Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Overwhelmed

I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support I have received from family, friends, and strangers since I posted Step One.  What has been the most moving though, has been reading the comments from the brave women who have survived the same experience.
I went back and forth for a few months as to whether I was going to speak out and tell what happened to me.  I thought about my co-workers potentially reading this and what they would think of me.  I thought about what people I went to high school with would think of me.  I thought about what my friends and family, who had been kept in the dark for so many years, would think of me.  Would they be angry that they didn't know?  Would they be upset that I kept it all inside?  Then I thought about the girls who have inspired me to do this.  I thought about their strength and courage to speak out, press charges against their attackers, and risk everything, including their lives, for what was right.  I thought about them and I realized that what anyone would think of me after I made this public simply didn't matter.  I am no longer ashamed of being raped.  I am simply proud that I had the strength to survive. 
Being raped will not be the entirety of my story.  What I do with it, what I do to help others like me, is how my story will be written.  And that new chapter of my life begins now. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The First Step Toward a New Life

This all began with a secret; a wound that was simply bandaged up, kept hidden out of sight for a decade, but never healed, and certainly never spoken about.  I thought if I never said it out loud, then it never happened.  After all, at the time I was a peer educator, someone who taught other students on campus how to keep themselves safe, so how could I have failed to keep myself safe in such epic fashion?  How could I have not seen it coming?  How could I have been so trusting?  How could I have been so stupid?! All of these thoughts, these horrible thoughts that kept me blaming myself for it all, also kept me silent for ten long years.  And the price I paid for my silence was losing everything that I used to be.

The one thought that kept this hidden, that essentially kept me alive was, "If I never say it out loud, then it never happened."  This was my mantra.  This was my life preserver.  This was the one thing that kept me from losing my mind.  In keeping this secret hidden, I retreated into the shell of who I used to be.  I retreated from the life I had. I became scared to go any place alone.  I became scared to live my life. I pulled away from the friends I had grown up with, the ones who had been with me through so much in my life.  I pulled away and, until they read this, they had no idea why.  I distanced myself from anyone or anything that was around me when I was 20 because I couldn't handle it. Part of it was a mental association - they knew him and we all hung out together - but the majority of the reason was I blamed myself for, and was ashamed of, what had happened so deeply that I felt I certainly didn't deserve anyone's respect, let alone their friendship.  These are friendships I miss dearly, and I hope that these relationships can one day be repaired.

On February 8, 2010, my dad died. In losing him I lost the man who loved me unconditionally, protected me and made sure I was safe.  When my dad died my mantra stopped working and the secret I kept buried for so long began to flood my consciousness.  I couldn't hide from it anymore.  I needed to say it out loud.  I needed to say it out loud to free myself from it.  I needed to say it out loud in order to get the poison out and take back my life.  I needed to say it out loud to heal.  So I opened Pandora's box and said those 3 words...I was raped.

"I was raped."
Never in my life did I think those words would be coming out of my mouth.  It was always one of those things that I figured would never happen to me. After all, I knew how to protect myself.  I knew how to keep myself safe.  In my head, rape was something that happened to "other" girls, not me.  It was something that I heard about on the news or watched on TV via episodes of "Law & Order: SVU," it was certainly not something that was ever supposed to happen to me. I was never supposed to be attacked while I slept by a person who said he loved me, yet apparently didn't understand the word "no."  I was never supposed to have my life thrown into complete turmoil like this.  I was never supposed to be one of the "other" girls.  I learned quickly that there is no "supposed to" in life, there is just "what happens."  

So why, after all these years, was I going public with the most private thing in my life?
I am doing this because in January 2012 I saw a documentary called "Tapestries of Hope," about Betty Makoni, the founder of Girl Child Network, and her work with child rape victims in Zimbabwe.  I watched these girls speak of their horrifying ordeals.  I listened to their stories, listened to how they are now battling HIV, AIDS, and how at 12, 13, 14 years old they are now mothers to babies born from rape.  I watched and listened. I saw their extraordinary courage and their inspirational strength.  I saw how these amazing girls were able to stand up and make sure their rapists were brought to justice.  They made sure that the men who did these horrible things were never able to hurt another girl again. I saw girls who, as children and teenagers, had infinitely more courage than I did at 20 years old. They had the courage to report it, to fight back and to scream from the roof tops that they will not sit by and do nothing.  I, on the other hand, didn't press charges.

As I watched this documentary I realized that I needed to do whatever I could to help these girls.  As I watched this documentary I realized that I found my purpose.  In these inspiring girls I found the girl I used to be, the girl I wanted to be again.  In these girls I found my strength again. I found myself in these girls. Most importantly, I found my voice and I am no longer afraid.