I am a survivor. I am a survivor of sexual assault. I am a survivor of sexual violence. I am a survivor.

It took me a long time to feel like I could claim this identity. I didn’t like the term, the way it implied that I had the choice to give up, or as if I was carrying that weight with me wherever I went. The thing was that I was carrying it, every day, every moment, wherever I was. I would hear someone use the r-word, in class, in a joke, in passing, and felt myself shut down, check out, physically and mentally disassociate.

For the longest time, I didn’t want to call myself a survivor. I didn’t know how I felt about the term “victim,” and more than anything, I did not want those instances, those times, to define who I was. I have found that I tend to shut things out, black out memories, forgive too easily, attempt to forget. In ignoring the hurt, I failed to begin the process of healing.

When I signed up for a conference called “Culture Shift” on campus, I didn’t know it was about sexual assault and violence on campus. I wasn’t ready for what I found myself thrown into. After the first evening, I wasn’t sure if I would go back the next day, I wasn’t ready to talk about these things with my peers. I had never understood the speak-out events in which survivors told their stories. They triggered me and reminded me of things I was trying so hard to forget.

But I decided to go back. I challenged myself to share with this group of strangers that I was a survivor. I didn’t need to tell him anymore, I didn’t need to explain myself, and if I ever felt like I could not handle it, I knew I could leave.

I almost did leave multiple times that day. Near the end of the day, they asked us to make signs that said, “I stand with survivors because …” or “I stand against sexual assault because … .” I spent what felt like ages staring at the paper, not knowing what to write, and when I finally did it the sign said, “I stand with survivors because … I am one and I no longer want to live in fear in my own community.”

Claiming the identity of a survivor has helped me to begin on the path of healing. Sharing that day, holding up my sign for others to see and verbally saying that to my peers, without any judgment, without any pity, made me realize just how much I had been holding myself back. By attempting to forget these parts of my history and identity, I had been allowing them to control me even more.

A couple of weeks after the conference I went to the peer-led Support Group with SAPAC. Another girl from the conference was there, just the two of us, both totally new, and the facilitators. We didn’t have to talk about anything we didn’t want to, we didn’t have to share. But I knew that I could. We talked about coping mechanisms and how we had been. And while we didn’t share our whole stories, I found a safe space in these people. I went back the next week, and plan on continuing to do so.

I want to start to tell my story so that I can start to heal. I wasn’t ready to call myself a survivor before, I wasn’t ready to start that healing process, and I know that there are many people who are not either. But I can now understand the power in sharing our stories. The power in reclaiming ourselves and our memories without letting them define us, just acknowledging how they shape us.

In April 2014, I was assaulted by someone who I thought was a good friend, someone who was close to my partner at the time, someone I trusted. My partner pushed me to press charges, and I did, just to be told later by the judge that my actions were not reflective of someone who was being assaulted. I was being blamed by the government, being told that I should have said, “no more,” louder, should not have let them come to my place in the first place.

Almost a year later, I am still working to heal and process. My partner left me, in many ways because I think that they felt they needed to do the same, and for each of us, that looked different. But after a year, after that conference, after sharing myself with a group of strangers and peers, after finally admitting to myself that I am a survivor and that I am carrying that weight with me wherever I go, I can finally reclaim myself.

In August 2009, at the age of 16, I was assaulted by two men in my suburban hometown outside of Boston. I spent that fall in the mental hospital, and the following years doing trauma-focused CBT, DBT and other types of therapy to help with my PTSD and severe depression. I faked my way through most of it, feeling that if I lied and said that I was okay, that the pain would go away. It wasn’t until last spring that I realized just how much healing I had neglected to do. I realized just how much of myself I had tried to erase.

When people ask whether there is one thing I would go back and do differently, I think about this weight that I carry and I wonder what I would do differently. A lot? Nothing? Regardless of the alternate realities I could live in, I am here in this one and I wouldn’t change a thing. I will only make the choice to continue the process of healing as I move forward. I will not black out years of my life or moments in time because of the pain. I will work through them and understand why they are important in who I am.

It took me five years to call myself a survivor. We all heal in different ways and at different rates. I wasn’t ready to share my story before, to claim this identity, but I now understand why others could and have. It is not so that others can hear their stories and say, “What strong people, how much we must change.” This is a part of it, but that is not why I, as a survivor, want to tell my story. I want to tell my story so I can say that this is what has happened to me, but this does not define me. This is what I come from, but it is not who I am. I am more than those who blamed me, more than the decision of the judge or the lost friendships. I am reclaiming myself.

Corine Rosenberg is an LSA junior.

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