I was raped when I was 15 years old. It has taken me 651 days to say it. To accept it as part of me. To begin to heal. It took me nine months to admit to my family that it had even occurred. I was in the hospital, and a social worker gave me an ultimatum:
“You can tell them, or I can tell them. Either way, they will know, and you can begin to move on with your life.”
Rape is a topic that is not discussed in pleasant conversation. You never know how it is going to be taken, and you certainly do not want to offend anyone. Being raised as a proud, yet dignified, woman, I was bred to swallow my sorrow and not discuss hardships. I was not to hang my dirty laundry in public. Admitting that I had been so naïve, foolish enough to let someone hurt me in this way, was virtually out of the question. I hid my shame until it devoured my insides, and poisoned my thoughts. I was small child, naked, cold and alone. I let myself be victimized and tormented by memories and fear of seeing my attacker again.
On the one year anniversary, I decided to use my pain to do something constructive. I became a teen ambassador to a local women’s crisis center, and started educating the public about sexual and domestic violence in our community. It was through these lessons I was teaching that I learned I was not, in fact a victim, but a survivor. The advocates I met through volunteer work listened to my story, over and over, and constantly reassured me that I was brave and strong. I had never before been encouraged to speak, but I found that each time I shared my experience, it became easier to accept it, and to grow from it.
It will be two years this summer, and even though it is still painful to admit, I am no longer afraid of what I lost. Looking at the power I have gained, I have no regrets. Yes, I was raped, but it was never my fault, and it will never define me. I believe in talking about pain now. I know that to heal, you must share and experience pain. My mother always told me that misery loves company, but I am never sad when I share what happened. I am empowered. You must own your experiences, as they are the difference between victim and survivor.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.