Survivor Stories

"I wanted to share these words as a contribution to the community of survivors that exist, struggle, and thrive, both separately and together."

"I wanted to share these words as a contribution to the community of survivors that exist, struggle, and thrive, both separately and together."

"It’s Easter Sunday and my mental health feels like walking on a tightrope over a canyon and underneath there is a vast ocean which is both beautiful and terrifying. It all hurts and then it all feels like magic and I acknowledge that however I feel is temporary but I still can’t quite convince myself of this fact. The past is a huge weight on my heart and I want to run again. No one knows how it feels.

"The best way to explain the last three years is that I have been in a daze, or survival mode as my therapist called it."

I remember being told to never leave your drink unattended, for the worry someone may slip something into your drink. I remember hearing the statistics that 1 out of 5 women would be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (It is 1 out of 4 at the University I attended). However, I never thought I would be one of them, and I don't think anyone ever thinks they would be.

In June of 2013, my senior year in college, I went out on a Friday night for a few drinks with friends. I set my drink down to take a quick picture with my friend, when my drink was drugged by a classmate and acquaintance. My intentions that night were to grab a drink or two, go to bed early to catch an early bus home the next day to celebrate my birthday with my family. I had a drink and a half that night, the half the beer I drank is the drink that was drugged, allowing me to remember bits and pieces of the night, and most importantly, remembering I said no.

Although the parts I remember from that night are awful, it's the aftermath that has been the biggest challenge for me. It took me three years to finally share exactly what happened that night with close friends and family, mostly because of fear. Fear of being judged, of being viewed as dirty, damaged, or broken. Mainly because that is how I felt. I felt gross, I felt broken, I had changed, and my perception of the world changed. The world became a much scarier place.

The best way to explain the last three years is that I have been in a daze, or survival mode as my therapist called it. I'd have random flashbacks of that night and of the doctor visit three days after the assault. I'd have flashbacks on my drive to work, in meetings, when hanging out with friends, when alone, in my dreams, etc. I couldn't escape it. I'd try to tell my brain to think of something else, but it couldn't. The hardest thing for me to cope with was that it didn't happen once, it happened repeatedly five times. Knowing I was powerless from being drugged and couldn't fight back, knowing I couldn't have prevented it, really tore me apart. It made me feel small, weak, and worthless.

It wasn't until I went to see a therapist that it all made sense, and she explained I have PTSD and basically my brain couldn't process all that happened, so it was "stuck". I went through EMDR therapy to let my brain process what happened and to learn ways to cope. I'll admit I was very skeptical anything could make what happened better, it didn't seem possible, so if you are reading this and feel this way, I urge you to see a therapist and just give it a try. Afterall, nothing can make what happened worse. Although I still deal with anxiety and flashbacks from time to time, I've learned ways to move past these thoughts, so I can live in the present again. I let myself grieve if I need to grieve, I am slowly getting energy back to do the things that once brought me joy, and I'm not pretending I'm okay anymore if I'm not. I lost a lot these past three years while I was in survival mode. I avoided social situations, and when I was in social situations I wouldn't feel truly present. I'd often get asked when I did go out with friends or coworkers, why aren't you drinking? Whenever I'd get asked this question, I'd immediately think about my assault and go into my daze again. I'd feel like I had to be on guard, that I couldn't trust anyone, and I'd have flashbacks and fear it would happen again. I also had stomach problems off and on, and I still do occasionally, causing me to lose weight. I initially thought it was from being lactose intolerant, but learned a symptom of PTSD is stomach issues from the central nervous system being out of whack.

My flashbacks, anxiety and stomach issues impacted me so much, that it became easier to avoid social situations all together, then to face how I was feeling. While it may have been easier in some ways, it also became extremely lonely.

When I finally shared what happened with close family and friends, some made comments that they were taught to never set their drink down, or that they didn't have to worry about that because they didn't drink much if at all. While they probably didn't intend to offend me, some comments did. I too was taught never to set my drink down, I too did not drink much. The reality is I could have ordered a soda that night, and it still would have happened. The reality is I set my drink down not around strangers, but by people I knew, and thought I could trust. Rape can happen to anyone, to someone you are friends with, to a family member, to a significant other, etc. Most rapes and sexual assaults occur by someone the victim knows, so they let their guard down, they wouldn't ever suspect someone they knew could be capable of such a thing. I never thought anyone I knew would be capable of such a thing, I have good judgement, but even someone with the best of judgement, can still be deceived.

