I hate this post.
I hate that I have anything to add to this at all. I hate that this is so rampant, and can be found in every corner of the world. I hate it, but because I know how far-reaching it is. because I know how isolating the fallout is, because I know how devastating the thought of saying it loud can be – because of the very nature of shame – I’m writing about it anyway.
This week is a bit of an anniversary. I typically love anniversaries. Picture Leslie Knope buying her mail-lady a gift because she has an anniversary for the first time they met. Okay…maybe not quite that far, but I love to find things in life worth celebrating. It feels like I’m seizing joy and reveling in the things, and people, worth remembering.
Except some anniversaries aren’t worth remembering, but they always end up being the ones you can’t forget. This is one of those anniversaries.
A year ago this week, I was sexually assaulted. It was from someone I considered a friend, and thought I could trust.
I spent months afterwards convinced that it didn’t deserve the agony I was feeling, because it could have been worse, and I was to blame. I let myself be alone with him. I let myself trust him. I got out before it got worse, but I was in shock and didn’t leave right away – I even finished the last part of the movie we were watching. If I were really the victim, I would have left immediately. If it really happened like I remember it happening, I would have left and never talked to him again. It could have been worse, so I can’t be this devastated. I can’t feel this violated, because other people have been put in worse situations and hurt so much more than I was.
I can’t tell anyone because they’ll tell me I shouldn’t have been alone with him. They’ll think less of me for ending up there. They’ll tell me he had needs, and I should have known better. They’ll ask what I was wearing. They’ll ask why I didn’t leave the second he crossed the first line of consent.
And I won’t have a good answer for them.
So I hid. I pulled away. I kept my head down and threw myself at God like a woman possessed. And, because I was raised in the culture that said that everyone deserved to be forgiven, I forced myself to meet with him, to talk through what happened with him and have conversations surrounding consent. I walked on eggshells around naming what happened, because I didn’t want him to feel bad. I tried, for months, to be friends with him, because we were both at fault here – weren’t we?
I convinced myself that if I forgave him, and he seemed like he had learned from it, that I could and should move past it. If I couldn’t, had I really forgiven him? It was my Christian mandate to forgive, after all. He promised he understood boundaries and that he was firmly platonic in his feelings for me, so that he wouldn’t cross lines again. Never mind the fact that he tried to hug me a few weeks after it happened and the room started to spin, or that he drunkenly propositioned me four months after the incident. Or the fact that he would maneuver himself closer to me in groups, or purposefully try to make hurtful jokes at my expense. Or the fact that he told me that I was flirting with him and any other man I spoke to, so I couldn’t really be upset when they took things too far.
I convinced myself that this was a normal thing that happened to all girls at least once in their lives, and that if he’d learned from it and had apologized, I had to move on. I told all of my friends as much, and he continued to be invited to some of our larger group gatherings. It wasn’t until one night after a game night that he ended up messaging one of my close friends through social media that I realized how much I was hurting myself. She thought she would continue to let him message her and screen shot the ridiculous parts so she and I could laugh about it, and I had a full-blown panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak, I just began to weep. I was so afraid for her at the thought of her ever being in a position where she was in any way vulnerable where he was present.
The last few weeks have brought a lot of it rushing back up to the surface. Between the #MeToo campaign on social media, the time of year coming back around, and seeing him unexpectedly on various forms of social media – so much of the hurt and anger have bubbled back up again. And, as I often do, I felt pulled to write about it. And I opted to write about anything but this. I have half a dozen extra drafts of things I tried to write instead, because this was the one that I wanted to keep locked away. Keep buried from prying eyes and the shame that I was so sure was coming.
But shame can’t survive in the light of day. And if the #MeToo process showed me anything, it’s that situations like mine are so rampant. And we are all feeling so shameful and alone, when we were never supposed to have to shoulder that weight. So, needing every bit of the grace I have available to me, I’m muddling my way through telling this story and creating space to help hold yours.
For those who are facing their own anniversaries, or are currently walking through something so much fresher – I believe you. You are not alone. You are not to blame. I am so sorry that this ever happened to you. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, that you couldn’t talk about it or call it out, or that you talked about it and called it out to everyone. You deserved so, so much better. I believe we are better, in the long run, for forgiving them, but that is not a decision anyone but you can make. No one else gets to set the timeline, cherry-pick scripture or shame you for not doing it in a more socially acceptable way.
I experienced God deeper in my agony here than I think I ever have in moments of joy. Where I expected disappointment and condemnation, I only ever found grace, peace and rest. It didn’t fix everything, and healing was/is still work, but I am not, nor have I ever been, braving the process alone.
Regardless of what shame says. Regardless of what the toxic, predator-protecting culture says. Regardless of what fear says. You don’t have to navigate this alone. I believe you, you deserved better, your story is worth telling.
I believe you.
You deserved better.
Your story is worth telling.