I grew up in church. I got “the talk” at home and the conversation about sex was always open, honest and real in our house. In Sunday school, they talked to us about “true love waits” and the significance of a sexual relationship with someone. I learned about the covenant it creates between a man and a woman and I fully intended to save myself for marriage.
When I was 18, adrift and drowning in myself after the loss of a dance career and the literal flushing of all my hopes and dreams down a toilet bowl, those plans changed.
I had never been a party girl. I spent my life in a dance studio through my school days and until I puked myself to the edge of my life, I fully expected that would continue. I was living in New York, dancing on scholarship with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, graduated from a professional performing arts highschool, had been accepted into the TISCH School of the Arts program at NYU, had a roommate and was set to fulfill my dreams.
That is until I lost everything.
I now know God had other plans for me. But at the time, everything I’d worked for 18 years was just ripped away from me in a blurry instant. I was too sick to even recognize what was really happening in my life, but after months of hazily trying to function through my bulimic haze, I could no longer keep going.
In one day, I was whisked out of New York and I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last time I ever danced professionally.
I stumbled my way through life, floating in and out of hospitals, crashing my way through each day as I slowly self destructed myself into nothing. I was at the bottom. Or so I thought.
Eventually I met a friend who invited me to some parties. This was exciting for someone who had never really experienced anything like that before. I never drank. I never partied.
Up to that point, I’d lived my life on a tight rope of perfection. I walked so carefully, afraid of what would happen if I ever wavered in my perfectly poised steps of calculated success. But my biggest fear had come true and I’d fallen from that high place.
Through the fall, I tried to find myself. But along the way, all I found were new lows.
One night, I was at a party with my friend, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Begging people to see me. Accept me. Validate me. I started drinking the fruit punch that concealed all traces of alcohol taste, which I hate. I kept filling the cup with punch as I tried to fill the vat of emptiness that sat in my soul. Eventually there were shots, and with each one I dove further into this rabbit hole I had no clue how to escape.
I was drunk. But I remember everything.
The room started spinning and I didn’t even know where I was. My friend was nowhere to be found, until I landed on the floor of the bathroom, hugging the toilet-my familiar foe. Suddenly I felt my friend’s hands grip my hair as she sloppily supported me through this embarrassing scene. She laughed as she comforted me, my body heaving from my toe nails to my hair. Eventually it stopped and I told her I was fine.
The party was still in full swing and I knew I was stuck at this stranger’s house until morning. I stumbled my way into a bedroom and collapsed into the bed.
I don’t know how long I was out, but I was awoken by a pain I’d never experienced before. A penetrating, sharp, devastating pain.
Through the haze I said, “Stop! It hurts!!!”
He was too drunk to listen. He didn’t even know who I was, and likely didn’t know much about what he was doing. But that moment, that dark, lonely, shattering moment, changed the trajectory of my life.
I laid there as he took every ounce of life left in my bones. I stared up at the ceiling as he drunkenly thrust his filth into me. Tears welled up in my eyes and with them dripped my silent screams. I felt myself surrender, and something inside me shifted.
The next morning, I stumbled out into the beer stained, solo cup infested living room. I didn’t know anyone. And I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life.
The boy who raped me the night before came spilling into the room with another cup full of beer. I looked into his eyes as he looked right through me. With a punch to the arm and a “Hey pal!” I knew.
I knew in that instant that all my deepest fears, all my insecurities and self loathing, all the hatred I’d thrown into this cavern of lies were my truth.
I was worthless.
To him, likely not even remembering what he’d done to me the night before, I was nothing. He didn’t even know my name. But in his momentary pleasure he defiled everything I was or hoped to be.
That night changed everything. I had already been on a hell-bent quest toward self-destruction; but after that encounter, I dove head first into the pit I believed I created. I ran as fast as I could toward suicide, handing other people bullets and a loaded gun, begging them to pull the trigger because I wasn’t strong enough to do it myself.
I sunk deeper into bulimia and tried to kill myself from the inside out. I placed myself in positions that left me vulnerable and open to befoulment.
And I was raped again.
I never called it what it was. Afterall, I chose to go to those parties. I placed myself in those situations. I got drunk. I allowed this to happen to me and it was my fault. It wasn’t rape. It was stupidity.
I was worthless. Disposable. Contaminated. Useless.
And I believed those lies for the next 10 years.
Those lies lead me into unhealthy, damaging, degrading relationships and with each one, I lost another piece of my soul.
This happens. It happens all the time to women. Women who believe the lie that because they made a bad choice, they deserved what happened to them. Women who fall into these sick patterns of behavior because they believe that it was their fault. Women who lose faith in themselves. In men. In the authority of the word, “No.” Women who lose their virginity, their voice and their power. Who lose themselves.
It has to stop.
We have to teach our daughters to speak up and speak out. We have to teach our sons the same. We have to let other people know that this is not okay and that just because it didn’t happen in a back ally with a knife and a gag noose doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape. We have to say, “It wasn’t your fault. And it wasn’t okay.”
We have to #ChangeTheDialogue.
My beautiful friend from Mrs. Muffin Top has started a campaign to #ChangeTheDialogue, and I’m joining her in this crusade. I’m asking you to be brave with us.
Whether or not this is an experience you share, your voice matters. We can help other women speak out and not suffer in silence as they swallow their pain and allow it to infest every area of their lives like I did, and so many other women do.
On Wednesday, April 1st, the first day of Rape Awareness Month, at 2 pm Eastern time, please post, tweet, IG your support of #ChangeTheDialogue with your story, endorsement, or the name/initials of a friend you want to stand behind. Simply click this link and support the campaign.
For more explanation of how the campaign works, you can see this post from my brave friend Jacqui. Please share this with as many people as you can and help us #changethedialogue so we can spread the word and help as many people as possible to come out of the shadows and into the light.
Your voice matters.