I didn’t realize how hard I had been clamping my jaw until I unhinged it slowly and began to speak, hoarsely.
My mouth was actually sore from gritting my teeth. I stopped having panic attacks in high school so I guess my body found a new way to deal with trauma. I breathed in the therapist’s office my breath leaving my body quickly as my eyes darted across the room and my thumbs rubbed together. This room is safe, this room is safe, this room is safe I repeated in my head. Yesterday, when I finally returned to my dorm room, I hugged my knees and repeated: this room is safe, this room is safe, this room is safe. People, your mom, advisors, tell you to be careful. Don’t go anywhere alone, don’t take drinks from anyone. You breathe, you would never do any of that. You’re a smart girl. Aren’t you?
I sat in the bathroom, shaking, staring at my Google search: “define rape”. I read the definition. I looked up at the stall door: “Have you or someone you know been sexually assaulted?”. I looked down. I sobbed. I gritted my teeth. Replayed and replayed. Over and over. Every second. When I look back, I can’t remember most of that weekend. Only one particular part. What happens when you weren’t alone? You didn’t take drinks from strangers? You were with people you trusted? What about then? What about me?
The hardest part was finally accepting that, yes, I was one of the many girls sexually assaulted every year on college campuses. It was having to go to the dining hall the next day and having such severe anxiety and fear that I would be approached or grabbed. A few days after it happened, one of my friends hugged me from behind and I had no idea who they were. I jumped away so fast everyone looked at me as if I were a stranger. Breathe. The hardest part was finally telling my friends why I acted so oddly a few months later because right before finals I didn’t want to stress them out. The hardest part was losing what I thought had been a close friend and turning that person into someone who cut my life in half. The first half being before he attacked me and the last being after. The hardest part is recognizing that it was a moment that forever changed my perspective and identity. The hardest part is realizing I can never bring that up in interviews when they ask what unique perspective you can bring or what is a defining moment. The hardest part was not telling my mom because it was right before her birthday, my sister’s graduation, and family vacation.
But no one tells you this. No one tells you the hardest parts. No one tells you what sleeping will be like or how the first thing when you enter a room is to scan it for him. But you breathe and you continue. Sometimes it absolutely wears you down. But you breathe and you continue.
Photo by Matt Wisner