I want to share my story because hearing other survivor stories helped me as I was grieving. It helped knowing I wasn't alone in what I was feeling. I hope my story might give someone hope that it will get better. I just want other survivors to know they can still have joy in their lives, their story isn't over. I may have felt small, weak, and worthless right after my assault, but I have found some peace, and now feel strong and look forward to what the future has in store for me.

Some resources that helped me along the way were two documentaries on Netflix, The Hunting Ground, and Audrey & Daisy. Also, looking up information about PTSD, EMDR, rape, sexual assault, and the statistics. Most importantly though, was seeing a therapist and leaning on my faith by putting my trust in God.

-Anonymous

"I can love who I am and hate what he did."

written by Katie

My life will always be separated into two time periods. Almost like I have two lives. Before Rape and After Rape.

Before Rape, I was hopeful, determined, naive. True, even at that point, I'd been through a lot of crap. I'd been abused by my father as a child, I'd spent time in a mental hospital. I struggled to decide on a major. But none of that robbed me of my hope. Throughout everything I'd ever overcome, the hope stayed. Shining through the darkness and helping me to continue moving forward. Sure, I'd had moments of darkness (which led me to the mental hospital chapter of my life), but the hope always came back on its own and was usually only gone for a matter of hours. I so easily trusted that the people around me were good. I believed whole heartedly that most people in this world are good. For the first time in years, I really loved who I was (although I often doubted if the boys around me liked who I was.). I was passionate and excited about life and full of energy and laughter.

Before Rape, I defined myself as a "Good Mormon Girl." I read my scriptures, went to church, attended a private religious university. I was going to teach Elementary School and, eventually, get married to a "Good Mormon Boy" and have children and become a "Good Mormon Mom." (Regardless of a university major) I knew who I was. And I was blissfully unaware that all the "Good Mormon Boys" around me weren't all that good. And even the good ones weren't really kind. I had no idea how quickly all my friends would fade away in the wake of something as difficult and dark as rape. All it took was one Really Nice Guy to pop the bubble I was living in.

After Rape, I felt dirty and broken and disgusting. I no longer had the energy to make friends and the ones I had didn't know how to handle what had happened or who I became. Slowly, they all drifted away. The few I did have the energy to reach out to after awhile were all personally offended that I would say we weren't really friends anymore. Of course, that had been the first conversation we'd had in months and the last conversation we'd ever have. I no longer assumed that guys were nice and trustworthy just because they went to church with me. In fact, I found that those who sat with me in church and espoused how great their faith was were the boys I trusted the least. I became afraid. Of everything. I couldn't go to the grocery store or out to my car on my own without having a full-blown panic attack. I moved in with my brother and then my mom to avoid explaining to roommates why I couldn't make it through the day without bursting into tears or why I couldn't go out with them without "freaking out" and going home early. I became a shell of the person I was Before. And all those Nice Boys surrounding me at my private religious university, saw me as a slut and someone who was unworthy of marriage because I had had sexual contact with someone. None of them wanted some other guy's "cast-offs." It didn't matter to them that I had fought and cried and begged him to not touch me. I was used.

A year after my rape, I was assaulted again by a coworker (and consequently fired for reporting it) and began to feel like I would never escape a world where men could hurt me and seemingly get away with it. I landed back in a hospital and it felt like my hope was never going to return. After a year without hope, it had just started to shine through the cracks but was extinguished again. For the first time in my life, I had to find and tap into my inner strength. I had to CHOOSE to hope. Because my life wasn't handing it to me anymore. In the end, I couldn't have done it on my own. I was blessed with a supportive family and law enforcement, lawyers and advocates who believed in me and fought for me. I even eventually found a man who cared enough to sit outside the walls I'd built around my heart and my brain until I felt comfortable enough to take them down myself. Eventually, I rediscovered a deeper, more substantial faith inside of me that wasn't based on the actions of those around me at church.

I have only begun to heal. And I'm not sure I'll be able to begin to move forward until after the trial is over. If at all. I've begun to feel joy again but I am still not the same person I was Before. I will never be that girl again. The nightmares of him bashing my head against a car door and laughing as I cried, although still vibrant, are beginning to happen less frequently. I have hope that he will actually face the consequences of his actions. I have supports in place so, even if he doesn't, it won't destroy me again.

