Survivor. The image of someone who defeated cancer pops into my mind. Someone who is strong. Who has overcome one of life’s greatest obstacles. They’ve done the treatments. They’ve gone to counseling to work through it. And then they celebrate. Celebrate a cancer free life. Because, well, they won.
But what about me. A sexual assault survivor? When do I get to survive? When do I get to yell out to the world, “I beat this!” When?
Most, typically those who have never been raped, think it’s during court. That the most effective way to ‘survive’ is to go through a long and extremely emotional court case. Where only seven out of a thousand cases even go to court. Let alone all the questioning and work to get there. But here’s the thing: surviving is something sexual assault survivors must do in so many ways. So, here’s what surviving is. And not through a court case.
It’s when I finally tell my PTSD that, “No, someone isn’t following you home. You don’t need to take the long way.” When I dance with a boy, for the first time since, and although I’m nervous, I do it anyway. And have a good time. It’s when I stare at my tear-streaked face in the mirror. Telling myself over and over that it won’t always hurt this way. When I look at my body and see it as my own, not anyone else’s. That I will overcome this. Whatever that may mean.
When you tell a close family member or friend and they treat you completely differently. No longer do they joke with you about simple things. Or they stop reaching out to you because they, “Don’t know how to talk to you anymore.”
Or worst of all, ask you questions that make it sound like your fault. God, does this hurt so bad. But you find comfort in those who support you instead.
It’s when I start to like someone again. And maybe fall for them a little. When you make out and they take off your shirt, and you don’t have a panic attack. Being so incredibly nervous that they will walk away when you have to tell them.
That you’re nervous they won’t find you worth it, and walk away because of it. But you do it anyways. Because you know if they walk away, they aren’t worthy to be by your side.
It’s when you fight inside your own mind. Telling yourself repeatedly that assault is not what sex is. Trying desperately to separate the two.
Telling yourself that you will have sex one day, enjoyably and consensually. Without having flashbacks, because you’ll be enjoying yourself too much. Consumed in the moment.
It’s when you wake up from a nightmare of it on replay and instead of it ruining your whole week like before, it now only ruins your day.
When you’ve forgiven yourself for not being okay. For allowing yourself to grieve. Telling yourself repeatedly that it wasn’t your fault. It is only theirs.
I guess my point is, someone who has survived sexual assault, there is no end. No giant victory party where they can finally say, “It’s over. I won.” Because that’s bullshit. We survive every single damn day.
So please, please, don’t assume just because we didn’t march into a police station, that we aren’t a survivor. Because every single day is a fight, even if you don’t see it.