Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape, which may be triggering. Reader discretion is advised.
I have been going back and forth about publishing this piece for months now. Even as I’m writing this, committed to publishing later this evening, I am having second thoughts. Despite all of the personal truths I have shared through this forum, all of the pieces of my soul I’ve poured into my writing, there is still something so difficult about sharing this particular truth, this particular story.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have conflicting views about the #MeToo movement that has surfaced in the media recently. As an experienced sexual assault advocate, it baffles me that most, if not all, of these posts on social media lack a trigger warning (similar to the one I’ve included at the top of this article). The result? We inadvertently turned our social media channels into a glorified mine field for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment. I myself avoided Facebook and Instagram for almost a week because I felt bombarded with #MeToo posts, many without warning, and started to re-live my own trauma.
For the last few months, I can’t seem to turn on the news or SNL without learning that one of my previously beloved male actors, singers, songwriters, directors, newscasters, etc. is a sexual predator. The result has, quite frankly, caused me to re-live some of the fear that I worked so hard to overcome. It is a large reason why I haven’t written in a while and why I haven’t published a post recently.
During this scary time, I decided to return to the practice that has always had my back: yoga. And it was just this week, actually, that I had a realization…yoga has always helped me heal. In fact, when I look back on my life, I can pinpoint each time I found my way back to my mat and, inevitably, back to myself.
So just for today, just in this moment, I am choosing to speak out. To speak my truth. Not just for myself, but for the millions of other women that have spoken out before me and who will continue to do so long after you have finished reading this post. This is my #MeToo story.
During my sophomore year of college, I was raped by my best male friend. We were extremely close, inseparable even, and I trusted him completely. So much so that, when we both found ourselves single at the same time, I chose to lose my virginity to him.
It wasn’t a rash, drunken one-night stand by any sense. To the contrary, we stayed up talking about the decision for several hours before making the mutual, consensual decision to sleep together for the first time. He listened to my fears and repeatedly told me that he would stand by whatever I decided. We discussed how sex might impact our friendship and whether either of us were looking for a committed relationship. We talked, listened, laughed and, in the end, found ourselves in exactly the same place: wanting to experience that single, intimate moment together.
Unlike many of my girlfriends, I can honestly say that my “first time” was pretty great. There was no alcohol, no smelly fraternity house, no mind games. Just two people that cared for each other and wanted to share a profound, special moment in my life.
I wish so desperately that the story had ended there. That we had gone our separate ways, never to see each other ever again. Had that been the case, I would be able to look back on my “first time” with a smile, proud of myself for choosing to share that part of myself with someone I trusted so much.
Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there and the very person I had chosen to share such an important piece of myself with hurt me in the worst way you can hurt a person. Several months later, on the evening of the 2011 Super Bowl, he sexually assaulted me.
It was the oldest script in the book and, I have to admit, I was angry at myself for a long time for “falling for it.” He invited me and a close girlfriend to his apartment to watch the game and started pressuring us to drink 90-proof alcohol straight from the bottle. We were a year younger and I had been casually sleeping with him for a while, so naturally we wanted to fit in. What started as a few innocent shots quickly lead to him literally pouring drinks down our throats and, eventually, escorting my friend out of the apartment.
My head was swerving and I remember going in and out of consciousness. I tried to ask my friend where she was going, but I couldn’t seem to find the right words. I must have passed out because the next thing I remember is him pushing me into the hard edge of his kitchen counter as he touched me from behind. I wanted to say no, wanted to push him off of me and run away, but I couldn’t. I was frozen. Helpless. Alone. I closed my eyes and waited for it to end before adjusting my skirt, grabbing my flats, and meeting my friend in the hallway.
I told my friend that we needed to get back to my dorm and head to bed. I did not tell her what really happened that night for almost 8 months.
I spent much of that year questioning myself and what happened on the evening of the Super Bowl. Like many women, I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have been drinking that much. I put myself in harm’s way. I shouldn’t have worn such a revealing outfit. I wanted him to like me. I wanted to have sex with him. I should have left with my friend. I should have called Campus Security. I should have known better. We had already slept together. He was my friend, he wouldn’t really hurt me. I was drunk, maybe I made it up. Maybe it was a weird dream. Maybe I was wrong.
