When the #metoo posts started showing up in my feed I stayed quiet. Despite being a victim of sexual assault and having been harassed for my gender and sexuality uncountable times in my life, I try to stay positive in my facebook feeds and promote positive energy. I see the purpose of this hashtag, but I didn’t want to participate. Perhaps I did not want to be lumped into a group or a statistic. As a victim, each of our stories are unique (regardless of whether they have commonalities) and becoming a stat can feel more demoralizing than helpful. And although I tend to be an open book and am happy to share my life stories with anyone who asks or may be positively affected by them, I wasn’t ready for the whole world to know. I don’t carry my #metoo as a badge of honor and truthfully, there are still seeds of shame so intrinsically woven into my spirit that I wonder if I’ll ever get them out. So I didn’t want to water those seeds by adding my #metoo to the masses.
But then in my feed I see this post – written by someone I love and the seed of shame began to grow. I felt like someone punched me in the gut. I felt angry and hurt beyond words. This person wasn’t talking to me directly, but at the same time, he was.
I reached out to my older sister, who is quite the bulldog in these circumstances, and she let him have it. Her comments even sparked interest of other women who were infuriated with the post who gave them their thoughts as well. I still felt paralyzed though and didn’t want to get into the conversation until I saw another loved one – a male who is significantly younger than me – stand up to the post. This is what I wrote (names removed):
“I hate getting involved with facebook arguments. But I found this beyond hurtful. To the point where I reached out to to my sister to vent and she was willing to speak up. I don’t speak up because it is comments like these that continue to shut me down. I fully admit to being a people pleaser and one who doesn’t like to rock the boat, but enough is enough. I was sexually assaulted while in grad school. It tore me apart and broke me down in ways I can never fully express. He stole something from me that was not his to take. It put me in a dark hole for a while. It was NOT my fault. It was horrible, but it is a part of my history now and it makes me a stronger woman. I’ve used my story to help other women who have been assaulted work through their own pain and suffering. Working as a college counselor for 6 years I worked with numerous students who were sexually assaulted. It is terrifying to know how many of us don’t stand up because of the retraumatization that is caused by going to the police, standing trial if it goes that far, having fingers pointed at you telling you it’s your fault because – fill in the blank (or see your above comments). It truly infuriates me and breaks my heart to read this post and this thread. I wrote so many responses to this and erased them because I was scared. I don’t mind talking about this to people as a way of healing – but don’t you EVER tell me I deserved to be raped. EVER.”
I received no direct response and the back and forth banter continued. I chimed in another time to express my feelings yet again – trying to come from a place of peace and understanding, but I’m not sure that this is the right forum or if this person will ever truly understand the power of his comment.
What I did realize from this interaction is how important it is to stand up for ourselves and to share. There is a piece of me that will always regret not going straight to the police station and filing a report, but I was in shock and I simply reacted. I don’t know if Facebook is the perfect place for these dialogues, but I know that without awareness and without dialogue we cannot change. It takes grit, honest conversation, understanding, and a willingness for change. We cannot simply come at each other with our fists up because if we do, we are destined to fight. Perhaps it is hard for some to understand the concept of a social media hashtag as a prompt for serious discussion, but it is a platform where dialogue can begin and people can take notice of how many people are truly affected by this. It is a movement to bring awareness to how pervasive the issue of sexual harassment and assault is. I truly believe that there are individuals out there that are using the #metoo as their very first time to share what has happened to them in their own lives.
It may be too much for some, so you can stop reading here, but I am choosing to share my story for the very first time outside of therapy. I have shared with others that I have been raped and used my own experience to help others in their healing, but I’ve never shared the story. I wrote this awhile ago as a way to help me heal. If you read this, please do so without judgment. Perhaps I did not make perfect decisions, but in no way did I ask to be or deserve to be raped. And that is true of EVERY individual who has ever been raped or assaulted. Rape is by definition non-consensual. Here is my story:
I finished my shift around 3 am. The bar closed at 2 and it always took a while to closed down the bar. That evening I was working with two other employees. A barback and another bartender. He sat at the bar with his friends and we chatted as we typically did. He was a regular and someone I had considered a friend. I enjoyed when he came to the bar. He had a sweet personality and a great smile too. Soft and trusting. He was charming, but not in a way where he seemed to be trying. Just sweet.
