I am a survivor, and this is my story (PART FOUR)

TRIGGER WARNING: No-holds-barred descriptions of sexual violence and strong language to follow (also, discussion of depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and anorexia). Please, practice self-care in reading this, as I made sure to do so in writing it. Also, please be mindful of your comments, because this is very delicate subject matter and … pretty much as personal as it gets.

 

•°*•*°• . CHAPTER 6 •°*•*°• .

Healing

We made it! If you were able to read this far, you deserve a freaking medal.

This chapter is about healing. It has a theme song, and it goes like this:)

So basically, there were 5 significant components to my healing process (only thus far, because the remainder of my entire life will be about healing, most probably), and so I will delineate them for you now.

 

1) Counseling

As you’ll remember from the chapter on Relationship Violence, I started counseling in September of 2011. Now, before I was raped, I had always sort of looked down on therapy. I had it in my head that people should be able to deal with any and all of life’s crises by themselves (but that was before I had ever experienced anything that I just couldn’t handle on my own), and I hated the idea of paying someone to listen to me talk about my feelings.

I still have reservations about the latter, actually, and if my University hadn’t provided free counseling services, I may never have used that resource.

However, one good thing to note is that many areas (Washington D.C. and Chicago included) offer FREE, individual counseling for survivors of sexual assault. Beyond that, some services are obviously not going to be accessible to everyone — but luckily, RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) provides a 24/7, anonymous, online rape crisis hotline for survivors whose options are monetarily limited.

——> A note on affordable counseling from Rosie in the comments: “Most every major metro area has a local rape crisis center and many of these places offer counseling on a sliding scale or ‘donate whatever you can afford’ basis. You can use RAINN’s website to locate your local rape crisis center.” <——

I must say, though, that after being in counseling for 9 months, all of my pessimism about the value of therapy has vanished. My counselor gave me an invaluable kind of support and validation for my experiences, and just being able to articulate the words after being silenced and shamed for so long was so unbelievably beneficial to my mental health.

Sometimes all survivors of trauma really need is to be allotted the freedom to say the words.

Moreover, because I was hyperaware that every week, it was my duty to report back to my counselor about what had been happening with me lately — my feelings, my progress, my life events and whatnot — I found myself acting more responsibly in life. All of a sudden, there was someone else there who wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself and actualizing the strength that I knew had to be buried deep down inside of me somewhere.

And with her help and unending support, I managed to find it.

It was a little strange sometimes to catch myself thinking things like, “If I do this … How will I explain it to my counselor?” But I found that that train of thought actually helped me make smarter decisions. If I couldn’t justify certain choices to my counselor — who truly did have my best interests at heart — then was it something I should really be doing?

This mindset helped me to start asking myself the right questions and to think much harder before I acted on my impulses or resignations.

I started to live so much less recklessly because of her. She brought to light which considerations I was making were important ones and which ones were nonsensical, and now that I have that filter, I feel secure that I can actually look out for myselfShe gave me practical tools that I can now use to make sure that I’m living in a way that is safe and self-respecting.

She also shared other helpful resources with me, which brings me to #2.

 

2) Support Group Counseling

In February-March of 2012, I attended a free support group in Chicago for student survivors of sexual assault. I had always been interested in the dynamic of group therapy, because I thought that it would behoove me to actually be around others who had experienced similar trauma and who were on the same path to recovery as I was.

What I discovered there was sensational. We actually were discouraged to go into the details of our stories, because the point of the program was to focus entirely on healing, moving forward, and leaving the past in our past.

The counselors took us through various exercises that were meant to get us in touch with the way sexual assault had impacted our identity, our day-to-day lives, our intimate relationships, our self-image, and much much more.

It was so therapeutic to find out that, not only was I not alone in having experienced this trauma, but I also wasn’t alone in the way that I was coping with it after the fact.

By the end of the 8-week program, I was feeling so rejuvenated — I felt like I was alive again.