I'm beginning to like the girl I have become...and I'm trying my best to remember that just because he broke me doesn't mean I have to stay broken. It doesn't mean I have to allow the darkness to consume me. I can love who I am and hate what he did.

 

The R Word

written by Haili G

The R Word

It's a trigger. Nobody can talk about the 'R' word, since it is SO taboo. Not me! I WILL voice my experience and how it has changed me!

I will never forget the fear, anger and self hatred that followed, as well as the feeling of disgust.
I was the victim, yet I had so much self hate. I told myself it was my fault for years.

IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!

I was in the Air Force when the rape happened. Not once but twice. I reported the first rape but the Sergeant laughed in my face and still gave me the LOR (Letter of Reprimand). Later, I found out my roommate in the military had the same situation, with the same Sergeant, and the same consequences were given to her.
I didn't know she had been raped. I would have gotten the courage to speak out. The Sergeant was endangering the lives of so many people. If this happened twice, who could say it didn't happen more.

After being out of the military for five years, I had to accept "defeat" and go into therapy. "The hardest part is admitting you have a problem," NO! The hardest part is admitting YOU NEED HELP!
Therapy was the hardest decision of my life, but also the most rewarding. I have gotten to know my 'triggers' and what I can do to ease the side effects of the triggers.

If I could go back, I would have spoken louder so everyone could hear my voice.  My chance is now:

IF SOMEONE ABUSED YOU, DO NOT BE AFRAID, BUT TELL A PERSON YOU TRUST RIGHT AWAY!
Keep trying until someone listens to you and helps you. Call the police.

IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!

 

"I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, a survivor."

My story begins when I was five years old. I was sexually abused by my half-brother until I was about nine years old, when he enlisted and moved out of the country. I was always taught, “if a stranger ever touches you, you tell mom and dad right away,” but what if that stranger was family? I spent many years pondering what had happened to me, confused because it couldn’t be that bad if it was your brother, right? Am I supposed to tell? Will mom be mad at me? Was it abuse?  

I let this secret sit inside of me while my half-brother was home and would reward me with coloring books and a box of crayons (with a sharpener on the back!), but also two years after he left for the army. Eventually, I became terrified that I would never find the courage inside of me to tell someone what happened.

One night in July, the summer before sixth grade, I was in the shower. It was a normal day and a normal night. I hadn’t seen my half-brother in about a year, yet for some reason that night I was dwelling on what had happened to me, and I was in denial that it was abuse. I turned the shower off without washing all the shampoo out of my hair, threw clothes on and went straight to my twin brother. He was climbing into bed as I blurted out, “C sexually abused me.” Keep in mind that we were innocent 10-year-olds, so he calmly yet nervously directed me to our mom, whom I repeated those four words to. The first words she said were, “Oh, honey,” and opened her arms, and immediately a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Mind you, it wasn’t necessarily the easiest night of my life although my mom and I had a “sleepover” in her room, I was up until about 4am crying and going into detail with my mom about what had happened. Although it was hard to accept what happened, it was a step on the road to recovery.
I began to see therapists on a weekly basis; it’s only plural because I went through a couple after a trial and error type of process (it’s weird, you wouldn’t think finding a therapist is like finding the right pair of shoes, but it is). Even so, therapy wasn’t really for me. I talked to my mom a lot, I taught myself how to play guitar, and I began to journal almost every day. I was growing and recovering without even realizing it. In finding healthy outlets for stress and anxiety, I learned to forgive and move forward. I had great friends and an amazing support system that was (and still is!) my family. I consider myself extremely lucky, despite the circumstances. I’ve learned that I am more than the pain and shame I held inside for so long. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, a survivor.

"You couldn't even meet my eyes."

written by Cara

There was never a time that I thought rape was a subject I would be close to. When I moved to university last August, I ensured I would take every precaution; I sat through endless safety talks with my dad, I never went out too drunk or alone, and I did not accept any drugs being pushed at parties. Rape was not a thing that could happen to me. It was a dramatic movie scene in a dark alley. It was a faceless stranger with no good in them. It wasn’t a part of my life.

