The Driveway

Photo by Kelly Searle

I have never publicly spoken about this before. In fact, after my freshman year of college, I can count on one hand the number of people I have told about my rape and the subsequent impact it’s had on my life. I remember thinking that rape was bad and I would never want it to happen to me, but until it happens to you, you can’t imagine the uproar it causes in your life and psyche. I hope you’ll forgive my lengthy account here. I feel it’s finally time to speak up, and share some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

We need to speak about this. Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted. I believe that rape is the unstable tectonic plate that our society has built its views of women upon. Is she a slut? Is she a “good girl”? Would I have sex with her? Am I pretty? Am I worthy? These are all questions that stem from the power that sexual violence has inflicted on our views of ourselves and other women. To fix the gender gap, we must fix rape culture.

A Little Background

While victim-blaming is insanely common, I think each story is a little different. The nuances of my situation before the rape definitely colored my experience.

It was an after-prom party. I had only been to one other party. This would be my second time drinking. This was not characteristic of me. I was a “good girl”. I was probably very annoying. I went to an intense college prep school where I did 4–7 hours of homework per night, ran cross country, founded a literary magazine, ran the arts section of the newspaper. I did what every after-school special tried to promote, sometimes to my dismay.

I was graduating from high school with 9 other people — our school tended to dwindle in size and by senior year, left us a band of ambitious and close-knit teenagers “destined for the ivy leagues”. For six years, all we knew was working hard and each other. These were my brothers and sisters, and we knew each other as well as we knew ourselves. To say we were secluded was an understatement. Our coursework guaranteed we never had time for meeting people outside of school, but I loved my English classes and laughing with my best friend so much that it drowned out the other stuff.

After prom I lied to my parents for one of the first times (I know, crazy) and told them I was going to a friend’s birthday party. Instead, we headed up the tree-lined roads to where the mansions were. The May breeze wafted pollen into my hair and flapped my new Rolling Stones t-shirt against my shoulders. I remember everything I wore that day, which would soon be secured in a police evidence locker. I felt an unfamiliar mix of guilt and anticipation as we winded up the road toward the house. My best friend and I turned up our mix CD we made for the occasion and could imagine our graduation on the horizon like an island mirage.

Once we got there, everyone was asked by the host mom to put their car keys in a bowl and then she headed upstairs out of sight. For the rest of the night we drank and danced and kissed. I remember the moment my crush kissed me and I felt a thrill: after years of being afraid someone would find out I was bi, she accepted me. We had laughed and had a connection, but I didn’t know if she sensed I felt more than that for her. I never even told her. But she kissed me under the spring stars while we laid on the driveway. At 17, I felt like I was finally a teenager for the first time in my short life. I had never been able to experience freedom like this.

All of the sudden, 2 shots turned into 4 and four turned into 6, and soon I was only seeing things in little snaps of action, like a flip-book with some of the pages torn out. I noticed that she and I were no longer alone and there was another boy there kissing her neck. I sat up, feeling nauseated from the alcohol and her obvious feelings for this boy.

Photo by Kelly Searle

The Rape

I think when we hear about rape, we understandably don’t want to think about what it actually entails. As survivors, it’s important for us to tell people what it really means — in black-and-white terms — to be sexually violated. Only then can they understand the trauma of the event itself.

Before I could gather my thoughts or balance, a boy in the grade below us grabbed my arm and pulled me up. He dragged me behind the garage into an alcove by the back door and started kissing me. I realized that in all the missed moments leading up to this, I couldn’t place who I had had my first kiss with. I felt like crying and throwing up.

