Initially I wrote about this almost two months ago. I shared it with a select few people. My mom, husband, and three aunts. It was a huge step forward for me. I considered posting it, but went back and forth for a few days. Ultimately, I ended up not sharing it publicly. A week and a half ago I began working on an application for grad school. One of the essay questions was about a moment of adversity you faced in your life, how you handled it, what it meant to you, how it shaped you, etc.
I shared my story again. Not quite so detailed, but I shared it. With complete strangers. I laid it out there for them to assess and ultimately make judgements about me based on that. It was one of the more difficult things I have ever done. This might be even more difficult, but I won’t know until I hit post. My advisor contacted me via phone call and told me how moved she was by my story and my willingness to share that part of myself. So maybe it is time for me to put this out there. To open a piece of myself. To expose my vulnerability. Which is a difficult pill for me to swallow, being vulnerable. I hate getting emotional over this. It is one of the bigger reasons I try not to speak out loud about it.
My story is not unlike thousands of other tragic stories that happen. In America, every 2 minutes another person is sexually assaulted. Let me repeat that in America today, every TWO minutes another human being is sexually assaulted. Here are my 2 minutes.
My mom said to me “You have to forgive yourself in order to move on. You did nothing wrong.”
I am not upset with myself. I haven’t been for years now. I am upset with him. I am upset with a society that blames victims. I am upset with a system that failed me before I even had a chance to regain consciousness.
13 years. It has been roughly 13 years since I went through the most difficult moment of adversity in my life. Over the last couple of months a lot of emotions about this have come flooding back. Mostly due to the outrage I felt over the Stanford Rape case. The details sounded eerily similar to what I went through, and I could not help but be set back a bit. It triggered a lot of anxiety and emotion for me. When you see articles that say “warning possible trigger post,” this is what they mean. I didn’t have two heroes to stop things though. I didn’t have the opportunity to face my attacker. I didn’t even have a hospital that did more than the bare minimum of making sure I was alive and then send me on my way alone and barefoot in a vouchered cab. I was 18 years old.
My mom begged me to put my story into words. We have had lengthy discussions over this fact. I lamented that I am not certain I am ready. She is supportive of whatever I decide. She wants me to have the power. If that means sharing this or that means writing and rewriting it a 1000 times and never hitting post. 13 years later and we still live in a society where the victims of rape are so often blamed or at the bare minimum second guessed. Why would I share this? Why open that can of worms? Maybe we are on the brink of change. Awareness is there. Certainly more than I knew of 13 years ago.
I was so confused. I was terrified. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t call my parents. I called my aunts and left out the part about the questions the doctor barked at me over and over. Questions I had no answers to. I just said I had drank a lot and ended up in the hospital. Please don’t tell my parents. PLEASE. PLEASE! PLEASE!!!
The hospital sent me home with a bag of my things. The few things I had on me. My phone was gone. My shoes were gone. I walked through the building barefoot. I was a mess. I knocked on my own door until my new roommate and stranger heard me and let me in. I threw that bag of things somewhere. Eventually it made its way to the back of my small closet. I crawled into bed.
It took me weeks to look through that bag. The doctor’s questions ringing in my head. I wasn’t sure where my underwear went. I didn’t have any on when I left the hospital. I couldn’t even tell you what I WAS wearing when I walked into my room. I was still so foggy. I do know I was barefoot. That stands out. Even more humiliation. When I worked up the courage, weeks and weeks later, to look through the bag I kept thinking “please let my underwear be in there, please.”
They were not.
The things I do know:
It took me a while to put the pieces together. Like I said, it took weeks for me to even build up the courage to check for my underwear in the bag of things. When I did and when I was finally honest with myself, I realized what had happened to me. It took me even longer to tell people about it. Years.