The sad reality is that campus rape doesn’t have to occur in a dark alley late at night. A rapist doesn’t need to be a stranger. It can happen in a first year dorm room, with friends drinking and laughing just meters away down the hall. A rapist can be a trusted friend, a friend capable of great betrayal. A friend, and the last person I would ever expect to violate my body, mind, and future.

You and I had been drinking with our separate friend groups on a Friday night. We were celebrating the end of a week packed with studying for and taking our first university midterms. I was starting to sober up when we convened in a floor lounge, but it was clear that you were far from being at my level. Your words were slurred, movements sloppy, and eyes glassy and unfocused.

You and I slipped away from the group after a little while and sat in your room. Still slurring your words, you asked if I wanted to have sex with you. I said yes.

But the genuine consent I gave was eradicated the second your hand struck my face. That night my body became a collage of swollen skin, multi-coloured bruises, scratches, and teeth marks.

Even though the few I told were supportive and concerned, many asked me why I allowed it all to continue. “Why didn’t you get up and walk out?”

I didn’t walk out because I was scared. If someone as drunk as you could harm my body so forcefully when things were going your way, how much worse could it become when things were not?

I feigned consent to save myself from the potential of worse injury. I held in my tears, whispered fake encouragement to you, and waited for the moment that you would tire and leave me.

Your eyes were too glassy to make eye contact. You were only vaguely aware of your hand hitting my jaw and your teeth biting into me, making me bleed. You would later admit to me that you didn’t remember much of the night’s events; you didn’t know you were stripping my dignity away piece by piece, leaving behind a shadow of the girl underneath you.

The second you left the room, I crumpled into a ball on the floor. Naked, crying, shaking, I lay there trying to make sense of it all. After a few minutes I found my belongings and fled.

You couldn’t even meet my eyes.

I was told that I handled myself well during the days that passed. My best friend praised me for approaching the situation practically and without emotion. But the truth was that the screaming apathy that enveloped me signaled that I was nowhere near being okay. I’ve always been a highly emotional time bomb, waiting for the smallest tip of the balance to react. Something that could shut down any and all feeling inside me was not just an indicator that something was off. It was a toxin, and I was praised for allowing it to poison me.

The worst part of it all was the phone call home. Hearing my mother sobbing, my father screaming vulgarities, I knew their worst fears of parenting had come true. It broke my heart. The commentary between my family members and I was no longer innocent. They were hurting more than I was, because they couldn’t save me or take away the pain. The emotional pain caused by rape does not solely affect the victim; it takes many more prisoners.

I criticized myself over and over again for consenting, but more than that I criticized my accusation. How could I accuse my friend, who had had too much to drink one night, of raping me when I didn’t retract my consent the second I felt uncomfortable? I told myself day after day that it wasn’t rape, and that I was horrible to make such a claim.

But sex, consensual sex, should not leave you naked on the floor, nursing your swollen face and sobbing into the carpet. It shouldn’t cause your focus to stray from your obligations, like your schoolwork and your social groups. It shouldn’t make you sleep to forget. Consensual sex shouldn’t leave your mind or body damaged.

This was not consensual sex.

This was rape.

You couldn’t even meet my eyes.

When we met to discuss what happened, you were unprepared for what I was about to tell you. You expected to discuss how your quick departure that night might have hurt my feelings; you were shocked when I said you had raped me. You genuinely didn’t remember much of the evening, but why would you? You had been plastered. You didn’t see me after, curled in a ball, gasping for breath and trying to get ahold of an imminent panic attack. You didn’t see the bruises, all different shades, that began to develop on my breasts and between my legs mere hours after the assault. You saw none of it. You didn’t need to. You were ashamed.

Maybe I was lenient because I could see the remorse on your face and the tears in your eyes as you came to terms with what you did to me, your classmate, your friend. Maybe it was because I had known you for a few months, enough time to determine that you were respectful, funny, and kind, and I didn’t want to see you as anything other than that. I had already decided not to press charges against you—you weren’t a criminal in my eyes, and I wasn’t mentally prepared to face the police.

I asked you to watch your drinking in the future. You swore you would. I should’ve left it at that. Instead, for the next five months, I tried to mend the fences, initiating conversation and finding excuses to see you. I thought you were hurting as much as I was, that your cautious behaviours towards me were not calculated to prevent me from the hostility or grief that I inevitably felt every time I saw you, but rather were borne of your genuine caring for me. I knew the incident had not been kind to your psyche. I felt as though you deserved some comfort. You didn’t.

