My worst nightmare happened a year ago. I won't go into details because 1. I don't even want to try to write it down, 2. It's quite personal, and 3. The details of what happened aren't important; the fact that it happened is the important part. We live in a time where 1 in 6 women have been a victim of sexual assault sometime in their lifetime. I never thought I would be apart of that statistic, but looking at those odds now, I'm not surprised. I've struggled with many things in the last year, but my sexual assault is the thing I've struggled with the most. It completely turned my life upside down and I've only recently begun to figure out this new world I live in.
It's hard to believe I'm actually writing this - I'm wondering if I even should write it.
But it's been a year, and I'm feeling good. Better than good actually, I'm feeling great. The greatest I have in a while. A year perhaps. So I'm going to tell you what I've learned about myself and life in general since one of the worst things to ever happen to me happened, and maybe I can help someone else out there going through something similar to me in the process.
Accept help, even if you think you don't deserve it
After I told my roommates what had happened, they offered to go out and buy me a new duvet and sheets for my bed. I told them that it was OK, and they didn't need to do that for me. I came home from work that day, exhausted from pretending everything was alright and went to my bedroom—something I had been dreading all day. Inside I found my bed with new sheets and a new duvet, completely changing the room. I was shocked. I sat down, wrapped myself in my new comforter, and cried at the sheer kindness of my two roommates. Everything wasn't OK, and I needed that small gesture to tell me so.
It's OK to not be OK
After everything happened, I tried really hard to act like I was fine, to go about life as I had before. I even went to work the same day it happened. I figured that if I just acted like everything was normal, everything would be normal. But that wasn't the case. I was having trouble going to class because there was a guy in multiple classes with me that looked like the guy who assaulted me. Every time I saw a glimpse of my assailant on campus, or someone who even looked like him, it would completely alter my mindstate and I started to have panic attacks. That was when I began to understand that I wasn't going to be able to just keep going about as if everything was normal.
You're not alone
There will be days, and many nights, where it feels like you are completely alone. Your mind will convince you that no one cares about you and everyone feels like you're a burden. Your mind is wrong though, and there are so many people who care for you. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep because I felt as if I couldn't talk to anyone about what I was going through, but that wasn't true. My friends and family were there for me, I just needed to allow them to know how I was feeling.
Your true friends will be there for you when you need them, no matter what
I thought that I was really good friends with some people before this happened, and, for a little while, they were supportive of me after everything, even if I had the feeling they didn't fully believe me. But as time passed and I retreated into my depression, they just stopped talking to me. I was no longer invited anywhere, if we made plans I was ghosted, and if we did hang out it seemed like they were uncomfortable every time I tried to talk to them about how I was feeling. Eventually, I stopped reaching out to them, and they never checked up on me, which supported my decision that I didn't need them in life anymore.
I decided to focus on the friends who had been there for me, who were extremely supportive and did things to try to encourage me to be happy again. The friends who did stick by my side are people I feel extremely close to today and honestly can't picture my life without. I know that they are real friends and that no matter what happens in my life, I can count on them to be by my side.
Counseling doesn't mean you're weak, it means you're strong enough to know you help
I have struggled with my mental health since I moved to Boise three years ago, but I never felt like counseling was an option for me. I felt like I wasn't feeling "bad enough" to be able to talk to a professional and that I just needed to buck up and pull through the hard times. After my sexual assault though, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to get through this without the help of a counselor and my school's Health Services was able to help me with that. My counselor made me feel like I was strong and brave for opening up to her, and that's exactly what I needed at a time where I felt my weakest.
There's always going to be some part of you that blames yourself, even if you know it wasn't your fault
This is something I talked a lot about with my counselor and I still continue to struggle with this today. I get caught up in questions like, "What if I hadn't drunk as much that night?" "What if I had been out with different friends?" "What I hadn't let him in the house?" "What if?" "What if?" "What if?" It isn't healthy to think this way, and yet I can't stop myself from thinking about it. What happened to me happened, but it wasn't my fault that some boy decided he had the right to have sex with me without my consent. Maybe I could have done something different that night, but I am not at fault. When I get caught up in the "What if?" cycle, I just need to remind myself that I am not to blame. And it works... until the next time I get caught in the cycle.
Not reporting your sexual assault is OK, if that is what's best for you
I decided not to report my sexual assault for many reasons, and I struggle with that choice still to this day. I always thought that if something like this would happen to me, I would obviously report it because that's the right thing to do. I never realized how HARD it was though. I knew that I was not strong enough to report it to the police, or anyone else for that matter. I wouldn't have been able to handle talking to a stranger about what happened that night and see the disbelief in their eyes.
We live in a world where sexual assault victims are blamed for what happened to them and punished for coming forward. I know that I could have helped make a change in the world, or possibly another girl from meeting my same fate, but it wasn't the right decision for me. I had to focus on what was best for me at that time, and reporting just wasn't it. It's not the victim's responsibility to report their assault, it's the rapist's responsibility to not rape people.
Panic attacks will happen, even when you think you're over it
I honestly still suffer from panic attacks to this day because of what happened to me. They don't happen as often as they did before, but they still manage to sneak up on me. There was a time when just stepping foot on campus made me panic so much that I wouldn't even get out of my car to go to class and would just go back home. While I can go to class now, if I see someone that looks like him, or am in the crowded bar where I met him, I can't help but have a panic attack. I am lucky enough to have friends that are supportive and are able to help me through them or are able to help me to stay out of situations where a panic attack might happen.
You'll never truly be over it
I think that I will forever be angry and sad that this horrible things happened to me. I can move on from it and live my life, but it will always be something that affects me. It's hard to come to terms with, but this is something that will always be in the back of mind and will always hurt to think about.
Some days you'll go a whole day without thinking about it, and some days everything will make it so you can't forget
I remember the first day that I realized that I didn't think about my sexual assault once. It was such a freeing feeling, but most days are not like that. Most days there is something that reminds me about what happened and I just have to keep pushing on. I'm sure that has more time passes, it won't be something that I think about as often, but right now, the days that I don't think about it are special occasions that I can pat myself on the back for.
Make sure you go out with people you trust to keep you safe
If your sexual assault had alcohol involved, it can be hard to go out with your friends again. I remember the first time I went downtown with friends after it happened, I felt so guilty and kept thinking, "This is what got you in that situation in the first place. How could you do this again?" But just because you were sexually assaulted doesn't mean that you can't go out with your friends and have fun. It just means that you need to be more careful and go out with friends that you trust to keep you safe. I always make sure to double check with my friends before we go downtown that we won't get separated, and because they are aware of what happened to me, they always make sure to let me know that they have my back. It can make a world of difference just to know that someone is going to be by your side the whole night.
Your sexual assault does not define you
Yes, something incredibly SHITTY happened to me, but that doesn't mean that that's all I am. I am so much more than what some asshole thought he could take away from me. I am a friend. A sister. A daughter. A writer. I am whoever I want to be. I have come so far in a relatively short amount of time. Yes, some days are better than others, but if I can make it through this, I can make it through anything. This much I know.
If you, or anyone you know, has been a victim of sexual assault, don't be afraid to reach out. There are a ton of resources out there to help you. Talk to a friend. Talk to a family member. Talk to a counselor at your school's Health Center. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Reach out to someone, please. You are not alone.