On the last day, we were all instructed to write a letter to ourselves, stream-of-consciousness style, and the counselors collected them and said they would be mailing the letters to us at some undisclosed point in the future. I received mine not too long ago, and I’d like to share it with you now, for emphasis:

“Dear Self, :)

First and foremost, I hope you are doing well. I hope that you feel as good — if not better — now as you did when you wrote this. You should look back on this day as a culmination of days when your strongest hopes were actualized (or starting to actualize) and your darkest fears were thwarted. I believe in you. I believe in the good in you and the strength in you. You have tremendous untapped power that you’re only starting to discover, and I am proud of the progress you have made. Just look at us! Did you ever think we would feel hope again? Happiness? Will to live? And now we do. That is meaningful. You may not believe in God, but Lord knows [؟] you believe in moving forward. Change. Progress. Personal integrity and growth. Now go forth and prove it. Do it with COURAGE. CONSENT. CONVICTION. Those are the 3 C’s. Don’t forget them. Remember everything you did and learned in group; remember how good it made you feel to find communion and support and THE TRUTH. What happened to you will stay with you, but it won’t define you forever. Stay strong. Remember your convictions. DON’T LET ANYONE MAKE YOU FEEL WORTHLESS. Because you are worth so much. You’re all we have! Take care of yourself, survivor. ♥ 

— your Self.”

 

3) Good Sex

Another game-changer for me was meeting a man who showed me that sex didn’t have to be terrifying, humiliating, or painful. He was so conscious of the language of Consent, and he made me feel as though the way I was experiencing the sex was actually important to him.

He was so patient, kind, and forgiving. He let me sit in the driver’s seat. For the first time ever since I’d first become sexually active, I wasn’t thrown in the back — or tied up and locked inside the trunk — while I was taken along for the ride.

This man wanted me to actually be there.

And what’s more, he didn’t reduce my worth down to whether or not I gave him head. He still wanted to have sex with me, regardless. And for me … well, let’s just say, that was a big deal. It gave me the space and freedom that I so desperately needed to explore my sexuality for myself — and because of him, I have almost entirely conquered my fear of oral sex.

I honestly cannot emphasize enough how important intimate partners of sexual assault victims can be to the healing process. It would be impractical for a sexual assault survivor to simply stop having sex indefinitely while they wait for their trauma to magically vanish. It doesn’t work that way. But in order to heal from sexual abuse, a victim’s partner/s must be cooperativepatient, and sensitive. (Remind me to elaborate more on this topic in a future blog post.)

No matter how much good, consensual sex I will go on to have in my life, this man that I met just as I was beginning my journey to recovery will always be the man who restored my hope, and who showed me that what had destroyed me wasn’t Man, and it wasn’t Sex — it was Abuse. But there are good men, and there is good sex, and because this exceptionally good man never once gave up on me, I know now where to direct my anger and what to look for in a healthy, consensual relationship.

 

4) Affirmations

During Northwestern’s Sex Week in April 2012, there was a talk called “Sex After Rape,” which briefly discussed a book that sounded pretty interesting and relevant to me entitled Urban Tantra” by Barbara Carrellas. The book took an approach to tantric sex as a form of healing.

The quote that first piqued my interest was this one:

“Healing sexual abuse through sexuality begins by peeling away the layers of armor we have built up to protect ourselves from further abuse.”

That rang so true with me, that I went right out and bought the book. I read it cover to cover. It was a very emotional and cleansing experience for me.

I found that what it really did most was help me to repair my broken relationship with myselfBy recalibrating my regard for my sexuality from one of shame and embarrassment to one of marvel and love, I managed to heal the wounds that I had brought upon myself for so many years.

All of the self-loathing, self-blame, self-inflicted punishment … Reading this book helped me finally forgive myself for all of that and begin again.