You deserved my hatred. You deserved to be exposed to the girl you were seeing, the friends who thought you could do no wrong. You didn’t deserve my friendship or attention. You deserved nothing less than the feeling of shame and my actions following that night wrongly indicated that all was forgiven.

Nothing was forgiven.

No person, man, woman or otherwise, asks for rape. There is no outfit that indicates that a woman is open to being taken advantage of. No amount of drunkenness, on the part of the rapist or the victim, makes rape admissible.

There is absolutely, positively, no excuse for rape.

Not even if you initially consented, like I did.

Consent does not have to be permanent.

I told myself that it didn’t matter what had happened. It didn’t matter that, deep down, I felt betrayed by you, my friend, and that I was regretful that I hadn’t swallowed my tears and hadn’t pretended to like it. But it did matter.

I stopped going to class, and started sleeping as frequently and for as long as I could without my friends or roommate becoming suspicious. I told my parents I was trying my hardest, that I didn’t know why my grades were so terrible; but of course I knew why. I just couldn’t tell them the reason without deepening the emotional wound they were trying to nurse.

I blamed these academic failings on my laziness, and, to an extent, it was accurately placed. As my self-esteem and sense of purpose as a university student dwindled away bit by bit, I became incredibly lazy. I convinced myself that there was no point in going to class or social functions because it would mean facing the implications of that night—admitting to myself that something in me had changed, that you were capable of inflicting more harm than even you had known, and that I was now considered a victim of rape—no longer myself. No longer familiar. I wished I hadn’t told my RA, my friends, and especially not you. If it had been perceived by all as a clumsy, drunken one night stand, then no one would know the truth of what had happened and all my problems would disappear.

I tried to date someone, and my life was blissful as long as I focused solely on him and nothing else. I stopped sleeping in my room because it reminded me of the sleeplessness of that night, and instead began to spend each night clinging to this new boy who swore he’d never hurt me like you did. If there were no thoughts about my crippling school performance, my rapid weight gain, or my slow but steady isolation away from my floor mates and friends, then there were no problems. If I pretended like things were normal between you and I, ignoring the fact that you were still seeing someone who was totally unaware of your disturbing capabilities, then there were no problems. If I told myself over and over again that you had not damaged the deepest level of my heart, where my self-love and extroversion used to live, then there were no problems. I lived in this superficial mindset for the last months of the term, telling myself that I was in love with someone new, that it was all in the past, that there was no need to think about that night ever again. On multiple occasions I almost convinced myself I was telling the truth, but an uncertain feeling that had been residing in my gut since October kept preventing me from believing the words I fed to myself.

I soon had to face those problems, however, over winter break when my final grades for first term were returned. I had failed three important courses that I needed to remain enrolled as a university student. I didn’t care. I wanted to forget forever that term that made me feel so small and stupid and weak. I was tired of feeling so controlled by my emotions that I couldn't even pass my exams.

Being home with my family was the most therapeutic experience I had felt in a long time. I found myself feeling self-medicated with love and food. I felt fulfilled, but hollow, as though I was only a shade of myself. By the time I was due back at school, I felt recharged. Not whole, not me, but rested.

I immediately put effort into my mental health. I met with counselors, ate vegetables, put more effort into speaking with my neighbours, and read each week’s assigned passages before they were due. There were many days in which I felt productive and excited for the future. I’d sit on the edge of my new boy’s bed for an hour or two, chattering on and on excitedly about the day’s events and the promise of tomorrow. But it was like putting a Band-aid on a broken bone; it did nothing but make it look like I was trying. But deep down I felt removed. It wasn’t me succeeding. Something inside me was still gnawing at my insides, telling me it was time to confront the assault. Something still wasn’t sitting right. Something still isn’t sitting right.

Being a victim of rape hurts. Feeling like a stranger in my own body is the most obscure feeling. Seeing myself naked for the first time after the assault, I saw my imperfections where I used to see beauty. I didn’t notice the smoothness of my skin anymore, but rather its eye-catching swelling and discolouration. It has taken a long time to find beauty in myself since then, and it is still a work in progress. I found that, in terms of returning to my body, it was okay to feel removed and unfamiliar for awhile. It was okay to change how I looked, or to stay the exact same. What wasn’t okay was that I allowed myself to accept that you had claimed ownership of my body by degrading and using me. I tried and failed over and over again to remind myself that I am beautifully flawed and unique in body and mind, and that my body was my own to repair and worship for its resiliency and healing powers.

