• Wed, Sep 26 2012

Big Girl Badge: I Survived My Sexual Assault

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.

Share This Post:
  • Katy

    Thank you for sharing your story! Isn’t it liberating? I think this is very relatable even if to someone who’s never suffered the same.

    • Keliza

      It has been liberating in the most terrifying, humbling way imaginable. Thank you for reading my story.

  • Sabrina

    Thank you for sharing! The way that I deal with pain sounds very similar to your experience. I could relate to every part of this. I wish you all the best.

    • Keliza

      And to you, Sabrina. Thanks!

  • LS

    Thank you for being brave. Your ability to be true to yourself after such a terrifying trama is remarkable at the very least. Thank you for being an inspiration.

    • Keliza

      I didn’t think I was being terribly brave when I submitted this post. Mostly, I think, I was hoping it wouldn’t be picked but I would feel brave for just submitting it. It was picked however, and I suppose that speaks to some truth about my courage, but what I’ve learned from this so far is that I’m valuing these four little comments more than anything else. Thank *you*, LS.

  • http://samanthaescobar.com Samantha Escobar

    1) My automatic response to your title was to say aloud, “Fuck yeah you did.”
    2) My response after reading your article was, “Fuck yeah you did and thank goodness you wrote about it,” as it’s a really amazing story. I sort of felt like a failure for a long time because I wasn’t, as you perfectly put it, “the poster child of survivors” and I desperately wanted to be because I thought it meant I was okay, but it didn’t and I couldn’t be. I’m so, so glad you wrote about your experience, it was great to read and extremely brave.
    <3

    • Keliza

      It’s hard to go through something traumatic, know that logically, you’ve survived it, and not want to champion your fellow survivors, isn’t it? But that isn’t the path for most of us – or maybe it is and we don’t know it yet. But either way, we’re beautiful women who are not defined by our experiences, but stronger because of them. We’re okay not because everyone knows our trauma and that we’ve suffered and survived, but because we’re breathing – and sometimes that’s the hardest thing of all. Thanks for your response, Samantha. It means… so much to me.

  • Keliza

    This is the first time I’ve actually looked at this post since it was chosen initially. My first reaction was “Holy fuck, people commented?” It may only be four comments but I’m now sitting in my office crying. At first, I wrote this for myself and when I submitted it I thought – what the fuck was I thinking? Now something I’ve been trying to come to terms with for years is out on the internet with my face on it. But seeing that people commented (or rather, visual proof that it was read by others), and knowing that quite possibly there were others that related with my story that didn’t comment made it worth it. Thanks :)