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Being Naked on the Internet

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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.

If you Google my name, you have the opportunity to see my breasts. They are there, for the masses to consume, if so desired.

If you knew how much I didn’t want you to press play on the video, if you knew it felt like a small violation to me, over and over again, would you do it anyway?

We all have our choices.
We all have our consequences.

I was in a B horror movie. When I was 22 and an active addict and alcoholic and generally making decisions based on only the next 10 minutes (“Will I still be alive tomorrow? How can I survive this one moment? Wait, where’s the manual for life again?”) I chose to participate in the film and got to run and scream and get sawed in half.

I also had to simulate sex with a boy with whom I didn’t even want to have a conversation, and, like all good girls who meet their doom in a horror flick, I bared my tits.

It never once occurred to me that this footage would exist in the eternity of the world’s web browsers.

Since its release in 2003, whenever I meet new people (prospective employers/friends/ dates) I’m terrified they will Google me for “research.” We all do it. Our curiosity of people can be quenched within seconds with a few clicks. I became aware of my public nudity because this exact thing happened. I applied for a job I really wanted, and the employer did an internet search.

“Is this you?” he asked. It was. It was me.

As a survivor of sexual assault I need my body to be my own. I need to have control over who sees it, touches it, is stimulated by it. Yet, with the existence of the video footage, this is not my reality. As I am typing this, someone on the other side of the world might be watching me pretend-fuck a guy whose name I don’t remember. This is my reality. This is the consequence of a decision made with a numbed-out brain. The consequence of rejecting myself so completely.

I was assaulted before I knew what the word meant, being groped or kissed by family and friends in ways that made my skin crawl. But silence was the only option I knew. I didn’t comprehend why it felt wrong on a cellular level. I was a child.

When I was raped at 20, I didn’t even know I could call it rape. Because he was my friend. Because I was drunk.

I became a master at wreaking havoc on my own body. I fucked strangers, starved myself, couldn’t shower, wouldn’t connect with my humanness at all.

I was polite to the guy who shoved his tongue down my throat when I was asleep on the A train. When I awoke, I delicately declined. “No, thank you.” Terrified. But polite. Because what else was he capable of?

It’s of little surprise that I made the choice to participate in the film.

Do I regret it? (Most days) no. I can’t afford to. Regrets will swallow me whole and spit me out, spent. I’m not proud of it. More than anything, I think about that lost 22-year-old girl and I want to hug her. Tell her she doesn’t need to act her way through life. That she will, in fact, survive her 20s. That her body deserves respect. That she can get out of bed and be scared and be OK, all at the same time.

Today when strangers make unwanted comments, I try to stop and plant my feet and grow as tall as a sycamore and roar that they have no right. That I am not theirs. It can still be a struggle. Fear is a beast I respect immensely. It’s a daily reprieve.

So how do I put myself out there (on the web and otherwise) as a writer, as a human, as my most authentic self and simultaneously hope no one will discover the badly-lit video footage?

The answer was handed to me when I met a comic book artist this summer. He told me about when he made a comic about the darkest corner of himself. The closet skeleton. He never thought he’d write about it. But he did. And afterwards he was free. He didn’t have to worry about other people shining a light in the corner because he grabbed a flashlight and did it himself. He claimed it.

So, fuck yes, anonymous humans who watch naked girls online, that’s me. That girl you see, who is only a vapid shell who woke up terrified every morning: that’s me. It’s the same body that moves me through the world today, although my heart and my choices look very different. I’ve also gained about 20 healthy pounds. Today I buy cashew butter instead of drugs.

Two years after I shot the movie I got clean and sober. That was over a decade ago. I’ve been taught in recovery to not fester in regret. To honor every part of myself and my past. The horror, the film, the rape, the man on the A train, the terror of not knowing how to move through a sunrise and set: I honor you and your shaping of my core. For being the shit and fertilizer to my roots.

I get to be a part of a glorious forest of sycamores. The surviving tribe. You speak, you make me brave. I speak to honor your bravery.

These words that you read are my flashlight. My nudity has propelled me into nakedness.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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Thinkstock image by Tverdohlib

Originally published: September 18, 2017
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