He pushed me onto the concrete, unbuckled his pants and forced himself into my mouth and I tried to run. A face I had seen a thousand times became so unfamiliar before me that he seemed to be a new person entirely. A person who didn’t show emotion. He unbuttoned my pants and I turned away from him, saying no and crying. I was unsteady and suddenly I felt like I had no control over my movements at all. I said I was a virgin and tried to escape. I pushed against him trying to make him see that I wanted to leave. I would fall over when I tried to crawl away. I cried no over and over while I tried to make it to the door. He pulled my arm and yanked me down and forced himself on me while I tried to get away. I felt a searing pain that seemed to cut me like a knife. At a certain point I became so scared and overwhelmed that I stopped struggling. I just remembered someone saying on 60 Minutes that playing dead can make an attacker leave a victim there, and I felt like I might pass out from the pain and nausea and fear. I let myself drift away. I didn’t want to be alert for this. All my other friends would have amazing moments with loving boyfriends and this would be me — of course it would. I went limp and couldn’t feel my legs at all. When he finally finished, my mascara was smeared and I felt blood running down my legs. He hadn’t used a condom. My heart pounded. I felt so tired. So tired. I could sleep forever.

I finally stood up, legs quivering and tears running down my face. He grabbed my arm before I could try to run and grasping tightly, he said that we had to date after this. Tomorrow we needed to tell everyone we were dating. That we had liked each other for a long time and now finally we’re together. He asked if I understood. I just wanted it to end and was scared of saying no, so I said yes, crying. Would he have to be my first boyfriend? I used all my strength and ripped away from him, half-crawling towards the door. I went inside and pushing my palms against the cold walls, made it to my friend’s bed, where several of my other friends were laying.

I laid there unable to think, breathe, feel. Out of nowhere this thought bubbled up and wouldn’t let go: “I said no.” I’ll never forget this moment in the dark. I rolled over and whispered to my friend, “I just had sex with — -.” She couldn’t compute this information. Then I whispered, starting to cry, “I said no.” That was all I needed to say. She hugged me. I shook and felt everything spinning, and felt like I was leaving my body.

I shook until I passed out. Everything went black.

Photo by Kelly Searle

The Next Morning

According to NIH, “estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. Among 34 cases of rape-related pregnancy, the majority occurred among adolescents and resulted from assault by a known, often related perpetrator”.

Sometime in the early morning, I was awoken by the mom and she told me that the police were there. Her daughter, my friend, volunteered to go with me to the police station. I went to grab my sweatshirt and tell my best friend where I was going. I wondered if I could ask her to come? The cops looked impatient. Everyone was sitting on the couches, looking at me. I felt like crawling under the coffee table and never being seen again. I rushed out of the room without grabbing my sweatshirt while everyone watched me silently. The police asked me to take them to where it happened. They took pictures and took my friend and I to the patrol car. The cop was nice, but I felt like throwing up. I held my friend’s hand and watched the sage brush blur, thinking of my parents. Who would call them? This is the end of our relationship being normal. This is going to change everything. I sunk into the seat, feeling a wave of a new sensation I would become very accustomed to: complete hopelessness.

I was right; everything changed. A detective came to greet me at the station. She would become one of the only people to believe me, despite the blood, the semen, the evidence, my shaking body and bruised skin. She took me to a small room. She showed me an anatomically-correct doll and I thought how weird it was. And then I realized what they used it for, as she began to touch parts of its body and ask if I had been touched there the night before. I started to cry and violently shake and realized with a disgust so pure that this must be the doll they use for children who have been molested. I immediately threw up all over myself. I cried and apologized, and she held me and took me back to some police lockers, where she gave me a DARE shirt in XL that went down to my shins. I shook and cried and she showed me the bathroom, where I ran in and threw up violently, shaking and sore all over. I felt a pain so sharp emanating from what seemed like my organs, throbbing and twisting through me. I realized there was blood and I tried to clean it up. The detective rubbed my back and she said, “I believe you. Whatever happens, I believe you.” I didn’t realize that this would be rare and a memory I would cling to in my darkest hours.

She lead me back to the room and I described in detail where I had been penetrated, held, pulled. The things he said to me haunt me still. His pockmarked, chubby face, twisted grin and focused eyes bore into me as he spat: “Let me see that pussy”, “put me in your mouth”, “get back here”, “don’t run”, “you’re a little slut”.

