April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

It’s taken a while for me to write this. Even anonymously, it is hard to share my story with a world full of strangers. Yet, it is this discomfort that drives me to share my story. It is unfair for there to be a stigma when dealing with the trauma of sexual assault. People can speak so openly about other traumas, but sexual assault is something so personal, something that makes people so uncomfortable to hear about, that the victims keep the pain bottled up, often for years.

I have kept my pain bottled up a long time, and I know I will continue to do so. But I can at least share my story with you. Maybe you’ve been a victim yourself, maybe not. If not, count yourself lucky. If you have, you aren’t alone, but you CAN get through this.

I suppose it started when I was younger. I don’t have clear memories for certain blocks of time in my childhood. My mom would ask, “Don’t you remember that?” and I’d say, “No, no, I don’t.” Perhaps I did this to protect myself. I only have odd glimpses of discomfort in my memory…a hatred of being “tickled”…an intense claustrophobic paranoia about being confined, or restricted (something about a sleeping bag?)…..Just passing images and sensations, nothing concrete. Nothing until I was a little older.

I was a teenager when I left my room to get a drink from the kitchen, and he was sitting on the couch, drinking scotch, watching late night Cinemax in the living room. He told me to “Sit down, take a sip of this”…and I did. His hand rested on my leg. I was too terrified, too shocked to react…and finally I got up and went back to bed. I think that’s how those nights ended. It’s all blurry. Soon after, was the first time I tried to overdose on over the counter pharmaceuticals (got nauseous, threw it all up), followed soon after by the first time I started cutting, trying to slit my wrists, but I was too scared, and too uncommitted to go deep enough to end it all. Thank god for that.

Then, one morning, in the middle of an argument with my mom before school, I told her what had been happening. She was shocked, and I stormed out of the car, crossed the street, and went to homeroom. After school, we all had a family sit down. I had misunderstood, they said. It was all harmless, they assured me. And with that, I lost trust and faith. I was filled with self doubt, and I loathed them.

Then we moved, again.

What followed were years of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle. Though I always remained diligent, academic, and put together on the outside, I would take advantage of any opportunity to check out from reality, to pretend, and to forget.

I am now grown, and married to a man who has helped me to battle and overcome these demons of mine, to fight my problems rather than hide from them under substances. He is so strong, and through his support, I have become strong.

Then it happened again.

We were visiting their house, and I had gone to sleep in the bed we share with our child when visiting. I woke up and there he was, the man who had plagued all memories of my childhood. One hand was trying to force its way down my pants, while the other was on…himself. As I had done in my childhood, I froze, I tightened my body into a single impenetrable ball, my eyes not on him, but on my daughter sleeping soundly in the bed next to me. He whispered, “shh, it’s okay.” Still, I remained rigid and impenetrable, until he finally stumbled back to his bed in the room next door.

What happened next was a blur. I texted my husband, he came to me, I told him, he told my mother (they had been downstairs drinking still). I sobbed as he packed our things in the middle of the night, and we fled to his family 3 hours away.

I cried almost nonstop for the next few days. My world was shattered. It was undeniable. My mother knew, she was still there, dealing with it in her own way. I couldn’t imagine ever being ok again. But my husband just kept telling me, “Don’t worry about next week, or month, or year. We’re going to do this, together, one day at a time.”

One day at a time. That became my mantra. If I could just get through TODAY, that was enough for now. So I did. And the next day, and the next.

And so I forced my way through the next few months, through awkward holidays where he wasn’t at family gatherings because he was “working”.

Until the day I found out my grandfather died.

As I grieved for his loss, and for my grandmother’s pain, the thought of going to the funeral, of HIM being there, was inescapable. I decided then, almost in an instant, that being there for my grandmother was far more important than avoiding some POS. It was like something clicked in my brain. Was I really going to let HIM dictate how I lived my life? Was I going to continue to hide, and wallow in self pity, and stop MYSELF from living MY life? No, I decided, no I will not.

I ignored him at the funeral. I ignored the B.S. apology letter he sent, read it once and threw it away.

I will not be defined by this. I will not live my life like a victim any more. I will not let him win.

I still have so much hate and anger. But it gives me strength. I’ll take anger over pain any day. And I’ll continue moving forward the only way I know how.

One day at a time.

To those who have lived through this, you are not alone. Fight on, warriors.

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