I Wasn’t OK. I Wish Someone Had Told Me That Was OK.
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
It’s OK to not be OK. Not being OK is OK.
It’s. OK. To. Not. Be. OK.
It’s OK to voice what you feel inside your body. It’s OK to feel. It’s OK to not feel good.
Let us begin where I began — in a small all-girls school in New Jersey. No evil could enter my walls or my pores. I was safe — always occupying a comfortable and securely beautiful sphere. I thought I was OK. I rested in false consciousness.
Now, let’s walk to Hamilton, New York. I came into Colgate with a fake mustache drawn on my face, the result of spending over a week in the woods with a group of other incoming students. Nothing could bring me down — my high was beautiful and it was safe.
Rape doesn’t happen here. Assault doesn’t happen here. My mom listened to this over the phone after the first few weeks of school. The bubble that I put Colgate into was perfect, but very imaginary. I found myself again sitting in my false consciousness.
Over my four years I have heard countless stories of the violation of women and men. Each story punches and prods my little ball of clay inside my stomach. Community is supposed to unite, not divide. Why aren’t we taking care of each other?
Trauma reappears in disrupted and disordered chaos; it resurfaces like a suffocating and depressing stream of random consciousness. Now as a senior, I want you to think with me. I invite you to sit with me for a few pages — meditate with me and feel with me. Cry with me and walk with me.
Charlotte is a sophomore. Charlotte loves Colgate. It’s a Thursday in November and a fraternity is hosting a party in a downtown apartment. Work hard play hard is an evident truth; Charlotte finds herself dancing with a man towards the end of the party. The alcohol keeps her eyes away from his face — maybe she doesn’t want to recognize him or maybe he’s just too tall.
Walking home feels like the world is working against her. The man has to support her. He supports her on the way home. He stops to pee in someone’s yard while she sits on the grass and then he goes back to supporting her. He supports her.
After bringing her back to her home, he decides to stay for a little while. He takes unwarranted ownership of the space and of her body. After moving her legs around and entering her most hidden space with his fingers and tongue, he slips out of the room without a word.
He whispered in her ear that he just wanted to be inside you. He got what he wanted. He stole what he wanted; he violently robbed her of wholeness.
Rape does happen at Colgate. Assault happens. It happens to a significant number of us.
I hear that this violation shatters, tears and drowns and that this self-consciousness I am trying to put you into brings with it a loss.
Safety, trust and the ability to be OK were stolen from her that night. He robbed her in the most painful way — the wounds he left were deep and hard to heal. They were the brightest of red and the darkest of black and blue — they bled and they bruised. They continued to beat her up.
Pain burrowed into her body in unwelcoming spaces. It entered through her eyes and her pores. The sweat that made its way out of his body clung to hers- it entered her and stayed a while.
It forced and dug into her heart and her stomach. Wholeness seemed impossible.
Cry with me. Please, allow yourself to sit in uncomfortability.
Not being OK is OK.
Assault is the result of systematic oppression and failure; it’s the result of pain and sometimes it ends with silence. Its existence is around the world.
Its existence is encouraged through our institutions and cultural climate.
Its existence is burned and branded into our history — into everyone’s historical roots. You are not safe.
Throughout my time at Colgate, I have experienced wonderful highs and the deepest of lows. Colgate has given me the greatest gifts a person could beg for. The love and care that has come from the humans here is the most precious; it is a beauty I know will last a lifetime. Colgate, you have fulfilled my soul. You have introduced me to the people who fill my heart. But, this fulfillment brings with it a lack. A loss. A low.
The highs have been warm and calm while the lows have pierced the calmness, forcing me to live inside my head. Living inside my head is dangerous and filled with doubt.
Sophomore year was particularly rough for me. My wounds were hidden but also the most visible; I spent a good amount of time surrounded in darkness and in so much light. I found comfort in sadness as well as with my suite mates. The support I received that year from them was the strongest; they were the reason I could get by not being OK. They filled my veins with love — I cannot be thankful for you both enough.
I wasn’t OK. They made this OK.
