I Didn’t Want to Ruin My Rapist’s Lives

A year and a half after I was raped, when I first start telling people about it, one of the first questions I was asked was, “Why didn’t you report it?”

At 15 years old, the simplest answer I had, was: I didn’t want to ruin their lives.

At 15 years old, I was more concerned with protecting the reputation of my rapists than getting help for myself. I had seen it before. I still see it: a young woman accuses a young man of rape. The media refers to the young man as a “promising young athlete with a bright future ahead of him,” while referring to the young woman as “the victim,” or simply, “the girl,” as if she didn’t have a bright future in front of her. (I’m looking at you, Steubenville.)

When you’re 13 and raped, 15 and trying to explain what happened to you, and you live in a society that calls a victim’s actions into question in order to justify rape, serious damage is done to everybody.

To the rape victims, it teaches use that this was our fault. We are dirty. (I used to believe this; now I know it’s not true.)

To the would-be-rapists, it teaches that as long as one can come up with a good reason to show that they were tempted by the “victim,” they may be able to get away with it.

This is Rape Culture. (And before you say, Rape Culture is a myth perpetuated by feminists in order to destroy men. You need to know that 1. You know absolutely nothing about feminism. 2. I am more concerned with helping women and minorities than I am with destroying men. 3. Rape Culture is no myth. 4. I live it every day.)

I live with it every time somebody asks me, “What were you wearing? What did you do? You’re making this up, right?”

Fact: I was wearing a hoodie and jeans. He asked me out, and I said, “No.” This is as real as my love of books, which, if you know anything about me, is enormous.

I live with it every time I hear a guy talking to his friends about how his biggest fear is being accused of rape.

Fact: you are more likely to know someone whose rape is unreported than you are to be accused of rape you didn’t commit.

I live with it every time I go out in public dressed up.

Fact: you may be a man, and I may be a woman, but my body is my body, not yours to look out.

I live with it every time I’m asked why I didn’t report my rape.

Fact: I kept quiet out of fear—fear that no one would believe me, people would blame me, people would ostracize me.

It’s easier to live with the rape quietly, in private than it is to live with all the victimizing questions, to have your name dragged through the mud. It’s easier to suffer in silence than to suffer publicly (just ask every celebrity).  To be honest, sometimes I’d rather go back in time and never tell anybody what happened to me than have people ask me what I was wearing, doing. But then I realize that’s not true. Telling people has allowed me to help others. Because I’m not the only one of my friends to go through this.

When I was 15 and talking about my rape for the first time, people asked me why I didn’t report it.

Back then, the only answer I had, was: “I don’t want to ruin their lives.”

Truth is, looking back, I didn’t want to ruin my own. It’s easier to forget and forgive than it is to have long-drawn-out allegations and accusations.

Sometimes, I wonder if I made the right choice. I can’t help wonder if they’ve done it again, and if they have, is it all my fault for not stepping up to the plate, taking a swing?

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with my past and the way things have unfolded. But I’m ok with it now.

Yes, sometimes it still hurts; sometimes I get riled up when people talk about rape as if it’s no big deal; sometimes, I still have flashbacks.

And that’s ok. Because it’s a part of my past that has seen the light of day. And from it, beauty has been created.

I used to idealize people who were brave enough to talk about the dark parts of their past. Now I’m one of them.

The problem with putting people or groups on pedestals because we perceive them to be better than ourselves, is that, when it comes down to it, underneath it all, they’re humans just like us—capable of harm. We all make mistakes.

I have forgiven others.

But, perhaps most importantly of all, I have forgiven myself for the mistakes I have made: for believing I was dirty, impure, less of a person; for believing the lies that it was all my fault.

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Survivor’s Paradigm

How do you define yourself is a question I have always had difficulty answering. To outsiders, it would be easy to define me this way: human, female, daughter, sister, friend. But from the inside, it’s not that easy.  It’s easier to define somebody when you don’t know their past, when you’re not inside their head, hearing their thoughts, walking their paths. It is a whole lot harder defining yourself when every thought you have is telling you that you’re not worth defining.

. . .

After I was sexually assaulted, I viewed myself differently. I looked in the mirror, and I saw somebody who was broken, impure, unworthy, unlovable, dirty, ugly. The mirror has never been my friend, but now it became my worst enemy.