Not to mention the fact that it provided me with a bevy of useful affirmations that I recite to myself sometimes before embarking on sexual ventures, to help keep me grounded in my body, in my sexuality, in my self.

Now, that is not to say that I no longer have triggers, or breakdowns, or doubts. I still do. But the difference is that, now, I also have hope. And knowledge. And most importantly, the power to change and to heal.

 

5) Advocacy

In April of 2012, I was on the planning committee for Northwestern’s annual Take Back the Night events. For the first time, I was able to feel the incredible catharsis and fulfillment of speaking out publicly against sexual assault.

I shared my experiences at the Speak Out. I listened to others’ stories. We cried together. We embraced each other.

I began to realize that this was about so much more than just me. It was about all of us.

And that’s when I decided that I could do so much more. I’m now working 24/7 to combat sexual violence, and sharing my story with you, my dear Internet, is just one more step in the right direction.

The last time I saw my counselor this past June, she told me, “Cassy … you’re walking out of here today a Warrior.” And because of her … because of every counselor, every friend, every lover, and even every stranger who has supported me along the way … I do feel strong enough finally to not only survive, but to reclaim the power that has been stripped of me — and to fight back.

TAKEBACKALLTHENIGHTS

The banner that my student group made for the Take Back the Night rally, April 2012.
TAKE BACK ALL THE NIGHTS!

•°*•*°• . EPILOGUE •°*•*°• .

What can we take away from all this?

1) COERCION IS NOT CONSENT. If you haven’t noticed, this is a pretty big issue to me. I know that it’s hard to conceptualize non-violent instances of sexual assault, since the image of rape that we’ve been spoon-fed our entire lives is one depicting physical manipulation, not psychological. Hopefully, though, after having read my account, you can see how coerced sex can be just as traumatic as forced sex — because really, there’s no distinction in the mind of the victim; they’re just two different ways of dispossessing a person of their right to say “no.” And when “no” is not an option, “yes” is meaningless.

 

2) Trauma triggers are another concept you’ll want to familiarize yourself with. When a sexual assault survivor is triggered, they are mentally transported back to an instance of sexual abuse, and as far as their brain is concerned, the abuse is happening right then in the present, it’s not just a memory from the past. Triggers can take the form of any variety of senses: smell, taste, touch, sight, sound … And “trigger” can also refer to something that causes an episode in people with mental illnesses. I’ve decided to compile a list of all of the triggers I’ve experienced in the past 3 years (which is not to say that I still experience all of them), so that you can get a better idea of how intrusive they really are to a person’s day-to-day life:

Vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, doggy-style, being choked, being slapped, being spanked, being grabbed, being held down, being bound, having my ears, eyes, or mouth covered, being videotaped, simply being asked to partake in any of the above activities, overhearing conversations that mention any of the above activities, comments made about how good/bad I am at giving head, being shushed during sex, the phrases “take/suck that dick,” “good girl,” “suck it,” “come on!!”, or any variation of “I wish you’d suck my cock,”, being told I take sex too seriously, being told to “chill out,” being called “worthless” or “useless” (even if only in jest), being pressured, threatened, guilted, intimidated, or blackmailed into partaking in a sexual activity, or otherwise being raped, masturbating (yes, you heard me right), defecating, getting high, watching rape scenes in movies or television, watching sex scenes in movies or television, seeing pornography (still or video), certain rap lyrics and entire songs in general (e.g., Cam’ron’s “Suck it or Not,” Enya’s “Caribbean Blue,” Lovage’s “Sex (I’m A)”), the taste of neat Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, the taste of Blue Moon Belgium White Wheat Ale, victim-blaming or threats of rape (even when not directed at me), certain penetrating looks from men on the street or in bed with me, the sight of a man stroking his penis while making eye contact with me, certain physical characteristics that remind me of my rapist/s, actually seeing one of them unexpectedly in passing, walking home alone at night, the sound of a bicycle or a skateboard passing, the sound of small objects hitting my bedroom window, the sound of my phone ringing or vibrating, walking by certain locations (e.g., the Starbucks on Sherman Ave, the corner of Wesley Ave and Simpson St., *Doc’s apartment on Orrington Ave)  … you get the idea.

