I don't know how I feel about the time I was sexually assaulted.
There are feelings, remnants of memory and some general mental health problems.
I have thought about it daily since it happened all those years ago. It’s disjointed, unclear and foggy in my mind. One of the first unknowns that confronts me when I think about the assault is details. I might have a murky memory because of repression or the usual fading of memory, I'm not quite certain. The fact that I didn’t comprehend the assault at the time furthers the confusion.
Like so many others who have been assaulted, at the time sex wasn’t in my vocabulary, much less what abuse was. The memories became less distinct even as my ability to comprehend it sharpened.
Being honest with myself was hard. When I first accepted what happened was the first time I confided in my best friend. I couldn’t say the words, I typed it out on my phone and refused to look at them while they read it. It's hard to think about of how I felt telling my friend then.
The feeling before revealing something so deeply personal is more physical than emotional. It feels like looking down over the edge of a cliff, gazing at the water I will jump into below. I know that when I land I’ll be alive, I’ll probably even be better off for the experience. The knowledge of what comes next doesn’t make what has to be said any better. You can’t take it back, you live with what you say regardless of what the person you are trusting does with it.
There is a bitter irony to feeling like I can finally speak my truth: I must once again become vulnerable to others. In that sense, I guess the whole experience is more like a trust fall than a cliff jump.
You have the power to choose when to fall, but once it's underway, it's fairly out of your control.
Since I first told someone about what happened, I've found the conversation to be easier for me. Like I said, it's a daunting and paralyzing experience to bear that part of the soul to another.
Nevertheless, it's less of a struggle now. The words of my counselors past and present are something of a mantra for me now when I decide to be vulnerable. “It’s not your shame to shoulder.”
I am not responsible for what happened to me, but I can be responsible for my healing.
Part of that healing is also being honest about how I feel. That’s probably the second most common statement after, “I am so sorry that happened to you," and “How do you feel?”
The honest answer like I said earlier, I really don’t know.
I would be surprised if you've never read the account of how survivors of assault feel. Generally, an overarching commonality is feelings of isolation and extreme distress. The isolation is something that I have with time mostly sorted out. That’s the easy part for me, the hard part is the emotions.
Rage, sorrow and humiliation are all feelings I have from what happened.
Those words can probably cover just about everything I feel relating to what happened. Those words cannot convey the uncertainty of it.
Sometimes, I'm struck by an overwhelming need for separation from others. One minute I can be totally content, happy to be surrounded by friends I love. The next it feels like I don’t recognize those around me. All I see are the faces of people I will never understand and will never understand me. The atmosphere of the room becomes suffocating and I want nothing more than to be outside, preferably as far from every other living being as I can be.
Usually I recover from that state within about half an hour. The same is functionally true for feelings of immense anger or crippling isolation. If you ask me why, I could point to the fuzzy themes of isolation and a desperate need to control. In reality, it's impossible to say exactly what may have caused me to feel that way. I have resigned myself to largely accepting that sometimes my emotional state cannot always be controlled, especially if something has been done to trigger a response.
I know “trigger” is somewhat pejorative by this point. It is more of a punchline for people complaining about the culture of liberal, PC-obsessed college campuses.
It took me a long time to admit that that is what happens to me sometimes, I get triggered. I become less confident in my speaking, I become more withdrawn and I feel pretty unpleasant. If you make a joke about sexual assault, it’s a trigger. Touching my shoulders is a trigger. Reading anything about sexual assault, a guaranteed trigger.
I think about what happened to me daily, like I have for the last 10 years. Personally any more thought on the topic seems gratuitous to me. I recognize that for some this might come across like an attempted clamp down on your free speech or something.
My intention isn’t to force your silence, it's to avoid further pain when possible. That might be selfish, but that is the reality for me.
Watching our words isn’t the only thing I want to ask of this community. Like many on campus, I was deeply disturbed by the revelation of abusive priests living in the Cardinal Bea House.
I make no claim that the administration was aware of the issue, assigning blame in this case is emotionally exhausting for me, much like the entire situation in general. Instead, I would make an appeal for positive action.
Please consider donating to the Jonah Project here in Spokane. It works to save those who are abused and trafficked and donations help immensely. I make the same appeal to the university, it's a positive and badly needed step toward healing.