It’s never easy to admit our struggles. So I didn’t admit that I hated absolutely everything about who I was. I didn’t admit that I was broken, self-harming, starving. I didn’t admit that I was so depressed I wanted to die. I didn’t admit that I tried.

I was scared.

I was scared of being defined by what happened to me. I didn’t want to be defined by an act done to me, the scars on my skin, the calories I deprived myself of. I didn’t want to be defined by my Mental Illness. I didn’t want to be defined by my own worst enemy: my thoughts and inner demons.

Sometimes, I’m still scared.

When I tell my story I’m scared that the first thing out of somebody’s mouth will be what were you wearing? Because what I was wearing has no bearing on how much my rape has affected me. I’m scared that the first things someone will tell me about my depression is just snap out of it. Because, oh, honey, I would if I could. But it’s not that easy. Depression is to the mind what cancer is to the body. It attacks, and it’s aggressive, and some people don’t make it out alive. But I’m lucky to have made it this far.

There’s a stigma in society about Mental Illness and Rape, and I tell my story anyway because I want people to know these things do not define me. They play a part of who I am, but I am so much more than what goes on in my head. I am so much more than an act committed against me.

Sometimes, I still have to remind myself of that fact. It’s like a broken record, playing the same stupid motivational tape on repeat: Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Repeat ad nauseum.

You see, I spent so long concerned with how society would define me, I forgot how God defines me. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a broken girl, unworthy of being loved. But when God looks at me, He sees a girl who is pure, clean, so worthy of being loved that He sent his Son so I could live.

I am the Daughter of the King, a Princess, an Inheritor of the Kingdom. My body is a Temple, but it was turned into a Den of rapists and demons. I tried to tear it down, and God built it back up. He turned my red back to white.

I’m learning how to see myself as God views me: whole, pure, worthy, lovable, clean, beautiful.

No longer broken, I’ve been glued together one piece of shattered glass at a time. Society would say I’m missing something, as a rape victim, I’m no longer as worthy as I once was.

I beg to differ.

My value is not determined by my past, by actions done to me, by actions done to myself.

I’m shifting the paradigm, shifting the mirror, shifting the way I view myself, but, boy, is it heavy.

I could turn around and face the other way, but sometimes my feet are glued to the floor. Depression does this.

And though my past does not define me, it does not mean it won’t affect me. Because it will. I will be fighting a battle against depression for probably the rest of my life.

Some days I’m winning; some days I can’t get out of bed. And that’s ok.

Because I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am.

I’ve learned to find joy in the little things because sometimes the little things are what get me through the day.

I’ve learned that healing is painful. It’s about burning yourself to the ground and starting over again. It’s about accepting where you’ve been and discovering where you want to go. It’s about accepting every part of yourself–flaws and all–rising out of the ashes, and making yourself new.

I’ve learned to thank God for every day I wake up because life is a gift, and who knows where I’ll be tomorrow.

How do you define yourself?

I don’t know.

I’m defining myself one day at a time: who I am today is different than who I will be tomorrow. All I can hope is that as time goes on, and as my finite line of time approaches zero, my definition will have reached its maximum height.

And if it doesn’t, at least I tried.

Therefore, no one can criticize me.

Expect the Unexpected (Apology)

“Learn to forgive without expecting an apology.”- Kaleigh Distaffen, me.

In February, I wrote a blog post about forgiveness:

“Always forgive your enemies-nothing annoys them so much.”- Oscar Wilde

Forgiveness sucks. (By sucks I don’t mean it sucks in the figurative sense. I mean forgiveness is hard. It’s difficult, unpleasant, easier said than done, troublesome. But it’s absolutely necessary if you ever want to get anywhere with your life.)

I’ve grown up learning the importance of forgiveness. I’ve learned Bible verses and parables and all sorts of biblical knowledge about what forgiveness is and how to forgive. And to be honest, I’m still learning what it means to forgive.

I’ve always associated forgiveness with an apology. I’m sorry. I forgive you. But realistically, that’s not the way the world works. Apologies and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive.

APOLOGIES AND FORGIVENESS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. Often times in life, you won’t get an apology (at least not a sincere one).

This is a concept I haven’t understood until recently. I’m extremely stubborn and maybe sometimes a bit prideful, so I never understood how I could be expected to forgive someone if they didn’t admit they were wrong.

I understand now.

