What I've Learned by Sharing My Story (so far)
This article was featured in a new digital magazine this weekend: Be Brave, Babe! (https://online.flippingbook.com/view/814640/20/)
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What I’ve Learned by Sharing My Story (so far)
I am 21 years old, and I was raped my first week of college. I am still at the same college and I am graduating in two weeks. Many people wonder why I am still going to the same school – I do too, sometimes – but I think it is because I could not leave this school behind, knowing sexual assault remains so prevalent here, without doing something. I wrote about my assault in a chapter of my book, Sunflowers, that just launched for ebook pre-order on Amazon and will be available in paperback on June 2, 2019. (Trigger warning, please be gentle with yourself and do not read if details of an assault will affect you negatively.)
“Get your shoes and get out,” he will tell you after he rapes you. You are eighteen. Your clothes never came off. You never touched him back when it got too far. You did not cry for help either.
He covered the window with a pillow after locking the door. He smiled down at you. You will regret going to the fraternity party with your friends. You did not want to go. Why did you not cry for help? What just happened? You will run down the stairs past others but you will not be able to release more than a whimper. You will run hysterically. 14th Street? An alley? Where are you? What happened? He pinned you down. Why did you not push him off of you? You will call Quinn but he is in Texas so he will call the police. Sirens. 15th street? Behind a trash can you will hide. Hide from the sirens, hide from what just happened. What just happened? You were sober. You will wish you were not. “Honey, if you don’t report him you might let this happen to other girls.” You will spend six more hours in an emergency room. Rape kit. Apple juice. They will take your favorite thong. Alone you will wait. Driven back to your dorm in a police car, you will tell everyone you are fine. What just happened? You will not tell your parents. You will not tell your sister. You will not file a case against him. You will ask to never know his name. “Don’t let this happen to someone else, you need to file a case” Why did you go to the party? Why did you not cry for help? What was his name? Why did you not push him off of you?
My assault is labeled as stranger rape. I never knew who he was and I sent texts: help help help, to my new week-old friends as best I could without seeing my phone, only draping my arm over the side of the unclean bed I was pinned down in, typing frantically hoping my screen was on the right group message. The chapter is titled “Tonic Immobility”, a term that refers to my body’s response of not fighting back. A response I have grappled with in my recovery, often causing self-doubt and maladaptive thoughts. I’m here to tell you, it is normal and there is no abnormal response to sexual assault.
One week later, my boyfriend at the time who lived in Texas visited me and I broke down. We had sex, he asked me if I was okay, and I nodded because I did not want to not be okay. But, I panicked. Hard. I went outside in the winter of Colorado and gasped hysterically. Without realizing, I struggled a lot after. PTSD is a bitch and it’s even worse if you do not believe you have it. More than two years since my assault, I have only in recent months realized what PTSD truly is and how it manifested itself in my life.
“Other women suffer true physical damage” or “other women are repeatedly victims of incest” or “other women are raped and killed, I am totally fine and lucky,” I would convince myself. No. I’m not lucky. Deciding I’m lucky, however, was my method of accepting my past but I’ve learned that this did not help me heal. I share this because many people comment that healing is not linear, but sometimes it even goes backwards and that is okay.
Now, my mission is to normalize the suffering, the regrowth, and the gaining back of female voices through my complete transparency, and maybe make a difference in my small sphere in Boulder and beyond. This includes normalizing the denial, the relationship difficulties, the sobbing, the irritability, as well as the lightness of good days, the freedom of acceptance, the power of confidence.
In the past few months, I have shared my book manuscript with several people. Many family members and close friends, others less close, such as colleagues. What I have learned is that upon reading my story, these women unload their experiences onto me. Why me? These are family members who never would have told me before. These are colleagues who have otherwise maintained a strictly professional relationship with me. The power of transparency and voice is surreal. Vulnerability creates space – for yourself, for others, for growth, for healing. I didn’t understand that fully until I wrote my book, and I’ve learned even more from talking to other women. Of course, vulnerability is not your duty and should always be taken at your own pace, however, here is what I have learned so far:
Women naturally want to share.
I remember months after my assault, I had told maybe five people, but I guess what happened got around. I was studying in the library on campus around 2:00 AM (insomnia sucks but it does let you study more!), when the girl who was with me broke down in tears and choked out her story of rape. She showed me her fingernails were broken off from her clawing at the wall trying to get away. She told me she had to go back the next day to get her phone from him and she told him thank you for giving it back. Why was she telling me? Because she felt safe due to my experience. She banked on the fact that I would not question her honesty. Of course I didn’t, I cried with her and we ended up laughing about our emotional break down in the library as the sun was starting to rise. Recently, I read a book called Invisible Girls by Dr. Patti Feuereisen which explains how important it is to share. Sharing is healing. When you voice your experience it becomes real, but it also because part of the past. As I have learned to share mine, I have also learned that it creates new a new present for me – I am the woman who survived, I am the woman who moved pastand thrived.My story now creates a platform for others to say “that happened to me, also” because it is hard to prompt yourself to willingly share, even if you want it. But it is worth it. If you need someone to prompt you to share, please message me or any woman featured in Be Brave, Babe, you are our sister and we will listen.
Age does not discriminate the suffering after trauma.
