Why College Was the Safest Place I Had Ever Been
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.
I had multiple sexual assault perpetrators throughout my childhood. My main abusers lived in my home with me. Unspeakable things were done to me for 20 years. I had no feasible way out. And then came college.
This was the first time I was free. Once I remembered all the abuse, I could begin to see clearly my life no longer needed to be full of abuse. I now had choices and I could choose to no longer be trapped by them.
Needless to say, with student loans and my parents paying for a very expensive private college, I did not want to lose the opportunity to stay there, so I had come to terms with a compromise. I would not confront my parents and would do everything else I could to disengage from them emotionally and physically. I rarely called home (until my mom called campus police). I stayed at school on holidays and summers saying I had too much studying or work.
The reality was I had never been safer in my life at that time. College did pose its own challenges. I was suicidal most of the time. The flashbacks and memories of my abuse were bombarding me on a regular basis.
To cope, I went to therapy. I went to on-campus counseling until my free sessions ran out, and then I went to off-campus counseling (borrowing my friend’s car to get there). I was determined.
I joined a group that worked to address on-campus sexual assaults (Coalition Against Rape). I became their community educator and worked with groups on campus to do education about sexual assault. I told my personal story and shared what I was doing to heal. I wanted others to know it was safe to tell and ask for help. It gave me a sense of purpose and a way to make good out of what had happened to me.
It felt odd to lay my head down at night and not wonder when someone else was going to assault me. For the most part, I was out from under them. I did not know how free I could possibly be. I did not know what freedom was. I learned other people were not afraid of their parents and actually loved and liked them. That they enjoyed going home and found safety there.
Many abused children know nothing other than what is happening in their own house, and it is not until they get into another environment for a sustained period of time they finally feel safe. That feeling of safety can be so overwhelming, you are not sure how to act. No one is stalking you. No one is using your body as their personal punching bag or for their personal pleasure. You finally have control over your body and are able to set boundaries for the first time. For me, I did not know how to set boundaries. How was I supposed to? No one had taught me or allowed me to. I had to teach myself boundaries and then exercise them.
Steps I took to initiate healthy boundaries for myself:
1. I emulated those around me who I trusted.
2. I said no and meant it.
3. I surrounded myself with like-minded friends.
4. I sought out parental figures who were healthy.
5. I set goals for myself that were obtainable and forward-thinking.
6. I did not compromise my principles to please others.
Setting and sticking to boundaries is hard, especially when you have had no examples to follow. If you do set boundaries, give yourself grace to slip up sometimes and fall back into old patterns. You are growing and eventually your newfound boundaries will become automatic. Safety comes when boundaries are established.
It is OK to demand the pattern of abuse must end. You do not owe anyone your body. Welcome safety — you deserve it. Do not move forward afraid because freedom is yours to claim.
You can do this. Acknowledge your past is just that and you can design a new present and future.
Set some Mighty strong boundaries!
Getty image by Garetsworkshop