April Fools (A letter to Liv)

Yet again, I am consumed with awe at the strength of another woman, friend, and survivor of sexual assault. In this story, that a friend has so bravely shared with me, I see strength and empowerment. She uses her story to encourage others and remind others that they are not alone. She takes this painful experience and is able to find the purpose and the hope through the pain. Please read her words below to hear her story. It left me in chills. 

April Fools:

It’s been 1 year, 7 months and 5 days. Even though I’ve changed positively in some ways, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to change what happened that day.

I had been drinking that night at a party and had laid down to go to sleep on my friends couch. I figured I would just wake up the next morning and make the way back to my apartment the next day. But that wasn’t what happened.

I remember waking up to one of my “friends”, a senior exchange student from the Caribbean who was a coworker at the Rec, on top of me.

I’ll call him “Cam”.

He was forcing his hand up my athletic shorts and past my underwear, into me. I remember being frozen when I first became conscious, and then after processing it, trying to push him off of me, saying no over and over, begging him to stop.

He didn’t.

Instead, he moved to kiss me, and push himself further into me.

I couldn’t move. He had pinned me down and I was too intoxicated to fight as much as I wanted, but it didn’t stop me from trying.  

I remember blacking out at that point. I don’t know how much more happened, but I’m guessing it was my brains way of protecting me from something more traumatic that might have happened. I don’t like to speculate, so I focus on what I know. Assuming the worst would only hurt me more instead of helping me to heal.

That next morning I thought that maybe it had all been a dream. A really really terrible and traumatizing dream, but a dream nevertheless. So I acted like nothing happened. My clothes were still on, and I didn’t have any bruises from being held down. So I ignored it.

A group of us that had stayed the night, one of my best friends (I’ll call her Erin), her ex-boyfriend, his roommate, and Cam, all decided to go grab some food and then walk around campus for a bit. The 2 other guys that were there were visiting from out of town and wanted to see our campus.

When I went to change into different shorts, the area between my legs was sore. I wrote it off as being dehydrated or running into something that night before. After eating, we walked around and Cam was lagging behind. We couldn’t figure out why he was acting so weird.

When we got to campus, the University had put together the flags for sexual assault awareness week. For people who don’t go to the U of A, one of the RSO’s (registered student organizations) puts out hundreds of red and white flags all across the lawn of the Student Union. 1 red flag for every 3 white ones , representing the 1 in 4 women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. They also included that 1 in every 16 men are sexually assaulted as well.

We got to the flags, and I had a moment where there was a flashback to my dream. The pit in my stomach that had started to form that morning was growing bigger. I was still sore down there and every time I closed my eyes I had a replay of my “dream” going on. Cam was silent. I kept pretending everything was fine. When we went to move on towards the football stadium, he followed but 50 feet behind us.

Eventually we all went back to my friend Erin’s apartment, and Cam left immediately. I went ahead and tagged along with Erin and the other 2 guys to Crystal Bridges, and eventually we made our way back.

After she dropped me off, I went to grab my car to go get some gas.

This is when I found out my dream wasn’t a dream.

I went to the restroom. When I pulled down my shorts that’s when I noticed it. The dried blood. I wasn’t on my period. And was nowhere near having it either. I immediately had another flashback to the images of Cam on top of me, feeling him inside me, and  panicked feelings from the night before coming back.

Anxiety and shock washed over me and I didn’t know what to do or feel. I ran to my car and immediately went home to change. I threw my clothes in a ziplock bag and marked the date. I felt like I had seen someone do something like that before on Law and Order to conserve the evidence. Then I drove to my best friend Catie’s house.

That’s when it fully hit me. I sat in the car and began to cry. It wasn’t a soft, or weak cry like when you’re lonely, or when you get stressed about something, or even when you break up with someone you love.

It was worse.

This was one of the hardest, most painful cries I’ve ever had. It felt like my soul had been ripped apart. I sat outside her apartment waiting for this feeling to go away, the tears to stop, the pain in between my legs to fade, the gut-wrenching realization that I had been violated to disappear, and the betrayal that the person who did this to me was someone I thought was my friend to recede.

Overwhelmed doesn’t seem like the right word to describe how I was feeling in that moment.

Devastated barely begins to describe it.

The pain that you feel after someone has taken away your autonomy is unreal. Knowing that even when you fought and said no, it didn’t matter. There was nothing I could have done to to stop him in that moment. He was stronger than me and that was what counted.

What he wanted was more important that the right I have to my own body.

After 30 minutes of sitting outside her apartment in my car, I finally began to cry less, and I called to let her know I was coming. I was scared to death but I didn’t know who else to tell.

When I made it up to her door, I felt everything washing over me again. The moment she opened the door, I began to bawl, and immediately ran into her arms. I cried for another 20 minutes before I was even able to talk. Even then, I was sputtering out my words incoherently and tears were still streaming down my face. Catie sat and listened, holding me and letting me cry. She let me talk, and cry, and get it all out.

I spent the night, and she let me hang out with her almost all of the next day despite her being busy.

