good and beauty that exist in other people. In most cases my relationships, flings, and fancies were enjoyable albeit the occasional woe-is-me-summer-love heartbreak that is bound to happen along the way. Early in the fall of my Junior year of college, I found myself with a crush on this guy I met from a different university through a program I was in and shared similar interests and though in different schools similar classes. The thought of a study session seemed innocent enough, even in the notion of it being in my dorm room. I anticipated actually studying, because it was one of my tougher subjects and I had a test coming up. When fifteen minutes in we were kissing, I didn’t think it terrible, though now the thought gives me mild stomach knots. After a few minutes he became a bit more handsy than I was comfortable with so I tried to get us back to the studying, politely suggesting as much. He ignored me and continued. I was more forceful in my asking him to cool it; he just kissed harder and pushed me against the wall. I gave one of those uncomfortable laughs and said, “Seriously, can we stop.” I am strong, I fought back to the point of hopelessness where my body and mind essentially blacked-out, limp mentally and physically to what was happening. He got dressed and left, dropped the program we shared, and I never saw him again. I dropped to the floor. Retrospectively, I’m surprised I didn’t cry. I just sat there on the floor for what must have been an hour or so until an alarm went off for practice. I don’t honestly remember the rest of that day, in reality even that week. I know things are starting to change but in my mind I had no evidence on this guy to report him beyond his name. He used a condom. I was in shock and showered what must have been three or four times over after practice that day. In realizing this, I felt there was truly nothing I could do. I had always enjoyed drinking socially, but I know that that was a downward turning point for me in some of my drinking habits. The college I went to was a solid party school, but I think I was drunk every minute of everyday I was able to be during that point of my life, and not for fun, but to be drunk because being that drunk fun version of myself I didn’t have to be me. I didn’t have to deal with it and I felt like I could move forward somehow that way. Having a high tolerance didn’t help my drinking habits. It’s odd to say but thankfully one night I intentionally tried to finish a handle on my own and blacked-out hard. I joke about it now, but it was probably one of the lowest points in my life. I can honestly say that I was severely depressed at that point in my life. I had two friends at the time that were amazing and took care of me that night, and though our friendships have severed a bit since, I am thankful for their care even in not knowing what I was going through. I woke up the next day and knew I had to change something or this was going to get worse. I had been considering study abroad but had hesitations until that morning hungover. I put in my application, was accepted and flew away for 7 months in another country the following January. Some might say I was running from my problems, but for me it was more of a running towards some freedom, personal growth, and a new perspective on life. Any one of my friends who knew me then would say I came back an entirely different person. I found my voice, ironically in many cases by becoming more self-concerned, something I had rarely been before. I lost a good few friends along the way, but gained so much from the ones that stuck through even in not knowing what had happened. About two years later I started dating again, and after some short relationships I was blessed to meet the love of my life. She was the first person who I told about what happened to me. There were and are still things that trigger me to panicked mindset, but I’ve learned ways to calm myself down and bring myself back. With the right person and quality communication I’ve found that all aspects of love can be enjoyable despite the pain of the past. Like I said at the onset, my path back to myself may not be your path. I didn’t report, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, especially with the increasing notoriety the #metoo movement has made. I was lucky enough to have the option to study abroad at the time, but much of what I found strength in was meeting new people and seeing that despite the crap, there are good people in the world. I had to find patience with myself as well as healthy outlets to work through my moments of frustration or pain. In time I sought to just meet people for the sake of it, not to date but to see that there are so many good people out there again. It took time to trust and love myself in order to be able to accept love from others, but you will be able to. Mostly, have patience with yourself, don’t blame yourself, and don’t try and handle it all on your own. You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want, but don’t isolate yourself from people. Cling to those good friends, and even if they don’t know they’re doing it, they will help drag you out of your dark place. The good ones always do. And know that no one can ever take away your strength; it takes a great deal of strength to move forward and living your best life as a survivor. You are strong, and nothing will change that.