How I Turned ‘Weakness’ to Strength After the Second Time I Was Raped
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.
Society thinks it’s OK to tell survivors of sexual assault when and where it’s appropriate to talk about their story. I’ve been shut down time and time again by associates and close friends alike.
But the truth is, there is no good time or place to talk about it, and that’s why we must.
The most damaging aftermath, following the first time I was raped, was the silence I was forced into. Some may not say it openly, but body language was always uncomfortable and I was scared to say the wrong thing. I was looked at as this fragile, scarred thing, and honestly, I acted accordingly. My post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) took over my life and everything was triggering. The more I hid it, the worse it got.
It took me months to tell a soul and even then, I downplayed it and tried to protect the listener from my trauma. This is why sexual assault is so insidious. If a rapist can shame you into staying quiet, they get away with it and never change. If society can keep you quiet, they don’t have to think about the overwhelming issue we need to fix. It is beyond damaging to take on the perspective that your story is a burden to listen to. We end up stuck with secrets and shame. That darkness is almost impossible to see through. However, honesty and courage to tell your story sets fire to that darkness.
It took me years to come to terms with being date raped by my friend and I still find it hard to say his name. That initial shame and fear stuck with me for so long. It was a cage I was willingly sitting in. The first time I opened the door was through poetry. I wrote a spoken word piece with no intentions of speaking it, but the simple act of releasing my story from the torture that was my brain made the pain lessen. It was like a small rip in a too tight sweater. After the initial rip, the unthreading started to grow.
I slowly fleshed out what it meant to be a survivor and through sharing, I realized my new identity. I came to terms with the fact it was now a part of me. I learned coping mechanisms for my PTSD and got my life back.
Then I was raped for a second time. Just as I felt recovered, my life was turned upside down all over again.
This time, it was quite a violent assault and hiding it became impossible. I was covered in dirt and scratches and needed to go to the hospital on several occasions.
So this time, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t hide it. I swore I wouldn’t let him put the burden of a sad story on me. I didn’t want to be that girl who was raped twice; I didn’t want to be seen as damaged. But still, I knew I couldn’t live in that silence again, so I shared.
I told my family and friends openly. I talked to the police. I let everyone know it was OK to share my story if they felt the need.
And to my deep surprise, something amazing happened. I was told I was strong. By wearing my perceived weakness on my sleeve, it suddenly became my strength. I think we all have a desire to live authentically as our true self but few actually accomplish it. It wasmind-bogglingg that something so simple inspired those around me.
I got texts, calls and messages showing support and love. So many survivors opened up to me about their own experiences. The looks of deep relief were indescribably beautiful. Some of these women hadn’t told a soul in over 20 years. I can’t imagine carrying that silence and pain around for so long. Soon the word “strong” took on new meaning to me. Strength became raw vulnerability. It became soft voices with hard stories. It became scars and perseverance in the belief of goodness.
I can’t say it was easy to tell those I love how I had been violated and hurt. It killed me to see their pain, but pain does not belong to any one person. Pain is meant to be shared, just as joy is. We could not survive as humans if we had to do it all on our own.
I became a storyteller in every sense of the word. Through my story, others’ were unlocked as well. I truly believe a story can create a chain reaction. One person who finds courage can show others how it’s done.
So, no matter what your life experience is, I beg of you to share it. A voice is a precious thing. You must discover it, then hold onto it with everything you have. This is my voice, and I hope I hear yours too someday.
A version of this article was previously published by Thought Catalog.
Photo by Candice Picard on Unsplash