I looked forward to the days that he would come in. He made me feel special and I felt like we had a good connection. I often would hook him up with reduced or free drinks and he tipped well. Our friendship had never deviated much from this. Once in awhile if I had the night off and found myself downtown, I may run into him and talk for a bit, but that’s as far as it went. I never had any romantic interest in him.
This night was different though. He stayed while I closed the bar down. We had a few drinks after work as we typically did. My manager was very laid back and as is notorious in the world of nightclubs and bars, the staff were big drinkers so we’d often have a couple of beers while closing the bar. I had a beer as well while I cleaned up the bar. When I was all done, he asked if I was interested in hanging out. I was excited and intrigued. Could this turn into something more than just a friendship? Was he interested in me? Although, I had always thought he was cute, I never really looked at him in that way – he just wasn’t my type and my heart had been stuck on someone else, but that night he seemed appealing and I thought perhaps it was worth exploring.
He invited me over to his place to watch a movie. To others, going to a guys house at three in the morning to watch a movie seems like the stupidest idea, but neither of us were intoxicated and my life had a different time schedule to it than others. Working at a bar, we often hung out with coworkers till 6 or 7 am watching movies, drinking, playing games, or just simply hanging out and talking. It did not seem outside of my normal at the time, albeit an obvious choice I would make differently in retrospect.
He offered me a ride to his apartment. He was only a few blocks away. I was hesitant as I knew he had been drinking, so I declined. I also had no intention to spend the night, so I wanted to have access to my car. My dogs were at home and I needed to be there in the morning to take care of them. I got my car from the garage and let him lead the way. I parked on the street about a block and a half from his apartment.
When we got to his place he invited me to sit on his couch while he flicked on the television. He made his way into the tiny kitchen attached to the living area and opened the fridge, he grabbed two beers and walked back to the couch offering me one. I politely accepted and he sat down next to me, with a beer in one hand and a remote in the other.
I was feeling nervous, unsure of what I was doing there. I knew I enjoyed his company and I felt safe with him as I had known him for a while and we had several mutual friends, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be fraternizing with a regular at the bar. I wasn’t truly sure what his intentions were. Did he actually like me or was he trying to find an easy hook up? I was not easy. In fact I was quite prideful of not being a person who slept around. I believed in monogamy and relationships. I took sex seriously.
He scrolled through the menu guide on his television to see what movie offerings he had. We decided upon a movie and he put the control down. I had a couple of sips of my beer and he edged closer to me. He took my beer and placed it on the coffee table in front of his. He had already placed his down and dropped the remote. He leaned into me and kissed me. I kissed him back.
He leaned in more as we gently explored each others mouths with our tongues. He pressed in harder. He was a little more forward than I had expected. It did not feel like it was coming from a place of actual interest, and rather a place of hooking up. His kisses became more intense and his hands began to wander up my body. I pulled back a bit and he read my hesitation. I was not interested in a hook up and I think he sensed this and backed off. It felt a bit awkward, but I could tell he was trying to keep it as casual as possible and not make it so. He grabbed his beer and kept his arm around me in a, no worries kind of way. He made me feel that it was okay that I didn’t want to take it any further and we watched the movie. I sighed a deep breath of relief and we continued to watch the movie side by side for a bit while we finished our beers. Crisis avoided. He was respecting my choice and trying to keep the awkwardness at bay.
By this point I was feeling pretty drowsy and starting to nod off. He offered to let me sleep over. I was apprehensive, but he soothed my worries by saying that he would sleep on top of the sheets. I decided it was safer to sleep over than to drive home drowsy. I also felt that we had comfortably glided back into the friend zone and so I agreed. He grabbed me a pair of boxers and t-shirt from his draw and showed me where the bathroom was. I was thankful to get out of my work clothes as I smelled of the bar.
