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I’ve always been big on control. Whether I have it or the illusion of it, I like to think that I have some sort of power over things happening around me. I've realized you really only have control over a couple things. You have control over the way you conduct yourself, and the way you choose to react to any given situation. That is what is so terrifying about being sexually assaulted. I remember waking up and feeling like a stranger in my own skin, a place I had never loved, and now wanted out of. I remember waking up and playing back the night before. I remember the weight, feeling like I couldn't breathe. Breathing is something so innate, we take it for granted, but in this past year I've become familiar with the twinge of fear as it escapes me and the relief as I take in a deep breath.
The morning after my assault, I went back to the dorm and took a hot shower. I tried to burn off the sensation of their fingers, the feeling of the sheets, the shame, the fear, and ultimately my skin. You can't wash off a feeling, however. I stood there watching myself cry, wanting to be anywhere, but there. I went to my friends—all of them had different opinions on what to do. Most were concerned, a lot supportive, some laughed, and some told me to be quiet. Trauma shows you the difference between your friends and the people that pretend to be. I tried to deal with what happened, but ultimately ended up in the hospital. I woke up crying. I woke up screaming. I woke up trying to catch my breath. After a couple days in the hospital, I was released with anxiety, PTSD, a few bruises, and tiny little squares on my skin where the heart monitors had started to fuse. I was instructed to go home and surround myself with loved ones, so I did.
The bruises faded first and the glue from the heart monitors eventually faded as well. I had stared at them a lot. They were reminders of what had happened, what my body had been through. Some things don't fade. The memories, the loss, the trauma, and the pain. Sometimes they are so sharp, I catch myself holding my breath. I've tried many things to come to terms with what happened. I felt my body had been so completely violated both physically and mentally that nothing of it was mine anymore. I got tattoos in hope that I'd feel like I had something that was mine, something that I had control over. I tried being promiscuous thinking I'd feel like I had control over my sexuality. I tried denial. I tried to take action against the men who assaulted me. I tried many things, but all of them led me to the same result: frustration and me not knowing who the heck I was when I looked in the mirror.
People say a lot of things after trauma. A lot of people will tell you that everything will be okay and that I will get better. Many more say not to worry because karma will get them. The most important thing someone told me, however, was that I don't have to be okay. I don't have to get over what happened, but all that I can do is change how I react to what happened. Recovering from what happened has been very similar to the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I feel like I have bounced around the stages like an infinite pinball machine, ultimately ending up on the edge of depression and the cusp of acceptance.
Through it all, I have really found the value of breathing. This sounds silly because it is something we do without thought. It is something so simple, yet so versatile. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes from my PTSD dreams so out of breath that I wake up trying to catch it. I sit up, turn on the lights, and try to reorient myself. Deep breaths and eventually I am asleep again. There are many challenges post sexual assault. Lots of fear, but one of the hardest things to process for me was the feeling of loss. Loss of my voice. Loss of trust. Hearing your story twisted. Loss of sleep. Loss of friends. Loss of self. It is so easy to drown in the feeling of loss that it's easy to forget to live in the present. I struggled with trying to find just the right words to explain how I was feeling, but have been at a loss of words. It has been as if my cortex and amygdala are no longer on speaking terms often resulting in a stalemate of silence.
The people who have supported me have truly meant the world to me. My family first and foremost have done so much to support me. My closest friends have had my back and believed in me every step of the way. Instead of loss, I choose to focus on breathing and being thankful. Recovery definitely is not a straight line. Whether it be a spiral or a zig zag, I'm here for the journey.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255