I was driven to the hospital next. There, cold metal instruments examined me on a stiff stirrup chair while to my embarrassment, they filmed it and showed it on a television screen above me, while my friend held my hand. They told me this was the rape kit. I thought “kit” was a strange way to describe it. They took blood, scraped under my nails, took photos of my bruises and cuts. They clipped off a bit of hair and put my clothes into a bag. They collected DNA from all over me and then had me stand. They gave me two Plan B pills and some water to wash them down, since he hadn’t used a condom. They said I could choose if I wanted to take them. They told me there was a high probability I had gotten pregnant from the situation (citing the statistic that rape victims are twice as likely to conceive as from consensual sex). I swallowed those pills like they were going out of style.

They took a Polaroid of my face. As it developed, I watched the foreign image of myself fade into existence, revealing mascara-stained cheeks, knotted hair, puffy features and an expression so emotionless it barely registered as one of my own.

They found evidence. My cervix was permanently damaged. I was internally bruised. They bagged it up and gave me some paperwork. They gave me a voucher for some hours of free counseling I could use if I wanted. They showed me to the bathroom and I cried on my friend’s shoulder while she held me, and I just kept saying how much I wanted to take a shower.

My parents picked me up from the hospital. My friend’s dad called them, to my relief. It was weird seeing them, and I felt so embarrassed. When I got home I hugged my brother and went to my room. I showered for two hours. Every part of me ached and I wanted to shrivel up and never have anyone look at me again. I didn’t want to have attention on me before this, and this ordeal certainly wouldn’t help that goal.

I got into bed. I slept and slept.

Photo by Kelly Searle

The Aftermath

According to the Journal of Traumatic Stress, 94% of survivors experience PTSD symptoms within two weeks of the assault. 30% experience PTSD at a nine-month check-in. The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 1 in 3 rape survivors experiences an episode of Major Depressive Disorder.

The months that followed honestly hurt worse to me than the rape itself. My school forced me to go back and finish my 70-page thesis, despite my writing a letter to the headmaster explaining my situation. I finished the school year, struggling to form coherent thoughts. I had to see my classmates at a few “check-ins” while we finished our senior internships. It was horrible and so awkward. I could hear people whispering about me, and some people would give me dirty looks or just abruptly leave the room in disgust. At one of these heinous gatherings, my English teacher pulled me aside and asked how I was doing. I had dyed my hair black and was barely alert, so I’m sure there were some pretty big red flags. She said she could tell I looked so exhausted and hurt. I was thankful for her care, but also a little embarrassed.

That summer, I kind of retreated into the house, sleeping in my parents’ bed all day, reading books and trying to avoid everyone. When I did see my friends, they tried to comfort me, but slowly I got the feeling that something weird was shifting in our dynamic. The DA had started to conduct depositions and witness statements, and interview everyone about my character. Through the detective, I was learning that everyone thought I was a quiet, shy, introverted girl who was kind of weird. Some boys expressed how the rapist and I had never showed interest in each other, and so how could we have slept together? I don’t think those boys really got the concept of rape. People who I wasn’t really close to jumped to his defense, saying I was a liar. One of my friends explained that he touched her boobs randomly at school and she had to push him off, and how he had tried to do something to another girl at a party and someone had intervened. He had pretended to pass out and said he didn’t remember it. Apparently, this is exactly what he had done when the police came to investigate what happened to me.

I would drive alone endlessly, blasting Nada Surf or the Rushmore soundtrack as I blazed through the gravel roads, tuning out any thought that could reach my consciousness.

My best friend would come over and I talked with her about the news station reporting on me, the headmaster saying in the local newspaper that until my rapist was proven guilty, he and the school would assume his innocence. In effect, he was saying I was lying. Old classmates IM’ed me, asking who had gotten raped at school. I had to explain that it was me. My friends all started to say “this sucks”, and slowly it became apparent that they weren’t really talking about my situation, but their situation of wondering how to treat their other friend, the rapist. I got a feeling like everything I knew was slipping out of reach and something was sucking my personality and functionality out of me.

Suddenly, I couldn’t watch any movies. I loved movies. I wanted to go to film school. Everything had love in it. I felt so sad that I wouldn’t remember my first kiss, and that my first time with a boy was against my will. I lost interest in pretty much everything. I would sweat and silently scream through the nights, and be dazed-out during the days. My brother, my best friend and I watched a box set of The Tom Green Show and reruns of Six Feet Under on an unending loop, and that was a true silver lining in the shit-storm. If you’ve just been raped, I highly recommend watching Tom Green tuck poop into a dollhouse bed.

