Editor’s Note: Please be aware that this article contains a realistic depiction of sexual assault and the traumas survivors face afterward.
To the person behind the Rowan Alert we received late at night on August 13, 2022,
I want to say thank you. Your words were courageous, powerful and robust. You broke the silence, and in sharing your experiences you did what many don’t get the chance to do — you made your pain real for others to see through your words — while expressing your perseverance and grace despite going through the most dreadful and evil experience a person could go through.
The best justice or best way to rise above someone taking away your most basic right in the protection of your own mind and body, is to let it make you a powerful force never to be reckoned with. The pain and memories may live with you, haunt you even, but your words and experience have given a voice to the voiceless. By sharing your healing and what was done, you’ve made me not feel alone.
I know I am not alone in what I live with, but when the PTSD, depression, and everything else lives with me — it can feel that way. Reading your letter to the editor, it was a reminder that so many people live with the pain I carry myself because of sexual assault.
During this month of sexual assault awareness, your strength to share your story and journey in healing gave me a push to do something I have never done. Something I have never been able to bring myself to do.
I am a writer, it is my passion and my lifeline. I have always written to help me with my life and the things I have endured. Then, I found my way into journalism and wanted to make a change in the world, so I started with working for and writing for The Whit. I wish I could put my name to this, as I am a frequent writer, but I am not ready for some to know that this is my story. But I also need to share this for myself, for you, and for anyone else who needs to hear something like this so they won’t feel alone either.
I have written about many things, but never my sexual assault. But, I have also never read anything that has made me need to take a step back, shed tears, and feel the way I felt. You said you are tired of feeling alone and you are not alone. My experiences may be different, but I understand what you go through — holding a burden only those who have experienced this can understand.
Like you, I am a survivor, I too have “been left alone with the burden of healing.” But I am a survivor in a different way. I have never had my drink spiked, but I have been sexually assaulted. It wasn’t in college, but I was too young to understand what was even happening to me.
When I was around the ages of 7 to 9, my brother would have me do things that no child should be exposed to. It occurred often, then slowly less and less, until one day it was just an unspoken memory. I did not understand how wrong it was, I had no way away from it and there was no way to say no and be heard. I had no clue I was being sexually assaulted because I was too young to know what that meant or even was.
My home life was tough and we faced tragedy when I was around 10. With so much going on, I had subconsciously blocked out the memories of what had been occurring to me a few years prior. Until one day, years later, the memories came back.
This was my first experience with PTSD, I was 14. I don’t remember what triggered it, all I remember is sitting in a car headed on a trip. Suddenly I was taken back to what had been done to me as a 7-year-old little girl, by my brother. I said nothing and simply let the memories roll through my mind. I looked out the car window and silently cried, and when we arrived at our destination — I got out of the car and went and stood by the ocean.
It was that day, when I finally realized what had been done to me. I was old enough to understand, but I also knew it was far too past the point for me to speak up — it would tear apart my family and I didn’t want that. As the waves crashed on the shore, I decided I would let the waves wash this away for me as well. I would live with it, in silence.
I have since spoken with my brother about this, and I made the choice to forgive him for myself. There is no excuse for what occurred, this was a person who was supposed to protect me and keep me safe from the horrors of the world. Instead, what he did taught me to never trust and to always keep my guard up.
In reality, this has done me no good. He is family and I love him despite his wrongdoings to me, but there is no forgetting. And there is no easy way to live with an inability to trust. There are constant reminders no matter where I go in life, whether it is the thought when I go home from college to see my family or a sexual situation in which I feel brought back to an evil place in my life.
My largest struggle has been with romantic partners, as my experience with sexual assault as a young child would and does ultimately affect me to this day. And this is something I openly share with any partner I have had, because I have to. They have to know that I might have a panic attack because something they do reminds me of my past, and they always understand at first.
Until they don’t. On more than one occasion, with more than one partner I have had, their understanding dissipated. When I wouldn’t give them what they wanted, because I knew I would be triggered, I could see frustration settle in.
Jokes would be made, they would beg me, they wouldn’t hear my “no’s” or “I don’t want to’s” and this made everything worse for me. I had people who told me they understand, but then would actively trigger me or get mad at me for not pushing myself to do what makes me uncomfortable. These moments heightened my lack of trust and in the long run has made my pain worse.
I have a big heart and I love easily, no one or nothing will take that away from me. But as I’ve grown and my want for healing is stronger than ever, it is hard to not want to be alone. I already feel alone in this, I don’t want to force myself to actually be alone. Having these experiences, being told I am understood when I am not, has made me feel lonelier than ever. However, I don’t want to feel as if I can’t be with anyone or can’t love for fear of being hurt again.
And I know that writing personal experiences such as this for the world to see not only helps me heal, but also helps others learn. I know that I will be able to trust one day and I will find a person who respects and tries their hardest to understand what I have endured. I will find someone who will protect me from my PTSD rather than trigger it. But for now, my time is meant for healing. My time is meant for putting my work into the world to make others feel understood and not alone.
It has been 14 years since, and I am still ever-evolving and ever-healing. There are days that I am able to forget my pain, times in which it doesn’t phase me — but then there are days where the memories flood in whether there is a trigger or not — I don’t think these memories will ever leave me. But, I have learned to live with them. We coexist together, and I will never let it drag me down — but rather make me stronger.
So no, you are not alone in your pain and I am not alone in mine either. So many people I have spoken to about my experience with sexual assault have opened up to me and shared their pain in the manner as well. Every time it hurts, knowing someone else feels the unending torment of their mind due to someone else’s actions, but it helps to know I gave someone the chance to not feel alone.
We may have to deal with the memories on our own, and that can make you feel alone. But, you are not alone. We, who share your experience in a way, are here. We just may not have the voice to express that.
So, thank you. Thank you for sharing your story and for giving me motivation to share mine. I hope writing your story has helped you as writing mine has helped me. And I hope together, we can provide the voice for others to feel heard and understood.
A Whit member who was incredibly touched by the story of another survivor.
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