* Trigger warning. If you're not in the place to read someone else's pain and struggle, please don't feel the need to keep reading.
I’ve spent so much time these past couple weeks thinking and writing and calculating how I wanted to say what I needed to say. I’ve stayed up late, stared at blank page after blank page, and for whatever reason, I’ve struggled to get my words out.
A year ago, my life was turned upside down. October 26th will forever be embedded into me. Every day I relive what happened to me. I live in a play by play of one of the worst times in my life- pausing, fast forwarding, slowing down, analyzing every moment, trying to find exactly where I fucked up. I try to go back and look for the red flags- did I say something over dinner that screamed “ME!”? Did my blouse and pants and jacket and black flats ask to be violated without me knowing it? We had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, shared dessert, and then he walked me to the parking garage. I was parked a floor below the roof level, so we decided to go up one floor to look at the lights. Did he think I owed him? Was this a red flag? Is that the moment I messed everything up? Was that the moment he decided he was going to hurt me? Or was it when he pinned me against a wall and said to be quiet or he’d kill me? Was the red flag when he reached under my shirt and pulled my bra down so fast that the strap broke? Maybe it was when he grabbed my ass while trying to shove his tongue down my throat. Every time I tried to fight back his grip on me got stronger, he wedged me against the wall harder. I still remember the way his breath felt against my ear when he leaned in and told me that no one would find my body- that if he killed me, he’d wear my skin like a cloak. I tried to fight back. I tried so hard to get away, but he wore me down. He scared me, I was afraid for my life. I was paralyzed. My only thought was “I want to see my mom again.” And I believe that that thought is the only reason I survived that night. No matter what happened, I knew, I knew that it would end, and I’d get to see my mom. So, I kept repeating to myself, like a mantra, “I want to see my mom again, I want to see my mom again.”
When I finally got home, I showered in water so hot my skin turned scarlet and my eyes burned. I brushed my teeth over, and over, and over again. I changed pajamas three times because nothing felt comfortable. Then I laid on my bed in the dark because it was too late to bother any of my friends. I tried to will myself to forget. At first, I thought I was okay. I tried to be okay. It took me 3 days to tell my best friend what happened, and even then, I didn’t come out directly and name it for what it was. It took me 5 days to tell my mother. I was afraid she’d say, “I told you so, dating in LA is dangerous”, even though I knew she’d never react that way, but I avoided it as long as possible… It took me even longer than that to admit to myself what had happened. Sometimes I still think I haven’t admitted it. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t that bad, I was making it into something bigger than it was. I tried to make excuses. I tried to convince myself that it was normal. I tried to make myself believe that I was deserving of being treated that way. I didn’t say the words “I was assaulted” out loud to myself for over a week. If I said it out loud, that’d make it real, and if it was real, then that’d mean that bad things can happen to me, that I’m not invincible.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve spent the past year healing, growing, not letting it affect me. But that’s not true. In fact, this past year, I’ve done the complete opposite. There are some days where I can’t breathe because my chest feels like it’s caving in. Some days I can’t get out of bed because I’m too weak to move and my feet feel like they’re tied down to my mattress. There are days when I am stuck in a tunnel and I can’t even remember what the light at the end looks like. I haven’t healed. I haven’t allowed myself to. Every time I think about that day, I hear every single word he said to me over again, I feel everything he did to me. I can’t look at myself in the mirror without seeing what he did. This past year I haven’t learned how to deal with what happened, how to heal. I’ve learned to shove it in a box and place that box in the back closet of my mind where I don’t have to think about it. I’ve learned to ignore the gnawing, aching feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ve learned to live with the shame the blame, and the guilt. I’ve learned that I can bury my thoughts and my emotions under work, school, family, life. But I have put a lid on an over flowing bottle. I put walls up around myself to keep the trauma away, but all I ended up doing was shutting myself in with it… I didn’t realize how depression had snuck back into my life. I didn’t realize how anxiety had remade her home inside me. I stopped doing things I loved, I gave up projects I was passionate about, I lost touch with people I cared about. I see myself doing it, but I can’t pull myself out of it. I stopped feeling things, started going through the motions. Only recently did I start paying attention to how much of a toll it was taking on me. How dare he make such a heinous decision that altered my reality, and my perception of the world around me. He stole my self assurance, my confidence, my solid footing. He stole the things that made me good. He damaged me, he broke me. How dare he.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve found what I was looking for, what I need, or that I’ve used my voice or that I've stood up for myself. But I haven't. I've quit speaking up for me. On my good days, I’m tough, and strong, and I feel like I can reclaim my life. I want more of those good days. I’m fighting for those good days, I am hoping for those good days. I am tired of allowing what happened to me to crush me. I am strong, and resilient, capable, and loving. But I am also reserved, I'm detached, and I’m too afraid to let people into my world. I know now that I cannot keep doing things this way, though. I need to allow myself the time to move past this- no matter how long it takes. I will never forget what happened to me, but I can’t keep carrying this around like some heavy ball and chain. There are things he said to me that I don’t think I will ever repeat to anyone. There is pain I felt that I don’t think I will ever be able to express. It makes me sad and angry that because of what he did, I’ll carry that around with me for the rest of my life.
I know I will be okay because I have faith in myself. I know I will get past this, it will just take time. I have to allow myself that time. The first step is admitting what happened, and admitting that I can’t do this alone. I don’t want to do this alone. I’ve been alone and isolated by this enough already. No more. This year has taught me a lot about myself, what I value, and who I hold close to me. I learned to appreciate more, care more, listen more. With all of the stories in the media about assault and harassment, it reminded me that its more important now than ever before for us victims to not back down, not surrender. It’s never been more important for people to step up and support survivors, believe their stories, lift up their names. No victim should carry the shame and burden of someone else’s wrong doing. It’s time to speak up. I have tried to not speak about this on social media, my blog, and even in everyday conversation. But I am done sitting in silence. I’m done pretending like this didn’t happen. I am ready to shout my story in the hopes that someone reads it, identifies with it, and knows that they’ll be okay too. But I’m also ready to shout my story for myself, too. To name the pain, to call attention to it, and to bring it into the light so I don’t have to sit with it alone anymore. This is me fighting for the good days again.