I didn’t deal with things in the healthiest of manners early on. I didn’t even want to admit to myself what had happened. I pretended nothing had happened. Denial. I didn’t tell people the scariest details. I went through many phases. Partying. Drugs. Drinking. Anger. Anxiety. Depression. Nightmares. So many nightmares. For a long time I was numb. Or at least did my best to make sure I always felt numb. Then for a long while I felt everything all at once and it was all too much for me. It was like a sensory overload in my emotions.
It took time for me to put my life back together. Yet, at that point I still had not told anyone what I had truly gone through. People maybe knew I had ended up in the hospital for drinking. My parents eventually found out about that as well. I didn’t tell them about the missing underwear. Or the Doctor’s genital questions. I was ashamed. I was humiliated. I was in denial. While, I am no longer in denial, in some ways I still do feel humiliated. A lot of those emotions were brought to the surface again this summer.
A big weight was lifted when I finally told my mom. It was years and years later. I told my husband before I told her. I have shared it here and there with other people. Not so much the nitty gritty details. My mom and husband got those. Those are the above. This is the first time I have put them all in words written down at once. I still struggle to tell that story out loud. You may have known me when this happened. Yet, I didn’t share all of this with you. One of my reasons, on my list of many, for not sharing my story earlier is because of that. What would people I knew then think of me? Would they even believe me, since I wasn’t completely open then? Would they think I was making this up? The more and more I think about those fears, the more and more I realize I am playing into Rape Culture. I shouldn’t care if someone from 13 years ago is mad that I didn’t tell them the whole story. That is their problem and issue, not mine. This is MY story. This is MY journey. This is MY life. This was MY battle to win and use to find MY voice. I have the power to decide when/where/if I share my story.
Sadly, every 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported. I make up half of those two. Again, in 2016, ⅔ of rapes go unreported. Let that sink in. We consider ourselves a modern society and yet we allow our most vulnerable victims to fall through the cracks. We have created a culture of fear for victims, not assailants. What kind of world do we live in that someone who was violated is afraid of coming forward because they know there is a great chance that they won’t be believed and justice won’t be had? We can even have two reliable witnesses physically stop a sexual assault, and still the rapist gets a 6 month slap on the wrist. Why would a scared girl, without witnesses, who can barely remember anything, bother to come forward?
My nightmares have returned lately. When I say nightmares, I literally mean I have nightmares about being raped over and over. Or being held captive and having to escape. I believe they have returned due to the fact that this has simmered to the surface again. I feel that this is a lifelong scar I will deal with. Sometimes it will be more faint and I won’t really even notice it. Sometimes it will be bright red, angry, and sore to the touch. My anxiety and panic attacks also never quite leave me. As I type this with shaky fingers. I have learned to manage them in much healthier ways these days. Pilates, deep breathing, running, meditation, visualization, acupuncture, and just talking myself out of a bad attack.
I understand a lot more about myself now that I am in my 30’s. With age comes wisdom. I use my voice. I will not be silenced ever again. I was recently called angry for speaking out against sexism. That may be, but I have my reasons. I have my reasons for wanting equality for women. I have my reasons for speaking out against Rape Culture and sexism over and over. Two of my reasons are sleeping in their comfortable beds above me. They are two little boys. I am responsible for sending them out into the world knowing they will do no harm to other humans. It is my job to keep them aware of how we treat others. No means no. We respect other people’s bodies and choices. You are entitled to nothing and no one. If you see someone being harmed, struggling, in need of help, do your best to help. I think those are some pretty solid reasons for keeping my voice loud, active, and yes, sometimes angry.
There is a lot that is still unclear from that night nearly 13 years ago. I still am missing pieces. Over the years small foggy fragments came through. Not everything, but some. I was unconscious. I was beyond incapacitated. I cannot expect my brain to put everything into a neat package for me. I cannot expect to remember every detail vividly. Maybe this is my blessing. Maybe this is my curse. It really depends on the minute, day, week, month, year. I will never remember it all. I will however, never ever forget those underwear.