It was May 1975; I was a sophomore in high school and had starting dating a boy for about fourth months that was a few years older than me so I guess you could say we were officially boyfriend and girlfriend.
He had asked me to go to a family get together with him on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I will never forget the outfit I wore that day, it was a beautiful new crème colored pant suit I had just bought at the mall.
It was unusual I was able to do something on a Sunday because being raised in a very conservative Catholic family all of us usually stayed home.
The day felt special to me because he wanted to include me and spend time with him; I enjoyed getting to know more about his family and being introduced as his girlfriend.
The afternoon seemed to fly by, I needed to be back for dinner but as he was driving me home it surprised me when he pulled into an empty parking lot.
He said he wanted to be alone for a few minutes and he kissed me, well one thing lead to another and he started to pull at my clothes, I told him to stop but he wouldn’t listen he pulled the button off of my pants and tore at them until he finally forced his way inside of me. I can still remember how I felt at that moment; there was a pure burning sensation like a hot fire poker was in between my legs, so many things were racing through my mind like why is he doing this to me? Is this really happening? Is this my fault?
I remember feeling like I was having an out of body experience and at the same time wondering how I am going to go home and act like nothing happened.
I remember crying while he tried to explain to me that was everything is going to be okay, but looking back I think I was in a state of shock. There was blood on my new pants which were now ripped and I began to worry about how I was going to hide it so I tied my jacket to my waist and walked into my house feeling numb, scared and totally seeped in shame.
I didn’t tell anyone for a long time, I could not even look at myself in the mirror. There were so many emotions I was struggling with and the biggest one was betrayal. This is someone I thought I could trust and said they loved me but I couldn’t process what had happened, I felt completely broken, disconnected and unable to come to terms that fact I had been changed forever, sadly alone….”damaged goods.”
When I found the journal I kept in high school and started reading it I noticed some significant differences.
Before this incident, my handwriting was whimsical and precise, my entries were hopeful and confident but right after this occurred I didn’t write for over a year; yet when I did, I never mentioned it and my handwriting was totally different; messy and careless, my words were full of fear and anger, those entries were difficult to read.
I became self-destructive by behaving in appropriate ways and lashed out at the people around me with my words and actions.
I became impulsive without thinking about the possible consequences, why should I care…the innocence was gone; something so important and special was taken away from me without my consent!
I knew carrying this secret was really hurting me, but I buried it deep inside and I thought no one would believe me anyway I guess I deserved it. I didn’t feel part of my family anymore and it broke my heart, my spirit and my sense of self-worth.
I wasn’t worthy of love and respect, I was the one responsible for what happened to me. It took me many years to find the courage to tell anyone and even though it was forty-three years ago, I am still able to go back to it like it was yesterday.
This is the first time I have put into words what happened which has given me a sense of freedom and permission to acknowledge it was sexual assault and it wasn’t my fault.
I also feel that sharing this “out loud” has given me an inner strength and peace from speaking the truth.
There have been some very healing moments when I told my story to women who have had a similar experience.
I slowly found the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for myself and others, which has also allowed me to spot the hurt with my clients in my own special way.
Shame still washes over me at times but I have learned that we are not able to do this work alone; we do need others to help us so please don’t underestimate the power of being seen!
I still have moments when I struggle with trust in my personal relationships; it is difficult for me to let people in but more importantly I am finally learning to trust myself. Brene Brown says” True belonging isn’t external, it doesn’t involve anyone else; it is something we carry in our hearts.”
I realized it can only happen when I present my authentic, imperfect self to the world and my willingness to belong is never greater than my ability to accept who I truly am…. Always remember worthiness is FREE!
To help women be brave and share their true selves, I will be hosting a new workshop based on Dr. Brené Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness”.
In this book, Brené discusses the pain of loneliness and how anxiety and uncertainty tends to undermine our ability to engage socially.
People are looking for a true connection to others and sometimes that need can be compromised by a fear of conflict and intolerance from loved ones or peers.