I changed in privacy and when I came out of his bathroom, he was already in bed. He had stayed true to his word and was lying on top of the sheets with a blanket on top and had the sheets pulled down on the other side of the bed so that I could get into a space of my own.
“Well”, I thought, “at least he is a nice guy.” My worries diminished and I felt less nervous about how it would be the next time he came into the bar. He really was a good guy. Perhaps he was interested in something more than hooking up.
I walked over to the bed and climbed in. I was so tired. My eyelids felt like cement.
I laid my head on the pillow and he leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. He then turned out the lights and I fell into a deep slumber.
I woke up startled. There was a heaviness on my body and a pressure in my groin. I felt confused and disoriented. I realized quickly that he was on top of me. In me. Thrusting himself back and forth into my sleeping body.
My body jolted and he sensed that I was awake, quickly rolling off of me and pretending to be asleep. He said in a groggy voice “what’s a matter? are you okay?”. I felt like I was in shock. I was stunned and confused. I began to weep and slowly crawled out of bed. I had taken my glasses off and could not see very well. The boxers were no longer on my body. I crawled on the ground as he continued to ask, as if he was asleep, if I was okay.
My mind was spinning. Did this really just happen. Had he just raped me? Had he really just raped me and is now pretending that it never happened, that he wasn’t just inside me moments before without my consent? Without my awareness. I searched with my hands in the darkness for the pile of clothes that I had laid by the end of the bed last night. I found my skirt and I shimmied it on. I had no underwear on and did not know where to start looking. I took his shirt off and quickly put my work shirt back on.
I crawled out of his bedroom and carefully lifted myself up onto my feet using the wall to brace myself. I was dizzy. So dizzy. I felt like I was going to throw up. My mind was going a million miles per hour and the world was seeming to slip from my feet. I felt uneasy but I walked forward making my way to the front door. It was nearly pitch black. The clock on the microwave and the slight glow of the street lamp outside provided the only light in the apartment. I fumbled with the front door.
I heard him yell for me – asking yet again if I was okay and what I was doing.
I said “I am going”. My voice was shaky and uneasy. I fumbled with the lock. Why could I not get the door open. I wanted to cry. I heard him get out of bed and his footsteps approached. I fumbled some more, but could not get my hands to work properly. I could not get the door unlocked.
He was right behind me now and raised his arm over me placing his hand on mine. He asked where I was going.
I felt scared. I was unsure of what was happening. Was he going to hurt me? Was he going to let me go?
He asked me why I was leaving. He was still holding onto the ruse that he was simply sleeping next to me as he promised.
I said I just had to go.
He removed his hand from mine and gently guided my hand away from the lock.
I felt weak and powerless.
He unlocked the bolt and opened the door.
He smiled his normal, charming smile and said ”Okay, if you really need to go. I hope everything is okay though.” He then followed up by saying to get home safe and that he would call me the next day.
I walked out the door, not looking behind and started walking forward. It was pitch black except for the glow of the street lights which illuminated the walk way. The world was a blur as I had quickly realized that I had left my glasses on his bedside table. I was numb. I walked.
I was not familiar with his neighborhood and could not find my car at first. I walked aimlessly around until I finally found it. Walking downtown alone in the early morning was not safe – nor was driving home without glasses – but safe was a word I couldn’t relate to at the moment. Nothing was safe. I remember not feeling anything at all. Completely numb. Black. It was as if my mind had shut down and I went into autopilot. The next thing I knew, I was pulling into my driveway. I parked and got out of my car. My legs felt like they were 100 pounds each. I walked zombie-like into the house, turning off the alarm and then punching the numbers back in to reactivate it. Numbers that gave a false sense of safety. Nothing felt safe anymore.