If I could change one thing about my recovery, it would be my processing of emotions. The morning after the assault, after crying to my parents and lying in bed feeling so bare and raw, I got dressed and got into the car with my best friend. We bought coffee and drove to a shopping district to walk and talk. My face was expressionless, the tone of my voice was matter-of-fact, and I told my friend that I just wanted to find a solution and move on from it entirely.

Where was the time I needed to accept what had happened? Where were my emotions? I disallowed myself to express the pain I felt, and subsequently slowed down my recovery, clouding my head and allowing myself to self-destruct later on down the road. I wish I had cried. I wish I had asked for more help than I did. I wish I had acknowledged that I was broken and needed to be fixed. And now, six months later, I’m finding myself doing just this.

I cannot say my experience has made me stronger. In fact, being raped stripped me apart until I was too weak to stand. I had to learn all over again how to accept my body as it is, how to approach relationships with other men and women, and how to see qualities within me that make me special and loved by those around me. It has made me question all aspects of my life: my sexuality, my purpose in university, and my ability to trust. I made the difficult decision to leave school after this year to heal, causing my entire course of my education and, subsequently, life, to be altered. There are silver linings, though; through my experience I have been given a platform to speak out against the horrendous rape culture that is so ingrained in modern society, especially on university campuses. I understand what it is like to feel lost and scared, and it has given me perspective into coping methods for myself and others who have dealt with similar horrors. I do not feel empowered.  I feel awake.

I’ve also discovered the complexity of consent. I have been belittled or tossed aside for lack of credibility due to my consenting. The concept of consent is one that muddies the waters and disallows the situation to be black and white. How could you know I was uncomfortable if I had said I wanted to have sex with you initially and never protested throughout? But I believe there is a fine line between what has been verbally deemed consensual and what is assumed to be so. Had I known you would become violent, there would have been no consent whatsoever. Consenting to sex is not equivalent to consenting to violation, embarrassment, and injury. In fact, they don't relate whatsoever. I remained in your clutches out of fear, and while I never want to consider what could have happened if I had stood up to you, I was and to some extent still am ashamed that I wasn’t brave enough to do so. I didn’t realize at the time that I chose to protect myself, and that it was not the wrong choice to make. I came out with minor injuries, but if I had protested, it could have been worse. The specific situation will change what is right to do, and in mine I felt it was best to remain passive. It is a choice that victims have, and it cannot be a black and white issue. Consent is forever an option, not an assumption.

Most importantly, my rape story has shown me the genuine kindness that can be found in more people than I thought was possible. I broke that new boy’s heart because I have felt since then that I am incapable of loving correctly. To this day, even after multiple splits, short-lived apologies, and an ever-growing animosity between us, he has remained my best confidante, kindest supporter, and most forgiving friend. I shunned friends who didn’t understand why I was rejecting support. Now, nearly seven months after the assault, those friends have allowed me back into their lives, always patiently accepting that I am not who I was before and ensuring me that that is okay. In a time where I’ve appreciated myself and the world the least, the world has given me more love than I can fathom.

I’m not whole yet, and the process of refilling the torn holes in my personality is excruciatingly slow. As I sort through the parts of myself, old and new, that have been shaped by each experience I have lived through, I’ve realized the distinction between what I’ve been through and what defines me. I refuse to allow your mistake to become a part of me, no matter how long it takes to recover. Only recently have I been able to begin to accept what has happened, and still there are days that I defy reality and tell myself a different story. There are still days that I stay in bed, disregarding the classes I must attend or the homework I must complete; but there are other days doing nothing but studying and preparing for the future of my schooling, which is now more uncertain than before. Some days are spent at the beach, in the rare sunshine, or in the company of friends who never tire of hearing me vent about how you hurt me. Some days are empowering; some days are spent under the covers, crying and feeling helpless. There is no timeline for recovery. Recovery is fluid and oftentimes painful. But so is being a mere shadow of oneself. The start of recovery is choosing which pain to take on.

I won’t let you define me.

