I don’t remember much from that night. I remember being led to a room by my arm, calling out in pain, then waking up the next morning. I woke up in a walk-in closet naked from the waist down. I found my pants by using my nearby phone as a flashlight. I opened the closet door, embarrassed as I made eye contact with another man that I had awoken as I stumbled my way to the bedroom door. I called my two best friends, who luckily had my car keys. They picked me up with clothes that I could change into in the back seat as to not return to the dorms in last night’s attire.
What happened next is something I was ashamed of until I came to understand it. I treated this situation as if it was “just another hook-up”—comical, causal, just another part of typical college life. I told the story with a cackle, and was confused when I saw that the expressions of concern and bewilderment did not match mine of amusement and hysterics. It was not until years later that I realized what this phenomenon was — denial.
Months later I noticed a change in myself. I had begun my junior year of college with a strong start, but by my second semester, my grades plummeted. My dedication and discipline to my work was nearly absent. I resented school, my professors, my peers, and I struggled to get along with those around me. My relationship with my roommates had become strained. I was isolated and indifferent about it. I went to my anatomy professor to discuss my grades and inadvertently broke down in tears. Perhaps it was due to sheer frustration with myself, or perhaps it was the beginning of my steep decline that lied ahead. Whatever the case, there was one emotion at that point in time that stood above all others—anger.
In my own experience, it takes effort to stay angry. Anger is something that I have discovered to be emotionally and physically taxing. I was headed in to a summer semester of classes after only a one-week break from my academics, and I was drained. It was summer of 2013 when I finally sought help, but it was not until I saw the blood in my own vomit that drove me to do so. I was sent to the E.R. to be evaluated almost immediately after I had my first meeting with an on-campus therapist. I was diagnosed with a Mallory-Weiss tear of my esophagus—a product of the peak of a nearly three year struggle with bulimia; and it was after this that I began to be honest with my loved ones and myself. I look at that moment as the keystone of my healing process and road to recovery.
I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt as I began to see the reality of what had happened to me that night in May of 2012. I cans still remember learning about rape and how it is typical of victims to blame themselves, and I never understood it. That is, of course, until I lived it. To be candid, I still place some of the blame on myself. What if I had decided not to go out that night? What if I had just gone home with my roommate as I was supposed to? What if I had refused to drink what he had offered me? What if I could have just snapped out of it and pushed him off of my and ran away? Guilt, doubts and what-ifs: I was negotiating the past with hypothetical scenarios—I was bargaining.
“Things get worse before they get better.”
A cliché that we have heard time and time again. But as I have always said, clichés are cliché for a reason. Things in fact did get worse come fall. Anxiety that had been present—but manageable—my entire life escalated to a point where I could not make it through a single day without symptoms. Tremors, heart palpitations, chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, upset stomach, crying spells, little to no sleep; this went on for weeks. I was taking Klonopin that had been prescribed for panic attacks nearly every day to numb myself, a tactic that had only worked temporarily until my body acclimated to the medication.
When I was not anxious, I felt nothing. I sat emotionless in my classes trying to absorb what I could manage, counting down the minutes until I could go home and lie in my bed. By the time I got home, I was worn thin, and I could do nothing but cry. I would cry and be in such physical pain that I would contort my body to ease the pain. I would cry as quietly as possible, in attempt to hide it from my roommates, but deep down I know they knew; and I respect them tremendously for giving me the privacy I wanted. Nearly all of my relationships were strained, and perhaps the relationship that suffered the biggest blow was that of my mother. I would call her desperate for help, but was reluctant to her solutions. My resistance was not a conscious decision, but instead a product of a nearly incoherent racing mind and sheer hopelessness. She would become frustrated when I spoke in circles, and I would become frustrated when she would give up on me.
All of my struggles were weighing on me at once. I thought about being raped nearly every day. I was wrestling with my eating disorder with the help of a therapist. I was physically crippled by my anxiety. I was no longer the vibrant, passionate and creative person I once was. I now know what that period of “nothingness” and hopelessness was—depression.
It was after a nonsensical email I sent my aunt, a renowned physician, that my family intervened medically. I woke up on the couch with my computer still open with no recollection of the email. I felt a deep sense of regret as I reread it, trying to make sense of what I had written. In hindsight, I am thankful that I wrote whatever nonsense was in that email, because it tipped she and my uncle, a renowned psychiatrist, off that I needed to be medicated. My aunt coincidentally was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh that week, and gave me the medication that gave me the traction I needed to regain control of my life. In no way is this story an advertisement for antidepressants. This medication was merely a small piece of a puzzle of hard work, determination and the will to be healthy again. I was hesitant to start a daily medication, but it was a necessary component in my recovery.
It took months of selfishness to heal: self-reflection, self-control, self-forgiveness. It was through this selfishness that I finally rediscovered my self-worth. My confidence was coming back. My mental and physical strength was returning. I allowed myself to seek help from those around me. My recovery has not been perfect. There have been tremendous challenges along the way, but with each step I found peace in something that I once thought was impossible—acceptance.
I am not sure what we grieve after we have been raped. Perhaps we feel we have lost a piece of ourselves. If this is the case, we have to look at what we gain: strength. Conquering the stages of grieving is arduous, and it wasn’t until I had reached acceptance that I realized the recovery of rape is accomplished through grieving.
My recovery from my eating disorder is ongoing. I have made tremendous strides with the help of a dedicated therapist, but I know it will be a long journey. My family and friends have been my source strength, inspiration and my driving force to allow myself to recover. I no longer have the fear and shame I once had. I am once again the vibrant, passionate and creative person I once was.
As for my feelings toward the man who raped me: to be candid, I am uncertain. Some days when I am reminded of that night, the memory is just a fleeting thought and I am able to go about my business unscathed. Other days, I am overtaken with anger toward him. I have accepted that I will likely live with this anger for the rest of my life due to the injustice of the situation. He stole from me that night, and his crime went unpunished. However, I do not resent him. In a twisted way (one that I do not wish upon anyone) he allowed me to grow as a stronger young woman and as a more compassionate human being. Over the last few years, I have learned that we all have the capacity to harvest positivity in dark times; and for that, I thank him.