 

3) I’ll admit that I made a lot of poor decisions over the past few years, and I know that my self-esteem was embarrassingly low — so embarrassingly low that it alone is enough to make me cringe at the thought of anyone reading my story. But I think it’s worth noting that so much of my opinion of myself was derived from being traumatized, and the longer I went without support, the more vulnerable I become to attack. There’s a huge distinction between a stranger approaching you on the street and telling you that you’re worthless, and a lover — someone you trust, someone whose been intimate with you in the most invasive way possible — telling you that you’re worthless. Words can hurt — when they’re coupled with violence, especially — and they can haunt you for years. So … YES, we need to empower women at a young age, it’s true. That is a tremendous necessity that is just as important to advocate for as combatting sexual violence. But by no means is rape a suitable punishment for having low self-esteem. I refuse to believe that I deserved it, simply because I was weak of mind at the time.

 

4) Along those same lines, no survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence can seek help until they are ready to. Realize that just because you don’t know that you know anyone close to you who has been the victim of those sorts of violent acts does not mean you truly don’t know any. Be patient with yourself and with others. The most you can do as a friend if/when a victim confides in you is listen to them, encourage them to express themselves, validate their experiences by reassuring them that you believe them and that it wasn’t their fault. They’re most likely doubting and blaming themselves enough already, and the last thing they need is an external source of doubt or blame, shaming and silencing them. That is counterproductive, if what you want is to help them heal.

 

5) It’s also important to recognize that the way we think about and talk about sex as a society can silence survivors and perpetuate violence as well. For example, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my story at all if I still didn’t feel able to give blowjobs, because no matter how far I’ve come in recovery, I’m still tremendously ashamed by the fact that that was a part of my identity for so long. And I’m ashamed by it because society at large tells us that it is an impermissible way to be. Please try to understand that there is no such thing as a “wrong boundary,” and that the only “wrong” way to explore your sexuality is to do something just because someone else thinks that you “should.”

 

6) Building off of that, I sometimes wish that telling my partners I’ve been a victim of rape didn’t make them more likely to respect my boundaries than if I hadn’t told them. I hate that having been raped is a “good reason” for creating certain boundaries for oneself — as if there actually exist “bad reasons.” Not wanting to participate in a particular sex act is enough of a reason on its own, without having to justify it. Although, if it helps you to think of every person with a boundary you disagree with as having made that choice as a result of a sexual assault, then so be it. But consider this: If everyone just respected each other’s boundaries equally, maybe sexual assault wouldn’t occur in the first place (or at least not on such a large scale).

 

7) “Feminism” is not a dirty word.

 

8) Sometimes it is terribly difficult to say “no” — whether it be due to socialization, circumstance, or interpersonal dynamics. This is why it is so much safer to approach sexual interactions from a position of Consent Only: waiting to hear a “yes,” rather than proceeding until you hear a “no.” Check up on your partner throughout the sex act. When in doubt — ASK. I assure you, coming across as considerate is worth the risk of coming across as awkward.

 

9) Anorexia is a mental illnessDepression is a mental illnessPTSD is a mental illnessSubstance abuse is a common co-occurrence with mental illness. (And countless others.) None of these conditions are choices. None of their victims should be shamed.

 

10) That’s all I could come up with for right now. If you think of another good point, post it in the comments, and I will add it to the list! :)

 

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR LISTENING! [heaves heavy sigh of relief]

 

PART ONE: Partner Rape

PART TWO: Date Rape

PART THREE: Relationship Violence

41 thoughts on “I am a survivor, and this is my story (PART FOUR)

  1. KM says:

    You are strong and wonderful. I love you.

