Survivors: You are not a victim; you were perfectly placed in an imperfect position so that the strength you have been given would be the prescription. You are the Cure. – Sean Goode
You know the moment you get the news that you’ve been waiting for? Like a new job. Engagement. Baby on the way. One million likes on Facebook or Twitter. Pure elation. That was me in the winter of 1998. I had just been accepted to my college of choice in Sunny San Diego, CA! I couldn’t wait to leave the rainy (and beautiful) city of Seattle, WA. Sure, I would miss my friends and family tremendously, but I had dreamed of moving to San Diego to study fashion since I was 7 (no joke, just ask my mom) and the time had finally come.
I remember people asking if I was scared to move to another state all by myself. The truth was, I wasn’t scared at all. I had been raised with the belief that when we choose to follow the path of our heart and we strive to be our best self each and every day, things unfold as they should, in their perfect time. I was too overwhelmed with excitement to let fear creep in. And I was ready! Sooooooo ready.
Fear. It’s a strange thing. We aren’t born with it, it’s something we are conditioned to feel. “Be careful” our parents would say, each time we left the house alone. Be careful of what exactly? I don’t really think they knew. I think it was more of a protection shield for the parent, which in turn evoked a feeling of fear in the child. Regardless of why we were supposed to be careful, no doubt the statement came from a tremendous amount of love and our parents’ personal fear of the unknown – the fear that if something happened, how would they deal with it? I’m not a parent, but I find myself using “be careful” with my loved ones from time to time. Conditioning. So powerful.
Fear. It’s a necessary emotion but in my opinion, vastly overused. Until the day comes that it’s valid and you wish you never had to face that feeling – true fear – again.
It was September of 1999 when I picked up and moved to San Diego, CA. I was going alone and couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. I’d always been told that independence was important and was fortunate to have some incredible role models growing up. My mom & grandmother – or, “Nana” as we call her – were strong, independent, charismatic women, who always encouraged me to dream big and do even bigger. I took pride in stepping out on my own. It was my time to shine and let my spirit soar. It was exhilarating. But let’s be honest, when we’re young, we’re fearless. Such a beautiful thing. Naïve? Maybe a little. But incredibly beautiful, nonetheless. And that’s how I felt. Fearless. Unstoppable. Independent.
I settled into my new apartment and was eager to begin college right away. I didn’t know anyone but was thrilled at the prospect of making new friends and building new memories. I’d heard stories about college parties and all the wild and crazy experiences that college often brings and I couldn’t wait to see what all the hype was about. I’d always been very outgoing and loved new adventures so this chapter in my life would be no different. What could possibly go wrong?
I’d lived in San Diego for nearly a year when I met a charmer of a guy (looking back, he was overly so). He had a way of speaking that made people (women in particular) feel like they were the most important person in the room. He used pet names like “baby” and “sweetheart” often and it was no secret that he made girls swoon as he showered them with compliments. In retrospect, that should have been my first red flag. But what did I know, I was 19 and impressionable. And he was so darn cute.
He was older, established, successful and seemingly interested in me, which was flattering. He’d asked me out a couple of times, but because he was a customer at the place I worked, I politely declined. Persistence. It pays off. And eventually, I cracked and agreed to a date. Just one, I told myself. I’d get it out of my system and move on.
I was nervous. What was I going to wear? What if I said the wrong thing? What if he didn’t like me? What if, what if, what if… awwww, fear. Rearing its ugly little head again.
He had me meet him at his house for our first date, which I was fine with. I didn’t want him knowing where I lived yet, I barely knew the guy. From there, we went out to dinner with some of his friends. It was easy. Conversation flowed and my butterflies begin to dissipate. We laughed and I enjoyed myself. I even found myself hoping he’d ask me out again, which he did. Elated, I agreed, while still keeping my cool. I was, after all, a college student and he was a powerful entrepreneur, 8 years my senior. I didn’t want to give away how excited I was, so when I got in my car to drive home that night, I did a little happy dance and begin planning what I would wear for our next date.
Our second date started the same way. I met him at his place and from there, we went to dinner. He ordered a nice bottle of wine (I definitely wasn’t old enough to drink and never had a fake I.D. but they didn’t question me so I let it go). I was responsible though. I only had one glass of wine and sipped on water the rest of the meal. Everything was going great. He said we were going to stop by his place so he could grab a jacket for me and from there, we’d go to a movie. Seemed harmless. We got in his brand new, fancy sports car and we were off. Little did I know that my decision to go back to his house that night would ultimately lead to a moment that would change me – and my life – forever.
We got to his house and he asked me to come to his bedroom; he had something to show me. He kissed me and it was nice. I’d always been extremely assertive and harnessed the ability to speak my mind, but he made me nervous and caused a flutter in my stomach that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I know now that feeling was fear and it was warranted.