You see, after I was sexually assaulted, I was extremely bitter. And then one day I wrote a blog post in which I “forgave them.” I thought that was it. I could finally let go of my past. I could finally be free. That tells you how much I know (which when compared to everything there is to know, is approximately nothing). And then I started to feel less bitter. I was still depressed, I still had random mental breakdowns, still freaked out anytime I was reminded or saw any of my attackers.

That is until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I saw one of them in Target. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t go into the bathroom and cry. I just kept walking. And that’s when I realized I never actually forgave them.

I said that I forgave them, but it was arbitrary and meaningless. I did it out of obligation and not necessitation. I didn’t need to forgive them, just like  I thought I didn’t need God.

Forgiveness is an active thing. There’s no such thing as passively forgiving somebody. Until you actually forgive with your heart, it’s void, empty.

So yesterday, I facebook messagd the guy I saw in Target two weeks ago, who by the way, was the one that caused my sexual assault. I sent only three words, I forgive you.

I doubt I’ll ever get an apology. An apology isn’t needed. I just need him to know he’s forgiven, because I don’t know where he is in his life, but maybe being forgiven will impact him in a way that hasn’t happened before.

And if it doesn’t, that’s ok. Because truly forgiven has impacted my life. Being truly forgiven by somebody who is truly perfect has impacted my life.

I don’t always deserve forgiveness. I’ve sinned. I’ve messed up. I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. God loves me anyway. God forgives me anyway.

So, yes, I forgave this guy, because I want to be more like Jesus. I also forgave myself. Because one time I tried to kill myself. I forgive myself for the scars I purposefully put on my skin. I forgive myself for all the hurt I caused myself. God tells us to love our enemies, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

I know I am.

I’ve forgiven. I’m finding healing. And I’ll always be living with Depression, but that’s ok. God loves me anyway. I’m forgiven anyway.

Our Father which art in Heaven.

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done

on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, bur deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

Yesterday, the unexpected happened. I received a response from the attacker I sent a message of forgiveness when the above was written. It contained 3 words: “Thanks. I’m sorry.”

And I just… I have no words.

God continues to amaze me. He continues to remind me that his timing his perfect. You see, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with life lately, and then the most unexpected thing happens, and I am reminded that God is in control (Which I am truly thankful for, because if I was left to be in control of everything, the world would fall apart).

God knows what He is doing, which is more than I can say for myself 99% of the time.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of forgiveness. And yesterday, I learned that forgiveness can yield unexpected results.

What’s in Forgiveness?

“Always forgive your enemies-nothing annoys them so much.”- Oscar Wilde

Forgiveness sucks. (By sucks I don’t mean it sucks in the figurative sense. I mean forgiveness is hard. It’s difficult, unpleasant, easier said than done, troublesome. But it’s absolutely necessary if you ever want to get anywhere with your life.)

I’ve grown up learning the importance of forgiveness. I’ve learned Bible verses and parables and all sorts of biblical knowledge about what forgiveness is and how to forgive. And to be honest, I’m still learning what it means to forgive.

I’ve always associated forgiveness with an apology. I’m sorry. I forgive you. But realistically, that’s not the way the world works. Apologies and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive.

APOLOGIES AND FORGIVENESS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. Often times in life, you won’t get an apology (at least not a sincere one).

This is a concept I haven’t understood until recently. I’m extremely stubborn and maybe sometimes a bit prideful, so I never understood how I could be expected to forgive someone if they didn’t admit they were wrong.

I understand now.

You see, after I was sexually assaulted, I was extremely bitter. And then one day I wrote a blog post in which I “forgave them.” I thought that was it. I could finally let go of my past. I could finally be free. That tells you how much I know (which when compared to everything there is to know, is approximately nothing). And then I started to feel less bitter. I was still depressed, I still had random mental breakdowns, still freaked out anytime I was reminded or saw any of my attackers.

That is until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I saw one of them in Target. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t go into the bathroom and cry. I just kept walking. And that’s when I realized I never actually forgave them.

I said that I forgave them, but it was arbitrary and meaningless. I did it out of obligation and not necessitation. I didn’t need to forgive them, just like  I thought I didn’t need God.

Forgiveness is an active thing. There’s no such thing as passively forgiving somebody. Until you actually forgive with your heart, it’s void, empty.

So yesterday, I facebook messagd the guy I saw in Target two weeks ago, who by the way, was the one that caused my sexual assault. I sent only three words, I forgive you.