For two years, my friends and I had been planning a summer European backpacking trip. I almost backed out so many times, but my best friend luckily convinced me to go. That trip brought laughter and fun into my gloomy little heart, and I will always cherish it. Memories of staying in Rome with my best friend after her passport was stolen, while everyone else flew home, make me so happy to this day.

But, it was not all grand. I was starting to unravel. On the flight to Dublin, I looked out the window and I thought how lucky I was to be doing this, but how pointless my own existence seemed. How undeserving of this trip I was. I felt so hopeless, like this net of optimism that had been holding me from touching reality had been ripped, and I was falling through and finally seeing the world for what it really is. Depression’s twisted logic had started to rot my brain. I felt like my dismal worldview was the true one, and that everyone else who was cheery was just ignoring the truth. In that perspective, there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

I started to be scared of everything. I felt so overwhelmed and tired all of the time. The boy who raped me lived only a few blocks away, and for some reason, he still wasn’t in jail. A psychiatrist put me on emergency Prozac, Seroquel and Klonopin. I started to feel a little better. I thought I could handle college maybe.

One day at my dad’s office, I bent over in pain. He took me to the emergency room. I was bleeding. I had ovarian cysts from the Plan B. A week later, my throat started to hurt and I felt so weak I could barely move. My mom took me to the doctor and she tested me for mono. Boy, did I have mono. She explained that the testers usually gave a positive result at 99 parts per something, but I had over 1,000. She told us that this was extremely dangerous and that my spleen was in danger of bursting at any moment. I needed to lay still and was ordered on strict bed rest. This hot new trend of shitty things happening was only getting hotter. At least I had a medical reason to stay in bed all day. I named my spleen Billy and to my dad’s and my delight, we jokingly made suspenders for Billy to hold him up. Jokes like this really made me grateful for my morbid family.

We packed my stuff. My best friend and I were going to be moving to Oregon and living in the dorms together, going to a small liberal arts school. I felt safe and like this was a stable thing for me. I am very attached to my family. Being away from them was made less scary by the excitement of choosing my classes and having daily fun with my BFF.

Photo by Kelly Searle

Off To College

According to the Department of Justice and the National Victim Center, 70% of rape victims experience moderate to severe distress, which is a higher rate than any other violent crime. Rape victims commonly use drugs and alcohol to cope with PTSD symptoms. They are 3.4 times more likely to smoke pot, 6 times more likely to use cocaine, and 10 times more likely to use other major drugs.

It was time to start my college life. My mom and I planned a road trip and were going to be stopping along the coast on the way. I was refreshingly excited for something. My mom surprised me with a bag full of awesome clothes, since I had been wearing a uniform for six years and didn’t have any “street clothes”. My mom strapped me in in my fully-reclined passenger seat lined with pillows to prop me up in a spleen-friendly position. We were listening to cheesy music, eating snacks and having a pretty great time, considering my situation.

On our first night, I checked Facebook. I had a message from my best friend. It told me that her parents weren’t letting her go to my school and were taking her to some college in California. She was super upset. I completely fell apart. I cried and screamed and heaved on the bathroom floor, and then woke my mom to tell her. She held me and tried to reach my friend’s parents, but couldn’t. I cried for the rest of our trip and for the two days we set up my dorm room before she had to go back home. My poor mom; she really did not want to leave me like that. I was so distraught. When she left, I sat in my empty room and cried for 24 hours a day for about a week, looking around at my room full of things she and I had bought together, that I would now have to use alone.

I felt completely and totally alone. I felt a desolation that could only be soothed by calling my best friend and talking to her on AIM for 3 hours a day at least, or talking to my brother late at night while I wandered the rain-soaked campus.

Suddenly, my sleeping totally stopped. Whenever I dozed off, 20 minutes later I would scream myself awake. Anxiety rattled through me and I could not make friends at all, let alone attend classes. I could barely do anything but walk endless loops around the campus, day and night.

