It's been about a week since I first saw the #MeToo hashtag on Facebook. Once I saw it, I knew I had to write this out to you all, something I never imagined myself being able to share.
This is not a story of self-pity, and I don't want yours either. This is a story of perseverance. Of the power in forgiveness and letting go. This is a movement of solidarity. We are re-writing the ending of what feels like a never ending tale of female repression. We will not take it any more. We are standing up. We are speaking out. #NeverAgain.
I can remember being harassed as young as 11 years old, walking to town, avoiding cat calls from suspicious older men. Keeping my eyes down, and tugging at my shirt so as not to attract any extra attention.
I had a boyfriend who would use my body at his disposal, regardless of if he had my consent or not. I was desperate for his approval and love. I thought I had to give myself away.
I even had a boss, in a yoga studio no less, who would send me vile text messages late at night, and threaten me, reminding me that he was the one signing my checks, and if I didn't do as he said, that I would have no chance finding another job. That no one else in this town would hire me or ever take me seriously.
But the story I'm about to share was the worst of all, and I swear to you, nothing like this will ever happen to me again.
I was 20 years old, and I had just moved to Costa Rica. I had a few friends at this point, and we decided to go out one night to the local bar, Coco Loco. Ruby was from the Dominican Republic, she was about 10 years older than me, and spoke in broken english, but we forged a friendship. After a few drinks, and some dancing, two guys came up to us. Locals. One of them said that he owned the bar next door, and invited us for a drink. Being young, and naive, we agreed. After all, I had Ruby with me, I had been there before, I was not drunk and knew how to get home and how to say no. What could go wrong?
The last thing I remember (thank God) is having that one drink at 'his' bar.
The next morning, I regained consciousness by having a stranger, a disgusting stranger, forcing himself inside of me. I couldn't move my body. I was limp, desperately hoping I was stuck in a far too realistic nightmare.
I had no idea where I was, or how I got there, but I was completely naked, and completely terrified.
Once I regained some control over myself, and realized what was happening, I screamed, only to have him shove his hand over my mouth. He threw my clothes at me, as I rushed to get dressed. I tried to walk towards the front door, but he quickly redirected me out the back, where I had to crawl through the dirt under a fence to get away. I later learned that the bar was actually owned by his girlfriend, and he had brought me back to her house.
I had to walk through town to get home that morning. There was no way I could process what just happened. I threw away that memory, burned it, denied it, and held my head high until I got home and cried in the shower for what felt like hours.
It took me 4 years until I could even face that memory, I had shoved it down so deeply. It took me another year to be able to tell one person, my best friend. And another year to begin the healing process I would need to go through to finally let this go, and be free.
Its been almost 6 years since this happened, and only until a few months ago, I have allowed this shame to live inside of me. At this time, I have forgiven myself. I have forgiven him. I have truly let this go.
Why am I sharing this? Not for your sorrow. Do not remember me for an event that took place 6 year ago. Remember me for the strength I have found to not only move on, but to prosper and thrive.
I am sharing this to remind you that YOU are NOT alone. And you do NOT have to be ANYONES victim. You have support. We are here for each other. It IS possible to overcome tragedy, no matter how random, or how horrible.
Find forgiveness, not to justify anyone else's behavior, but to find peace for yourself.
Let go of the pain, the rage, the tragedy. Write a letter and burn it. Throw paint on a canvas. Run until your legs shake. Punch a pillow and scream into it!!! Do anything and everything you can to get it out of you. Holding on only makes the pain worse, it will fester and rot. Talk to people who love you. They will not judge you. I know, because saying it out loud was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
I will not allow this to define me. I will not allow this to take away from who I am.
I am allowing myself to be vulnerable now, to show you that no matter what happens, or who ever tries to stop you from being your beautiful, glorious self, nothing and no one ever can without your permission. You get to decide from here on out.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
If you or anyone you know has suffered from sexual assault, there is help. Start here.