Do you have regrets? Tell TheGloss your story in 600-800 words.

Anybody who knows me might say I take an excessive number of photos. Going out to eat? Tumbled it. Beach time? I will Instagram the shit out of our day. Having a party? Count on me to document all the drunkness. I’m by no means good at, nor interested in photography—I just can’t remember things very well without photographs. If I take photos, I can keep certain things in order, tucked in a folder the way most peoples’ memories work. Most of my youth is muddled and confusing because I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the way my brain specifically has dealt with events it finds uncomfortable or upsetting is to forget them.

When I was thirteen, I was sexually assaulted. He was an acquaintance older than I and much stronger. Going into the details is something I’m still not good with, but I know that after it happened, I put makeup—which would later become my job—on my bruises and began forcing myself to forget about it. I’m certain anyone reading this who has been through a sexual assault knows how difficult forgetting can be.

It was a few more years before I was able to tell my parents. Until then, I had good grades, zero detentions, sang opera, never snuck out, tutored children…overall, I seemed like a fairly well-adjusted teenager. But after the event, I could never sleep and therefore would be so exhausted that going to classes sounded impossible. People always tell me that their parents would’ve just forced them to go, but they don’t know how I was—I was unmanageable. I threw up my food, I physically injured myself daily, I constantly threw temper tantrums. My parents thought I was crazy; my friends thought I was dramatic. After I told my parents, things seemed better—but nothing like this, unless it’s truly addressed, stays dormant for long.

I became incredibly depressed. Every day, the same questions played on repeat:
What if I’d screamed?
Does this mean I’m too weak?
Is he hurting somebody else today? Is that on me?
As somebody who had suffered with depression and insomnia since childhood, being traumatized acted as an anchor that kept me out at sea, completely alone and terribly confused.

In my mind, it was partially my fault—I had chosen to go with this guy and I believed that no matter who I told, they would feel the same. Sometimes, it felt like people did think I was just this ridiculous drama queen; I’ve been asked, “Why can’t you get over it?” too many times to count.

College brought more bad habits. Due to the PTSD, I get vivid nightmares with flashbacks: in them, I’m being assaulted, sometimes physically disfigured. I always know it’s coming, so I drink nearly every night to help me fall asleep without having to dream. It’s also how I ease my profound guilt over not telling anybody sooner—perhaps preventing my attacker from harming others. Each night, I wonder if another girl is currently aching because I never said anything—a thought I know is irrational, but cannot prevent myself from thinking.

Vicious remorse consumed the potential for happiness; the light surrounding me always seemed like just enough to illuminate the scars but never bright enough to light the way to something better. I’ve since been assaulted more than once, and, after a somewhat recent, very unpleasant incident that I do not wish to recall, I realized that the thing I regret more than any other is not going after the guy who did this to me at thirteen. I keep wondering if it would have happened again by other attackers had I been strong enough to go to the police the first time, but a person told me that being a repeat victim is comparable to being bit by a shark—once your blood’s in the water, other sharks come. It isn’t your fault any more than the first bite.

I realized I needed to tell somebody everything, but didn’t want to see a psychiatrist or doctor or friend: I wanted a stranger that would never see my face, so I called RAINN’s hotline. The woman was incredibly kind and talked to me for ages. She said all the things I’d always heard but never really believed until that moment when a person, who had no real stake in my future happiness, said it. She told me how much I needed to forgive myself and that no matter what I chose to do, the assault was never my fault—something I’d known logically for ages but only began to internalize that day.

While I am doing better, I admittedly still regret not doing something about my attacker. It’s been 9 years, so hopefully by the time I’ve hit a decade since the event, I will finally be able be honest when I say, “I regret nothing about my youth” and start remembering it without the use of photos.