***TW/CW: rape, sexual assault***
It's been a while.
The holidays have come and gone, and the spring semester is upon us; while the weather outside is a beautiful 70ºF and flowers are starting to bloom, there's a strange feeling that's weighing me down. One thing I don't discuss much on here is the hidden difficulties associated with college. Of course, every university has its own problems, but the stress level of students at UC-Berkeley seems to be extraordinarily high. We're all drowning in work, clubs, papers, and simply attempting to keep up with our social lives. It can be a lot. Don't get me wrong, I love this school; it certainly feels like the perfect fit for me. But I'm human, and occasionally I succumb to my anxiety, and it can weigh me down.
I've met with a lot of my past demons since coming to college: my anxiety has worsened, the anniversary of a past trauma came and went, and homesickness has weighed on my happiness. But nonetheless, I have persevered through it all with the wonderful friends both from home and from school, along with my supportive family members. Trauma is hard, but having people in your corner can help you work through anything; I cannot thank my people enough. It continues to amaze me how much kinder people here are than what I encountered back home. I love the south, but there's a level of falsity that hides behind everyone; you never know when someone you love will stab you in the back. But here, I genuinely believe that people care about others.
While this is a rather heavy topic, I also recognize the importance of sharing my truth and spreading awareness on such an issue. About a year and a half ago, I was raped in my own bedroom during a Halloween party I held at my house. My account of the incident is rather blurred; my intoxication levels were far too high for any consent to occur, and thus I blacked out for a large amount of the event. Most of what I know I had to gather from friends at the party. But I do remember the painful events that happened after the incident. I remember sobbing into my best friend's shoulder, scared and confused; I remember calling my sister while my mother drove me to the hospital; I remember waiting for what seemed like hours for my blood alcohol content to return to normal levels; I remember the E.R. doctor holding my hand and looking down at me with such pain and sorrow in his eyes. I remember the core-shuddering fear I felt as I went through the process of the rape kit, as the speculum brought a pain I had never before experienced and my body revolted away from the feeling. I remember the reactions of the kids in my high school, with their gazes staring straight into my soul; I was an exhibition for them to judge and make assumptions about. They blamed me.
"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tunes without the words and never stops at all" -Emily Dickinson
To be honest, I didn't really deal with my rape until recently; heck, I refused to even recognize that it was rape until a few months ago. It wasn't until I got to college that it really hit me, and then the anniversary came around and I completely broke down. I threw my own Halloween kickback, and all of the costumes brought me back to that night, until I ended up sobbing in the bathroom while my friends partied in my room without me. I was so accustomed to people not understanding the situation or blaming me that I assumed my new friends would do the same; boy was I wrong. After one of my best friends convinced me to return to the room, despite my swollen eyes and smeared mascara, I was greeted by hugs and understanding. For once, I didn't have to explain myself or justify my feelings; for once, I was treated like a survivor, not a false victim seeking gratification for a "mistake." I finally felt free from the burden I had tried so hard to suppress.
Virginity is an odd construct. Some people value it quite highly, considering it a prized possession only granted to the perfect individual, while others seek to "get it out of the way" as soon as possible. Personally, I wanted to wait for the right person; albeit, I don't know how long I would have waited had this event not occurred –– I'm way too picky for my own good, and I've got a fear of commitment that goes deep into my bones. I'm not sure if this fear has come out of my incident or if I've always been this way, but I sometimes can't help but wonder what would have happened had this unfortunate event not have occurred. Would I have fallen in love and found a relationship? Would I still value sex as I once had? Now I see it as a chore rather than something special; it's something I simply check off my list when I feel the need.
"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am." -Sylvia Plath
Yet these events also taught me many important life lessons –– I've learned to truly appreciate my own being and my own strength, and I've learned to move on from trauma. I refuse to be just another statistic for assault; I am more than a number representing the patriarchal oppression that occurs throughout the world. With the Me Too movement and the many women speaking out against their rapists and assailants, women are finally turning their stories into empowerment and refusing to allow their rapists to ruin their lives.
With Valentine's Day coming up, I find myself contemplating the events that have occurred within my own life; although this negative experience has greatly changed me, I also have so many people in my life that have truly taught me how to love myself and the world around me. My friends inspire me daily to be a better person and to grow through knowledge and experience; they remind me that I am capable of loving others and that I am capable of being loved. My family has shown me what unconditional love means. They have never failed to show me love and companionship; they are my rock. And I've grown to appreciate the natural world around me more; Mother Earth provides us with so much beauty to marvel at –– we do not deserve Her gifts. But most importantly, I am constantly reminding myself of my own capabilities. I have so much love to give to others and to myself, and I cannot stop loving everyone around me. I might wear my heart on my sleeve, but I'd rather offer my love to everyone than refrain from loving at all.
"It takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it" -Oscar Wilde
Some of my favorite people :)
I hadn't intended on sharing such a personal story, however there's something that felt very right about this moment. I'm in therapy; I've got a support system of friends and family members who will always have my back, and I've finally come to peace with what happened. I hold no anger towards my rapist or those who placed the blame on me. I'm sure karma will get to them eventually. If anything, I want anyone who has experienced something similar to realize that there is hope; things might seem inescapable –– and, unfortunately to some extent we're going to live with this burden for the rest of our lives ––, but what we choose to do with our story can empower us. It's okay to not be okay. But we must always persevere; the bad can't outweigh the good. You are allowed to feel love, and you deserve to be loved.
"There will be a day when you can say you're okay and mean it" -Dodie Clark