029: From Destruction to Enlightenment
Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"From Destruction to Enlightenment," Natalie Singer
It wasn’t until October 2015 that I realized what exactly my Godson coming into my life saved me from. What was that exactly? Continuing to go down a path of destruction.
You see since he came into my life, I recognized a purpose in life again.
This destruction began my sophomore year of college. But my story begins before then.
Throughout high school I attended counseling for family stressors, and emotional guidance. I also was a quiet student that attended a private institution from K-12. I was a student who had a few close friends. When I entered college I went to a large size public institution and was living with 3 roommates for the first time ever! Each roommate had different beliefs and values then my own and my residence hall floor definitely did! I began to become curious about why my peers did the things they did, such as go out every weekend, smoke, etc.
Near the end of my first year I applied to become a Resident Advisor (RA). I didn’t get the position right away, but I was hired midway through my sophomore year. It was at this time, that I found myself in friend groups I normally wouldn’t partake in. I started to drink, and drink a lot, and I began to think that having sex was the cool thing to do (I was still too afraid to try it though as I wanted it to mean something). I had begun to enjoy drinking alcohol and was addicted to the feeling that getting drunk helped me push away all my problems. It was the summer going into my junior year where drinking caused me to make a stupid decision but not my worst one. I called my ex-boyfriend after spending a night out getting drunk and told him I wanted to have sex. He wasn’t even in the same state as me at the time!
For days and weeks after the incident, I felt guilty but continued to drink and became even more emotionally unstable. I became depressed, and there were times where I self-harmed. This lasted on and off throughout my fall semester. Then I decided I no longer wanted to participate in that behavior.
I was clean for a year- I had my moments of depression within that year but didn’t self-harm. Until one day near the end of the first semester my senior year I couldn’t resist the urge. I felt like I was at a crossroad in my life that I couldn’t overcome. My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time, my grandfather had passed away in September, and I was genuinely lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to apply for graduate school. I was grieving, scared and confused. I felt like I had nothing going for me. I sought crisis counseling at least 5 times in a two week period, had extremely high anxiety about everything, had at least one panic attack a day, had all my sharp objects removed from my room, and yet still found innovative ways to self-harm.
It wasn’t until my Godson was born that I snapped out of this constant state of thought. I started going to weekly group therapy sessions in addition to my bi-weekly sessions, and learned healthy ways to cope.
In addition to what was previously mentioned what caused me to spiral down this dark path, and feel worthless? I was a victim of emotional abuse as well as sexual assault. My self-esteem was low, and I wanted to feel as if someone cared about me. That’s why I couldn’t resist the action that took place that night in my junior year. It was an evening where my then boyfriend came over to watch movies with me in my residence hall room. It got late and it was snowy and icy outside. As a result I told him he could stay. That was my first mistake! He laid next to me on my bed and started to make a move, I said I didn’t want to partake but then when he continued anyways I told myself ‘it’s okay you wanted to do it at some point anyways’. I told myself it was okay after and that everyone is doing it, but yet wasn’t really okay and felt shameful and guilty for my actions.
Because I was taking the blame for it I was depressed and emotionally unstable. I had many good days but also many bad ones. My Godson coming into my life provided many good ones and helped me overcome these feelings, but at the same time I suppressed what happened and what the cause was for them.
It wasn’t until October 2015 when I was sitting at a residential life event as an assistant hall director that I realized that I did have a reason for the shame and guilt I felt. I was sitting in the auditorium and I had to walk out to prevent a panic attack. Since then I’ve been riding the waves with my emotions at times but know that what happened that night isn’t something I should be blaming myself for anymore.
Working in student affairs has allowed me to work with students dealing with mental health issues and students who have been victims of emotional or sexual assault. For a while, I was afraid to share my story with colleagues, friends and family. Then I realized something, if I could share my story then I could better help the students that I am working with. Brene Brown’s quote “what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful” is one of my favorites. Having my own story has allowed for me the opportunity to be empathetic with these students and help them through their time of need but also provide comfort at times. Recently I got a tattoo that represents what happened to me that night, and promote awareness. Every time someone sees it and asks me about the colors or symbols I get to share my story and spread awareness.
What happened that night is something I am trying to own, live with, and be an advocate to others who might have gone through something similar.
About the art:
When Natalie asked me to create her piece, I was excited to create something for a fellow student affairs professional! It's nice getting to do that for my colleagues, since much of the idea for this project was centered on the support I was given from my colleagues during my own job search.
Natalie loved the quote from Brené Brown, so I decided I would go with it and add the colors that she has in her infinity heart tattoo. But before I started painting the words, I got the urge to do some doodling and linework. So I used her other tattoo, a feather tattoo, as reference and went for it! I reimagined the tattoo in my style and had some fun with it!
I'm glad that Natalie was okay with it, because I had a lot of fun doing it. I love tattoos. Anyone who knows me well, knows this. I believe strongly in their meaning and depth for an individual. So being able to play around with Natalie's tattoo was a great experience in freeform expressive interpretation. And it also opens the conversation for when we bring tattoos into this project further down the road! [SPOILER ALERT]
I'm thankful we could include Natalie's story in the project as a cross-section of sexual assault awareness and mental health awareness because that intersection is so important for our society to understand.
Thank you for sharing, Natalie!
You are a survivor.