Nearly six years and countless of hours of therapy later I, at least intellectually, know that is all complete bullshit. I did not consent to the liquor that was poured down my throat. I did not consent to being isolated from my support system. I did not consent to him raising my skirt. I did not consent to his touch.
It took me a really long time to gain the strength to share this story, but even longer to regain my sexuality. My introduction into intimacy began so beautifully and, to have it destroyed with such violence, crushed my confidence. I started hating my body. I became scared of intimacy. I did not want to share that piece of myself with anyone ever again out of the very real fear of being hurt.
Somewhere along the way, a therapist suggested yoga. I was admittedly weary, but figured it couldn’t hurt. I enrolled in a free, on-campus yoga class and decided to give it a try.
It was by no means a quick journey but, slowly over time, I started to return to my body. The physical asanas of yoga allowed me to safely feel parts of my body again, to open those parts of myself that had been closed off for so long. I learned to appreciate touch again through the kind, compassionate hands-on assists provided by my teachers. I learned to see my body as beautiful. I learned to admire myself, especially the sexual parts of my body that I had grown to fear. My breasts, my heart, my vagina, my groin, my glutes. Each were whole and complete and beautiful. Each were a perfect part of me.
The meditative aspects of yoga also helped me heal by calming my mind. In the years that followed my sexual trauma, I began to experience crippling anxiety and panic attacks. My thoughts were constantly racing, and I needed a way to slow them down, to slow myself down.
Learning to meditate was extremely difficult because, in those times of stillness, my greatest fears and worst memories bubbled right to the surface. It took years for me to feel safe enough to sit alone with my own thoughts, and it is something that I still struggle with to this day.
One of the hardest lessons my yoga practice has taught me is the concept of forgiveness. Of letting go.
For years, I exhausted my mental and emotional energy hating the man that hurt me. I wanted to put an end to this type of violence. I wanted revenge. I wanted justice.
What I’ve learned is simple: you cannot control the actions of others. You cannot control the perceptions of others. At the end of the day, the only person’s actions and thoughts that we can truly control are our own.
And we have the ability to forgive.
I may never be able to forgive my assaulter. It’s just not who I am.
The person I have chosen to forgive, however, is myself. I forgive the young girl whose trust was so egregiously betrayed. I forgive her for being too scared to speak up. I forgive her for fearing what her friends or teachers or parents or coworkers would say if she did come forward with the truth. I forgive her for questioning herself. I forgive her for thinking that her body was a weapon. I forgive her for thinking she was ugly. I forgive her for having anxiety and panic attacks. I forgive her for fearing men. I forgive her for sleeping with the wrong guys. I forgive her for trying to sabotage the healthy relationships she has had since the assault. I forgive her for being a woman, for being human.
As women, we know that my story is far from unique. Our bodies are viewed as property, rarely belonging to ourselves and often for the enjoyment of others. While its execution has not been perfect, the intention behind the #MeToo movement is critical: we are not alone. Our experiences as women are universal.
I challenge you to find one woman that has not been physically harmed or cat-called on her way home from work. One woman that hasn’t been called “sexy” or “beautiful” by a male coworker, or turned down for a promotion because she went on maternity leave. One woman that has not been body-shamed for having curves or told that her body hair is gross or that her vagina ought to smell like a fucking field of wild flowers. One woman that hasn’t paid 50 cents more for a pink colored razor instead of the equally-effective silver one that is marketed “for men.” One woman that hasn’t been called a slut for having a sex life or whose private, personal photographs haven’t been shared on the Internet. One woman that hasn’t had to awkwardly turn down a drink from a man that won’t accept “no” as an answer in a bar. One woman who hasn’t been made to feel unsafe or in serious danger of being hurt or killed, simply because she is a woman.
If you or someone you love has experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape, you are not alone. Survivors and their loved ones can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Helpline 24/7 at (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or online via RAINN’s confidential, live hotline chat.
For more information about your legal rights as a survivor as well as ways you can stand up against sexual violence, please visit www.rainn.org.