We will all experience hardships or even trauma during our college years. This is inevitable. How we cope and lean on others is what can help develop our experience and our person.
What does it mean to be whole? Can we achieve complete wholeness? What does it look like to not be OK?
Disassociation is an interesting practice: it is both calming and damaging. It relaxes us to a point of unhealthiness — for me, this point showed up in the form of anxiety.
The ball of clay inside your stomach that is punched and strangled until it screams needs a voice, too. What does it mean to deny anxiety a voice?
Anxiety is the hand that clenches, twists and beats the core of your being. It’s the hand that strangles your breath and covers your eyes. It can also be the hand that pulls you in to complete darkness.
I followed this hand religiously — I had been since high school. But triggers and lows made this hand stronger sophomore year until the middle of senior year. The hand pulled tears from my eyes and burned my core — I was no longer a person I wanted to be. I was stuck inside a body that wouldn’t listen to my mind — reason was no longer a calming force or a resonating voice. Reason was forced out of my body, replaced with a voice I didn’t recognize and one I hated.
I wasn’t OK — I wish someone had told me this was OK.
Starting junior spring, my coping came in the form of involvement. I dangerously used Colgate’s leadership system to recover and repair my agency.
I started facilitating Yes Means Yes and Bystander Intervention. Senior year, I added to my involvement by co-founding the Physics Department Family Dinners, starting a campus wide project (Lending Our Hearts) and actively participating in campus protests (Breaking the Silence and the Sit-In). In addition to these, I decided to take on three theses.
I didn’t think that leadership could intersect with self-care. I didn’t understand that I didn’t have to do everything. I didn’t understand that giving up responsibility was OK.
Know that this is all OK.
I couldn’t ask for help; I lived more in my head than I ever had. I have the beautiful, strong and bony hand of anxiety to thank for this. Living in such a confined and dark space only leads to desperation for open space. I crashed into this desperation. I collided with it. I let it run me over; I let it create utter damage.
I needed help.
The walk to the counseling center yanked my heart into my stomach, pulled sweat out of my pores and knotted my breath. The door was surprisingly easy to open — the handle was small and the wood was light.
I didn’t know that such an innocent house could beg my body to empty itself of tears. It pleaded with me to dig into my trauma with words and with EMDR therapy during my senior spring. Therapy lifted me to a high but also buried me until I couldn’t exist as a functional woman at Colgate anymore.
I didn’t feel whole. But what does that mean? I had to trust my own feelings and believe they were real. I felt disconnected. I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I needed to just get out. I panicked.
Tears fell out of me. They fell. I fell. I felt the lowest. Then I jumped. I started to take control of my low by committing to a daily pill I couldn’t survive any day without.
Maybe we can’t achieve wholeness. Maybe we don’t even know what that means, but believe yourself when you don’t feel OK. Maybe wholeness is comparative. Maybe we can add and subtract to how we feel but there is no “wholeness.” Can we find wholeness during some parts of our life? Maybe it’s fluid. There’s a reason why we feel the way we do, even if others don’t believe us.
Learning to lean on friends, family and resources at Colgate helped a missing piece return to my being. I’m not whole — maybe I’ll never be.
We need to talk. Our community needs to unify. Please, talk to each other. Give voice to your happiness and sadness. Share your emotions. Spread your love. We can’t fight our campus climate without this.
Give voice to your desires. Try to sit comfortably in your sexual wants and speak to them. Yell them. Consent is obligatory and is not possible when a person is blackout. Don’t hurt another human. Please. Communicate. Feel. Care. Love each other.
Give voice, claim voice. Allow others to hear but not to own. We all have our stories. Respect your own. Don’t let authority or administration take ownership — steal ownership — of your voice, success or perception. We are successful thanks to our own person- do not forget that.
Do not own my words. Listen. Learn. Appreciate. Let me be real; let me be completely honest.
Administration: do not own these essays. Do not cloud my thoughts.
It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to help yourself. And it’s OK to not feel “whole,” whatever that is.
Follow this journey on LITTLE ÉNKOKÓ
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Lead image submitted by contributor. Photo by Skye Challener.