Lydia's Story: Sexual Assault
I was raped while I was an undergrad student. I went to a party with a guy from my chemistry class in hopes of him becoming my boyfriend. I had never been in a relationship before and had never really had any prospects before as well. I was so excited at the thought of beginning something new that I ignored everything else. As the evening progressed, I found myself alone with him. He began to kiss me, which I was uncomfortable with because I hadn’t ever really been kissed before. I kept wondering if I was doing it right, if my lips were too small, or if my breath smelled bad. During this time I heard the door open and shut again. When I opened my eyes a friend of his was in the corner smiling. I was embarrassed, I thought he was there to make fun of us. Then the boy I had been kissing looked at me and said, “relax doll, we’re gonna have some fun”. I knew then that his idea of fun and mine were not the same. His friend locked the door and my heart sank to my stomach. I was instantly nauseous. I tried to leave. I fought. I screamed, but it was all for nothing. No help came. My screams were muffled by the hand over my mouth. This is not the typical picture of college rape that many people want you to think of. There was no alcohol. I wasn’t at a fraternity party. There were no drugs in my system. All I did was trust a boy who showed me attention. I trusted him when he said he liked me and I trusted him when he invited me over the “hang” with a few friends on a Saturday night.
At first I didn’t tell anyone. I just went back to my apartment and sat in my shower for what seemed like hours. I washed away the blood. I scrubbed and scrubbed my skin raw, but I never felt clean. I didn’t sleep for days. I had multiple panic attacks. I debated on whether or not I should tell my parents, but I felt so ashamed. I felt like I should have known better, like somehow I should have prevented it or fought harder. I didn’t want them to be disappointed with me for not going to the police. I didn’t want to share my shame and guilt with them.
I didn’t go to the hospital nor did I go to the police. I had seen other women go through the same horrific experience, who were brave enough to report it and seek justice, only to be crucified for speaking out. They were shamed publicly and there was little to no support for them, not to mention having to relive their pain over and over again for the police, legal teams, and Title IX offices. I just couldn’t do that. I couldn’t tell anyone. I was paralyzed. I shut myself off. I thought that if I hid it and dealt with it internally then I would come out as a survivor and be able to help others. However, it didn’t work that way. I pushed the pain deeper and deeper inside and with each day I retreated further and further into myself. I talked to a woman from my church initially, and it was helpful on the surface, but I was still in denial. I talked about it on the surface, but I held everyone at arm's length, never letting them in. I never told anyone my true feeling. I never showed my pain. My whole life, I perceived myself as strong and independent. I didn’t want anyone to know, this one night broke me.
I threw myself into my studies and my new job as a scribe, or so I thought. I was distracted. I continued to work hard, and pretend that I was the same person I had always been, but it was all a lie. I had told two close friends about the incident, but still never processed the events of that night. I assured them I had dealt with it and I was moving on, yet I still hid it deep down inside. In the months following I began to fall into depression and weight gain. I started having side and pelvic pains for which I would be evaluated for multiple times by multiple physicians. Eventually I would wind up in the ER and be admitted for surgery to remove a tumor the size of a softball from a right Fallopian tube. The tumor was benign but was the result of an infection that went untreated for months after the assault. I dealt with a number of health issues after this including continued pain, significant weight gain, depression, and GI/digestive issues. Some of these issues I still struggle with today. The denial began to turn into a myriad of other emotions. I began to push away friends and delve deeper into my work. My church attendance became more sporadic. I would then rely on podcasts for spiritual growth. Podcasts were helpful, but they do not provide a sufficient substitute for being involved in a church community. I still attended church on occasion, but became less and less involved. I would make excuses such as work being too much and needing to rest rather than have to see people each week. I was lost. I was alone.
For months I continued on this path of denial. I kept thinking I should tell someone, but if I keep it to myself then I don’t have to deal with the pain, anger, and the other complex emotions I had built up from the worst night of my life. I retreated deeper inside myself and pushed away almost all my friends. I became introverted, going to work and then coming home to watch Netflix and sleep. On days I wasn’t scheduled to work I would stay in bed for hours watching various shows and keeping to myself. Sometimes I would just cry through the night. There were several nights where I thought I would be better off if I just ended it all. It’s a strange emotion. I did not want to die, I just simply wanted to disappear. I wanted to stop hurting, stop feeling, I wanted to run away.
I waited 2 years before telling my family what happened to me. I waited so long because I was afraid of disappointing them. I knew better than to go to a party instead of studying. I knew better than to be alone with a guy I barely knew in a strangers apartment. I also knew this would change the way they looked at me forever. In mind I would become this damaged helpless person to them. They would forever view me as someone who couldn’t make the right decisions and needed help. Of course, none of this was true. They both wept as I told them what had happened. I saw in their eyes anger and sorrow. My dad even made reference to his upbringing in an inner city and, “knowing how to deal with people like that”. Instead of them being ashamed of me they joined the journey with me. Sought resources to help me move forward.
It is now 4 years since I was raped. I am still not “healed”. I still struggle with bouts of depression, shame, and insecurity. However, I am able to function and still enjoy life. I have a community around me that recognizes when I am in a rut and helps pull me out and focus on my future. If I’m being completely honest I haven’t moved very far on the path to recovery. I am barely past the denial stage but I’ve accepted that my journey doesn’t have to look like anyone else's. I can take baby steps or leaps forward and either is ok. I still wonder if I made the right decision to not go to the police and I still wonder how my life would’ve turned out if I had never gone to that party. I deeply want to help others who have experienced trauma and this is my motivation for continuing on.