To my two friends who immediately responded to my call of distress, my patient and kind roommate, those who supported and comforted me with the utmost discretion and sweetness, and my family, I owe you a great debt. There is nothing more kind than what you did for me, and I respect and appreciate what you have done. The efforts you all made proved that I was not alone, no matter how much I felt as though I was. There is strength in numbers, and your pooled contributions to ensuring my external life remains wholesome and filled with love is something I could not have achieved alone.

I’m sorry to those who I isolated myself from, and those who I couldn’t accurately communicate with. I couldn’t find the words to shape my experience or my mental struggles until now.

Thank you to Rupi Kaur and her book of poetry, Milk and Honey, for putting into words the feelings I couldn’t express and for emphasizing the importance of empowered women and their impacts on the world. Strong, open men and women are a necessity for spurring change and encouraging others to speak out against objectification, sexual assault, and abuse of all kinds, and Rupi’s book eloquently inspires just this.

A direct address to the man who raped me:

There is no need to attack you, belittle you, or turn anyone against you, because you’re already suffering enough: you get to carry a trophy of regret with you for the rest of your life. You’ll always have to remember what you did to me. Only you will understand the weight of the guilt you undoubtedly feel.

I will thank you for your total acceptance and courtesy following that night. You made it difficult to place the blame on you. But I have not written this with the purpose to blame; the purpose is for me to heal. In no way will my healing process involve you. You will never be able to shake the truth of what you’ve done from your shoulders. I hope you do something to help rape victims in the future, though it will never make up for your despicable actions. I hope you’ve seen what a dehumanizing, gut-wrenching journey this has been for your victim, and that it inspires you to live differently. I hope your friends, partners, or future children never go through what you put me through. I hope you realize the damage one night of irresponsibility can cause.

That night wasn’t worth a lifetime of remorse. You can’t even remember most of it anyways. You didn’t mean to rape me, but you did.

You couldn’t even meet my eyes.

 

"I will accept myself unconditionally."

written by Daniel Straw

I raised my right wrist with the “survivor” temporary tattoo proudly displayed. I had just completed a half marathon on behalf of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that provides education, support, and advocacy for abuse survivors and their allies. In the process of training for the race, I raised over $1,000.00, but more importantly, I shared my experiences on social media and thereby dispelled much of the shame that I was carrying around with me. By sharing one of my worst secrets, it lost its power over me.

My parents divorced when I was five years old. My mother got custody of me and my two younger siblings. However, since my mother had a high school education and my dad was a flake, life was challenging to say the least. From the time I was five until my mother remarried when I was about 10, we moved frequently, staying with friends or family mostly. The first time I was sexually abused was when I was about six years old. A male babysitter coerced me, my two younger siblings, and two other younger children in the household to perform sexual acts on him and each other. As far I as I can remember, this was a one-time thing, but I’m pretty sure he was never caught. Fast forward nine years. By the time I was 15, my mother had been remarried for five years, but I had little in common with my stepfather. He isn’t a bad guy, but he was a jock in high school and I am much more introverted and bookish. In addition, my siblings were much better at being squeaky wheels while I just flew under the radar most of the time. I was a good student, active in church, and generally the good kid. If I did get busted for something, which wasn’t often, I usually didn’t get in too much trouble.

It wasn’t until years after the abuse ended that I realized how vulnerable I was to being exploited. I had been previously abused, there was no meaningful male figure in my life, and I was unable to compete for attention with my siblings. I learned early on that my role in the family was to make everything as easy as possible since everything was so chaotic. I needed to do my best to manage things on my own because the adults in my life only had so much energy to go around. Add in a healthy dose of hormones, and you have a recipe for disaster.

My step-grandfather first molested me the summer before my sophomore year in high school. At the time I found it exciting. Someone was paying attention to me! Someone thought I was attractive! So what if he was a dirty old man, I would take what I could get. I think one of the biggest roadblocks to my recovery was processing just what my role in perpetrating the abuse was. Of course, I know now that I was in no way at fault for what happened. I was a child, no matter how smart or mature I thought I was. The abuse continued for three and a half years. He lived nearby, so we had frequent encounters over that time and even took a few vacations alone. It wasn’t long after the first time that I didn’t want it anymore. But who could I tell? If I told someone, I would be at the center of a shit storm that could wreck the family and I didn’t want to be responsible for that. I decided to stick it out until I went away to college. Then I could run away, it would be over, and I wouldn’t have to tell anyone.