Finally, my anxiety broke me down into my darkest days. I met a boy online and he seemed nice enough. We began a tempestuous, extremely toxic and emotionally abusive relationship. He was the only person I would see, and when I was away from him, the crushing thoughts that would engulf me would sink me into an abyss I can only describe as pure doom. If you’ve never felt doom, that is excellent. I felt a lot of doom. I cried and sat alone, barely able to focus, crawling out of my skin with disgust for myself, the world and that night that started all of this shit.

Slowly, friends of my boyfriend began to realize his strange behaviour and my depression, and how he seemed very controlling and manipulative of me, and then very distant. One of them took me to the school sandwich shop. I had been at school for 3 months and still didn’t have one friend. He was concerned. He told me he never saw me with anyone and that I seemed very sad and he urged me to leave my boyfriend, and told me he was ending their friendship because of how upsetting my boyfriend’s behavior had become. I cried because I felt seen for the first time in a pretty long time. Someone was noticing me slipping through the cracks. We became friends. He urged me to just try to hang out with him and his friends. He invited me to a snowball fight. I just let loose and finally started to meet a couple nice people.

I made other friends who lived off campus and were older. One of them introduced me to drugs and I started taking them. I don’t remember these couple of months well because I was constantly taking pills without knowing what they were and being stoned 24/7. I was drinking more and more, heading to weird frat basements and weed dealers’ houses. My nights were sleepless, and the new roommate they placed in my room was intense, to say the least.

I would walk all night, not caring what happened to me. I honestly did not care at all. I wandered fields behind the school from dinner time until sunrise, and my nice friends started to worry a little. But, no one really noticed how bad it was getting. My roommate visited her boyfriend hours away every weekend, and my friends often had drama club, parties and other things going on. I could kind of conceal how bad things were getting.

My boyfriend noticed, but he seemed to feed off it, saying how he was jealous because he always wanted something bad to happen to him so that he could be pitied and get attention. He told me he even “tried to be gay” to get attention. I told him that’s not really how it works. As a bi person and a human in general, I understood that’s a very crazy thing to say. He just kept seeming more and more excited the deeper I got into my depression, and saying weirder and weirder things. I would scream and thrash awake when I slept over and I felt like everything about this sickness in my head was annoying to everyone else. I would try to break up with him, and he would cry and pull me back in. I was so weak I didn’t have the self-confidence to say no. I just couldn’t bear to be alone.

I am really not proud of this part but it is a part of the story and I now know it’s pretty common among people with PTSD. On weekends when I was alone, I would start cutting myself. It was just a test at first, to see how bad it hurt. Once I realized it was bearable, I kind of thought it was an option. Like, a safety net. So I went about my anxious days and tortured nights, walking train tracks alone like an Avril Lavigne video extra. One night, my boyfriend told me to get out because he wanted to be alone for a few days. I pretty much spiraled into a doom hole and dragged myself to my therapy appointment at the school counselor’s office. I looked terrible. I knew it, but I didn’t really think it was a big deal. I walked in, and my therapist, one of the coolest people ever by the way, looked shocked. He said I looked extremely pale and like I wasn’t even showering or anything. I told him he was right about that. He read some questions off of a form, definitely not his style. I was skeptical but answered honestly. He finished writing and then begged me to go with him to the hospital and check myself in. I thought about it and was too scared. I said no and he tried to convince me over and over. He reluctantly let me leave and I went outside into the cold.

Photo by Kelly Searle

The Breakdown

This part is extremely hard for me to write, because it is about the night I almost ended my own life. It still scares me when I look back on it. I have not shared this part with anyone besides my best friend and my husband. But, I feel like I need to push through and speak about it, because so many rape survivors go through this. According to the Department of Justice, 33% of rape survivors contemplate suicide. 13% attempt suicide.

I packed my things for winter break. I went home and I was decidedly not myself. My family seemed wary of me and my brother told me that I seemed super weird. But, we were trying to be normal. Rape affects the whole family, and all of them had been dealing with repercussions themselves while I was at school. My dad told me that one of my closest friends had said I was lying and she defended the boy who raped me, and every one of my other friends had followed suit, except for my best friend. Everyone I trusted had betrayed me.

