About five years ago, I admitted to myself and friends: I was a rape victim. It took me time to change my verbage to survivor – I prefer the terminology. It makes me feel strong because I am.
For years, I referred to myself as broken. In my mind, I was broken. I was pieces of my former self. These pieces of my entity fell on either side of a very distinct line; I had two selves: pre-rape and post-rape. I looked at the event as the moment I forever changed; a moment in which I cracked and fell apart never to be put together again.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I am incredibly open with my experiences as a survivor. I’m not the “Hi! My name is RaeAnna. I love reading, cooking, traveling. Oh and I was raped for years” kind of open, but it’s there if you’re listening. Once people get to know me, I tell them, or if they watch Facebook, it becomes evident. People get to know me as a vibrant, fleshed-out, living person. They see me laugh and joke. They become acquainted with my aptitude for languages and the irritating quality of knowing too many random things. They see me reading a book from across the bar. I am, for all intensive purposes, a thriving, multi-faceted human. When they find out I am a survivor, there’s the usual sympathy. What has surprised me, though, is the shock most people try to hide. All of a sudden, they are hearing this incredibly wretched and burdensome piece of my history, and it just does not match the image they have in their mind of who I am.
When we think of rape survivors, we see a victim. A broken woman (person) in a dark room silently crying in the fetal postion unable to speak. We see broken. I saw broken. I saw sorrow. I saw a life divided by a singular event. I saw vulnerable. I saw weak. I saw myself as someone who was not just broken but shattered. I saw myself as having been through too much to ever be thought of as upbeat, vivacious, or full of life.
It took me two years to admit I was a rape victim. It took me another two years to claim I am a rape survivor. It took me another two years to accept how much my life has been and will be impacted by the violence my body and mind have seen. It has taken me eight years total to realize I am not a shadow of what I used to be, I am not unworthy, I am not a burden, and, most certainly, I am not broken. I am me. Rape survivor is a part of my identity, which it always will be, but it is not my qualifier. It will not be inscribed on my grave. It does not define or detract from who I am. I am sad. I have my dark days. I have my issues. I see demons. I dance to all music. I sing to myself. I hate wearing pants. I laugh very loudly. I make dirty jokes. I like having sex. I have amazing friendships. I’m not scared to walk alone at night. I fell in love. I have and plan on traveling the world alone. I have a small addiction to sugar. I like reading more than I like partying. I am a diversified person. So don’t be surprised when I say I was raped, or any other person who you have seen smile is a rape survivor. We have fun just like you.
We can’t let the actions of someone else rule our entire lives because then they win. I refuse to let them take more from me than they already have. They have pieces of my past, but they will never have pieces of me or my future.