  2. We have mutual friends, but we’ve never met. Regardless, I read your entire story and it has left me nearly speechless. No one deserves to go through what you were put through, and the fact that you were able to not only pursue healing for yourself but to become an advocate for others subjected to that same pain is truly inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing something so personal and difficult to relive.

  3. The courage it takes to share this is incredible. You are a force of nature, and as a fellow survivor, I salute you.

  4. jo says:

    I read all these from beginning to end. I don’t know you personally, but you have truly deeply made an impact on my life and on my perspective of similar experiences in my past. Thank you.

  5. Richard says:

    This was a tough story to just read let alone live. Thank you for sharing. I am embarrassed to be in the same species with Doc never mind the same gender. I hope you have a great life in spite of these experiences.

  6. Aaron says:

    When I was 14-15, I was sexually assaulted every night for a year without fail, sometimes multiple times in the same night. I was also physically assaulted several times, and emotionally abused throughout. I am a male and the abuser was my mom’s ex-boyfriend.

    I’m now 23, have a loving wife and a son, and have never sought counseling. I have always thought about going to a counselor and talking about this, but I never know what I would say or how I would start the conversation. I even wonder if I “need” it, or if it would do me any good. I’ve pretty much forgotten the incidents (or at least swept them under the rug mentally enough to where I don’t think about it much), but I wonder if that’s a healthy thing to do. It’s been almost 10 years, after all. So I relate to your story.

    • brassycassy says:

      Wow, Aaron … that is horrifying. I feel so deeply for you after reading that. Of course, whether to seek counseling or not is a choice every survivor has to make on their own, and if you feel as though it’s not necessary, then you should most certainly listen to yourself.

      Thank you for sharing. You are not alone. <3

  7. All I can say is I am sorry this happened to you, but I am so thankful to you for sharing…. You may never really know what profound effect your story has had on other women…. Thank you!!!!

  8. B.G.E says:

    This is a totally heartbreaking chronicle. As someone who has also suffered prolonged albeit totally different sexual abuse/emotional manipulation/physical assault, and as a result has developed PTSD, I utterly UTTERLY get you.

    Your description of you in Part 1 of ‘I was never much the romantic type. I was the girl who was always rolling her eyes at the concept of “true love,” ‘ made me guffaw (honest!) because that was me. Still, to certain degrees, is me. And there was I thinking I was the only one.

    This has inspired me to write my own experience. I hope I can be as honest and so amazingly brave as you. There aren’t enough words, but ‘you go, girl’ sums it up pretty well. You bloody go, girl.

    • brassycassy says:

      Thank you so much for your message, B.G.E!

      I hope you do end up writing about your experiences, as I really would be interested in reading what you have to say. :)

      Take good care, survivor. <3

  9. Terri says:

    Cassy, I am so very proud of you for sharing this very, very difficult story. You are such a strong woman, and I am proud to know you and to know that you are helping other victims through sharing your story. I will message you with another story that your story has helped. <3

  10. Ray says:

    Wow, what a harrowing and depressing story… I’m so glad you made it through. As a guy I find it depressing because I was raised to treat women with respect, and either you were incredibly unlucky to run into so many assholes in a row, or else guys like me are much rarer than I thought… It looks like you had big problems with low self esteem and those shitbags took advantage of it, preying on you and getting away with it because you didn’t realize that you deserved better. I don’t mean to blame the victim… clearly society needs to do a better job of teaching young people to have self-respect and to respect others. If sex education included some time telling kids that violence and coercion are never acceptable, and pointing them to the resources for sexual abuse victims, it might make a difference, though it’s probably unrealistic in the current right-wing political climate (don’t get me started on abstinence only education AKA “ignorance only indoctrination”)… Anyway, not sure what else to say except – good luck and stay strong!

  11. Salix says:

    Thank you for telling your story.

  12. Rosie says:

    I’m so glad you shared your story Cassy. It was eloquently and bravely told.

