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It's taken me years to truly understand the things that have happened to me and the different ways that sexual abuse, as well as other forms of abuse, can be displayed. I'm 24 years old and my first form of abuse took place when I was nine years old. The abuse went on for months, by my friend and her father. I don't remember much from that time in my life, and I'm grateful for that. But I remember enough. I remember the fear, the uncomfortable forms of "affection." The confusion, the sleepless nights and the nightmares. I remember my mom sitting me down and asking me if anything was going on, and not saying a word. At the time, I experienced something called disassociation. I disassociated myself from my surroundings and everything around me took on a three-dimensional shape. It was my brain's way of coping with what was going on, but all it did for me was cause unrelenting forms of anxiety. I suffered from severe panic attacks and mood swings on a day to day basis.

I don't necessarily blame the young girl who was probably just as confused and hurt as I was when she was doing inappropriate things to me. I blame her father. I blame her father for showing her that world and making a child feel like that was normal and okay to do to someone else. I blame her father for the inappropriate words and gestures he showed me every time I was over there. I blame him for the hurt and the pain that he caused me. I blame the person who was supposed to be an adult that someone could go to in order to feel safe, and instead he was something that nightmares are made of. I'll never forget his face when he showed up on our field trips and the "joy" he took being on a bus full of children. I'll never forget when he sat next to me and pointed out the phallic images he saw in clouds or trees. The time we drove by a horse and he pointed out the horse's erection and told me that stuff was "beautiful." And I remember how unsafe I felt in a space full of adults, when I should have felt secure.

Most of my memories from that time are feelings, and memories of my behaviors. My mind had hyper focused on sex at a very early age. I was confused, intrigued, scared, and shamed all at the same time. Once I reached the age of 14, I was involved in an online relationship with an internet predator. At the time I didn't realize what was going on or the danger that I was in, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was fragile, and all I had ever known my whole life was that my self esteem depended on a man.

And when a man online showed interest in a young, shy girl like me, I took it. He started out sweet. He gave me a song by Dashoboard Confessional that I cannot even listen to, to this day. But then he stopped being sweet. He started asking me to do inappropriate things that I didn't understand. He told me what he was doing to himself. He asked me for pictures. He told me where he lived and he told me he would buy condoms if I came over. I confided in my best friend at the time, who confided in my mom. I never spoke to him again. And I never spoke of what happened because I felt so ashamed. Not only did I feel ashamed, but I felt disgusting, and unworthy. I felt like I could never be loved unless I gave guys what they all wanted. 

At fifteen I had my first mental breakdown due to a series of events that spiraled from triggering relationships. I was diagnosed with Bipolar two, (depressive with few manic episodes), and I ended up in a hospital after my first suicide attempt. I did school there, and once I was released, I continued my education at home, as well as a relationship with a boy I had met in the hospital. This particular boy had a history of drug abuse, alcoholism, a severe porn addiction, and manipulation. This boy was in therapy with me and he knew my insecurities and the reasons behind them. He used those to get to me, and for the longest time I blamed myself for the relationship. I didn't see that not only was I too fragile and unstable to even begin to know if I was consenting or not, but I just wanted to feel loved and cared for. He kept asking me to sleep with him and I kept saying no, I wasn't ready. I've grown up in the LDS religion, and I knew that my behaviors up to this point were wrong. I already felt dirty, I didn't want to keep feeling that way. I had so much going on inside that I kept hidden, and it was slowly killing me. But I didn't want to lose him. My self esteem and my worth depended on him. I continued to say no, but I didn't want to lose him.

On my sixteenth birthday he proposed to me. I said yes, and he said, "Now we can sleep together, it'll be okay." I was still on the fence. I knew I wasn't ready, but if I kept saying no, I'd lose him. One night he asked me to wear a skirt to his house, so I did. He then proceeded to take off his pants and he sat me on top of him. I was horrified and immediately triggered by what I saw and I was sent into an instant silent panic. I jumped up, and he told me that it was okay and set me on top of him again. I started crying out because of the pain I was in, and asked him to stop, and he told me he needed to do it fast and it wouldn't hurt. That was a lie. Everything hurt. I told myself that this was what he wanted and that it was okay, no matter how much I wanted him to stop. When he was finished, he said, "Is it okay if I tell my friends that that lasted more than five minutes?" After that, he took my bra and he kept it to show his friends. The next time he wanted to have sex I told him I was too sore and I didn't want it to hurt again. He said it won't. That was also a lie. This went on for months before I finally told him that I didn't want to have sex until we were married. When I told him that he broke up with me in a text. 

After that, I was unable to deal with the emotional turmoil I was feeling on my own. I could not sort through my thoughts and my feelings and my ups and my downs. I could not understand what I was doing wrong. I went to my best friend, who took me to my parents. I confided in them, but I was not truthful with everything. I realize now, that at the time, I was unable to rationally process everything that had happened to me, and I was unable to communicate that to the people that could actually help me. I had another mental breakdown, and ended up back in the hospital. This time for a shorter time. When I was released, I was in a state of mind where I didn't care about myself or anything that gave me joy. I thought I deserved to be mistreated. I slept with people who hurt me, and took advantage of me because I thought it was the only thing I could do. 

The thing that brought me to the end of this behavior was the night of the party. I was at this party, kissing a guy I hardly knew. I got up and said I needed to use the bathroom. I walked down the hall unaware that he was following me. I reached the bathroom and started closing the door, when he pushed his way in, and locked it. I was in shock. He immediately pulled down his pants, along with mine, and put himself inside of me. I did not give him permission. Not on. I've always felt that because I never told him to stop, it wasn't rape. But that isn't the case. Consent is not the absence of "no" but the absence of "yes." I was in shock. I was in a frame of mind where I couldn't process what was happening. After he was done, he walked out and left me there. 

I left the party in tears. It was then I realized that I needed help. I was in and out of therapy, and I still had my issues but I was getting there. Every relationship I had after that was either mentally or emotionally abusive and manipulative in some way, but I was never again manipulated into sex. It wasn't until I was 20 years old that I had finally consented to having sex for the first time. When I finally had, I realized what all of these men in my life had done to me. 

I am now 24 years old. I am a legal studies major at a university with a minor in gender studies. It's my goal in life to show people what it means to consent and to educate people about the different ways abuse can take place. It's my goal to show people that we are NOT the things that have happened to us, but the bad things that have happened can shape us into something amazing. It doesn't mean it was fair. It doesn't mean it was ever supposed to happen and it doesn't mean that things will ever be easy, and that the triggers and hard times won't continue to happen. But I want to show people how strong they can be and what we all truly deserve in life. 

Our worth does not depend on anyone else but us. Our beauty comes from the inside out, and we make that beauty. Nobody else makes it. And all of us are beautiful, and anyone who makes you feel otherwise is wrong. Anyone who makes you feel dirty or unworthy for the things that have happened to you is not worth the emotional effort. When things seem hopeless and you feel worthless, you are NEVER alone. And it is my goal to make women feel that they have a voice that wants to be heard. That they have a place where they will not be judged or blamed.

Sharing my story is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But how can I expect to be the change that I wish to see, if I can't share my voice? It wasn't easy, and it's taken me many years and a lot of time, and I am still not all the way healed. I may never be all the way healed. But I feel hope, and I hope that others can feel the same.

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