Off to college I went, but when I came back for Christmas break, my step-grandfather made it adequately clear that he didn’t think it was over. I did the only think I could think to do. I left a note for my mom, which she wouldn’t find until I was on a plane back to school. She found it just as I planned, and most of the fallout occurred while I was at school. The police called me, but I was in no shape to deal, so I never called them back. Despite all this going on, I did not tell my friends at school what had happened. At the time, I was living in an all guys dorm, which was great in some ways. It was like having a bunch of new brothers. But, I didn’t think they would understand or like me if I told them about the abuse. I mean, what kind of guy lets himself get molested? And by an old man? These things just don’t happen to real men, or so I thought then. So I had friends, but I had little in the way of moral support at school.

Of course, when I came home for the summer, I had to endure endless rounds of the “why couldn’t you tell me” conversation. In some ways, these conversations were more painful than the abuse. According to my mom, I “didn’t show any signs” that anything was going on. I realize now that she was trying to absolve herself of her guilty feelings. At the time we had this conversation, I believed her. I figured, “Well, yeah. I’m so smart and sneaky, there was no way she could have figured it out.” It wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I truly understood out how oblivious she was. In hindsight, I think her comment hurt me so badly because it felt like victim blaming. It was my fault she didn’t figure out that I was being abused because I wasn’t showing any signs. As if somehow, even if I couldn’t tell her, I should have been able to send out signs for her to pick up on. Bullshit. The signs were there and she was too wrapped up in other stuff to notice. After therapy and reflection, I realized there were signs that a parent should have noticed. I had been in honors classes since junior high, but the year the abuse started, I bombed out of honors English and did poorly in Geometry. I wore jeans no matter how hot the day was and kept myself covered up. I can’t tell you how many times I got busted for having porn in the house. I drank heavily and came home obviously smashed a few times. The drinking was chalked up to typical high school shenanigans. However, given the extensive history of alcoholism in my family, this probably should have raised some warning flags.

For you other survivors out there, if someone tells you that you weren’t showing any signs or otherwise tries to excuse themselves for not figuring things out, don’t buy it. For you others, if someone discloses to you, for heaven’s sake, don’t ask them why they couldn’t tell you. They are talking to you now, listen to them. Don’t redirect the conversation back to yourself and your issues.

Recovery has been a slow and painful process. I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and alcoholism, just to name a few challenges. As a guy, I’ve had to deal with my sexual identity and masculinity. In many ways, I don’t identify with stereotypical “male” behaviors and thoughts. Nevertheless, it is impossible to totally ignore how American society traditionally defines manhood. Men should be strong, decisive, and forceful. A real man would never let himself be molested by another man, and he would be lucky to be molested by an older woman. Of course, this is bogus. One of the benefits of working through recovery is that I’m feeling more comfortable being me. I’ve been in therapy for years, but it wasn’t until I got a therapist that knew what he was doing that I made any real progress. After a year of treatment with him, he helped me realize that my drinking was interfering with my recovery. I could only go so far if I was drinking. So, I got sober on February 2, 2016.

I realized that part of my recovery would require me to share my experiences and try and dispel some of the secrecy around the abuse. This was a scary thing for me. I had told very few people about the abuse. I mean, it’s not like it comes up in casual conversation with coworkers or friends. I was also afraid that some members of my family would not appreciate me airing the family’s dirty laundry all over the place. But ultimately, this experience is mine. I own it. I have the right to tell who I want and I have the right to tell it however I want to. Fundraising for the Joyful Heart Foundation was the perfect opportunity. Through my fundraising, I shared my story with as many people as possible, and I was blown away with the response. I received nothing but positive feedback and comments. I didn’t hear much from my family, but that’s okay. My self-worth and esteem no longer rely on things outside of me. It sounds dorky, but for the first six months of my sobriety every day I looked in the mirror and said “I love myself. I will accept myself unconditionally.” Today, I believe that. When I think about that little boy that was hurt, the man I am today imagines holding him close and safe. I tell him he is okay now. I understand what hurt and scared him, but that I am here to protect him.

As I held up my wrist for the photo, the next runner in line said to me “You made it!” I still get choked up thinking about it. More than anything up to that point, for some reason, those words brought it home for me. I made it.