by Sara (originally appearing on Still We Rise, April 2017)
"Your scars are someone else's sign of hope"
When I was 14, I was raped.
I'm 32 now and I am still struggling with these words. I am still learning to put a voice to it. In complete transparency, I've only said these words out loud twice (and only in the last few months). So, here is my way of bringing light to my darkness.
I have no memory of it.
Time and alcohol have a funny way of doing that. What I do remember is being with my best friends laughing, dancing, twirling...until all there is is black. A deep void. Darkness. I was completely incoherent and I'm pretty sure I vomitted at some point. I remember crying and apologizing...over and over...because I was so embarrassed that I was that drunk. I was proud of being the smart, independent one. How could I let myself get so out of control?
The next morning, in my best friend's yellow-tiled bathroom, I pulled down my undies and saw the blood. I knew right away that something had happened. And I laughed. I fucking laughed. I laughed because, at 14, I had no way to cope with the fact that some guy had forced some part of his body into my vagina. That somehow being unconscious and smelling like vomit wasn't enough to turn off some asshole with a hard on.
(I would occasionally recount the event). Wow! That sounds so formal, so cold. For decades I barely thought about it. It's hard to describe. I buried it. I buried it so far that, truly, I never thought about it. There were moments, milliseconds, when the darkness would recognize its shadow in a friend's story, in a tv show, in a song, in a movie. But it would rescind as quickly as it appeared.
It wasn't until I read the Stanford victim's letter to her attacker. I was at work and came across the link on my Facebook feed. "Read it," my soul urged.
I was numb and wildly electric all at the same time. Hand to my mouth and tears in my eyes, I read her story. And just like that, the wound was fresh. Not only was it reopened, it was infected, oozing, septic, rotten, festering.
I instantly recognized all the areas in my life it had tainted. I finally understood why the feeling of my husband's hands on my sleeping body would literally make my skin crawl. I spent my teen years dating complete fucking assholes because I figured they were at least upfront about their inability to be decent human beings. I graduated from high school and college with a 4.0 because perfection became my subconscious way of compensating for my irresponsibility. You see, I still felt responsible for getting raped.
And in the midst of my messy healing, the universe (God) provided a mirror reflection of what responsibility and accountability looks like...as a rapist.
The election (and its outcome) became a catalyst to my healing.
Let me explain. I thought, surely, after Donald Trump openly admitted (boasted) about sexually assaulting women, his campaign was over. Yet, 62 million people still voted him into office and here we are. His election made it blatantly clear:
You can be a man, sexually assault a woman, admit it, brag about it, and be elected President. President, people!! Let that sink in for a moment.
While I spent two decades of my life fighting against a moment I can't even remember, this man consistently asserted himself onto women's vaginas. While I spent years trying to control every aspect of my life, this man flaunted his inability to control himself as a manly badge of honor. I lost my voice. He used his to continually degrade, violate, and disrespect women at every turn.
I was raped. I need to own the darkness. I need my voice to fill the void, to echo off its caverness and let love and beauty drape its expansive walls. I need to be unafraid that people will look at me differently, look at me with sadness, with pity. I will not be a victim to shame. I will no longer be small to avoid confrontation or because the world continually tries to remind me where a woman's place is. I did not admit to being raped because I thought it would make me look weak. I knew I would be judged for being drunk, for being irresponsible, for wearing a dress, for asking for it, for being a human with big breasts and a vagina (so, a woman). This is the sick, twisted shit normalizing sexual assault does.
Only the weak ones get raped.
She was asking for it.
At least it wasn't "real" rape.
I am a strong woman. I was strong at 14 and I am strong at 32. I regularly ask for things like empathy, compassion, human dignity, lots of cream in my coffee, keep the complaining to a minimum, stay out of the left lane if you're driving slow, be grateful, pick up your toys, kindness, and positivity. And there are not "degrees" of rape. When we start minimizing rape with technicalities we say your pain doesn't matter. We say your consent doesn't matter. You don't matter.
Life is fucking hard. Terrible things happen. It's easy to let it make you bitter and angry. It's easy to harden your heart, to stop trusting, and to believe the worst in people. The hard part is finding the courage to live. To love. To keep your heart open and to believe that the world is inherently good.
So, I implore you to have courage. Find your voice. Everyone has a story.