I doubt I’ll ever get an apology. An apology isn’t needed. I just need him to know he’s forgiven, because I don’t know where he is in his life, but maybe being forgiven will impact him in a way that hasn’t happened before.

And if it doesn’t, that’s ok. Because truly forgiven has impacted my life. Being truly forgiven by somebody who is truly perfect has impacted my life.

I don’t always deserve forgiveness. I’ve sinned. I’ve messed up. I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. God loves me anyway. God forgives me anyway.

So, yes, I forgave this guy, because I want to be more like Jesus. I also forgave myself. Because one time I tried to kill myself. I forgive myself for the scars I purposefully put on my skin. I forgive myself for all the hurt I caused myself. God tells us to love our enemies, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

I know I am.

I’ve forgiven. I’m finding healing. And I’ll always be living with Depression, but that’s ok. God loves me anyway. I’m forgiven anyway.

Our Father which art in Heaven.

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done

on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, bur deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

To the Guy who turned a date rejection into a sexual invitation

First of all, how dare you.

Second of all, You don’t scare me anymore.

You see, I saw you in Target the other day. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t run to the bathroom and cry. I walked by you as if you were a normal person. I didn’t even acknowledge your existence.

And that’s a big deal, because up until a few months ago even meeting someone with the same first name as you was enough to make me break out into a cold sweat. But not anymore. And I can’t tell you how great that feels.

For so many years, you’ve had this invisible hold on me. I couldn’t allow myself to be happy. I couldn’t allow myself to be loved. And even though I forgave you, I wasn’t healed from you.

But I am now. I am completely and totally free from you.

AND I COULD SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS, BECAUSE IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMING.

You don’t scare me anymore.

However, that doesn’t mean the Depression you caused will go away. It won’t. It hasn’t. Some days I’m fine, and others I’m not at all fine. Some nights I lie in bed and feel  nothing. Some nights I lie in bed and feel everything. And I don’t know which is worse.

But I do know this: I’m a different person than I was 5 (almost 6) years ago.

And I’ve learned things from you I might have never learned. They’ve made me a better person. So, I guess in a way, I’m saying thank you, but I’m not really.

I’ve become stronger.

I’ve become more open at my struggles with depression, anxiety, anorexia, and even you.

And one day, I’ll meet a guy, and he’ll be fantastic. Maybe I’ve already met him, and he is fantastic. Either way, one day, I’ll tell him the whole story.

And he’ll probably be mad (if he’s a good guy, he’ll be mad), but I’ll tell him to forgive you, to have compassion for you like I do.

I have compassion for you, because I don’t know the whole reason why you decided to get your friends together and sexually assault me after I turned you down. Maybe you were abused. Maybe you had a rough family life. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, I hope you’re in a better place now. And I want you to know that me having compassion on you, is not the same as justifying what you did. Because I will never do that. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Time changes a person.

I hope if you ever find somebody who loves you, that you’ll treat her with the respect she deserves.

I hope one day you can ask for forgiveness for what you did to me–not from me. From God. I don’t know where your relationship with God is, or if you even believe in God. But I hope one day you do.

Because everything He’s done for me, He can do for you, too.

 

 

Dear Attackers: A Letter

Dear Attackers,

You’ll probably never read this, and that’s ok. Because now that High School’s over, I don’t have immediate plans of seeing you again.

But I just wanted to let you know that I forgive you. This decision is one of the hardest I’ve ever made (let me tell you that I am a very indecisive person, I think. So every decision I make is relatively difficult). But, in order for me to get on with my life, it needs to be said.

I forgive you.

I forgive you for hurting me. I forgive you for making me feel like I was worth nothing. I forgive you for making me believe that I would never be loved and that I would never amount to anything.

I forgive you because I have proven you wrong. I am worth something. I deserve to be loved. I will do great things.

For a while, you destroyed my faith in God. For a while, you made me believe that I was so ugly, so broken, so worthless that not even a perfect God could love someone so completely imperfect.

I called out to God so many times without an answer, and I began to wonder if he had forgotten my name and the sound of my voice. His name became a rotten taste on my lips, because if there was a God why did he allow his people to suffer?

But suffering happened. I could do nothing but watch as my innocence was stolen from me as if it was never my own. And I wanted to fight back, I did. But fighting back becomes exhausting, which is probably why I sleep all the time. So, I let you take advantage of me. What else was I supposed to do? You were popular; I was not. And since school is filled with the wrong kinds of people, I said nothing.

