Choosing to Survive

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, trauma

Anyone else just absolutely obsessed with the Netflix series BoJack Horseman? The show about  a talking horse, but he’s sad? Think Eeyore if he was on cocaine. 

There’s a line from it that I  can’t get out of my head: “Life is a bitter, nasty slog, mein herr; why not sell your sadness as a brand?” 

I adore the idea of selling trauma. Slicing it away piece by piece like it’s a cherry pie. As if laying  your skeletons bare for the world to see ever alleviated the burden of their care. 

In fact, I loved the idea so much that three years ago I wrote an article for The Cord, Laurier’s  school newspaper, called  “Learning to Trust After Trauma”. It was my attempt to process a sexual assault I had gone through when I was 15. 

Before I say anything else, I want to clarify: I do not blame myself for being raped.  I used to and there are dark days, when I want to hurt my own feelings, that I still do. I blame myself for my naivety, for not being able to fight back. 

But I know enough now to understand  that you can’t really blame a girl for losing a game she didn’t even know she was playing. 

That girl above has no idea what’s going to happen. She doesn’t know about all the ways a man  can humiliate a woman. When she’s raped, she won’t know what to do, so she locks it away.  Until I wrote that article, back in 2018, I never acknowledged what had happened to  me. A little secret, between him and I alone. 

However—and I think a lot of the others who have chosen to stay silent will agree—the shame that’s born from the secret is a poison you force yourself to swallow daily. 

For years I was alone in my terror. Because of my silence I was locked away in that room with  him. When I wrote that article, I thought I was freeing myself. But all I ended up doing was  drawing back the curtains. I was now exposed, humiliated and ashamed. 

If you’re wondering if I handled that well, the answer is a resounding no. The word I would use  to describe the three years that followed is ‘catastrophic’.  

After the article, I dropped out of university and did a quick and easy spiral into addiction.  Despite this, I have no regrets about writing it. It was the first step in reclaiming a voice I thought had  died in that room. Besides, it was during the fight out of those ruins that I finally began to learn.  

As it turns out, shouting to the world ‘I’m a victim’ did not fill me with the strength #METOO  seemed to suggest it would. Despite the support I had from my family and peers (support which  I willfully ignored), there was no feeling of empowerment. When I looked in the mirror all I saw  was his victim. I wasn’t the girl who survived, I was the girl who couldn’t get back up. The girl  who froze. 

Except now, everyone in my life knew too.  

This is what I didn’t know at the time, that I wish I had: you have to choose to be the survivor.  Even if everyone else is calling you  one, you have to choose to survive. Survival is a choice. It is all a choice.  

I may not have chosen to be raped but I sure as hell chose to stay down. I checked out of this  world. I didn’t make plans for my future because I didn’t care if I had one. My last ten years  were largely spent in my room, barely going to classes, barely seeing  my friends, barely participating in life.  

Because I had internalized the belief that I’m prey and that I’m weak, I became a perpetual  victim. There was a spider’s web in my mind of what I couldn’t do entrapping me, all because I was still stuck in the shame  of being the victim. 

By 2020 I had drunk myself into poverty. It was just a couple of years prior when I was on the precipice of greatness, but now I was teetering at the edge of the abyss.

Defeated and losing my mind at 23, I moved in with my brother (my eternal knight in  shining armor) and was finally able to look within and face my demons.  

Maybe it was the steady stream of Jocko and Jim Rohn, or the country air, or all the stories of  everyone else hitting rock bottom. But something must have sunk in eventually because there  has been a change in my thinking. 

That change just might be me finally growing up and learning accountability. I will never have  full control over my life, nobody does. You make plans and the universe laughs. But what I do  have, what I’ll always have, is full control over how I react. These are words, I realize, my father  has been telling me since I was a little girl.  

I remember a conversation I had with a friend after the article was published. She went through  a similar experience in high school, silence and all. I said to her, “I would rather die than be  raped again”—death over humiliation. Because truthfully, that’s always been what bothered me most. My body being taken from me, like I’m just a thing. To be treated and used as if  you’re not even a human is something nobody should ever have to endure.  

She disagreed with my plea for death, telling me that it’s not right to think like that. She  pointed out that we were both still alive, we both survived. I couldn’t argue but couldn’t agree either. I was so lost in my victimhood that I couldn’t see what she was saying: thinking the way I thought isn’t just a slight  to those who didn’t survive, it’s a promise that if there’s a next time, you won’t either. It was me surrendering to my fear before the battle even started.  

This is the tricky thing of accountability. It doesn’t necessarily fix the fear. I still live with it, the  fear of being raped again. I’m a woman, I’ll live with that threat until I’m old enough to be  considered invisible. But what accountability gives me is a chance for control. 

At 15 I didn’t know about the threat of assault, but I certainly do now. I know the threat is there  so now it’s my responsibility to protect myself, it’s time to learn some self-defense. 

At 22 I never thought I could become an alcoholic. Now at 25 it’s my responsibility to see that my penchant for addiction will control my life if I let it. 

At 35, I know I’m going to look back and laugh at all I can’t yet see. Life has many lessons to teach me still. 

All of this terrifies me, but it’s not enough to just be scared. Holding myself accountable means  it’s time to do something. It’s time to stop letting fear control me.  

One of our greatest gifts as humans is that we get to learn from our mistakes. My gravest  mistake was to believe for one moment that he destroyed me. He doesn’t get to be that. He  doesn’t have that kind of power, he never did.  

Why is it that the most painful truths are always the most liberating? I destroyed myself. I  ruined myself. 

But the best part is this: I get to rebuild myself. I get to save myself.