    A note about affordable counseling: Most every major metro area has a local rape crisis center and many of these places offer counseling on a sliding scale or “donate whatever you can afford” basis. You can use RAINN’s website to locate your local rape crisis center.

  13. Lana Marks says:

    It’s been years since I was in my abusive relationship- and for me it took years after it ended to realize what was really going on. Because of that I am extremely sensitive to stories of domestic abuse. To that end I honestly couldn’t stop reading. While our stories are inherently different the moments in which they were similar were devastating.

    it’s been so long (a little over a decade actually) and I rarely think about it, anymore. It doesn’t haunt me the way it used to. But when I’m confronted with particular intimate situations (for me it isn’t physical sex) I almost unconsciously regress and it takes days if not weeks to figure out that the cause of my outburst or breakdown is/was related to those years. I explain it, but if you haven’t gone through it you don’t really know, and I feel shamed about it all over again- but this time it’s for not being able to fully get over it. Some part of me is still stuck and I think it’s because I was so young that I hardly believe that it happened.
    Your story gives me hope that perhaps at some point I will be able to get rid of this ever looming pit in my stomach. It also makes me realize that as far as I’ve come on my own -I might need some help actually finishing.

    Thank you.

    • brassycassy says:

      Lana, thank you so much for sharing this.

      It sounds as though you went through something truly horrible, and not being over it is nothing to be ashamed of.

      Please know that I am here for you if you ever need any support as you continue on your journey to recovery. <3

    • Ben says:

      I know we’ve never been especially close, but I’ve always enjoyed the time we spent chatting together. I really just wanted to thank you for posting this. It’s gotten me to think about the way I talk with my partner about sex. I know often people think of gay relationships differently–especially when it comes to sex, but respect is universal.

  14. George says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. A friend linked me to your blog, here, and it has been an incredible learning experience. Knowing some of what you went through is making me examine choices and relationships in my own life. Just knowing the difference than I can be for another human being, as a listener or as someone who can watch for these signs, is tremendous.

    A lot of my friends have a saying “Love God, Love People”, it basically sums up the responsibilities we have to each other. Your sharing has enabled me to do that better, thank you so much.

  15. Sylvia says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is so incredibly powerful, I had tears in my eyes by the last chapter. I was happy to read that things are so much better for you now and that somehow you are getting through this. You are one very strong woman! {hug}

  16. Thank you for sharing your story. An incredible read. And thank you for your advice to third parties as to what to look for and how best to respond. the more educated everyone becomes on the topic, the better off we’ll all be.

  17. Quirkeegurl says:

    Thank you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable by sharing your difficult story. I have so much respect for you and for your journey through recovery. I believe these posts will have a strong impact on many people. You’re amazing!

  18. Ajurna says:

    Well that was eye opening.Thank you for sharing.

  19. heartfelt says:

    You are clearly an amazing woman, so brave and strong to share your story and within such a short period. Your story has touched me deeply, if I had known what I read today I may have been able to be a better friend to people dear to me. I hope to now be able to be a better listener. Thank you.

  20. Touched says:

    Cassy, this is one of the most powerful things I have ever read. I never knew something this horrifying could actually happen in today’s world. I cried the whole way through your story. I feel so much more educated on how to handle such situations, and I can’t wait to participate in Take Back the Night at my school this fall. You are an incredible, inspiring, and beautiful person, and I hope you never forget that.

  21. marcie says:

    I’m so proud of you for surviving and for sharing. I suffered through a verbally abuse for about a year when I was 20. Thankfully I got out once it started getting physically abusive, I finally realized I would rather be alone for the rest of my life (as C had convinced me I would be since he was the only person who could love me) than stay with him. I was strong enough to vow no one would treat me like that again and shortly thereafter met my wonderful husband. It was years before I finally got help for my clinical depression, which I am now convinced is what let me into a relationship with C in the first place. Stay strong. I know how hard it is to ask for help and am so proud of you for doing it!

