******TRIGGER WARNING*******

Part of the self-work I am doing is endeavouring to let go of things, feelings and experiences that have weighed me down (literally and figuratively) for far too long; one of the most profound being the sexual assault that happened to me at the age of 19.

I write this account not to seek pity or attention, or make you uncomfortable, but to remove the power associated with this event and move towards a place of acceptance and healing.

My story is not violent in the way movies and TV shows often depict sexual assault but almost ordinary or common place in its ubiquity

; a sad truth I have come to know over the years as I met more and more women who experienced this same trauma.

The summer I was 19 I spent most of my time with my best friend and her boyfriend; a skate boarder who was two years older than us and a bit of a rebel (to us sheltered Catholic school girls). We regularly hung out with his group of friends, also skaters, and I got to know a few of the inner circle. By this time I was the last of my friends to still be a virgin and I was ready to shed that title as it made me feel inexperienced, naive and in a weird way excluded. That summer I lost my virginity to a friend of my best friend’s boyfriend who was ten years older. I wasn’t attracted to him but I convinced myself that I liked him so that I could have sex and be like everyone else. He was nice and wanted to date me but at the end of the day I really wasn’t that into him. We parted ways amicably but I was left with kind of an empty feeling as my first time hadn’t been with someone I liked or felt a connection with and I certainly hadn’t known enough to enjoy it. This one night stand had been purely purpose driven, which made me feel all kinds of icky.

Around this same time there was another boy in this circle of friends that was two years older than me who also wanted to date me – I wasn’t attracted to him either but was intoxicated by the fact that he was into me because nobody was ever really into me. A warm body is better than no body was kind of the driving force behind my dating choices during this period. I really wanted a boyfriend and didn’t realize I didn’t have to settle.

I finally decided that I would date this boy despite the fact that I wasn’t attracted to him because he was nice and funny and as I said before, I really wanted a boyfriend. We dated for just over a month and had sex two or three times in that way you do when you are inexperienced (read: starfish). This boy eventually broke up with me and although there was nothing mean or awful about this relationship ending it introduced me to that raw, visceral ego pain you get after breaking up with someone whom you have shared your body with.

Despite these less than ideal forays into sexual relationships, I was 19, still living at home, working at La Senza and feeling a ton of autonomy in that just-graduated-the-world-is-my-oyster kind of way. It was definitely a magical time where I still had the safety of living at home, a steady paycheque and no “rules” that I had to follow. It really did feel like I had my whole life ahead of me and I could make of it whatever I wanted. In the words of Madonna, I was shiny and new.

In September of 2000 a friend from high school invited me to her 19thbirthday party, which was to be held at her house. It was an 80’s theme and friends from our former school in addition to friends from the public school in her neighbourhood would be coming. I, along with another high school friend, decided to take the theme seriously and pulled out all of our tight and bright dance wear to get the most laughs. To set the scene, I was in a full, white, shiny, long-sleeved unitard with leg warmers, an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and a huge side ponytail. My friend, dressed in something equally as awesome, picked me up and off we went out to get our 80’s on and celebrate our friends’ 19th birthday.

I don’t remember much about the night itself because I had quite a lot of beer so my memory is fuzzy. I remember the friend that I came with saying that she was going to head back into town as she was feeling tired and wanted to go home. This is a turning point I will never forget as she asked me if I wanted to come with her and I said no. I told her I was having a ton of fun so would sleep over in our friend’s room and then get my sister to pick me up the next morning. My friend gave me a hug and then headed home. The what-if of this moment still haunts me sometimes.

At a certain point in the evening I started to feel pretty drunk so I decided to call it a night and go to sleep in my friend’s room. When I got there I noticed there was already a girl passed out in her bed so I grabbed a blanket from somewhere in her room and lay down on the floor…fully clothed. I mention that I was fully clothed, in my unitard, as it helps to convey the very deliberate action of what happened next.

I must have passed out and passed out hard because the next thing I knew something was happening but because I was still in that drunken slumber state I couldn’t be sure of what it was other than something bad.

I felt a tremendous weight on top of my body, all over my body, and I couldn’t escape it. It was almost a claustrophobic feeling. As I became more conscious I felt hot breath on my face that smelled like stale beer and that is when the internal alarm registered in my stomach and radiated throughout my body. There was someone on top of me and as became more and more conscious I felt an immense pain and burning sensation between my legs. I then came to the horrifying realization that he was also inside of me.

I felt sick and panicked. I pushed the boy on top of me and begged him to get off but he was too heavy. He kept holding my arms and kissing my face with drunk, wet, sloppy kisses. I was silently crying, begging it to be over. When he finished taking everything from me that I held dear; my sense of self, my ability to trust, my self-esteem, my essence, my future…he rolled over and passed out like I was nothing. I pulled my self together and ran outside to where my friend was.