I went on Facebook and put together that they had all had been hanging out with my rapist for months behind my back. I messaged a few of them and they told me “we love you both, so hopefully you can understand and we can still be friends”. I’m sorry, but being friends with a guy who pretty much was destroying my soul? And being friends with his victim at the same time? I was so hurt, confused and angry, I couldn’t even comprehend it. These people I had known for so many years. How could they turn on me like this? Was I really that insignificant of a blip on their radar? I felt so worthless. I felt that maybe I really wasn’t important, or needed in this world.

There was physical evidence, but my mom informed me that they just couldn’t pursue the case any longer. I asked the detective why, and she said that I was in bad shape and wouldn’t be able to be a reliable witness on the stand. My therapist had disclosed that I was definitely not doing well and was acting erratic. She said the lawyer believed me, and she believed me, but sometimes that just wasn’t enough when everyone was saying I was lying. They told me that this was unfortunately a very common phenomenon. People just don’t believe the girl a lot of the time, if the rapist is a popular guy. My ex-friends might leave reasonable doubt in the jury’s minds. It was risky. I walked away and felt my world deflate.

My boyfriend called me and begged me to come back. He talked into my most insecure self and convinced me I should leave in the middle of the night. He wired me money and I wrote a scathing and incomprehensible note saying something to the effect of “I’m leaving for my sanity”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was literally going insane. The anxiety and depression and PTSD were completely taking me over, and I made the whole drive without a cell phone, in the dark, chain-smoking through snowy mountains and black-ice roads, talking to myself the whole way. Things were not alright.

In this state, I arrived on campus. My boyfriend said I looked skinny. That’s what happens when you stop having interest in food. He said he was so glad I was there. He told me he only really liked girls with short hair, and so I should cut mine. He took me to Great Clips and I received the most botched Audrey Hepburn pixie in the history of mankind. My brother still jokes that I looked like Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday. Hungry and depressed at my reflection, I told him I’d drive us to a Chinese restaurant. He was saying things to me about how jealous he was of my situation and depression, and I snapped. I turned the volume all the way up and blasted Karen Ann into our ears. He screamed to stop. I was so full of anger and so many other things, and swerved hard around a curve. He told me he was scared and wanted to get out. I told him that’s how I always felt around him.

He left for work and I went into my empty dorm room. I laid in bed and things got very scary in my head. No one was on campus. I felt so alone. I am so ashamed of this to the core of my being, but I took apart a razor, sat on my bed and cut myself. I could not see how this situation could get any worse, or any better. I cut deep, up-and-down like the movies showed, not across. I thought, I’ll leave this one up to chance. According to my arm, chances looked bleak for my survival.

As I started to bleed heavily, I thought of my family and my best friend. How could I be so fucking stupid? This would destroy them. I wrapped my arm up in a sweatshirt and went into the bathroom and took a shower. I went to my boyfriend’s dorm and waited for him. I was so relieved the bleeding stopped, there are no words. In that moment I decided my life was going to change. I couldn’t let this kill me. I told him what had happened and showed him. All he said was, “next time, can you tell me first so I can just get a few things in order?” I just looked at him. I realized then what a sick person he was. He was truly sick. I saw in his expression that this would be his ideal scenario and what he had been hoping for all along — imagine the pity party once the girlfriend dies. His dream would come true and he would be getting all the attention.

It was a process, but I told him I wanted a break. My dad came to school and picked me up. We drove in awkward silence while he looked at me like I was an alien. He seemed very scared and very worried. My poor dad. We got home at 3 in the morning and my mom was waiting. She ran and hugged me. I went into my room and laid in my bed and breathed in the smell of home. I felt safe for the first time in a long time.

Photo by Kelly Searle

10 Years Later

I wish I could say, “and now I’m completely changed and over it”, but that wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is more of a grey area, where most days I feel great, but I’ve also struggled with depression, anxiety and PTSD over the last ten years. When my best friend passed away two years ago this month, I can say I completely unraveled. The trauma from my rape and her being one of the only people who believed me compounded my immense grief, because now I can count on four fingers the number of people who believed me back then. In losing her, I lost my closest confidant, my soul sister, my heart. I also lost my past. No one remembers who I was back then and what happened. I lost my platonic soulmate, the one who got me through it all. It’s very surreal. She was also the only one who knew me before I was raped in a deep, complete way.

