Six months ago, I started counselling to help me heal, after realizing in 2015 that I was sexually assaulted about seven years ago: my very first time.
It’s been quite the journey.
I realized I was assaulted in my last year of university, but until then I’d really never thought of it this way. I always just thought that girls’ first times weren’t supposed to feel great, that it was natural for it to hurt. (I think I knew it wasn’t normal to have tried to push the person off you, but I blocked that part of my memory out for a long time.)
So in my daily life, until that day in university when I asked my very close friend what her first time was like, I didn’t really think about my first time. In fact I was only thinking about it at the time because I’d just done some training for helping survivors of sexual assault. I had done that training 4 out of the 5 years of my university career, as I was part of a leadership organization and they required you to participate in certain training activities every year, and it always put me in a dark place.
When my friend told me that her first time was playful and happy, something hit me like a rock. I didn’t know what to do.
So I just tried to forget about it.
It didn’t really work, of course. I started feeling insecure, I slipped into depression, and I became distant from my partner, Grady. He knew something was wrong and tried to help me, but there was not much he could do.
It wasn’t until August 2015 that I told him what was going on with me, and he looked me in the eye and said, “It doesn’t matter if he didn’t mean to. He assaulted you.” His voice was full of anger — not at me, but at the person who had done this to me.
I broke down.
That’s when I decided to start writing about it. My whole life, writing has been how I heal. I thought if I did what I always do to process my feelings, I could help myself. I told my best friends about it after I felt comfortable, and several months later I decided to come out about it to my parents.
But it didn’t help me enough.
It was a huge weight off my shoulders to talk about it, but it was still affecting my relationship with Grady, my self-esteem, and my general happiness. I just hated myself. I didn’t really realize I did, but I’d look at myself in the mirror and hate what I saw. I felt ugly. I didn’t consciously connect the dots and think, “You let this happen, you’re so ugly.” But I think that’s what was happening.
I became scared of everyone and afraid to trust anyone, no matter their gender. Grady and I didn’t have sex for months at a time, didn’t even kiss because I’d get scared. I’d cry if we did, because it was too much.
A year after Grady helped me realize what had happened to me, I somehow came to the understanding that I couldn’t help myself. He and my friends had been incredibly supportive for that entire year, but I realized that they couldn’t help me either, and it was unfair of me to expect them to.
See, to cope, I had thrown myself into my relationship with Grady and lost all sense of myself. When he got a new job in September, I had two panic attacks… both when I was alone at home.
I didn’t know how to be alone even for a few hours.
So I called the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton. I got on the waitlist to begin counselling at the end of September 2016, just last year.
Six months after starting my counselling, I’m finding myself again.
Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
I’m learning who I really am, because during my counselling I found that I hadn’t been myself for years. I just didn’t know it.
I’ve started taking care of myself. I’m going to the gym, eating healthy, reading, and spending more time with friends. I’m not being overly strict about the gym and my meals, to avoid abusing myself, but I’m starting to feel better.
I’ve even started to feel like having sex again.
Two weeks ago, I decided to stop going to counselling.
It’s not that I don’t need it anymore: I think counselling is something you could pretty much do for your whole life and truly benefit from it.
It’s that I’ve found my way again. I’m changing.
At first, it was really scary. I didn’t know if I would like who I really am, because all I know is what I’ve been pretending to be all this time. What I’ve been pressured to be, by others or by myself.
I’ve learned to be flexible with myself. I’ve even started wearing makeup! (If you know me, you’ll know that I’ve basically NEVER worn makeup. I still don’t even own lipstick. Or nail polish.)
Counselling helped me rediscover who I am and try new things.
My sexual assault has helped me become myself.
Before it happened, I was being the way I thought I should be, not how I really was. I behaved in bed the way I thought I should, I participated in life at university the way I thought I should, and I even still put weird expectations on myself about what it means to be “professional,” that I’m noticing not many people do.
A lot of that is thanks to the media and from internalized misogyny and racism, but a lot of it is from my abuser. He belittled me for the things I like, made fun of me for how I am in bed, and often didn’t care about how I felt. He even blamed my age for how “immature” I acted when I got upset and when we broke up.
I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal. I didn’t know he was wrong. For years I heard his voice in my head, making fun of me and telling me how I immature I was for talking to my friends about our problems and asking for help.
But now I do.
Now, I feel like suddenly I’m free. I had all these limits on myself without knowing, and they’re slowly going away. I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely free, but I’m okay with that. I almost don’t want to forget what happened, because as terrible as it was, I’ve reshaped myself because of it.
Whatever fire I had lost, I’ve found again, and I don’t think I can begin to express how much better I feel.