Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"On Healing," Courtney
The first time a man ever touched me sexually, I was six years old. At the time, I was too young to have the words to really understand or articulate what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was confused. I really looked up to my baby sitter's teenage son. And I was so glad that he would play with me and that he paid attention to me. My mother at the time was functioning as a single parent and worked often to support us and the extra attention made me feel like the most special person ever. At the same time, while he was showering me with attention, he hurt me.
I remember one situation, where he had use a weapon to penetrate me and I had bled for some time after. For weeks after the incident, I would run to the bathroom and check to make sure that my insides were not falling out. I was a child and had no understanding of my anatomy or how things worked.
When I tried to tell what was happening to me, it came out wrong and no one understood. I was told to stop being do dramatic and the abuse went on for over six months until due to financial reasons, I got a new babysitter.
It was a few years later, as a young teenager that I had my next sexual experience. At the time, I didn't know why, but I was incredibly good at picking out that one person. The charming but slightly creepy older boy, the pushy athlete who wouldn't take no for an answer, and the people who saw me as a weak and vulnerable target to use. I always managed to find myself in bad relationships, with older guys, or people who just viewed me as a sex object without a name.
Many times I would try to date, to be normal like other girls my age. But it always ended up in some sticky situation where I would almost get hurt if I was lucky, and would really get hurt if I wasn't. Nearing the end of high school, I'd befriended an older college boy who was dating my friend. We'd run together as I was training for a marathon and he'd help me cross train to improve my strength. After a few months of a good friendship, he started to pressure me, follow me and give me every threat to get me to do what he wanted.
If I wouldn't be with him, he would kill himself. If I wouldn't be with him, he was going to do something to our school. And after I'd finally let him win, he used the fact that I had let him have sex with me to blackmail me. The only way that I was able escape this toxic relationship was when I was able to move away to go to college. I continued to college where I began drinking for the first time. For someone who never established what it is like to have bodily autonomy, this was incredibly dangerous.
One night, after a college party where an un-named fraternity boy had attempted to drag me into his room against my request, I had had enough. The very next day I enrolled in counseling at my college and began to explore everything that had happened to me. I cried a lot. I talked a lot. I spent periods of time evaluating every relationship I'd ever had.
At some point, something happened, I began healing. I began realizing my self-worth and I began challenging myself to go forward with open and healthy relationships in all aspects of my life.
I began using my story to speak out against assault. And every time I did, someone else would share their story. After finishing my bachelors, I made the decision that I had healed to a point where I really wanted to become a professional in the violence prevention world. I studied. I completed my masters. I constantly checked-in, practiced self-care and grew as a person. Now I work in the field and I feel like I get to use all of my education to prevent violence and to be a voice in our field supporting survivors.
I think about sharing my story, because too many times I have heard well-meaning people begin to tear down young college women just like me. Women who never had the chance to build healthy relationships and consistently find themselves in bad situations. Women who can't see or feel their self-worth. Women who want to be safe and to have good relationships, but who have no idea where to get started. Women that deserve to be listened to instead of shamed. Women who deserve the same respect and healthy relationships that we all do. I want to be a testament that even after all I have been through, healing is possible. I am healthy and I deserve to be healthy just like the women I interact with who often aren't heard.
About the art:
Courtney shared a powerful story of her transformation to survival. After many difficult experiences, and a lot of self-reflection, Courtney was able to recognize her strength and use her experiences to help herself and others heal. She shared this quote with me as something that inspires her, and the butterfly matches a tattoo that Courtney has inscribed with the word "survivor."
This image and these words speak so loud, and reflect the empowering message that Courtney has shared with us, and continues to share with those that she supports in her work. Healing starts from within, and Courtney's story demonstrates that your inner strength can not only be your own support, but can also be a beacon of hope for others experiencing the same struggles.
I am so grateful for Courtney in sharing her story, and hope that this piece can continue to serve as a reminder of the power and hope that she has to offer the world.
- Beth Paris