I walked through my house and into my bedroom. I passed by my bed dropping my keys on my night stand. I continued walking past my bed towards the connected bathroom. I opened the glass door to the shower and I walked in. I turned the water on as hot as I could and sat on the shower floor as the scalding water rushed over my body. My clothes became soaked and clung to my body as I sat there on the floor of my shower, arms wrapped around my legs hugging myself close. My brow bone resting atop of my knees and the wet hot tears streaming down my face mixing in with the warm water. All I kept thinking was that this was a nightmare and could not have just happened. That I knew better than to have this happen to me. I trusted this person. I made conscious choices not to engage. How did this happen? Time felt frozen and I sat in the shower until the water went cold. I was in shock. I began to shiver and slowly got up and turned off the water. I peeled my wet, cold clothing off of my body and wrapped myself in a towel. I curled up in my bed, wet with the towel draped around me and fell asleep – as hot tears silently streamed down my numb existence.
My life was forever changed.
The days and weeks to follow were excruciating both emotionally and physically. I told no one. I was ashamed and depressed. To make matters worse, the stress of the assault caused a dormant virus in my body to come alive which caused lesions on my cornea and inflammation of my eye. The pain was beyond words. I couldn’t open my eyes and my sister had to drive me halfway to my parents in order for them to pick me up and care for me. Luckily my dad is an ophthalmologist and was able to tend to my eye. The infection was the most pressing issue at hand and I let the rape slip to the background as best I could. I did not want to tell my family. My parents had been through so much in the recent years that I did not want to burden them. There was nothing they could do about the situation anyways and I swore to myself that I would never tell a soul and just move on with my life. I went back to school and work as if nothing ever happened. My assaulter even had the audacity to continue coming into the bar. I could barely stand to look at him and let others take over serving him, claiming I was too busy. I died a little bit inside each time he showed his face where I worked.
In the weeks following I used alcohol to numb my pain.
One evening I drank too much and lost control of my emotions. I broke down and shared my story with a friend. She was the only one I had told and I swore her to privacy. Talking to her helped relieve some of the built up pressure and pain, but I was not ready to do anymore.
I continued to drink. I even drank before going to some of my graduate classes (in mental health counseling) – where we were exploring counseling trauma victims. I would often excuse myself from class and break down in the bathroom. At one point one of my professors noticed the change in my behavior and called me to her office after class. I broke down and shared everything with her. It is certainly helpful to have a professor who is also a clinical counselor be the one you finally break down to. She helped me work through surface fears and that night I reached out to my mother. She helped me get connected to a therapist and slowly I started working through my pain. I shared my story with a few others and began the healing process. I still had not shared with my entire family – especially my father, who may be learning about this for the first time through this post.
The subsequent months were hard. I lost someone from my life who I thought would be there for me through everything which only added to my pain. I also tried feeble attempts to make myself feel whole or to regain control of my life, but the reality is that the healing takes time and work. The months passed and I continued to share my story with others, in my journal, and in therapy. It was not long after that I met my now husband. I remember the first time we fooled around breaking down completely – shaking in complete fear. He stood by my side and heard my story. We spent the rest of the night on the couch cuddling and this time when I fell asleep next to a man I trusted in bed, he stayed true to his word and I slept peacefully through the night, untouched. Safe.
My faith in men slowly regrew and I learned to forgive myself for things I held myself accountable for. I began to understand emotionally that it truly was not my fault and that I did not deserve to be raped. As I said earlier, there are still seeds of shame I can’t seem to get rid of and I do believe this is caused by societal influence. I pray that the #metoo movement does create conversation and lead to change in how we view seuxal assault and harassment. It is time to stand up for ourselves and to hold people accountable for their actions.
I hope this gives others the confidence to share their story – the confidence I did not have for so long. Perhaps not on a public platform, but at least to trusted friends, family, and counselors.
I respectfully remind you that this story is written from a place of love and healing. No negative, blaming, or shaming comments will be tolerated. Happy healing.