He grabbed me tightly, picked me up and laid me on his bed. What started out as an innocent make-out session, quickly turned into a fight that I remember so vividly. I pawed at his back as he unbuttoned my top. “Please stop”, I said. I didn’t recognize my voice. It was timid, meek, soft. “Oh baby, it’s fine. It’s just me. Relax. Enjoy it.” He unbuttoned my pants. “STOP!” I recognized this voice. It was mine and it was powerful. “You’ll like it, I promise”, he said. As tears streamed down my face, I was determined to fight with everything I had. And I did! But he was bigger than me, much bigger. I was all of 105 pounds and he was easily 200 pounds of solid muscle with the upper hand. He had me pinned beneath him and I felt utterly helpless.
As he ripped my shirt open and pulled my pants around my ankles, I found myself praying through the tears, “please, God… make him stop!”
He raped me that night. My world as I knew it would forever be changed. And so would I.
As I crawled into the bathroom, pants around my ankles, I sobbed. I cried for myself and for others that had gone through the same thing. I cried for my innocence and the shame I felt for not being strong enough to push him off of me. I cried for being a statistic. I cried because in that moment, I knew that I would not tell a soul.
After sitting on the bathroom floor for what felt like eternity, I calmly got up, wiped my face and walked through his bedroom towards the front door. “Where you goin’, baby?” Was he fucking serious?! I didn’t respond and left his house in silence, shocked, shaken and utterly overtaken with sadness. How could this have happened to me?
I walked into my apartment and showered, put on my pajamas and laid in bed, praying that God would use this experience for good. I asked that he give me strength and provide purpose in my pain. I cried. I cursed God. I cursed my abuser. I cursed myself. I should have known better.
3 weeks passed and I hadn’t returned any of his phone calls. I just kept thinking, “was this real?” and wondering why on earth he would possibly be calling me. What did he have to say? But I didn’t care. I never wanted to see him again – which inevitably would not be the case, unfortunately.
I went to work feeling extremely sick. I didn’t get off until 8pm and by then, urgent care was closed so my only option was the E.R. I knew in my heart this couldn’t wait. So after my shift, I mustered the strength that I had left and went into the clinic hoping for some relief. Answers as to why I felt like my insides were coming undone.
I was in so much pain, cramping with a fever. And my period was late.
As I sat in a hospital gown, chilled by the overuse of AC, waiting for the doctor to come back with my test results, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of panic. You see, just a few days prior, I noticed my breasts were tender and while I was late for my period, the thought that I could be pregnant seemed ridiculous. It’d only be 3 weeks since I was violated and thrown aside like a piece of trash. I wouldn’t have symptoms already… right?
“Well, we got your results back. It seems you’re pregnant, about 3 weeks.”
All that I could manage to say was, “get it out of me… NOW!”
I realize this was likely an extremely abrupt response. But as you can imagine, I was in shock. I immediately called my best friend and told her she had to come right away. I didn’t tell her why, only that it was an emergency and I needed her there. Then I called HIM. Yep, the one that made this all possible. I don’t know why. I guess part of me hoped he would apologize. Maybe take responsibility.
“Hey baby, how you doin’?” Noise in the background. “I didn’t call to talk. I am in the E.R. and guess what? I’m pregnant. This is YOUR fault.” “Well, I can’t talk right now.” That was his response. Furious, I hung up.
My best friend showed up and I told her that I was pregnant. She asked, how? Who? And I simply said, “You know that guy I went out with a few weeks ago? Him.” I didn’t tell her I was raped. Which would have helped her to understand my extreme anger at the situation. RAGE, really. But this was my burden to bare. Nobody else’s.
Now, this may be controversial, but you cannot possibly understand the complicated emotions that arise in an event such as this and not for one second have I ever regretted my decision. I ask that you use compassion if you decide to read further. This is my journey, not yours.
I went in for an abortion a week later.
“Well, you’re pregnant… but we can’t actually see it.” “What does that mean?” I asked. “Well, your test is positive, no doubt. But we can’t see it, so it may be too soon to actually have the procedure.” “I’m not waiting. I want this to be over. Please, just go through with it.”
Although hesitant, they agreed. Pretty sure there are procedures in place nowadays to alleviate such things from happening without definitive results. At least I hope so.
A few days later, I went into the doctor due to serious pain I was having. I was told that I may feel some cramping from the procedure, but this was intense. And my pain tolerance is high!
A day later, I got a call from the nurse. “You need to come in immediately.” “I have people in town… can it wait until tomorrow?” I know. Insane response given everything I was feeling and had been through, but the truth is, I wanted to feel normal – if even for a day! “No. This cannot wait. I need you in here immediately, or you could die.”
Are you effing kidding me? First, who says that over the phone? And who says that to a 19-year-old girl?
But alas, this was all part of the process and part of my journey.
I rushed into the clinic.
“It’s ectopic.” “It’s what?” I asked. “Ectopic. You’re still pregnant. Only it’s n your fallopian tube.” Again, shock. What on earth did that mean?
“I don’t understand.”
She explained to me that because of this I had two options, a minor surgery or a series of “chemo” injections to release the baby safely from my body and still give me a chance to have children some day. Waiting increased my chances of having it burst, which is where most women who have gone through this deal with infertility.
Surgery sounded terrifying and extreme so I opted for the “chemo” injections, which would last 4 months. That way, I could still work without recovery time. Again, irrational thinking. But this was not something I had experience in dealing with.
Driving home, I was eerily calm. I kept telling myself aloud, “you’re going to be okay… God never gives us anything we can’t handle.”
The moment I came home, I lost it. I called my mom, still in Seattle and told her “I had sex and I am pregnant.”
She showed up on my doorstep the next day.
It took me 4 years to tell anyone I was raped. And the first person I told was a man who I ended up dating for 11 years. The conversation happened only a week after we’d met as we sat in my living room drinking wine by the fire.
He never judged me. And it was in that moment that I felt free. It was in that moment that I knew he would be someone very special in my life. And he still is to this day, although we’re no longer involved romantically.
NEVER did I blame myself for the abuse. NEVER did I feel “less-than” for being violated.
The reason I stayed silent? I didn’t want pity.
I thought my vulnerability would dim my strength. I didn’t want to be defined by my story.
But in that moment of truth, I realized something that would turn my pain into my purpose, just as I had prayed about 4 years earlier.
THIS COULD HELP PEOPLE. My story could provide hope to other women who have been subject to abuse. To the other survivors out there… and there are many.
From that moment on, I shared my story. Openly and with conviction. I learned to wear my scars proudly and speak my truth with love, compassion, rawness and bravery.
When asked about my experience by friends or those that have heard me speak publicly, I have always shared that my way out of the darkness was to recognize my own light. And I am grateful for my experience for it helped shape me into the woman I am today. It’s helped me to inspire and empower countless others. I draw strength and courage knowing that I went through something so traumatic, something that I would not wish upon anybody. But I made it out alive. And today, I am stronger than ever.
I share often – and passionately – that we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by our stories.
Being raped took me down a path that I had never envisioned. For years afterward, I was sick and hospitalized. Misdiagnosed for 9 years, only to find out that I had Lupus. In the process of all of that, I got to know ME. I got to know the person within, the fighter, the “take-no-shit” badass that will never allow outside circumstances to dictate my life. I fought then, I fight now. Because I am worth it. And so are you!
I wake up daily with GRATITUDE. I thank God each day for the life He has given me. Even the rape. It was defining moment in my life. And it showed me what I am made of. It gave me purpose.
What has happened to you in NOT who you are. You are not your diagnosis. You are not your failed career. You are not your bankruptcy or divorce. YOU are a beautiful ray of shining light made by a creator who knows better than you. Trust this. Trust yourself. And allow your light to radiate in all that you do.
We all have a story. But it’s in these stories that we find lessons, if we open our eyes long enough to see.
And those lessons?
Masterpieces sent in your path to share with others. Tools to help light the paths of others you come into contact with.
May you find serenity and tranquility in a world you may not always understand. May the pain you have known and the conflict you have experienced give you the strength to walk through life facing each new situation with courage and optimism. Always know that there are those whose love and understanding will always be there, even when you feel most alone. May you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace. May a kind word, a reassuring touch, and a warm smile be yours every day of your life, and may you give these gifts as well as receive them. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. – Sandra Sturtz Hauss
I have found that trying to make sense of life is a waste of time. Instead, give thanks. Every single day. You are not here to find all the answers. But you are here to find a way to use what you have been given to elevate humanity, I believe that.
There is so much to be thankful for and I cannot help but well up with emotions as I write this. I still cry for that girl who at 19, had to grow up too quickly. And I send love to the man who stole my innocence, hoping that whatever demons he was facing at that time have been washed away. I pray for the other women who have had to experience such horrendous acts of violence and I send them strength. They are my heroes. They are fellow survivors.
Thank you, God. You have given me a gift that I know was placed in my hands because you knew I would find a way to use it for good. I hope I am doing you justice. I hope I am making you proud. Thank you for never allowing me to lose hope. Thank you for instilling determination and FIGHT in me and reminding me daily that I am a force to be reckoned with. And I am such a force because I have you by my side. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
To awaken each morning with a smile brightening my face; to greet the day with reverence for the opportunities it contains; to approach my work with a clean mind; to hold ever before me, even in the doing of little things, the ultimate purpose toward which I am working; to meet men and women with laughter on my lips and love in my heart; to be gentle, kind, and courteous through all the hours; to approach the night with weariness that ever woos sleep and the joy that comes from work well done – this is how I desire to waste wisely my days. – Thomas Dekker
35% of women have been sexual assaulted. Only 15% reported. – Australia
1 in 3 women have been securely assaulted. Only 6% reported. – Canada
More than 400,000 women are required each year. – Democratic Republic of Congo.
Only 1 in 5 reported rapes results in conviction. – Denmark
96% of women have suffered genial mutilation. – Egypt
60% of women have been subjected to sexual violence. – Ethiopia
1 in 10 women are victims of domestic violence. – France
10 out of 36 states have laws that allow husbands to use physical force against their wives. – Nigeria
A woman is raped every 20 minutes. – India
A woman is raped every 26 seconds. – South Africa
An average rape case takes 6-12 years to be resolved. – Sri Lanka
33% of girls between 13-17 have experienced sexual violence. – United Kingdom
17.7 million have been raped. – USA
1 in 3 women globally is beaten, forced into sex or abused. 1 in 5 will become a victim of rape or attempted rape.