I’ve written my story many times but I always catch myself justifying, explaining- frantically trying to help people understand- but it never feels like enough, and often isn’t. The details don’t feel real when I say them. They sound hallow or absolutely too personal to say out loud. Most of all, when the words come out of my mouth or down on paper, they don’t ring true to me and the way I felt, saw, lived my experience(s).
I do, however, think it’s important you know where I’m coming from.
The following are personal experiences are what have made me ME in this arena:
Freshmen year I hung out with a guy a few times. We stopped hanging out, but 2 weeks later I found out he was asked to leave because he had sexual assaulted multiple girls that year.
I had a previous relationship with guy #2. We went on dates my freshmen year in college, but I don’t know if I ever really liked him. He was always trying to change me and always, always, always made me feel like I wasn’t enough. I honestly can’t tell you why I kept saying yes to dates and hanging out, but psychoanalyzing my behavior leading up to incident #2 is a dark hole that usually leads me to think everything- all the bad, horrible, heart wrenching moments that have left me crying in the fetal position in my bed – is all my fault.
I eventually did break it off with him. I told him no, clearly, and in writing, many times. He never accepted it. Texting me time after time when I wouldn’t respond. Drunkenly calling to tell me how much he loved me, but then calling me names. Telling all his friends how selfish I was. He knew exactly how to make me feel like shit and that I owed him something.
The first few weeks of sophomore year he convinced me that we could be friends. He texted me late on a Saturday night saying he wanted to talk. He didn’t just want to talk. He slipped his hands up my sweatshirt. My body froze. He had “sex” with my lifeless body. He hugged me and told me he missed me after he had finished.
A month after incident #2, a guy in a college house basement, who I had seen before but did not know, started dancing with me. It was okay, but then he grabbed me, and pulled out his penis, pulling me towards him. I turned, trying to get away. He grabbed me again, pulling my head by my hair towards him. I fought away from his grasp and ran.
A few months later I was dancing with a guy at a college house party. He was okay for the first song. The next song he started grabbing at my chest, and when I tried to move his hand away he kept reaching back. He grabbed me so hard that the underlining of my bra broke and the sticking out wire drew blood. Walking away from the party that night I found out he had a girlfriend.
Junior year I was sleeping in my bed. I woke up to find a guy standing over my bed, staring at me. He was my roommate’s friend and was supposed to be downstairs in the living room. Seeing my eyes had opened, he lifted up my blankets to get into bed with me. I yelled for him to get away from me. He ignored me completely. He crawled under the covers and reached towards me. I frantically rolled out the bottom of my bed and ran out of my room. He told everyone the next day that he didn’t remember doing that, and that he thought it was “hilarious.”
During my first year out of college, a man grabbed me between my legs walking past me on the T.
Commuting home after work one day, a man sat next to me on the bus, and started rubbing against me. At the stop before mine, he got off the bus, pulled his pants down and started masturbating.
These moments aren’t all instances of sexual violence, although I do want to assert that some of them certainly are (and that when I speak about my rape I am referencing #2). I want to just as clearly state that the legality of the incidents matter much less to me than the way all of them individually (to varying degrees) made me feel: degraded, violated, less-than-human, disrespected, scared, and in some instances forever changed.
Experienced all together, these experiences make me feel like I can’t trust myself to keep me safe and I certainly can’t trust men. These moments give me migraines that lead to vomiting, nightmares that have stolen nights of sleep from me, and anxiety that presses so hard on my chest that I literally can’t breathe. They make me ashamed to be a woman. They make me feel like there must be something deeply wrong with me, because I’m the common denominator in all of these instances. They steal away my ability to connect with people because I’m “so hard to understand,” leaving me feeling so isolated and alone that I feel resigned to never even try to tell someone how I feel. These instances put my mind in the darkness and make me feel so incredibly damaged that I don’t know if I can ever recover from the psychological injuries that I have sustained to be a normal, functioning, lovable human being.
I have felt pain so intense and so profound that it feels like it should break me into a million pieces, but it never does. And what holds my million pieces together is the support I’ve received from the people who heard my story and took a step towards me rather than away.
They didn’t always know what to do or say but they showed up when I needed them. They were on the phone with me at 2 in the morning, they traveled 2,000 miles to see me after a bad day, they listened through their pain to give me a place to process my own. They patiently stayed with me until I could, for myself, see beyond the all encompassing darkness that these events brought into my life.
This is why I’m here spilling out my most personal, vulnerable feelings and moments to you. I’m intimately acquainted with sexual violence, and I know that, for so many people who have experienced it, the difference between hopelessness and hopefulness is the support they receive.
I’m here to help you know how to take a step towards the person you love, take a deep breath, and really support them.
Everyone knows someone who has experienced sexual violence. Together we can create a culture that supports warriors* and promotes healing.
*Note on language: I’m going to use the term warrior for a person who’s experienced sexual violence.
We often call these people survivors, but I personally prefer to think of these people as warriors: fighters that every day continue to battle the darkness, and fear, and uncertainty that experiences of sexual violence can bring into their lives. Shout out to Glennon Doyle Melton for inspiring my use of the term.