Editor’s note: The author of this column is writing under an alias to protect their identity.
As much as I resist them, the flashbacks never subside. I think about what happened every single day.
I was 17 years old. It was the night of the last day of my senior year of high school. I felt free — more free than I had in my entire life. I felt ready to take on new challenges, experiences and make the most of the newfound independence.
That night amid the glory and euphoria, I was raped by a coworker and friend. The next day, I couldn’t admit to myself what had happened the night before. I shut it out completely. I pushed the thought so far down, refusing to acknowledge what may or may not have happened.
I felt so unsure. I was so quick to dispel the idea in my head. I thought something like that would never happen to me.
I kept it to myself for a year. I spent a year battling these thoughts. Day after day, I’d attempt to muster muffled images of that night in my head, trying to piece together an answer to why it happened.
The answer was I didn’t know. I still don’t. I don’t know why this happened to me, and I don’t know why this happens to the 321,500 men and women that are raped or sexually assaulted each year in the U.S, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
I know that the memory will follow me for the rest of my life. It haunts me every day.
I lost sight of who I was. Sometimes I feel like I’m still searching for her. But everything about that night shaped me into the person I am now.
I hold a lot of residual anger, but I don’t blame myself anymore. It took a lot of evaluating to understand that I was not the problem. I was not why this happened, and I am not less of a person because of it.
One thing I’ve struggled with was showing weakness. I built up walls that were never there before and confined myself to emotional boundaries I didn’t dare cross.
I hate to be seen as weak, and I despise the words victim and survivor because of that. I can’t be a survivor if I haven’t fully overcome it.
I will not succumb to being a victim. Doing so, I’ll be defeated.
For the past two years I’ve been trying to conquer the fear, anger and guilt. Each day, I remember. With the memories come overwhelming emotions, but I remind myself that I am unassailable.
It happened, and it was a horrible thing, but life didn’t stop because of it.
It’s been over two years, and I still have a lot of questions I know will never be answered. But that’s OK. What matters is that I continue with daily life, as difficult as it may be some days. At the end of it all, I will know I didn’t let it take over me forever. I didn’t let it win. I will never be defeated because I was raped.