There wasn’t anyone else that was awake at this point besides my friend and I. She took me to a grassy part of her yard and I sobbed as I told her what had just happened. She was very drunk and tried to hold me but I did not want to be touched. I felt trapped. Too far away from home that I couldn’t walk, too late at night to call for a ride and no buses were running to take me away from this place. I sat with my friend silently until we went back into the house to sleep on couches outside of the room where I had been violated. My friend did not kick out the boy who raped me. I did not sleep.

The next morning as I waited for my sister to arrive to pick me up from this hell, the boy approached me in a sulky almost sullen manner to tell me that what happened the previous night had been a low point in his life. At the time I felt numb. I have thought about this moment countless times over the years and have been filled with rage at how dismissive he was about trespassing in the most vulnerable parts of me, both physical and emotional.

When my sister picked me up I told her what had happened and it was all I could do to keep the car heading in the direction of home. She wanted to turn the car around and kill the boy that stole from me. I wanted to go home and never think about this day again. But I did remember, in the quiet moments in bed, when someone would touch me or at random times I wasn’t expecting. I swore my sister to secrecy as my shame had already kicked in full throttle and I couldn’t bear another person knowing what had happened to me. This was an immense burden I placed on my sister and thankfully she didn’t abide by my condition of secrecy and ended up telling our Dad, but not before he endured weeks of confusion at my behaviour that was completely out of character.

My Dad, although well-intentioned, pressured me for weeks to file a report with the RCMP. The boy, we learned, had planned on becoming a teacher so my Dad also lobbied me to write a letter to the Teacher’s College so that he would have a black mark on his record or even better, be kicked out. At the time I just wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend this betrayal never happened. I realize my Dad wanted justice for me, his oldest daughter and first born, and I think he thought (somewhat naively) that the police would be helpful in this regard.

We finally made the trip out to the RCMP detachment and I spoke with a female officer before she turned on the video camera to record my statement. She asked me questions like what had I been wearing the night I was assaulted, was there anything that I might have done or said that may have given the boy who assaulted me the impression that I was interested in him, how much did I have to drink etc. etc. I was embarrassed, scared and intimidated but most of all resolved that if this was what filing a report was like there was no way in hell I would even consider pressing charges. Keep in mind this was the year 2000 so the concept of rape culture was not part of the social narrative nor was there the awareness or sensitivity that I hope exists today among law enforcement when it comes to interviewing victims of sexual assault and violence.

During the taped statement I cried as I relayed the details of that night to the camera. I cried out of embarrassment and shame. I cried for the death of my life before that night. I cried out of anger and resentment. I cried thinking about the girl I was before that was gone forever.

In the days, weeks and months after my assault I wanted to become a different person. I moved out with a girl I worked with but hardly knew, began hanging out with people who were just as broken as I was, started smoking and drank to forget. I would put myself in dangerous situations and kept company with dangerous people because I felt damaged, broken and worthless.

By the time I was 20 years old I was living with someone who had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, smoked and sold crack and beat me when he was feeling particularly paranoid or overcome by cocaine-induced rage. I had no job, was isolated from my family and found myself pregnant in an extremely toxic and dangerous situation. Some of you might be thinking that in the year 2001 there would be no reason that a woman should accidentally become pregnant and in this case, I would agree with you. I think I valued myself so little that I knew if I became pregnant I would get an abortion, which would enrage the abusive and controlling person I was with and would profoundly hurt and disappoint my Catholic father. Looking back it was another exercise in self-harm.

My life had spiralled out of control and by mid-2001 the abusive relationship I was in came to a head.

One night after being out at a bar I had passed out in our shared appartment in our bed. I awoke to the same hauntingly familiar feeling of someone pentrating me without my consent. This time it was my boyfriend.

Something broke inside me and I became hysterical. I ran to the bathroom and slit my wrists. Not deep enough to do any real damage but it scared my boyfriend so much that he called my Dad at 4:00 in the morning and told him he better get over to our place.

Concerned with keeping up appearances that everything was *fine* I frantically wrapped my wrists in maxi pads and threw on a long sleeved shirt.

When my Dad arrived he had been so worried that he had cracked a tooth from clenching so hard. He drove me around for half an hour as we talked (not about what really happened or what was actually going on) and tried to gently get me to see that this relationship wasn’t healthy and that there would always be a place for me at home. He dropped me back off and within two days I had packed my stuff and moved back home.

I wish I could tell you that that was the worst of it but my pain and suffering continued to manifest themselves in myriad ways throughout the years.

I have often heard survivors talk about their trauma not defining them but it is hard for it not to.

Thankfully, by the grace of God, the energy of the universe or whatever devine ok presence exists I met my now husband at 21 years old. Two years after I was raped.

He has been patient and kind over the years, especially the early ones where I was so messed up, and has always done his best to support me even during times he didn’t understand or know how to help me.

This one awful event changed the trajectory of my life and the ripple effects can still be felt at times but the more I bring it out of the shadows the less it eats away at my soul.

I am changed, different from the girl I was before September 2000, but stronger than I ever thought possible.

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