  22. Christine says:

    Thank you for writing this. My hope is that young women will just happen to stumble upon it and it may help them to avoid what you went through.
    It is said that 1 in 4 women has been sexually assaulted. I tend to believe that it is more like 1 in 2. Where is the line? When does it become assault and not a misunderstanding? How can someone really know without communication, but how can communication happen when the subject is so difficult? When is it ok to back out? How can one back out without feeling like less of a person?
    I think that part of the problem is that there is no difinitive answer to these questions. Experiences are subjective and individual. What is ok to one person is totally not ok to another. What is assault to one person is fun to another. How can you measure intent? You really can’t.

    Stay strong. I’m glad you got help and I am glad you are passing on what you have learned.

  23. Jamie says:

    I’m not good with words, but your story moved me. As an abuse victim myself, your story touched me in so many ways! Thank you for sharing!

  24. Wendy says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Cassy. I’m very impressed with your strength & maturity in finding healing so quickly and so closely after your trauma. I, too, was a geekly girl when I went off to college as a virgin. While my virginity wasn’t taken as traumatically, my sexual education was pretty harrowing, and it’s only now, as a 32 year old mother of 2 that I’ve been able to come close to the level of healing & understanding you describe in your final chapter.

  25. Michele says:

    You are amazingly brave and wonderful for sharing your story in this way. It is extremely difficult to read but tremendously important.
    I wish for you strength, hope, and love for the rest of your life. Thank you.

  26. Kristen Lewis says:

    Cassy,

    Thank-you for sharing your story. You’ve said that talking about it really helped you, and I know for a fact that it will help other vulnerable girls in the future, but it also helps me, as a distant friend, to understand what you’ve been going through. To feel happy for you and proud of you for making it to your recovery phase. Truthfully, I had (to this day) no idea how to deal with someone who is or was in your situation. Thankfully, you wrote in a sort of tutorial: How to Talk to a Friend Who Has Been a Victim of Sexual Assault: For Dummies. I really really, sincerely needed that. As a woman, I know that I will have to face this issue. Maybe increasingly as a doctor, depending on what specialty I go in to. It’s my natural instinct to insist that a victim of sexual harassment or assault remove themselves from the situation, but after reading your whole story I understand how that can be a form of shaming or silencing. From now on I’m going to really try to use the tactics you suggested: listen, encourage them to share and validate that their abuse was in no way their fault. I’m actually kind of shocked an appalled that no one has tried to teach me this before. As a result, I wanted to let you know that sharing your story helped me and I wish you all the luck in the world concerning further healing, including sharing and helping others.

  27. Jason says:

    Thanks for being so brave and uncensored in relating your story. I’m sure reading this will be very helpful to other victims.

  28. Tara says:

    Thank you for writing this! I am another woman who has been lucky enough to avoid serious abuse (and made it out of the one emotionally abusive relationship I experienced with a minimum of damage thanks to the support of friends). Unfortunately, one of my best friends has been through a series of emotionally and sometimes physically abusive relationships, and I’ve struggled with how to help her. It’s so hard to see her get hurt and not know what to do. Hearing your perspective and advice for friends and families of survivors is really valuable. Especially about how hard it is to talk about and the warning signs–I’ve missed them before because I assumed she would talk to me about it. I will definitely be more vigilant in the future with all my friends! Again, thank you for sharing your story.

  29. LEC says:

    Thank you.

