This is a reader submission for our Big Girl Badge week. Tell us how you evolved from woman-child to woman, and you could win hundreds of dollars of prizes! (Send your 800 word submissions to Jennifer [at] thegloss.com or Ashley [at] thegloss.com)
Two years ago I was raped by a man I had considered myself to be in a quasi-relationship with.
I had thought that my see-you-around affair with this man would earn me my big girl badge. I was 21, I was a senior in college, I was going to have a fun-time-one-time fling with a slightly older man. I was wrong.
Moreover, that’s not at all part of who I am. In trying to embody the things I saw in other girls around me, I denied an essential part of my being. I got into that relationship because I saw myself as deficient, because I wasn’t paired, mated, or otherwise committed. It took a long time, even after my experience, for me to realize that it was okay to feel fulfilled by my friends, the theater, reading, writing, and an endless list of other things – and not need a partner.
For me, experiencing a trauma of this magnitude spurred an existential crisis the likes of which I was unprepared for. It challenged my ability to understand who I was, and founded a deep mistrust of my instincts. My intuition had led me down to a dark place where women are stripped of their personhood – how could I rely on myself ever again? This is not to say that I believe I put myself in a situation where I deserved, or asked for, what happened to me. No one brings this upon his or her self. However, it is as much a part of who I am to internalize pain and blame myself, as it is (it seems) to rally, and come back with a vengeance.
My first reaction, once I was again a functional human being, was to begin a crusade. I bought an armload of books about women’s rights and feminism. I read every article on every femblog from here to the edge of known universe. I bought a bag that said “Survivor” on it that I planned to wear out and about so that other women might reach out to me. I wanted to organize a Slut Walk on campus. I was going to be the poster child for survivors. All the while, in that first year, I managed to graduate and snag two internships. I worked on more shows (college theatre, community theatre, operas, etc) that year than I had ever before. I dug my heels into the ground, determined that the future I had envisioned for myself would not suffer because I was damaged.
I so desperately denied my reality – I couldn’t stand the idea of being counted as a “statistic” – that I was also denying that I needed help.
Eventually, I had a breakdown. I had gone to therapy and the occasional crisis center intermittently. However I wasn’t really invested. I was doing it because I thought I should, not because I thought I really “needed” it. Mostly I leaned on my friends for emotional bandaids – which provided just enough catharsis to keep me going without having to really break down and ask for help. I was a completely miserable human being. It was at an internship working 12 to 14 hour days when I realized how deeply unhappy I was.
I was miles away from my support system, from anyone that had known me “before”. I knew that where I was – geographically, professionally, a thousand other “ally’s” – I could not make myself better. I had been waiting to leave until I at least had another job – I was hesitant to break my contract early. But I made plans to move back to my college town – the place where my healing had begun – and left. I departed six months before my contract was originally to end, and it was hard for that not to feel like failure, as though leaving was an admission that I wasn’t strong enough.
Things started to improve for me once I returned to what I now consider home.
I went into therapy again, for real this time. I began to understand that I cannot help others until I have helped myself heal and grow and become full again. I no longer try to hide what happen to me, but I don’t proclaim it to every passerby, either. That “survivor” bag is tucked in my closet – I haven’t yet been brave enough to use it.
However, I believe I earned my Big Girl Badge when I decided to own my pain. One of the biggest goals I’ve discussed with my therapist is my desire to help other girls and women who have suffered similarly, and she is helping me get to a place where that can be a reality. Realizing that my well-being is just as important as others’ in my place was both a struggle and a relief. Becoming a woman, is, in part, knowing that you’re important too – and that’s okay.