How Chanel Miller’s Memoir Helped Me Love Myself 20 Years After I Was Raped
This is a love story — I suppose you could call it that — but it’s probably not the kind of love story you’re thinking of. It’s a story of learning to love myself, which perhaps really is the greatest love of all. It’s not an easy story to share but I’m tired of being afraid. This is me. As it creeps up on the 20th anniversary, it’s been heavy on my mind. I buried that fucking shit deep down and somehow the anchor broke loose and it all floated to the surface. Lingering. I could tie the anchor back on and throw that shit overboard again but I am choosing to face it.
Over the last couple of years, with people like Brock Turner, Brett Kavanaugh and Steubenville high school football players out there, I’ve made the choice to stop running away from it. You know, grab it by the balls and give it a big fat “fuck you.” I let it consume me for too long. I’m done suffering self-loathing behavior. It’s not good for anybody. I’ve been working on healing, forgiving myself, getting rid of vexations that have built a barricade precluding me from seeing the truth. Writing has helped. It is cathartic. I’m knocking down walls of anguish and breaking free from chains of despair. Bare boned and vulnerable AF, here I come.
I hate the word “rape.” It’s an ugly word. It’s so volatile. Makes me want to vomit. It’s been hard to say that word out loud. I always said he had sex with me while I was passed out. That is what I told myself it was. That is the terminology I used. I convinced my superficial self it wasn’t rape though the deep-down inner me feared it was. And, by definition, that is what it was. That ugly word happened to me. I’ve been so ashamed to claim that as part of me. But after years and years, I finally reached a place where I realized it happened to me, not because of me. That was a major turning point for me. That empowered me to finally call it what it is. Rape. I was raped.
Now, I’m no Godly woman, but I do believe in a power that is more profound than any one person — a projection of love that exists and manifests as goodness in people and the connections we share. If you look closely enough, there is goodness just about everywhere. Even right here in my story. It may not seem like it. It certainly has been a long broken road, but I do believe it is turning into a happy space to occupy. Others like me who are no strangers to the dark — two that come to mind are Chanel Miller and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, have illuminated the way and bravely showered that projection of love I speak of. There is comfort in knowing you are not alone. True companions comforted by sharing the same pain. Women who spread light to other women have become my heroes and I am grateful for those connections. I have found strength and courage in camaraderie. So, I write with the hope to gift others with the same peace I have found. There are so many of us out there, our lives intertwined because our hearts carry the same grief. We all have names. We all have our own stories. I am grateful for those who share their stories. They are brave and strong and give a voice to so many of us who never felt we had one, who felt silenced, oppressed, erased like 19-year-old me. The girl who wore diamonds in her hair to the party that night. The night. The night it happened. The girl who lost her way. The girl who hated herself. Ashamed of my scars, afraid no one would want my broken parts. Oh, how I struggled to carry that girl over the years, wanted to abandon her, buried her for a long time; she was worthless.
My mind took me places I never dreamed existed, taunting and ridiculing me with blame and disgust. He was my friend — my friend I took to the party. He knew I was falling for his friend. I drank too much. Fuck, I drank so much. So much I couldn’t even stay conscious to take care of myself. I didn’t protect myself. I hated myself a long time for that, and I hated myself because I couldn’t remember. The only memory I have is of his face on top of my face as my eyes flickered open and closed as he thrust inside me. Fuck, how could I not wake up and push him off me?! Why didn’t I scream “no?” Does that mean I allowed him to do that to me? How did he know I was there, passed out and alone? How did he get in? And where was the other guy, the one whose room I was in, the one I was falling for?
I kept my secret a secret for a while. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. Humiliated. I took a pregnancy test when my period was late. I sat on my dorm room bed with a suicide method laid out on my 20th birthday. I crawled in a hole and wanted to die when I heard there was laughing at my expense as he shared and mocked that night with others. How can someone have such disregard for another human being? I was nothing more than a worthless, used, dirty piece of garbage. You don’t forget that feeling.
I’ve always wondered what he remembers. Does he think about me and feel guilty? Does he recognize what he did as wrong? Has nearly 20 years aged his memory and he has no recollection of that night at all? I have always hoped that he does remember and that, just like in Kesha’s song, he’s somewhere praying and he’s changed. That he takes responsibility for his actions and feels remorse. That he understands what he did was wrong. That if he has sons and daughters, he is raising them with morality and teaching them about college rape culture. That he loves his wife holistically and treats her with respect. I do want him to know that what he did to me on that night nearly 20 years ago matters. I want him to care that he hurt me. I tell myself he does. I think that is what most of us want: for our voices to be heard and our stories believed.
I recently read Chanel Miller’s memoir, “Know My Name.” In many ways, it’s been a saving grace for me, so if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do. At her assailant’s trial, so many of Brock’s friends and family testified that he would never do anything like that, that it was so far removed from his character they just couldn’t even imagine him doing anything remotely like that. This is one of the things I have struggled with over the years. I didn’t think he was a bad person, so how could he do that to me? He was supposed to be my friend.
Chanel helped calm my mind; honestly, her insight brought me such peace. She wanted everyone to know those truths about Brock that his friends and family spoke of; she didn’t doubt that, yes, he was a good student, good athlete, volunteered, good brother, good boyfriend, etc. He exemplified all those qualities. He did. But, guess what? He also raped her that night. The thing is, he’s not a bad person or a good person, but what he did on that night is unacceptable. The truth she speaks is that you don’t have to choose if he’s wholesome or a monster.
She goes on to say: “One person can be capable of both. Society often fails to wrap its head around that fact that these truths often coexist, they are not mutually exclusive. Bad qualities can hide inside a good person.”
This was very enlightening for me. Upon reading and digesting what that means to me, I was able to let some of the resentment go that was clouding me in darkness. I feel so much lighter. I harbored such hate for him and myself for carrying so much hate. It was a heavy load. But, now I know I don’t have to choose if he is wholesome or a monster. He can be both. Simply knowing that freed me, in a sense. He’s a person who made a choice that is unacceptable. And again, it happened to me rather than because of me. It wasn’t my fault. Even if I was drinking and black-out drunk. Even if I passed out alone. Even if I took him to the party. Even if I sat on his lap. And, believe it or not, it still wouldn’t have been my fault if I had let him fuck me with consent the night before. It will never be my fault that he came into that room and made the choice to take my clothes off, get on top of me, and put himself inside of me while I lay there unable to make my own choices. But I’m making my own choices now. I lived nearly another 19 years before I gave that 19-year-old girl the compassion and grace she deserves. Through a journey embodied in self-reflection and insight, I grew to love her. What he did to me will never go away. It took feeling like my life is half the way traveled and I’m still lost in that night to really break me free.
And, so as I said in the beginning, there is good here. I forgive that 19-year-old girl who didn’t believe she mattered and I’m so sorry I made mistakes that didn’t allow me to protect her. I’m so sorry I didn’t give her the love she so desperately needed and deserved. And guess what? She forgives me, too. Together, we continue to make choices that move us forward one day at a time. I used to imagine who I would be without that night. I don’t do that anymore. That night is inextricable from my life. I love myself: every single piece of me. It’s a fluid kind of love, as most loves are, continuing to evolve as I continue to learn more about myself and the world around me. I know I’m not at the end of the road. Truthfully, I don’t think the road ever ends. It’s a lifelong journey and every day, I choose love and forgiveness. I choose compassion and grace. I am no longer unkind to myself, and I know I deserve love because there is nothing I’m not worthy of.
Image via contributor.