  30. Anonymous Survivor says:

    I admire your courage to publicly go into such detail about the truth not only of your experience but your self-reflective obervations of it and who you were/are as well. I related to you and apsects of your experience, but on a different level as a survivor of sex trafficking. Forced into being a sex worker, I didn’t have the option of saying “no”, was faced with violence if I did, and endured whatever abuses men thought they were entitled to inflict upon me because they had paid for it. They were “allowed” to force or do things to me that “normal” women refused them, and I wasn’t allowed to refuse (ex. I’ve also always hated anal, could never do it voluntarily, and men always wanted to pay for it). My worth was measured in dollar signs, and not in the unique attributes of a human being. I feel like your abusers targeted your self esteem issues or weaknesses, just as I was targeted by men for my vulnerability or their entitlement of me. Which threw me into a deeper spiral of believing that being sexy and sexually performing was all I was good for; their pleasure and never my own, their money and my numbness. I learned how to trade pieces of myself just to make it to the next day, stuffing down any real or genuine feelings or opinions of my own. As you mentioned, coercion does not equal consent. I am happy you’ve come to such a great healing place, as I am also working on in the emotional, social, educational, and legal levels…it is most definitely a process. It is difficult to find needed services outside of the university setting. You have every reason to be proud of where you are today!

  31. Keely says:

    Every time I struggle with–get triggered by–some completely innocuous or at least not-badly-intentioned act/event, I feel ashamed for being bothered by something so minor. Because nothing that happened to me was That Bad. And it’s been so long (1.5 years since my abusive relationship ended). I frequently apologize to partners/friends for these things.

    I’m having trouble expressing what was different about your narrative here that has changed my perspective, because what you went through is definitively worse than what I did. (I was coerced, but never had serious physical abuse directed towards me, I had many positive sexual experiences as well, etc) But the descriptions of manipulative tactics of your abusers, and your mental experiences during that abuse… so many of them were so. fucking. familiar.

    And it makes me feel like what I experienced is real, and like I don’t need to be ashamed for still struggling with it, for still being influenced by it. I believe that my abusive ex truly loved me, and that he didn’t mean to hurt me, at least originally. But that doesn’t mean I still can’t be damaged by what happened.

    Sorry if this comment was incoherent. But thanks.

    • brassycassy says:

      Keely,

      Not at all — this was completely coherent. And I am so humbled to hear that my story was able to validate you in that way.

      I do not believe that what happened to me was somehow worse than what happened to you. What you experienced was, indeed, real, and I think that it’s how it affects you personally that determines its significance.

      I wish you all the best on your journey. And thank you so much for reading and for sharing. <3

  32. Cassy, thank you for sharing your story. It was moving and terrifying and it shocked me in a very odd way.

    My ex-husband use to break things and have violent tantrums. He punched a hole in the wall one day when our 2 month old daughter wouldn’t stop crying while I was away at work. While preparing an assignment for school, he ripped it and went into a violent tantrum that ended with me having to buy a new laundry basket because he shattered the one we had. He destroyed our daughter’s tree house when she was four because when she’d returned from visiting me she refused to tell her step-mother that she missed her. He threw a cell phone at the wall near my daughter while he was fighting with his current wife two years ago.

    His excuse, over the years, has always been, “I would never hurt you or our daughter. That’s why I break things around me.”

    Thank you for making me see that what he’s done and still does today, is abuse. I knew he gaslighted me and I purposefully did all I could to get him to no longer want to be with me. And that meant doing some things I wasn’t proud of, but it got me away from him. I regret that it didn’t get my daughter away from him, however.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are amazing and wonderful and I hope for nothing but wonderful things for you in the future.

  33. Ben says:

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t know what to say. I’m sitting here trying to put my feelings into words but they just won’t come out. Thank you for sharing this. I admire you and wish you all the best.

  34. This post was so powerful and moving, thank you. I am so impressed at how you have been able to move forward and your healing experience. Thank you for sharing your story with us, as someone who works at a crisis center I find it incredibly meaningful when survivors like yourself are able to reclaim power and control over their lives and begin to heal from their abuse. Keep up the strength.

  35. 2015@northwestern.edu says:

    Thank you for sharing. Hopefully over the next year NU will be revamping CAPS and the women’s center in light of events this quarter and over the past few years. Your story will make a difference and might stop this from happening to anyone else.

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