I don’t think I can ever thank her enough for that day. Her support was possibly one of the few things that kept me from going over the edge. She went with me to CAPS, our campus mental health office, and sat with me while I waited for an appointment. She never pushed me to report and supported me 100% along the way.

Most importantly, she believed me.

The small handful of other people I gradually told about the incident couldn’t believe what happened. I must have been flirty, or Cam was way too nice of a guy to do something that bad and I was overreacting. That or the fake sympathy. My roommates at the time didn’t help much. I was floundering, drowning from the guilt, the self-hate, and the shame of what happened. I couldn’t sleep at night, and kept the lights on constantly because I was terrified of having flashbacks in the dark. I broke down after seeing/hearing something that reminded me of him or what happened. I fell behind in classes. But instead of offering support, they barely spoke to me, and acted indifferent, or offered fake sympathy for what happened.

I don’t blame them at all or hold it against them, I was not in a good spot and this is a hard thing to process from even an outside perspective. But it did hurt to feel like I was being rejected.

I wasn’t able to tell my boyfriend about it until almost a month after it happened. I was terrified of what his reaction would be.

Today, I still struggle. But I am stronger.

I took the pain and betrayal from that experience and channeled it into my drive to make myself a better person. I didn’t want to linger on the experience anymore and let it consume me, so I took to working out. Everyday I went to the gym, I focused on being able to have control over my body again, in an environment where I was safe.

I also ended up switching positions within the workplace to avoid contact with him all together. I took my new job and was determined to make it a positive experience.

I got involved with the community and volunteered at an animal shelter, and continued to push myself in all areas of my life. I’m more vocal about my opinions, and I feel more empowered to say no to people, in all areas of my life.

My ability to trust was damaged but I was working on making new connections. I did cut off most of my connections to people in that friend/work group, but it was necessary to move forward. Today I still have moments where I struggle, but I work to focus on the good in people, and in the world, despite the negative climate we consistently see in media and even among people we know. I know personally, I have worked on expanding my circle and trusting more. It has been an uphill battle, but it’s one that I know is worth it.

I found encouragement in my best friend, my sister, my boyfriend and my dad. They helped me to move forward and not dwell on what happened. My therapist after the incident was helpful, but eventually I wanted to move past it completely, and stopped going after a couple months. This was how I processed it.

All of these things I think are the “good” that came from the bad.

What I want others to get from potentially hearing this story is to be encouraged and know that even throughout the pain of what happens, you can rebuild yourself. It will take time, but it is possible. You will change, but that is not a bad thing. There is a future, and I was lucky enough to have a small group of people in my life that helped me to see that. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

I strongly encourage anyone going through this to reach out. There are people who will be there for you, and there will also be people who aren’t. Cling to the good. Let yourself feel everything or box it up. Do what helps you move forward.

You are loved so much, by those in your life, and by our God. Know that He will always love you, even if you don’t feel worthy of it. For those who don’t look to God in times of struggle, know that you have people around you, even if you don’t feel like it. And never be afraid to ask for help.

– Anonymous

To the friend who sent me this story and to others who may connect to this experience:

I am so sorry that this happened to you. I know that you’ve probably been told this, but I want to reaffirm that it is not your fault. I believe there will never be too many times to hear this statement. It is not your fault. You did not deserve that. I know you, and I’ve seen your heart and you did not deserve that. You are worth more than that.

I can feel the pain and panic through your words. You wrote about it eloquently. It is hard to even describe the feelings one identifies with in these moments, but you sat down and faced it.  You felt all of the feelings. I hope you do not minimize the bravery and courage it takes to do just that. You not only lived through the situation itself, but you overcame the aftermath. You looked it straight in the eyes and decided it isn’t going to control you any more. That is so incredibly brave.

The ending of your letter gave me chills. Your encouragement to others is so incredibly true. For all survivors out there – copy the last three stanzas of this letter and hang it up in your room or next to your mirror. Any time you see it, read it out loud until you believe it.

What I want others to get from potentially hearing this story is to be encouraged and know that even throughout the pain of what happens, you can rebuild yourself. It will take time, but it is possible. You will change, but that is not a bad thing. There is a future, and I was lucky enough to have a small group of people in my life that helped me to see that. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

I strongly encourage anyone going through this to reach out. There are people who will be there for you, and there will also be people who aren’t. Cling to the good. Let yourself feel everything or box it up. Do what helps you move forward.

You are loved so much, by those in your life, and by our god. Know that he will always love you, even if you don’t feel worthy of it. For those who don’t look to god in times of struggle, know that you have people around you, even if you don’t feel like it. And never be afraid to ask for help.

Thank you for sharing your story with me. Your words and your life have impacted me and they will impact so many others. I am honored to get to share your story and to make your voice heard. Continue to cling to the good! Know that in the remainder of your healing, you are brave, you are loved, and you are enough.  

If you would like to share your story, email your Letter to Liv to aolividyer@gmail.com.

Please leave some love in the comments! 

 

 

 

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