I could go for the shock factor and really draw you in by sharing all of the gory details of my assault, one that was called “the worst offense” he has ever seen by the judge whom my case was in front of. But I don’t believe it’s those details that are important for me to share or for anyone to hear. The details that really matter are the ones that reveal how my life has changed in the years after my assault. The life details of a sexual assault survivor.
The journey of a survivor is long and winding; a perfect example of the emotional roller coaster experience. My assault happened just over two years ago. In the time since then I feel as though I have completely rebuilt my life. When a person experiences such a traumatic life event, it shakes their entire being. I felt as though everything I was had ever been was completely lost and that my whole world around me had crumbled into pieces. At first, I did not know how to make my life whole again. The thing about rape is that it causes the survivor to truly experience what it is like to lose all control over their physical being and their circumstances. And that is not a feeling that a person can easily forget. Traces of that feeling stay with you, at times encompassing your entire being. The memory of that feeling is the single most anxiety-inducing thing I have ever known.
My life as a survivor has been a life completely ruled by anxiety. The nights are now my enemy, to be avoided at all costs. As the sun dips down lower and lower in the sky, my anxiety increases. I look forward to the summers. Not for the warm weather, beach trips, carefree feelings and other things people normally look forward to about summer. But because it stays lighter longer. I get more freedom, less fear. As the weather gets colder and the days become shorter, I feel myself becoming more anxious.
This anxiety is all encompassing. It disrupts my life in ways I would have never been able to imagine before. It causes the 50-foot walk from my car to my apartment building to seem like a walk through an active battle zone. It causes any strange person within sight to become an immediate threat to my life, never to be trusted. It has changed me, broken me down. I have felt so defeated by it at times that I don’t bother leaving the comfort of my home.
As someone who has always valued my independence, this has been an adjustment that has been difficult. To say the least. When I am alone I am not safe. Or at least that is what my brain thinks. That is what my brain tells me. Therefore, I fear being alone. But I am afraid to reach out for help. Afraid to tell a trusted family member or a friend, “I need you here right now.” Because, for me, the only thing worse than being alone is thinking that when others look at you, all they see is your traumatic experience. Nobody deserves to be defined by their traumas. But choosing not to remind people of my assault, even if it is for my benefit, is a risk I’m willing to take.
And so there are many times that I think, “What has my life become? How did I get here?” It is in these times that I feel indescribably high levels of anger and frustration. Two emotions, in fact, that survivors rarely discuss. Feelings of hopelessness, brokenness, and guilt are discussed ad nauseum – and with good reason. But it is the anger and the frustration that serve as the motivation to transform from victim to survivor. This anger and this frustration are what fuels the realization that this was not your fault. They are what drives you to push through and persevere. Because there is no way in hell I would let them win; I refuse to let them continue to control my life. Of course this sentiment is a hell of a lot easier said than done, but it is a goal I work towards every day.
My life has been a battle since the night I was raped. Every day is a new challenge. Not a day goes by without flashbacks, anxiety and fluctuating emotions. But this is my life. This is what I am left with after two young males decided to take the fate of my entire life in their hands. And this is the information people need to hear. Because every statistic you hear about sexual assault is a person’s life. And each one of those lives probably looks like some variation of this. And one life lived like this is one too many.