I hate the word survivor. It is hard to envision myself as such. Survivor means that you lived through something traumatic and horrific, like a plane crash or a wild animal attack. I feel like the word survivor should be reserved for those people, not someone like me.
I was raped when I was 18 on my college campus. Afterward, I was left with so much confusion and complicated feelings of hurt, sadness, anger, guilt, and shame. It took me about two weeks after the incident to realize that what happened to me was in fact rape. I remember having that realization as I was laying on my dorm room bed. I turned to face my wall, covered with photos of happy memories from my simpler high school days, and I began to silently cry. I let myself have that cry and from that moment on I decided to acknowledge that I was raped, it happened, and move on with my life. I thought it could be that simple and easy. I had felt like I had come to terms with what had happened and so I would nonchalantly and casually tell people like it was no big deal.
I’ve come to realize that it is a big deal. Someone violated me, betrayed my trust, and took advantage of a situation where I was so intoxicated I couldn’t possibly consent. I have gone through so many phases in my recovering journey; The ‘if I take full responsibility for what happened then I have control over it and myself’ the ‘well I deserved it, I got drunk, I willingly went back to his place so it is my fault this happened’ the ‘doing risky things to see if I can feel a resurgence of ownership over my body’ the ‘guilt, shame, disgust for myself’ the ‘I didn’t report it so if he did this to someone else it is my fault.’ But none of this was really recovery, it was avoidance. It was blaming myself for something I couldn’t control, feeling guilty about something that wasn’t my fault. These thoughts still linger and come up frequently like a flare-up of a bad rash. They’re ingrained in me and hard to remove, a society so engrossed in rape culture will do that to you. I have a lot of unlearning to do, but I am trying to put in the work. Maybe that’s what they mean by survivor… trying and willingly putting in the work to heal and recover. To be set free from this burden and tragedy.
Over the years I have struggled with this idea of victimhood and the fact that if I try really hard, I can truly heal and be free. I am nothing but a work in progress. I am trying desperately to give myself permission to be empathetic towards myself. Some days are easier than others, but that is the journey.
As for survivor, that is still something I am working on. It feels uncomfortable and scary. But I deserve better, I deserve to be honest with myself. I am almost a survivor.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity