I have always felt that I needed to wait to share my story until I fully understand where I have been and where I am going, but as continue along my journey and pass up opportunities to share my story, I have realized that I will never have all of the answers and I will never know what’s coming next because that’s just life. Sometimes we walk a straight path, sometimes we walk a curvy path, sometimes we might even get lost, but the experiences that have led us to this very moment, define who we are here and now. I accept that someday my story will change, but I feel that it is only fair to appreciate my experiences and the person I have become here and now. Before I dive into my story I would like to put out a TRIGGER WARNING. My story contains stories about sexual assault, depression, self-harm, and emotional abuse. Story sharing can be a powerful tool and form strong connections, but make sure that you are physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to read potentially triggering information and if you experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24/7 and is both free and confidential. And away we go…

I have always walked to the beat of my own drum. When it was time for me to define my role model and share it with the class, I didn’t have one. While everybody picked strong historical figures, parents, teachers, siblings, and friends, the only person I could come up with was myself, but that was not an option for this assignment (even though it was the truth). So instead I chose Rosa Parks. A strong woman that stood up for her beliefs and changed history, to be honest, at the time that’s really all I knew about her. As I grew older defining your role model became a reoccurring question. It appeared in group activities, the yearbook, on job applications, college applications, and even in college classes. Over and over I was asked to define my role model. Over time Rosa Parks turned into Michelle Obama, who is an incredibly strong woman that has had such a positive impact both nationally and globally. But to me, a role model is a person you aspire to be, somebody that you wake up every day and set out to be like. I could never be Michelle Obama or Rosa Parks because we have such different experiences. We grew up in different times and different places so I couldn’t possibly wake up every morning and want to be them, but I could wake up every morning and want to be me.

At the age of 16, I was sexually assaulted and believe it or not, it would take me 2.5 years to even remember it happened, my brain had just blocked out the event entirely like it didn’t even exist. I continued on “unaffected” and moved on with my life. My senior year of high school I ended up dating the star of the high school basketball team. I was a cheerleader and I thought our love was like a Disney Channel movie. It was the greatest thing in the world until it wasn’t. Slowly I became what I refer to as his “sex slave”. That’s all he wanted from me, we only spent time together so he could get what he wanted and then he would tell me to leave. He slept with all different girls, I would drop him off and pick him up from their houses, but I was holding onto him so tightly that I felt like I couldn’t leave. I obeyed his every order because I was terrified of what the “or else” might be. Slowly I lost all of my friends and my family. The only person I had left to support me was me.

My first week of college I joined a sorority because their philanthropy had to do with DV and sexual assault. I thought this would be the perfect place for me to start my college career, but in an organization with strict guidelines, you can’t really walk to the beat of your own drum. I didn’t fit in with most of the girls, I couldn’t keep up with the thousands of dollars we had to spend of dues and shirts every semester, and most of all I wasn’t ready to face my past. I ended up leaving the organization with thousands of dollars in debt, debilitating anxiety, and immobilizing depression.

After sitting down with my roommates to gossip about the people on our “list” (people we had slept with) I read his name out loud and all of my memories came flooding back. I was an innocent 16 year old, excited that I was going to go make-out with an older boy. I remember pulling up to his house and feeling my stomach drop, but I thought it was just nerves so I ventured on. I got there expecting him to put on a movie, but we sat there in silence. We started to make out because frankly I felt awkward and didn’t know what else to do, but then he continued, I told him I wasn’t ready to move that quick and his response was, “Yes you are.” It went on for hours or at least that’s how it felt. Every minute I became more and more desensitized. That day a piece of me died. These memories were too much for me to handle. I tried getting help, but every psychologist and therapist in the area was booked for months. The next 3 months I spent on the couch silent. I didn’t go to classes, I didn’t even watch T.V. I just laid there staring off into space. My roommates were desperate to help me. When tender love didn’t work they tried tough love. Long story short I spent a week sleeping in a laundry pile on the basement floor just so I could continue to be silent. As the semester passed, there was a mutual feeling that I should move out. A girl we knew was coming home from studying abroad and so we decided to get a small apartment together. I didn’t really know her, but our few drunk interactions had been positive, so I went into hopeful that it would work out. Little did I know, the moment she walked in that door we would become lifelong friends. She too suffered from depression and anxiety. She knew where I was at because not long before I met her, she was in that same place. Slowly we worked on our mental health both together and separately. There was one day we were both just exhausted and needed a break from life, so we covered the windows with blankets, drank mate, and watched movies. Three days later we emerged from our hobbit hole recharged and ready to go. She is somebody that will always hold a special place in my heart. She is truly a forever friend.

So that’s more or less, where I’ve been, but where am I now? Well, after ups and downs, I am pack on my path, at the moment it’s still a winding road, but I no longer feel lost. I am working through my sexual assault with a licensed professional because up until a few days ago, I had never told anybody. Saying it out loud was tough. I have heard people say that the first time they have a big breakthrough like that and say it allowed they feel empowered, enlighted, and triumphant, but if I’m being honest, all I really wanted to do was throw up. I was left feeling drained and dazed, which was not what I was hoping for, but I also felt content with where I am right now. I thought to say it would solve it, but I was wrong. Saying it is just the first step into transforming it from pain the strength. So for now, I will continue down this path, not damaged or broke, but with a fearless fire that burns deep in my soul.