It has been a year since my friend was assaulted, though she just recently opened up about it. When she shared details of the ordeal, I was left reeling. It hurt that she had to join the #metoo club, a membership card that no one wants to brandish. Though she chooses to remain anonymous, her words convey an experience too many know. I wanted to pass her a mic (in the form of a blog post) to demonstrate solidarity, commend her bravery, and acknowledge her healing. In her iconic Cecile B. DeMile award speech, Oprah said, “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.”
That is true today.
Rape Sexual Assault Molestation Violation Depredation It has so many different names, faces, and meanings. Still, when it all comes down to it, it affects all of us just the same, driving its victims into bouts of shame, guilt, confusion, and fear. It silences. It hides. It condemns. It cripples. Those that have been visited by this monster that hides under the bed in the depths of darkness have to decide how to relate to it and shape the rest of our lives. Life changes after an assault. Life changes in the midst of trauma. Sexual assault alters, forces, and depraves every second before and after those few moments that rob us of the security of belonging to ourselves. I am no exception to the effects of being permanently marred. There is a floor length mirror in my home. I often stand in front of it, stark naked. I look deep into myself only to see the residue of the instances where I was robbed of my dignity and self-worth. I touch my skin and cringe at the sensation because I cannot wash away this organ that bares the fingerprints of thieves that were bold enough to enter my temple without my permission. It feels as if everything I couldn’t say in those moments is now etched into my skin. A permanent reminder that my voice failed me, again. The evidence of the crime may not be visible to the naked eye, but at the most microscopic level, you will see that it is infused into my cells. It has become a part of each breath and forces me to think about the fact that I used to be a queen here, but now I am not sure. Who do you become after assault? For me, I became a shell of myself when I was alone. In front of my friends, I pretended to be ok. I had to be strong because after all, that is what we, black women, do. We fight like hell to keep things like this from happening to us. I didn’t tell my story until almost a month after it happened. The first person, I told reminded me of all the things I did wrong, and how I could have avoided it. The weeks preceding the divulging my new-found shame, I hid it. I trivialized it. I condemned myself. I was suicidal. No one knew my pain, and it was better that way. I decided that the person who was assaulted was dead, and so was that experience. I buried the pain. I separated it from my story. I found strength in dissociation. Or so I thought. In a couple of days, it will be a year since the last assault happened. I still think about that day, those days. What really happened? How do I stop blaming myself for something that maybe I could have controlled? Why did I give up my fight? How could I have thought even for a moment that the aftermath would not hurt nearly as much as the present? How was my past repeating itself? Why was I enduring the same thing? How could I let this happen? What have I learned from this? Truthfully, after nearly 365 days of reflecting I still do not have the answer to the barrage of questions that clutter my mind. I still feel sad and barren at times. My eyes and my smile are the perfect disguises. I don’t think one ever truly gets over being assaulted. I still can’t bring myself to say I was “r---d” However, my outlook has changed dramatically. I am learning not to see myself as a victim. I have survived this. I have found within myself a strength that I did not know existed for me. There are days when it is fleeting, and the triggers exacerbate the depravity that I know all too well, but on the other side of it is a remarkable grace and peace that I search for in Jesus and myself. I have decided to transcend the pain and take risks in love. I have decided to trust the person that I am with and give of myself without making him carry the weight of the days when it just all comes tumbling down. When I am spiraling, I remember that I truly belong to me first and forever. This notion grounds me. It calms my fears and reminds me that there is nothing that I cannot overcome with the right guidance and support. The feelings that I felt, and often still feel are real. They are valid. I am looking forward to the day when I do not have to see myself as either a victim or a survivor, and I can just see myself. No one asks to be assaulted. No one should be condemned for lapses in discernment, and most importantly no one has the right to our bodies. They are not meant to be used as collateral for insecurity, power trips, or to satiate the insatiable appetites of offenders who feel entitled to the sacredness of a woman’s body anyway. I must stress that we are responsible for how long we allow what hurt us to haunt us. In order to heal, we must acknowledge the things that hurt us. We must own our experiences. Get help. Tell the story. Advocate. Do more than let the pain consume you. Do not be ashamed to say to someone that you trust “I need you.” Chances are that they are waiting for an opportunity to be needed. A chance to be another gleaming example of God’s grace in our lives. Do not let fear steal your healing journey and do not let it hinder the purpose of others in your life. Alice Walker writes that “we alone devalue gold.” To me, this means the value we place on our experiences determine it’s worth. Being assaulted diminished me for a time. I have been transparent in describing what that looks like. I am now changing that and being transparent about the fact that I am healing. I am digging into the layers, the grief, the trauma and welcoming it.
About the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline | RAINN 9 online resources for survivors of sexual assault | The Daily Dot