I just got home from a trip to Kroger during which I debated between a 4-pack of mini margaritas and the triple sec and strawberry mix I needed to make my own margs at home. In case you’re wondering, went with the second option. The plan was to come home, crack open the bottles and make something to drink that would help me forget. However, last minute, I had a change of heart; I need to feel this.
Tonight, my university hosted Take Back the Night, which is a series of events that honor victims/survivors of sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. At 6pm, survivors and allies descended upon a small room in the student center to share stories and offer support. I shared my assault experience at the same event last year. It was so healing and empowering that I almost looked forward to telling it again this year (as strange as that may sound).
I spent the majority of today planning what I would say; I mapped it out with bullet points in my journal and practiced saying it aloud in my car. But when I arrived at the speakouts, I decided to remain quiet in order to leave space for the voices of others who had not yet been heard.
I left feeling raw. Exposed. Naked. I felt as though it had just happened all over again; the memories were palpable. Listening to the experiences of others brought me closer to my own experience that talking about it normally does. When I talk about it, I have control over what parts I bring to the surface, what parts I remember. But hearing others recall similar incidents caused me to think about the things that I normally don’t think much about, the parts I normally don’t bring to the surface.
I was assaulted in my residence hall room by a man I knew during the first semester of my freshman year of college. It was November. Only three months out of my entire college career occurred pre-assault. The experience has played in the background of the majority of my time in undergrad. Due to the measures I chose to take immediately following the assault, my attacker still attends my school. I see him everywhere. I saw him this morning.
I don’t write about this on the internet often because it’s probably so deeply personal and protected that I don’t want it to end up in the wrong hands.
Lots of things happened after the assault. I talked to lots of people: friends, my RA, my school’s Deputy Title IX Coordinator. I was numb. I cried only once and pretended like it wasn’t a big deal. I equated strength with toughness.
During my sophomore year, I took a class on narrative writing. For one assignment, I wrote about several important life events from early childhood up to the assault. It was the first time I’d written about it for another person to read and it had been nearly a year. When my instructor (who I love to this day) returned the graded piece, I encountered loads of positive feedback and eventually discovered a comment on the very last page where I’d described the assault: She said, “It is a powerful ending but as a reader I don’t like that it ends with you defeated.”
Initially, I took the comment rather defensively. I’d just exposed a very vulnerable part of myself and she didn’t like it? Besides, I was defeated. I didn’t change the ending before submitting the final draft.
Only recently have I begun to realize what my instructor wanted. She didn’t necessarily want me to change that part of the story; she wanted me to write more. She didn’t want the story to end there. She didn’t want it to end with me defeated because I wasn’t.
I’m not grateful for my assault. When it comes to these types of things, there’s no silver lining. But my story didn’t end there.
Inspired by my RA’s support, I applied for and landed an RA position. I began going to therapy regularly and eventually attended a support group run by my therapist. Through the group, I came to own the label of survivor and understand what that meant for me. I found that I was able to relate to and offer support to other victims/survivors in a way that non-victims/survivors might have trouble doing. I took that realization and ran with it.
In the summer before my junior year, I worked with another student to co-found a mental health organization on our campus. One year later – in the fall of 2016 – I spoke about my experience at another survivor-oriented event called the Clothesline Project and cried about it for the second time. This August, I will be pursuing a master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs.
My story did not stop. Don’t get me wrong: There were hella bumps in the road. There still are. I can’t go certain places or look at certain things without thinking about it and it crawls into my mind at the most inopportune times. But the story is still going.
Tonight, I sat in a room with at least 30 other people who had been crushed and torn apart in many of the same ways I had. 30 other people who knew what it felt like. 30 other people all hurting and healing together. And none of their stories had ended there.
This is choppy and probably disorganized and maybe laden with typos, but it was necessary. And I just finished crying about it. For the third time. Ever.