The Lies I Told About My Assault Still Haunt Me

A TikTok video reminded me of a big one.

Photo by Anton Malanin on Unsplash

It was innocent enough. An old friend from college sent me a TikTok video.

The video was funny. It featured someone picking up a friend from an obvious adult sleepover while they blasted the Lonely Island’s comedic song, “I Just Had Sex” featuring Akon. Truly a banger.

I didn’t laugh.

She said it reminded her of when I told her that I had sex for the first time. We celebrated in my dorm room, dancing to the song.

That was true.

The lie was how I lost my virginity. And it was nothing to celebrate.

I’m pretty open now about the sexual assault I survived in my college years. Quite some time has passed and I’ve invested deeply in my healing journey. I am very fortunate that I also get to help many survivors through their healing journey too.

However, there are still people from that time (like my friend) that don’t know the story. Plenty of lies that live on.

I didn’t come to terms with the assault for several years. This is a common experience for survivors of sexual violence. It is one of the many valid reasons survivors report after time has passed or don’t report at all.

After the assault, my brain went into survival mode. It told me and others a story that I could live with.

It told me that I actually wanted it. That this was just how losing your virginity was — a mixed bag of emotions including shame, violation, and fear.

It told me that it didn’t really happen the way I remembered it. That he didn’t smirk afterward and say “You’re not a virgin anymore. Like it or not.”

So I built my life around a lie that kept me safe until I was ready to process it.

But like most lies, they require other lies to stay alive.

I lied that our relationship was romantic, carefree, and fun.

I lied that I was doing great and that’s why I was losing weight.

I lied that I stayed in the relationship because I loved him, not because I was afraid I was ruined.

So many lies.

I forgive myself for every single one. My brain and my body did the work to protect me. I’ve since learned a lot about trauma and this is one of its key hallmarks.

Trauma shatters the mirror, only showing you pieces until you’re ready to see the whole truth reflected.

I see it all now. I see my strength, the love that kept me going, the ugly wounds, and the good that came from my healing. The truth isn’t pretty but it is beautiful and hard.

Nearly a decade later, I am occasionally surprised by my ghosts. They are the faintest whisper of lies that I told to protect myself from a truth I couldn’t bear at the time.

And yet, I won’t be calling up everyone from those years and telling them the truth. I don’t owe everyone my story.

I did what I had to do to survive. And that is always, always enough.

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories…

Ashley Cleland, M.Ed.

Written by

Educator & Writer. Empowered Career Coach. Passionate about feminist leadership & trauma-informed practice. Let’s chat → ashleyharzog@gmail.com *Views my own*

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

Ashley Cleland, M.Ed.

Written by

Educator & Writer. Empowered Career Coach. Passionate about feminist leadership & trauma-informed practice. Let’s chat → ashleyharzog@gmail.com *Views my own*

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

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