I learned this from a family member and my nanny. My nanny raised me and my siblings. I am the youngest, so she was pretty much my nanny before I was even born. Of course, she is not my nanny anymore, but she is certainly a mother-figure in my life. She has the most embracing hugs of anyone I have ever met, her laugh will make anyone around also laugh, she can talk to anyone like she grew up with them, and she refuses to settle for less than she deserves. She taught me to be strong and to love family and to strut my femininity like I’m the only woman on earth. When I was raped, I could not sleep. I could hardly eat. I thought I just was stressed or it was because my roommate my freshman year was evil, but it was PTSD I was experiencing. I would call her at night and she would always answer. She told me she was raped too. When she was young. She told me that maybe the dark times would always be in my mind like hers, but that I would grow older and they would become distant. She still struggles with it. I grew up watching her eyes grow sad as she sank deeper in thought. She is a middle-aged woman who will hold this with her forever. I went against my comfort zone and also sent my manuscript to a woman in my family. She told me we have a lot in common. She told me she sometimes feels lonely. She told me she had never and would never tell her parents and she is just younger than my parents’. She admitted she probably should talk about it rather than holding it deep down. Oh, how I wanted to squeeze her in hugs then. I regret that it took my story to learn about someone in my family, but more so, I am honored that it was my story that led her to share. Age does not discriminate. It will be with you forever, but, I promise, it will not define you forever. You will grow so far beyond it.
Most women cannot use the word rape even if that was their experience.
Instead, they use “the same thing happened to me” or “I had an experience similar”. I did the same thing before I wrote my book and confronted myself with using the word rape. I was raped. I had an experience and that experience was rape. It still feels weird, like my lips cannot form the right shape and my tongue holds back when I want to say it. My voice gets all soft like it is gossip I should not be telling. No. I should be telling! This is what happened to me, world! And now I am publishing a book, and graduating, and I have two cats, and my hair is crazy in the morning, and I hate wearing pants, and I really don’t like drinking water (except I love sparkling water), and I also fart a lot and they smell bad because I’m vegan and vegan farts stink! I’m a human being, every day, and the next day, and rape is part of my story. I can honor my past, remember the past, and still create tidal waves into my future. Of course it is not this simple, I am working through my rape in therapy. I take baths and a flashback sneaks in and I sob. I feel irritable for no seeming reason and realize it was probably because I saw the Phi Tau fraternity letters on a random person’s t-shirt that opened my meticulously constructed box where I lock rape deep inside my brain. But, once I started using the word rape, I felt a lot better in ways that are difficult to describe. Maybe it was the final step of acceptance for me. Maybe you have no hesitation saying rape, but if you do, I urge you to write it down in a journal. Even if it is just the word: rape. I was raped and I’m proud of how far I’ve come despite it. I’m so proud of you, too.
These are continually the strongest women I have ever spoken to.
To have experienced something so thieving of power, it is an incredible, beautiful thing to learn how strong these women are. Maybe this is a given, but I am inspired nonetheless. Trauma manifests its existence in our bodies in so many ways: chronic pain, anxiety, agoraphobia, isolation, depression, migraines, tight pelvic floors, aching joints, panic, anger, sadness. It also seems to foster the deepest type of empathy imaginable in the most gracious, relentless, lovely women. This is not to say trauma is positive in any way! Of course not. But it highlights just how strong and powerful women truly are. I will forever be awe-struck by the tenacity of females. If you have experienced trauma, you are currently existing as one of those powerful, formidable, female forces I speak of. If you know someone who experienced sexual assault, remind her how powerful she is. If you support someone who has experienced sexual assault, you are powerful, too.
So, what does this all mean? It means that healing is not a recipe. It is a journey. You may not gather confidence from face masks and bath bombs, or you might. You may feel like a badass for a month, and then a switch clicks and you push all of your friends away and dissolve down into yourself. Maybe you find peace in nature and the biodiversity of wilderness. Maybe you hate nature and all of its bugs and discomforts. Or, you might be seeing a therapist and decide one week that you simply cannot make yourself talk about it and tell her you are sick and cannot make it. You might have to let down friends when you do not have energy to be social, or you might gather strength from your friends’ energy. Whatever it is that you feel, it is real. It is you, and now, and normal. Time is passing and you are part of it. There are no “should’s” there is only now.
The best thing I have learned in my journey is the word gentle. When I doubt if I was even raped because I did not fight back, I remind myself that rape is unwanted sexual activity and does not depend on my reaction. When I wonder why I would go to the party where that happened, I remind myself that I should be able to attend parties without assault. When I’m angry, I notice it, and I’m gentle with myself. It is okay to be angry! When I am exhausted even though I have been lying in bed for 15 hours, well, I’ll lie in bed for 15 more hours if I need it. When I want to read in the bath tub but I cannot focus on the plot because my attention span has left my brain, that is okay too. Healing is the time to be self-focused, in the most delicate way. Notice your feelings, take heed of you needs.
But know this, healing is hilly, and sometimes backwards, but you are the strongest person around, regardless of if you are in a trough or a peak. I encourage you to be gentle with yourself – whatever that means for you. Take healing at your own pace. Use your voice at your own pace. Gain trust within yourself and then gain trust with the world. You are a force in the universe. With light, you will grow, but it takes time, stay gentle.