How I Fought to Get My Life Back After My Assault
In October of 2016, I was raped by an acquaintance on my college campus. It was the single worst thing to ever happen to me. I am still greatly affected by it to this day, however, I know there is hope.
Here’s how I have fought to get my life back on track:
The single hardest part, in my opinion, of an assault of any kind is having the courage to face it. It took me months to come to terms with what happened. I tried to deny and rationalize what had happened — I tried a million times over. But in the end, I knew that what had occurred was not my fault and against my wishes. Simply coming to terms with that fact was the worst kind of emotional pain I have ever felt. Accepting that the event happened, in my opinion, is the first step in getting help.
2. Getting help.
Thanks to a very good friend on campus, I went immediately to the counseling center. There were so many feelings and memories and fears to sort through. My brain was going a million miles an hour. I didn’t know what to do, think, feel, or who to even tell. The counseling center gave me options — report or not, it was all up to me. Seeking help and continuously going to therapy or a support group was key to my recovery. One cannot simply go through any of this alone, nor should they have to. My depression reared up. My anxiety was at an all-time high and I developed post-traumatic stress disorder. It was a lot to deal with and I needed all the help I could get. Along with this step comes the very difficult lessons of learning how to ask for what I needed and how to accept the help offered. There is nothing to be ashamed of; it wasn’t my fault.
The dreaded step: reporting. I wrestled with this option for a long time. The shame, guilt and consequences from a sexual assault affect everyone differently. I felt extremely guilty, like it was my fault. After disclosing the situation with a school counselor, I made the choice to report the situation to the Title IX office on campus. Recounting trauma is never easy, and in my case, it was like reliving the event all over again. Many people do not report their assaults for a myriad of reasons: fear of backlash from the attacker, fear of not being believed, fear of judgment/blame, having to defend themselves in a court. These are all valid reasons. My personal belief was that my attacker needed to answer for his injustice. I did not want to be the one to let him get off scotch-free. Reporting was one of the most painful and draining experiences that I have ever been a part of. Even with that being the case, my only regret is that I did not report sooner.
4. Be prepared for backlash.
Sorry to inform everyone, but society sucks. There might be some backlash. In my case, I did not receive support from the sports team that I was an intern for and that he played on. Some people did not believe me. People were angry. Coaches were ignorant. I felt that no one really knew how to help me. It was a hard few months leading up to the Title IX trial. There were interviews where I had to relive all the details of my assault. My rapist lied and got his friends to lie as well. I was not believed. I was stigmatized. I was blamed. Reporting and stepping up is not easy, but I urge anyone to step up and seek justice.
5. Understand that healing is not linear.
Healing is not linear. It’s not a step-by-step process. It’s not one size fits all. Every day may not be better than the day before it. The last year of my life has been full of ups and downs. I was living on a rollercoaster blindfolded; I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I got worse before I got better. I developed PTSD. I struggled with major depression. I experienced daily panic attacks and nightmares. I developed an eating disorder, self-harm behaviors and suicidal thoughts. Not every day was a bad day, though. I made new friends, learned new things about myself and grew as a person. Even now that I am more stable, I still have my bad days and bad moments. That is life. I just learned how to cope with it and how to teach those around me about how to cope with it, too.
6. Do whatever you need to do to help yourself heal (healthy choices, of course). And don’t apologize for any of it.
I dropped out of school. I gave myself time to grieve, which is so important. My day was as follows: go to therapy, read, craft, nap, spend time with my dogs and bunny, write, take baths. I used all my self-care tools. I tried new self-care tips. Most importantly, I gave myself time to heal. Now, I have a job that I absolutely adore. I work at a doggy daycare, so I get plenty dog time every day. I am slowly but surely taking on new responsibilities in my adult life — paying bills, making appointments, etc. No matter what, I am always trying to move forward. I coach ice hockey — a lifelong passion of mine. I take things day-by-day and pursue things that make me happy and joyful.
Now, almost one year later, I am not the same person I was then. I’ve learned a lot in this past year about growth and adversity. Things have gotten remarkably better, even though there has been struggle. Where I want to go in life is still very uncertain to me, but each day I grow a little closer to finding out what makes me whole. I never would have imagined that in the wake of such a traumatic event, there would be positives. I am not 100 percent recovered, but I am certainly working on my recovery. I am eternally grateful for everyone that has gotten me to this point. To those still struggling, myself included: we will overcome. I believe in that wholeheartedly.
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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Thinkstock photo via Olela