042: I Don't Want to Have to be Strong
Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"I Don't Want to Have to be Strong," Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
This has taken me longer than I had planned to begin writing. For a while I told myself it was because I have been too busy to do it. While I have been going through some major life changes, that have made me busier than usual, I still could have allotted myself time to write this. I think this is just a lot harder for me to do than I thought it would be.
Through counseling and life experiences I have worked through a lot of the trauma from this situation, and am able to speak freely about it, but I rarely go into great detail. I almost never go into the emotional aspect of how being sexually assaulted has affected me. I have never, ever written any of this down because I don’t want it to exist outside of myself. I have also never spoken to any of my family members about this, because I know that it would only hurt them, and that is the last thing I want. So because of that, I have chosen to remain anonymous.
I have lived my entire life with depression and anxiety. That existed before this experience. That night is one of many experiences I have gone through that have had a serious negative impact on my emotional state. My dad abandoned us. My sister died. Trauma and abandonment have been big factors throughout my life. I spent a lot of years trying to numb myself to feeling anything at all. Mainly by drinking. But… SURPRISE! It only made things much worse.
Junior year of High School I went to a party. Most of the people there were people I had been friends with since middle school, and elementary school. Parties are especially dangerous for me, because I will just continue drinking until the alcohol is gone. I was playing beer pong with one of the senior boys, and I wasn’t quite drunk yet. He walked up to me after we were done playing beer pong and whispered in my ear “I’m going to fuck you tonight.” I just laughed it off and said “I don’t think so, buddy.”
Many, many mixed drinks and a few blurry hours later, I vaguely remember I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. I was talking about how I was going to walk home, because it was only like 2 miles away and people told me I should just stay the night because I was drunk and it was late and dangerous. But I was dead-set on getting home. I actually did this quite a bit at parties. People used to make jokes, because I would always leave before everyone else.
Anyways, the same boy I was playing beer pong with earlier, offered to give me a ride home because he was leaving. He had hardly been drinking all night because he had to wake up early the next day, and was heading out anyways. Having known this dude since freshman year, I didn’t think anything of consequence was going to come from him driving me home. I got in the car.
We were driving down the main street that turns onto my street, and he just drove right past my street. When I pointed it out to him, and told him where he could turn to get back to my house, he kept driving and told me that he needed to just get home and go to sleep and that he would drop me off early the next morning on his way out of town. Even in my drunk state, I thought it was weird, because the whole reason he was driving me home in the first place was because I don’t like sleeping at other people’s houses. I tried to protest and he just kept reassuring me he would drive me home in the morning, and told me “I will sleep on my couch, you can have the bed to yourself.”
Having originally planned on staying the night at the party, I had shoved pajama pants and my toothbrush in my over-sized purse. He showed me into his house, and told me I had to be quiet, because his sister was there. A statement I question was true to this day. I walked into the bathroom and brushed my teeth, and then walked into his room. He started to walk out, and said “I’ll let you change” and began to close the door.
In this moment I took my jeans off, and as I was pulling up my pajama pants, he burst into the room and threw me on the floor. I had acrylic nails on and they needed to be filed, so when he did this, I landed on my hands and the acrylic nail ripped my real nail off with it. I screamed, and he held his hand on my mouth and told me to be quiet because he didn’t want his sister to wake up.
I tried to crawl away, and squirm away, and push him off of me with my legs. He had grabbed me from behind and worked me into the corner, where I had nowhere to run. I remember throwing my arms back trying to scratch him with my hand that wasn’t bleeding and push him with the other. I remember trying to grab him by his hair and his head, and I remember screaming at him begging him to stop and to get off of me.
He raped me vaginally for what felt like an eternity. At some point during this, I went into a sort of catatonic state, and stopped fighting back, and it was then that he began to anally rape me. As I screamed out in pain he shoved my face into the floor and told me to “shut the fuck up.” I laid there in shock and agonizing pain crying.
Finally, when it was all over he told me to get in his car because he was driving me back to the party. I got in the car, still too shocked to say anything. I wanted to be anywhere that wasn’t with him. When he got to the house where the party was being held and I opened the door to get out he told me “If you say anything, no one’s going to believe you. They already think you’re a whore.” And drove away. I sat on the front porch trying to call the people inside the party to tell them to open the door, and cried, until the mom of the boy who had the party heard me, and opened the door to bring me inside.
I walked in and drank.
