I was sexually assaulted in 1986, but I didn’t call myself a survivor until 2010. It took twenty-four years for me to believe that what happened that night was really rape and to finally allow myself to feel and to heal. I’m sharing my story so that others who are suffering in silence may come out of the shadows and see the light of hope and healing.
As a college freshman I was eager to shed my awkward and shy persona from high school. On weekends, I went out with girls from my dorm to experience college nightlife, and we usually ended up at fraternity parties, since they were within walking distance. Dancing, drinking beer, and talking with guys added to a newfound freedom from strict curfews and overprotective parents.
One night, however, things changed. My girlfriends and I were dancing at a fraternity party when a guy took an extra interest in me. He suggested we go somewhere quieter so we could talk, but I didn’t want to go to his room, so he led me into the men’s bathroom. The only ripple of discomfort I felt was the strangeness of being in a bathroom while men used the facility. I had no fear. I wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t mean, and I felt like I was in control of my circumstances. In my naïve mind, it was virtually a public place, just a little quieter.
When he pushed me against the tile wall and kissed me, it was more aggressive than tender. Before I could do or say anything he grabbed my hair and pushed me down. I had never done anything but kiss before so I had no idea what was happening even as it happened. I struggled. I cried. I pushed away. I couldn’t scream. Finally he let go, and I dropped to the floor. Crying and confused about what had happened, I waited for someone to rush to my side. After he left, I used the tiny sink to wash him off of me as some guys looked on. No one said anything.
In the following weeks I suffered in silence, bathed in shame and disgust. I had bouts of rage, throwing things in the room and punching the walls. My drinking escalated to the point where I drank every day, I skipped classes, and on occasion I hid in my closet with a fifth of whiskey. My self worth, self-image, and self-respect plummeted as I careened down a path of self destruction. My twisted logic didn’t see the incident as the cause of the subsequent bad behavior, but rather it all began to blend into believing that I was just that kind of person.
By some miracle, the intense self-loathing and suicidal wishes decreased enough in the following years that I was able to live a relatively normal life complete with a husband and three children. What I didn’t realize was that my continued drinking was helping to mask my deep feelings of shame for what happened and what became of me. I never spoke of the incident, and I never spoke with complete honesty about my freshman year. I repressed. I moved on. I didn’t heal.
Ultimately, the crutch of alcohol ended up being the sword with which I was killing myself. I wanted to die. I hated who I was, where I had been, what I had done. I felt like my husband and kids deserved better than me, but instead of dying, I got sober.
After two years of sobriety, revolting visions plagued me, and I couldn’t stop crying. The intensity was greatest in the shower, and I couldn’t scrub the memories off my skin. I was angry at myself for overreacting about a two-decades-old incident and allowing old memories to create fresh pain. I was mature. I was sober. I had a support network. I knew how to deal with feelings, but these feelings were overwhelming and paralyzing, so I sought help through the local Sexual Assault Center and a psychologist.
I fought against calling my experience rape. I minimized it since I was fully dressed, there was no weapon, I was kissing him just prior to the assault, and because I wasn’t hurt. I was embarrassed that I felt traumatized about something that wasn’t nearly as bad as what others experienced.
Because I struggled to justify my feelings, my therapist suggested I write what happened using a third person vantage point. Looking with compassion at the wounded girl, I became enraged. It was a remarkable turning point to accept that I was that girl, and I deserved to heal. Finally, I was able to turn the anger toward the person who deserved it – the man who forced himself on me and changed my life forever.
Yes, the moment was fleeting and was only a drop of time compared to my whole life, but that instance distorted my life’s path. A sheet of paper that gets crumpled and then flattened again is still a sheet of paper, but the creases remain. Learning about the long lasting consequences of sexual assault, and talking with other survivors was crucial to my recovery, so I have a desire to pass along the hope that was shared with me.
My therapeutic writing led me to write Shadows of Truth, a novel about facing and accepting the wreckage in life caused by a traumatic experience and ultimately showing how desperation can ignite courage and deep pain can lead to great strength.
Although every detail in Shadows of Truth is fictional, the feelings and reactions are similar to those on my journey. The story is painstakingly realistic in its description of the downward spiral into rage, revenge, and depression as well as the elation of finding freedom from the burden of the truth through forgiveness and grace.
You can find Shadows of Truth at your favorite online retailer.
About the Author:
Angie Robinson is an author and speaker living in New Jersey. Her goal is to shine the light of hope in the darkness and to share the beauty of embracing the goodness and fullness of life.