Because of the statute of limitations, I can’t press charges any longer. That chance slipped by when I turned 21, and was in no state to go back to my hometown and face all that trauma again. The court doesn’t let you choose when you’re ready to fight. According to the Department of Justice, 994 out of every 1,000 reported rapists walk free.

Now though, I feel like I could fight, and would in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, it’s not possible. My rapist is still out there. I’ve heard rumors but haven’t seen him since that night, and hope I never do. I don’t know if his family still lives in the same house, but every time I go home, I worry I will see him. Sometimes I still cry when I think about him putting another woman through this.

I still get flashbacks and I can never drink again because the smell just takes me back to that night. I certainly tried in college, but that just isn’t good for me. At all those parties, when everyone is drinking and having fun, I’m shaking and my brain is raging with anxiety and flashbacks to that driveway. I stopped drugs and am never going back to that way. I have a lot of intense anxiety over big crowds, parties and others drinking, and I’ll probably be working on those things for the rest of my life.

I’m never going to be trusting again. I’ve learned that people who you would trust your life with can turn on you in the blink of an eye. In human nature lies a dichotomy. You never know what side of the coin you’ll fall upon. Some people think this is a cynical way of seeing the world, but I see it as a positive perspective: the people I let in are special because they’re truly worth my love, and I can count on them. You can’t say that for most people. Even the people who didn’t betray me sort of fell off the map in the face of awkwardness.

I’ve severed basically all ties with everyone I went to school with, save for 3 people. They have tried getting in touch, and one even spent the night at my house before I realized she was hanging out with my rapist on a regular basis. Over and over, these people told me, “Would you really cut us out of your life because we want to hang out with him? You’ll lose all your friends. Can’t we love you both? Why do you have to think so black-and-white?”. I can’t describe how much these comments cut to my core. I’ve had to rebuild myself from the ground up, and it has been hard.

He is still out there, and I live with that every day. The guilt can be overwhelming, and however much I want to get him behind bars now, there’s no way to do it. The justice system fails women in this way every day.

The one thing I can do is speak out. I can tell people about what happened, and hopefully in speaking out, I encourage someone else to as well. If we stand together, we can effect change. We need to change the way people think of rape and how it’s prosecuted.

I will never forgive him, and I don’t think I can ever forgive the people I was closest to in this world for turning against me. But, I choose not to see this experience in my life as a deficit.

I’ve tried to see it in a constructive light. I’m a much more compassionate person than I was back then, and I am much less judgemental of other people. I know that I’ve not told most people about this, and they would never know. The night I won my film school’s annual film festival, I received one of those cryptic messages from an old friend. No one would know that standing on the stage, I was both elated and crushed. And in this knowledge, I find empathy: you really never know what someone is going through. The human heart can conceal deeper wounds than could be imagined, and endure them as well. I know I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. And I do find meaning and purpose in helping others. I think I was drawn to photography and makeup because I drift into a calm, otherworldly headspace, and capture the peace and strength I see in the world around me. I like making people feel good about themselves. It’s a way I care for others. Doing that slowly helps me rebuild my self esteem.

I can safely say that I use this experience as a motivating force in my life. Since that night ten years ago, I’ve gone to film school, fallen in love, gotten married, moved around the country, traveled all over, become an esthetician. The way I see it is this: if I had let that night destroy me, as much as it almost did, I never would have the life I have now, or experienced any of these amazing things.

Whatever you’re going through, hang on. Hang on tight, by whatever means you can, and things will get better. Your strength will surprise you. You never know what’s just on the other side of the storm. It’s worth waiting for.

As women, we’re capable of so much more than anyone will ever give us credit for, and we need to believe each other when we say something happened.

If she can’t speak up, speak up for her. If she can’t stand, stand for her. If she can’t see the light, show her.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.