This piece comes from an extremely talented writer and close friend and I urge everyone to check out her piece about tragedy, despair, and overcoming mental anguish.
Trigger Warning: Rape, Suicide.
I still think about the day that I was taking a walk with my dad in early spring, and we were talking about rape. I remember saying, “I would definitely kill myself if I was ever raped. I don’t think I would want to live through that. It’s probably the only reason I would ever actually commit suicide.”
It was a heavy topic for a nice leisurely stroll, but we were talking about a recent story in the media and had veered off into personal examples of people we knew that were rape survivors. I knew people survived all kinds of sad, traumatic experiences – cancer, loss of loved ones, car crashes, physical violence, child abuse – and I’ve gone through a lot myself. I lost my mom unexpectedly when I was eleven, and I lost one of my best friends to a car accident when I was eighteen. I came out as bisexual in middle school and went through a long period of intense bullying. But for some reason, I couldn’t shake the idea of rape as being the most horrible thing for a person to have to live with.
This was a couple years before the night that changed my life. I attended a college party at UMass Dartmouth with a friend, where others drank but I didn’t, and where I knew a couple people but not everyone. It was my first experience spending significant time at the school. When I woke up the next day, I realized I had been drugged during the night. I woke up in the afternoon, groggy and confused, and I knew then that I had to make a decision.
I had been raped. But I didn’t know if I wanted to make good on that promise to myself: to end my life if I became a survivor. I only knew one thing. I didn’t want to survive.
Whether I lived or not, I was determined not to survive. Not to thrive. For weeks, I didn’t do very much. I was withdrawn from everyone I had met in my freshman year of college. I went to some of my classes, but I missed enough that my professors began to worry about me and ask if I was okay. I drank most weekends until the sun came up, and sometimes on weekdays if I could get someone else to agree that it was a good idea.
I didn’t kill myself. I felt obligated not to. I was close with my dad – so close that we called each other several nights a week to talk. I had a long-term girlfriend who loved me. I had several close friends, and a great family support system. I was a straight-A honors student ending a successful freshman year with a 4.0 GPA. I felt obligated to continue living, because there were so many people expecting me to.
For about three months after the rape, I spoke about it to nobody. I didn’t think about it. I tried not to give myself time to think about it, between spending time with friends, volunteering, and working hard on my coursework. Then the summer came. And without all my free time being taken by activities, my mind was able to slip into thinking about what happened. Finally, just as my sophomore year was beginning, I was unable to deny it anymore – I had been raped, and I knew my rapist.
She was someone I used to be close to and had never imagined would do something like this. I knew I had to tell someone, but I didn’t really want to. Instead, I suddenly cut off all ties with the person who raped me, and although we were barely on speaking terms already, she began pestering me about why I stopped talking to her. “I’ve deleted your phone number,” I texted her. “Please stop contacting me, forever.”
I was at a family party with my girlfriend when I gained the courage to be honest about what happened. My rapist continued to keep texting me, and I finally told her why I wasn’t speaking with her. Then I showed the messages to my girlfriend – my way of telling her what happened, and that I needed help. The next couple of weeks were hell. I began my sophomore year of college in a horrible state of mind. Having just transferred to another university, I felt alone in my dorm room with a brand new roommate. She wanted to get to know me, and I wanted to stay in bed and hope that I could sleep away what happened to me.
For the first two months, I was a mess. I had a bad relapse of a prior eating disorder, and barely took care of myself. I still went to classes, volunteered, and spent time with friends, but it was clear that something was wrong when I left a party crying because all the drunk people reminded me of the party at which I’d been raped. Not everything that immediately came out of the situation was bad. I also stopped self-harming after I acknowledged the rape, simply because my rapist was a self-harmer as well. It started my recovery after battling self-harm for seven years. I also decided to seek help for my rape and for my eating issues, by seeing a counselor and a nutritionist on campus.
Although I still wasn’t doing well, I began to take care of myself in just basic ways, by making small steps each week to be healthier and to deal with what happened to me. Recovery, for me, was not a simple process. I have post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the rape, which sometimes leaves me with extreme difficulties sleeping or returning to normal functioning after a nightmare or a daytime trigger. For the first six or so months after the rape, I didn’t know what was happening. Certain things upset me, like having my neck touched, or seeing alcoholic beverages that had been present at the party, or being around certain traditional-style dorms that looked like the room I’d be assaulted in.
I learned that instead of wanting to kill myself, I learned to want to take care of myself. Before the rape, sad as it is to admit, I wasn’t the kind of person who did this. After the rape, I started really taking care of my own emotional well-being. I recognized problems when they arose and tried to work on them. I really learned how to love myself, because I learned how to love myself when it was the most difficult – when I was really struggling. During that year after my rape, I was really redefining who I was as a person, and I didn’t know if I could be okay with that. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in for university anymore, I didn’t know if I still wanted to write, I didn’t know how I wanted to dress or wear my hair. It took a long time to find my way back to who I am, and who I want to be, but it really allowed me to love and take care of myself.
In my sophomore year, almost a year after the rape, I declared an English major with a concentration in Writing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I just knew that I loved spending time in the couple of English classes I had that semester. I had to re-learn how to be myself, and understand that some parts of me were inevitably changed, and be okay with that. I learned that I am a forgiving person – after bouts of extreme anger and revenge, I decided I wanted to let myself forgive my rapist, so that I could move on from what happened.
I also learned that writing was a way to cope with what happened, and even though I shied from creative writing for almost a year after the assault, I eventually started again, and even wrote a novella for class based on my experience. It was tiresome work, but at the end of the course, I read aloud for ten minutes to my classmates from a scene that really affected me to write, and which was a parallel for a real-life encounter with my rapist.
It has now been over three years since I was raped, in March of my freshman year of college. I haven’t self-harmed since I stopped at the beginning of my sophomore year – but I still struggle with the impulse to, especially during anxiety-provoking moments when I feel vulnerable and trapped. I still have difficulties sleeping and sometimes have nightmares, but I’ve learned to lean on animal therapy – to always have a cat (or two) at the ready who I can pick up for a cuddle fest when I’m upset.
I’ve channeled a lot of the sadness and anger from the rape into writing, and ended up with a novella about the experience as well as a senior honors thesis that discussed it as well, in the context of how online communities can be beneficial to people. I also volunteered for the Great American Condom Campaign for three of my college years, educating classmates about safe and consensual sex and handing out 500 free Trojan condoms every semester. Making other people aware of what it means to consent and to survive rape and assault became extremely important to me, because as a society we need to change the way we’re educating young people about these issues.
A couple of months ago I graduated from college, with a degree in English, and I’m heading to graduate school for Publishing and Writing at my dream college in Boston. I’m moving in with that long-term girlfriend I mentioned after almost seven years together, and I have a full-time job as an editor. I’ve been working on my fiction and blogging in my free time. I’m happy, and actually excited for my future. If you asked me five years ago if I could survive being raped, I would have said no. I would have told you that it was the only circumstance under which I would kill myself. Now, I’m doing more than just surviving – for maybe the first time, I’m actually alive.
Keep up with all of her thoughts and work at her blog.
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
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