I’ve struggled for three days to find the words. It was like holding my breath for seventy-two hours under water. I was confused and couldn’t make sense of things. No way to tell up from down and no way to understand what was happening to me or why. In my three silent days I’ve been plunged light years from who I was before. This post is the story of that journey.
Sunday night I was raped. After first expressing consent I said no to other acts and my wishes were dismissed. That and several other acts ensued until it was done. And I was left in a pool of grey confusion around what had just happened. Sore enough to look for bruises from being held down or held in place I wondered if it was just a matter of misunderstanding. I continually asked myself, “It wasn’t rape…was it?” I could not bring myself to say the word.
I reached out to friends. I shared the experience and sadly almost every woman I told had a similar one to share. Sexual assault, I thought, should not be our admission ticket into womanhood! As I calmed from the shock of the event it became more evident that what I’d experienced was in fact sexual assault. I had said no. Multiple times. It wasn’t a “weird experience” as I had previously described it, it was a crime.
Telling my mother was difficult. Talking to my younger sister, a college freshman, was worse. I tried to be as transparent with her as I could. Her big sister who felt anything but capable or competent, her big sister was disappointing her because I had, up until that point, decided not to report the assault. I later had a change of heart and did report it. To the police and to my campus police and sexual assault advocates. Having to detail the horrific story over and over again. “How many times approximately, Ms. Williams?” “Why did you continue?” I felt stupid for having to explain my fear. Worse knowing that as a counselor, a professor who trains couselors, a professional who trained sexual assault advocates, that in that moment I failed myself. I am working on forgiving myself for simply surviving in the best way I knew how in that moment. In those moments.
I also told my direct supervisor and my dissertation committee. Why? Because beyond academic support they are the three people who have supported me personally spiritually emotionally and mentally throughout my time here. I wanted them to know what was going on with me. I wanted to ask them to be patient with me. I wanted to ask them to support me now more than ever. But not to lower their expectations.
In the three days I’ve just wanted to feel like myself. A friend and colleague told me “he stole your ‘used to’ you’re going to have to find a new one.” In a way her reflection gave me permission. Permission to reframe this experience as an opportunity. I am choosing to find purpose in my suffering. I am choosing to share this journey as I do all my others because that is a part of why I’m here; Why I was allowed to remain all those years ago. I am choosing to be candid and open and honest because that is who I am.
Something so incredibly private….in it houses so much shame. And so much secrecy. I thought about how I’ve felt in the mornings. Not wanting to wear make up. Or do my hair. Or put on perfume. Or wear fitted clothing. Somebody out there needs to know that they aren’t the only ones feeling like that. I need to know I’m not the only one feeling like that. And why should I house the shame? It was an act of such intimate violation and yet you ask Me to bear the scarlet letter? I respectfully decline. I have nothing to be ashamed of; this was not my fault. ((Sidebar: I’d be lying if I said I fully believed that. I am trying very hard to fully believe it. I know at my core it’s true but I still indulge in the self-blame game))
Lastly I shared with my roommate the story of the nun I met who when being raped continually told herself and her perpetrator “I will NOT turn on you.” The man who disregarded my voice and my expressed desires, my boundaries and my comfort…he doesn’t get anymore from me. No more. I have been split in two but I will not turn on you. I will not become some broken thing filled with hate and malice. I will heal and I will thrive.
Much of what I tout is aspirational. But maybe just saying it out loud is one step towards becoming the woman empowered from this situation versus the woman victimized in this situation. Being a victim was never a role I cared to play. I was not sent here to play small my life and my purpose are much bigger than that. And I choose to believe that I was given my talents and my trials to become. He may have taken parts of me, but I am mine. I will remain mine. The most important parts of me cannot be taken.
If it is one thing I want him or any woman who has experienced sexual violence to understand its that. Your most precious parts are unable to be stolen or even extracted. Your essence is yours and belongs to you alone. Your light. The world did not give it, the world cannot take it away. Do not electively dim because when you do, you’ve turned. And they continue to steal from you.
I feel afraid. I feel as though I’m never warm enough. Cozy enough. I don’t want to eat. I can’t stand the idea of being “beautiful” which is what he kept calling me. I am healing. But I am going to do it without shame. Without abusing drugs or alcohol. Without feeling like I have to do it alone. With love. I asked myself how I could love myself through this process? And all I got was that I had to give myself what I needed and what I needed more than ever was kindness. Was loving care and kindness. I decided I would remain open and share my pain as I always do. Finding courage along the way and bravery in the rearview of fear-filled over share.
So this is me trying. Not to heal the whole world, just to heal myself. This is me trying to find my new normal after experiencing violation of the worst kind. This is me being honest in my pain and open in my struggle. This is me not having answers but struggling through options. This is just me. Bent though I may be but not broken.