We're typically defined by our labels. For the past 18 years, I've been a daughter, sister, twin, cousin, goddaughter, niece, student, peer, co-worker, friend, the list goes on and on.
Within the past two years, however, I've had to add one more to that ongoing list. I've become a statistic, aka the one in the one in five women who are sexually assaulted throughout their lifetime.
Learning to cope with this new label has been something I never anticipated, nor would wish on anyone.
And while it's not even close to becoming resolved, I've learned a tremendous amount about the aftermath of assault that thousands of women and men go through every single day.
I wish I would've had someone to tell me what often happens after an assault, how everything you feel and experience is okay, and while there seem to be endless dark sides, there's always a bright one.
You may lay in your bed for days, weeks, or months afterward, constantly trying to piece together what happened and what you could've done to prevent it.
Every detail of those nights will spin through your head with regrets seeming to grow by the minute. No one will tell you, however, that nothing, not a single thing about it, was your fault.
No matter the clothes you were wearing or the environment you were in, you never asked for a single part of it.
You are not, nor should you feel, responsible for any actions taken by your assaulter that night.
You are never, ever to blame. The only person that could've prevented it was him. You’ll learn to cope with it in a variety of ways, as surprising as they may be to yourself and those around you.
You might force yourself to still interact with him, in hopes that it’ll push down the feelings of fear and discomfort until you can’t feel them swirling around in your stomach anymore.
Or, you might throw yourself into new relationships with the idea that at least then you can control what happens.
Laying in your bed on the weekends may become increasingly common, as going out consistently might too. It might not even affect you right away.
No one tells you that it’s okay, that you’re okay. There’s not a set step-by-step guide for how to get over this and sometimes you might stumble while trying to find your way back to yourself.
No matter what way you try to cope, you, your feelings, and your experience(s) are completely valid, and I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt a sense of doubt in that.
You will encounter strangers, acquaintances, and even close friends who don't seem to see it from your point of view. Phrases like "he's just an old friend", "people make mistakes", "people can change", and "I didn't think it would still bother you" will be tossed around so frequently you'll wonder if they even have any meaning anymore.
No one will tell you, though, that you'll find out who your true friends are. Those are the people who will sit on the floor with you and listen when you've had a bad night and sing with you in the car when you've had a good one.
They'll help you make sense of it, apologize copiously for what happened, and always remind you that you're not alone. They'll help you find the meaning in what's happening, and never let you forget that you are worth so much more than what you've encountered.
It happens even though you didn't ask for it. It happens and feels like a perpetual state of PTSD, and suddenly you're a stranger in your own body, unable to recall a time where it was fully yours.
I'm sorry that the disconnect you feel between your body and your head is terrifying and unlike any other feeling you have ever encountered.
I'm sorry that no matter what strategy you use to cope with it, whether it be shielding yourself from others or acting out in a promiscuous way, nothing seems to be the right decision.
I'm sorry that it's so easy to feel isolated and alone, and to forget who you were before it happened.
There's going to be days that seem endless, but also days where you forget it even happened. Embrace those days, and let the happiness fill you from head to toe.
Embrace new relationships, and although you may feel guilty talking to a new man remember that not everyone is like your abuser.
There are kind, genuine, absolutely incredible people out there who view you as a human, with worth and meaning.
Embrace new beginnings and old endings, as everyday is one step further from what happened and closer to a time in your life where it doesn't seem to drown you as much.
To whoever had to experience this traumatic event, I'm sorry. I'm sorry it happened to you, I'm sorry if someone didn't believe you, I'm sorry if you've felt alone, I'm sorry if this feels like you're falling down one everlasting dark hole.
You deserve healing, help, and love. You deserve to feel at home in your body and feel love from everyone you surround yourself with.
Never be afraid to reach out, there are countless amounts of people who love you and will drop whatever they're doing to help you work through this.
For instant help from trained staff members, the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE (4673)) and the RAINN online hotline (https://hotline.rainn.org/online/terms-of-service.jsp) are available for anyone looking for free, confidential help.
I'm sorry, I believe you, and I hope you find the help, love, and support you deserve.