But God knew what happened. God saw. And even though I tried to destroy the temple he made. Even though I cut myself open with all the hate that I could muster, he stitched me back together.  Someone perfect loved someone so imperfect that he didn’t run away when I wanted nothing to do with him, and as I lay in bed crying, he wrapped his arms around me and refused to let me go, despite the screaming.

That’s why I forgive you. It’s not because of my own power, but God’s power.

These last five years have taught me so much about myself. I’ve learned that finding yourself is the same thing as losing yourself. I’ve learned that beauty comes from brokenness. I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am. Albert Camus once said, “But in the end, one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”

It’s true, you know. It would have been easier to give up; it would have been easier to just do what you said. But, that would be akin to me admitting defeat, which is not something I do easily. I prefer winning and coming out victorious. So I fought. And I fought hard. Even when the air was knocked out of my lungs again and again, I got up screaming through the pain, determined to prove you wrong.

And I think I’ve done a good job of proving you wrong thus far. And even though the odds are stacked against me, I refuse to give in. I’m going to keep fighting to stay alive.

A lot can happen in 5 years: you grow up, you change, you learn to forgive.

Today I am forgiving you. Today I am saying goodbye.

I won’t forget what you did. But I’ll use it to help others, because everybody has a purpose, and I have found mine.

 

The Healing Process

“I think that everyone has scars. Maybe not on their wrists, or their inner thighs, or on their knees; but on their hearts, souls, and between the cracks and crevices of the little universes they’ve created inside of themselves.”

Healing begins with forgiveness: forgiving those who hurt you, forgiving yourself for believing lies, forgiving whoever needs to be forgiven. Unfortunately, this is often the hardest part, as are the beginning of most things.

After I was sexually assaulted, I put up ten foot high concrete walls around my heart. I vowed I would never let myself get hurt again. I pushed so many people away, I isolated myself; I protected my thoughts, my words, who I was, from being used against me. I didn’t want people to know what I was feeling. I didn’t want people to know that I hated myself more than I thought possible. I didn’t want people to know that the image I saw in the mirror was shattered and no longer resembled who I thought I was.

And I blamed myself.

If I hadn’t looked this way; if I hadn’t worn this hoodie today; if I hadn’t been alone… maybe, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

And I believed the lies.

You asked for it; you’re worthless; you’re ugly; no one will ever love you.

Slowly, but surely, these lies chipped away at my soul. They left nothing but a hollowed out shell of who I once was, who I wanted to be.

And I did nothing to stop it.

So, I let myself believe that I wasn’t beautiful. I let myself believe that I didn’t have the right to feel beautiful. I didn’t have the right to like a guy. I didn’t have the right to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t have the right to be happy, but I also didn’t have the right to be miserable because “somebody always has it worse.”

After High School Graduation, I was finally able to begin the healing process. But that would mean forgiving: forgiving the guys that hurt me, forgiving myself for believing the lies, forgiving myself for the physical harm done to my body by my own hand, and apologizing to God for being mad at him.

(notice I said “apologize” and not “forgive.” God did nothing wrong, but I thought he did.)

This year at College has taught me more than I can possibly share here.

I have learned that it is ok not to be ok. I don’t have to be happy all the time. I don’t have to wear a face that isn’t mine to mask the sadness. Because, despite what people tell you, it is possible to be both happy and sad at the same time.

I have learned that it is ok to be so focused on breathing in and out that you forget to place one foot in front of the other. Everybody falls sometimes.

I have learned that it is ok to be uncomfortable when there are more people than I can count on one hand in a room. It is ok to feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It is ok to feel as if your lungs are filled with water when in large groups of people; it means you are alive.

It’s ok to be mad at God; He can take it.

It’s ok.

I am indescribably uncomfortable when among a large group of people.

I am sometimes so focused on breathing that I forget how to walk.

I am still sometimes paralyzed by fear: fear of falling, fear of judgment, fear of becoming.

I am weird. I laugh more than I should. I sometimes forget how to use my tongue to form words, and I sometimes get so star-struck by cool people who talk to me that I forget what words are all together. And I am still utterly convinced that I will never find a guy who has a sense of humor strong enough to put up with my family.

But, that’s ok.

Because, I have forgiven, which doesn’t mean forgetting, but it’s learning how to use what you’ve been given to help someone else.

And the Healing Process has begun.