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It took me four years to fully understand what had happened to me. I was at an event for sexual assault awareness and a girl stood up to share her story. As she explained the details of her assault, I realized it sounded strangely familiar. On that traumatic night in my past, I too had been with a trusted partner. I had also said "no" until I froze up and could no longer speak. I felt unclean and helpless after the event just like she did. Her story was my story. 

The only problem was that "my story" was one I had told myself for years was my fault. I told myself I had simply "gone too far." I should've "set clearer boundaries." I couldn't blame him. He was probably just confused. He probably couldn't hear me repeating "no." He loved me. I loved him. 

It was easier to tell myself I had made a mistake than to tell myself I was a "victim of sexual assault." That all just sounded so scary to me. I didn't feel like those girls you see on Law & Order SVU. I wasn't crumpled in an alley after my attack. I was curled away from my then boyfriend who held me as he slept. I faced the wall so he couldn't see that I was crying. 

But being at the sexual assault awareness event that day made me realize that survivors are normal, powerful, capable people. Admitting that I had been assaulted did not mean I would become helpless and broken. Instead, coming to terms with my sexual assault was one of the most empowering things I've ever done. 

After my assault, I started to believe that I was weak and didn't deserve to have a say about what happened to my body. I started recklessly hooking up with "bad boys," believing that the good ones would never want anything to do with me. When guys pushed me farther than I was comfortable, I felt that my "no" would mean nothing (as it had in the past), so I stayed silent and cringed until it was over. Sometimes I loved the boys I kissed, and I enjoyed being physical with them. But focusing on that high became a way for me to hide what actually had been broken inside of me. Coming to terms with my assault changed that.

I finally began to believe that I could have power over my body. I slowly remembered that a guy could love me even if I didn't "put out." In fact, shortly after accepting the details of the attack, I met and eventually married a man who did just that. Dave respected my choices and was incredibly patient with some of the side effects that my traumatic assault had had on me. For example, if he hugged me too tight, I would sometimes panic and feel trapped. He learned to calmly let go and understood that it wasn't anything personal. If I saw him working out, I sometimes got scared because my abuser was very strong and I feared that if Dave got too strong, I would be overpowered by him or unable to move. Dave understood, and his gentle demeanor overall calmed my nerves. When I found out I needed to be at the same social gathering as my abuser after not seeing him since the event, Dave held me while I cried and whispered loving words to me until my breathing eased. When I started blaming myself again for my past, Dave firmly reminded me that he knew I was innocent. 

There's so much I wish I could share with you about my journey, but I don't think it would fit on the page! It hasn't been an easy process, but I do want to say that if you are a survivor, hold fast to what you know, hold fast to those around you who truly love and support you, and hold fast to your self-respect. You are not alone. That sounds cliché but it's true! The community of survivors is full of people just like you. Share your story, and it will help those around you as well, just like a girl's story once helped me.

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