Sexual Assault Awareness Photo Story
** TRIGGER WARNING: Photos contain graphic images related to sexual assault. **
Many thanks to Liz Gilani of Liz Gilani Photography for your amazing work.
He played the friend. He played the role quite well, actually…at least in the beginning. Always checking in just to see how I was doing. Always asking if I was “okay” and being there at every turn, making his way into my trust. With time and patience, he learned my joys, my fears, what I wanted and perhaps more importantly, what I didn’t. All the time expressing his care.
It never occurred to me how deeply something was amiss until one day, alone with him, his demeanor shifted on a dime. Suddenly emanating a presence so cold and ominous the entire environment, the very air itself just…changed. Terror sat in, my mind started racing, and I tried to speak but my breath was somehow gone. I just…froze.
Some events are too traumatic to fully experience. So your mind drifts upwards and you watch events play out from outside your body. When you’re alone with someone twice your size and they begin manifesting demonic qualities, there’s not a lot you can do besides drift away for the moment…and pray it’s over soon.
Time slows down in a strange way. You float outside yourself as though you’re watching a movie. In the moment, it seems to last an eternity but looking back, it all went by in a flash.
Laying there still and silent with my thoughts fuzzy, distant, and far away. I remember everything. Every. Damn. Thing. I watch it all like a movie in my mind but the feelings aren’t there, as though it was a dream that happened to someone else. You don’t feel anything, actually…not a single thing.
Days went by in a fugue. Eventually the numbness wore off but when it did, despair replaced it. Oh God, the despair. Overwhelming and unlike anything you’ve ever felt. Full of confusion, I struggled to accept the reality of what happened. My mind continually searched for a rationalization that didn’t include the truth. After all, he was my friend. I mean…wasn’t he? Nothing made sense and no rational reasoning explained what happened. I simply couldn’t put it together. Over and over again I recalled all our conversations. I remembered setting my boundaries and I ran through the memories and conversations and promises over and over trying to make sense out of it. Nothing made sense until it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the first clear thought I’d had in weeks and it scrolled across my brain like a moving banner.
He knew…he just didn’t care.
Is that even possible? “No,” I thought. “Nobody’s that evil.” But…..yes, he did know. But somehow, he just didn’t care. Over time I came to understand the term psychopathy, and studying it put together every single confusing piece of what I had experienced. But at the time all I knew was that I wanted to die.
That’s when the despair faded, but only to give way to an anger…no, rage… so deep and intense it nearly overwhelmed. A pure rage, a righteous rage… not yet tainted with thoughts of retribution. It’s the purest anger anyone could ever feel, and yet there is no expression to be given it. In my world, a woman’s rage (no matter how justified) often brings a fresh host of accusations, scolding, religious shame, or scrutinizing doubt. Which is all a brand new and compounded form of trauma. Without a single acknowledgement of the wrong done, much less justice for it, it was demanded that I “forget about it” and “just move on”… What a horrific evil to add to the first…
Yet as simple as people wanted it to be, it was impossible. When someone violates you, they force a sickness onto you that is neither asked for nor deserved. And there is no “just moving on” from that. You’re made to carry the weight of someone else’s sin, filth, darkness, and shame even though you did nothing wrong. No matter how many showers you take, that sickness and shame does not leave you. It seeps into your cells and it clings to your soul. You cry, you scream, you pray, you bargain, and you beg with God for mercy to cleanse this filth and yet it does no good because it wasn’t really your soul that needed cleansing. It was theirs. But now you’re paying the price for it.
It’s hard to know what’s more painful – the assault itself or the horrible responses from others. Accusations, condescending looks, judgement, and those you counted as friends that magically disappear the moment you need them.
“Were you drinking?”
“What did you do to deserve that?”
“Well, you ARE really pretty…”
And endless other judgements, justifications, and criticisms. As though the trauma itself wasn’t enough, you now must bear the weight of judgement and doubt from everyone you thought should care.
All you can do is isolate. Because telling the truth is labeled “bitterness”, legitimate anger is labeled “bitchiness,” the results of the trauma is labeled “attention seeking”, and there is no option that provides any amount of validation, much less support. If it all doesn’t drive you into self-harm or suicide, the only way to survive is that a part of you must die. A very large part. You’re forced to either withdraw completely or lock away the pain in a huge self-negating attempt to convince yourself you’re okay. The first option brings more judgement, pain, and suffering and yet the second requires you to live in a twisted state of denial about your own reality, driving the sickness even further into your being.
In time, too much time it seems, the anger solidifies into resolve. And eventually you accept that it’s your job to heal no matter who understands or supports you. You realize that the ignorance and neglect of culture, friends, family, and even the police don’t matter and more importantly… they never did. You realize you have the choice to either let the trauma kill you or you can dig deep enough to find a strength you never thought you had. So you take their hateful attitudes and ignorant statements and you rip them into shreds. You decide it’s time to give yourself the love that nobody else would.
It takes what feels like forever. But when you’re forced to suffer alone, you develop a greater power than if the whole world had stood by your side. You gain the sort of strength that, because it came from no other person, no other person can ever take away.
It’s a journey through the darkest pit of hell on earth, but in the end you realize that what was meant to kill you was used to grow you.
If you have been sexually assaulted and are experiencing the effects of trauma, please know that you are not alone and you will make it through. I know it feels like you’ve been broken and defeated, but I promise you have the strength inside to overcome it. Just keep walking, keep seeking answers, keep asking the questions…because I promise the strength and the answers will come.
If you need some extra support on your road to recovery, please feel free to reach out. And if you don’t know anything else, just know you aren’t alone…