I just kept drinking and crying, until they pried the alcohol out of my hands and hid it from me. I don’t remember many details after that. I just remember crying. My friends later told me that any time someone walked up to me I would scream at them “don’t fucking touch me.” I am not sure if it was me, or one of my friends, but someone called my best friend who lived next to me and he and our other friend came to pick me up and drove me home. They said I cried the whole way home.
I stopped drinking for six months after that night. I realize I was in high school, so that doesn’t sound abnormal, but as I stated before, I was not new to trauma. I drank heavily from freshman year until I was 21. Six months was a long time for me. I never said anything. I just kept it to myself for the longest time. Eventually I told a couple of my close friends who were at the party, and they told me he did something similar to one of them, and that there had been other girls who said he was being forceful with them as well.
I later found out that there was a group of boys, a couple of whom I was good friends with, who had made some bet about who could hook up with the most girls that year. The bet was started by him. When I confronted one of my friends about it, he said that he had heard what had happened to me from one of the girls I told, and that no one knew he was doing those things. He said the bet was to see who could kiss the most girls and that no one else was really taking it seriously. I had disassociated myself from all of those people after that party, besides a couple of the girls who I had been friends with for years. He told me after people heard what happened, everyone stopped being the guys friend.
After that night, I felt a lot of things. I still feel a lot of things. I feel shame, and anger, and worthless, and ruined, and dirty, and guilt. I feel guilt because I think over and over and over again, what the hell was I thinking? How could I have been so stupid, to get that drunk and not see that coming? How could I be so stupid to put myself in a position where that could even happen?
After going through something like that, you just go over every decision that led up to it and what you could have done differently to erase what happened. But you can’t erase it. It did happen. Finding a way to cope with that, and live with myself and this overwhelming sense of worthlessness, has been the hardest part for me. What if I had said something to someone? Would he have attacked the other girls? Is that also my fault? Would anyone have believed me?
I’ve gone through counseling, I have taken anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. I have to tell myself every day that I cannot allow one stupid selfish human and their horrible actions define my life, and how I see myself.
I remember the first time I ever told anyone what happened. I was talking to my best friend, and we were having a serious conversation, and it just kind of came out of my mouth. She just looked at me and said “Jesus Christ, we are talking and you just drop this bomb on me like it’s no big deal?! What the hell?!..... You are so strong, if I went through anything like that, I would have killed myself.”
That’s probably the worst reaction I could have gotten. I cannot express to you how many times I have been told, “You’ll be okay, you’re so strong.” Every time someone says those three words, “You’re so strong.” It takes everything in me not to scream in their faces “I’M NOT FUCKING OKAY. I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE TO BE STRONG.” Unless you’ve lived through it, there is no way to explain how mentally and emotionally exhausting it can be. I have struggled with depression and suicide ideation throughout my life, and that one life event, has been a main factor in all of it. It just makes you feel so alienated.
The truth is, you don’t just magically heal from something like this. You DO have to be strong to survive this trauma. You have to find the strength to make the choice to love yourself every single day. Some days I fail, and sometimes I fail for months at a time. Which is why it is so important to surround yourself with people who love you and encourage you, and can be strong for you, when you fail to be strong for yourself.
About the art:
I have known this survivor through the virtue of the internet for a couple of years now, and she is an absolutely wonderful, loving human being. When she reached out to share her story, I was immediately bummed out to learn of the struggles she has been through. But upon reading her challenging and powerful story, I learned that all of those struggles gave me EVEN MORE respect and admiration for her.
Honestly, the perseverance this survivor showed in finding solace throughout the paint she endured is worthy of everyone's admiration. I am thankful she chose to share her story, after some apprehension, because it covers a number of the issues that this project has tried to present. Especially around the mental health effects of being sexual assaulted, and the coping strategies that some folks implore just to survive.
So when creating this piece, I wanted to make sure the piece was incredibly special to this survivor and I'm glad they asked me to create it because that meant a lot to me and our friendship that was forged through a number of shared interests. I asked this survivor what they wanted and there were two specific things: a lighthouse, and this quote.
The quote derives from one of this survivor's favorite artists/musicians, and the lighthouse signifies their relationship with their current partner. I knew I couldn't really replicate a lighthouse very well, so I asked Katy to help with that. And they did an incredible job with it! Katy even placed it perfectly in front of one of the white splatters, making it look like the water was splashing against the rocks. Super cool effect!
Again, incredibly proud of this survivor for sharing their experience with the world and i am thankful to know them and see their survival every day.