Survivors Speak: In a place between emptiness and devastation

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 - 2:30pm

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If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

If a girl is sexually assaulted and no one tries to stop it, does she still matter?

After it happened, I couldn’t speak for days. Motionless, I sat on my bedroom floor in front of a mirror — desolate eyes blankly staring at the bruises on my body, unable to accept it as mine. I often have nightmares in which I return to this moment, my first examination of the damaged goods I had become.

As I restlessly toss and turn in bed during these times, my mind’s eye first sees my neck — a blank canvas one moment, painted by a sea of black and blue and purple and green the next. I will never forget the feeling of utter powerlessness, when my cries for help were met with hands smothering my mouth and neck and his words, “I know a whore like you wants this.”

My gaze travels downward, and I see the wrists encircled by bruising and abrasions unmistakably resembling silhouettes of human hands. Even now, the sound of male laughter can send me into hysterics. I can’t help but think of his housemates’ drunken laughter, their humor in observing my sober attempts to free myself as they held down my wrists and waited for their turn.

Finally, I look at my face, unable to recognize the girl staring back at me. At that moment, all I feel is shame. All I feel is disgust towards myself and my body, unable to consider myself as anything but a filthy object used to the point of worthlessness. No number of showers or empty mouthwash bottles since that night has helped me feel clean again.

This recurring nightmare relentlessly lingers, even now, an unwelcome addition to the myriad of habits that arose in the subsequent months after my assault. I secretly developed a vice of self- harm, my habit of “only” once a week quickly turning into “only” once a day, a routine that inevitably gave way to two, three, maybe even four times from the moment I woke up until the time my eyes fluttered shut at night, my body exhausted from wracking sobs. I became trapped within the jaws of an eating disorder, the 25 pounds dropping off my already-small frame the closest I could come to disappearing from this world.

My mind often conceptualizes in the form of color, with this night being the before and after point in the timeline of my life. I used to feel kaleidoscopes of bright neon shades and swirls of pastels. Now, I only see black.

Most of the time, I don’t think I deserve the elusive ‘healing’ referenced so often by my therapist and fellow survivors. I even question if I deserve the title of ‘survivor’ in reference to an experience that I still think is my fault. Last year, in a place between emptiness and devastation, I expressed these emotions in the form of a poem:

Is Healing

Feeling like I was physically beaten and raped just yesterday?

My absent minded habit of stroking the spot on my skull that was shoved into a hard surface before my ‘friend’ removed the clothes from my dazed body?

The lump in my throat and wetness on my cheeks that arise just before every interaction with my family, my mind yet again reminded of the trauma I don’t have the courage to tell my own mother?

The crippling feelings of self-blame that prowl around my thoughts on an almost hourly basis?

‘You shouldn’t have gone to his house.’

‘He picked you because he knew a girl with a pretty face wouldn’t have fallen for his kindness.’

‘What did you expect when a boy expressed interest in a lackluster person like you?’

Though I still don’t have the answer to this poem’s question, what I do know is that I am surrounded by people that will hold me up when I am falling to my knees, and endlessly radiate light into the darkness in my mind. For them, I am forever grateful. They have been—and continue to be—integral in my path to return not to my “old self”, but instead to one with improved capacity for self-compassion and growth. This “new me” will revel in floodlights of brilliant hues, never letting the events of that night define me.

This is the third piece in the Survivors Speak series, which seeks to share the varied, first-person experiences of survivors of sexual assault. If you are a survivor and would like to submit to the series, please see our guidelines for submissions here. Though the deadline has passed, we may accept late submissions.