"I survived because the fire within me burned brighter than the fire around me."
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I also survived because I was loved. I was fought for. I had support I never could have imagined needing one day, but used to the fullest to keep from falling to pieces all too often. I was a stable 22-year-old, finishing college with a loving family, the starting of an incredible career, and as fearless and hopeful as ever. This all came to a crashing halt in a matter of a few hours and an event that should have never happened, and an event I had no idea would forever change every aspect of who I was as a human.
I learned very quickly that a sexual assault isn’t just a statistic of something that happens on college campus’ – or in third world countries, or inner cities areas. It was me – not a news story from Chicago, and not a report made a few years back that had numbers and figures that were forgotten about. It was me – a daughter, a coworker, a volunteer for the Special Olympics, a Sunday school teacher, and the girl that you probably chatted with without realizing.
I was newer to the area I lived in, and felt alone in my own body – let alone in public or around others. I rapidly became a shell of myself. My father gathered information form one of the many police officers and detectives and reached out to Voices Against Violence to set me up with some form of help. I agreed, still in utter shock and numb, and had my first interaction with the Executive Director. Typically – I would bubbly, talkative, and jumping at the chance to share a bad joke. I came into the facility alone, broken, and on the verge of thinking along the lines of suicide.
I met with her, referred to what happened as “that night” or “the incident” and cried. Hard and often. I finished, and left. I knew that I would return. There was someone in front of me who allowed me to speak without judging, cry without questioning me, and attempt to make sense of who I was. I continued with private treatment once a week, but as things with my specific sexual assault worsened, I was grasping at straws for any way to help myself make it through what had started out as an innocent 22 year old, and had yet to end.
Through my previous visits with Voice Against Violence I very quickly realize I would fight. I was born a fighter, and I refused with every fiber of my being to give that up. In the following weeks, I not only needed but had grown to being open to more support. I attended group sessions once a week along with my private therapy. My counselor provided a sense of camaraderie in this group setting – she was a loving, open, accepting woman who provided a friendship in a time when most people viewed me hard to love. At a time when I was still weary of meeting new people, and jumped when someone touched me suddenly. This was a group of women who protected me as well as others, and spoke my language. I could vent, or share, or ask for advice and have guidance as I figured out and battled events and issues I was never prepared for – and never asked for. They were my support. They were my love. They were part of me fighting, and part of bringing me back to life again.
I continued with both private and group therapy – slowly becoming myself again, except this time I was a different version. I no longer called it “an event” or “that night” – It was rape. It was rape, and I survived it. I fought against it, and I found out I was still me deep down inside. I was still the same bubbly ad loving person. I learned lesson after lesson, but I was not bitter. I learned through these programs the steps I needed to take to not simply make it through – but recover, thrive, and survive.
Rape survivors are your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends from the gym. They are women like me who never asked or deserved to be in this situation.
I can wholeheartedly say that without the services provided through Voices Against Violence – I wouldn’t be writing this letter today. I wouldn’t be enjoying shopping for a new apartment. I wouldn’t have made it to lunch with my father yesterday, or helped my brother with his math homework all semester. Recovery is a daily process that takes patience and love. It takes strength, and people willing to reach out in a time that most wouldn’t, or don’t know how too. When someone is in a situation such as this, regardless of what happens – it will be a battle. Battles against yourself, battles against other people who pass judgement, battles against your own thoughts. To fight, to survive, and to have the future and life that absolutely every single one deserves, they need to have the proper armor. My armor was a group who gained nothing, but gave their all to me. I will forever be indebted to them for loving me and supporting me until I was “me” again.
Because of Voices Against Violence, and the Executive Director and Counselor specifically – I am not a rape victim. I am a rape survivor.