I could write an altogether exhausting essay on how at seventeen I was raped - how I lost my virginity to my boyfriend and his two friends, in an act of violence and an act most definitely not consensual. Or I could write an essay on how that same night when I was at my most vulnerable, my best friend of many years said she couldn’t help me, and instead ran me a shower and left me to it.
It would be ever so easy to sit here and simply tell you that day was the worst day of my life. It would even make sense to, and yet that day, that night is easy to contain as this hell that happened, but it can almost be contained to that night. A night of nightmares that had a physical beginning and an end.
The next day was where I lost myself in the worst day because that was the day I stumbled through the world, no longer myself and no longer seeing the world in the same light. After essentially scrubbing it all away, I lay, silently and still, on the cold floor and hours passed.
When I came to realize that it was morning, I stood staring at myself in the mirror, I no longer recognized the face staring back, but I pulled my hair back into a headband and fixed myself up as best I could with the little makeup I had in my bag. The person staring back at me was no longer some high school kid, with dreams and an open schedule for a fun summer, but instead a stranger.
I recall at school, friends saying they “felt like a woman” after losing their virginity, and I was just some reserved, romantic girl who was saving herself for that someone special. I laugh at that thought now. I remember looking in the mirror that morning, watery-eyed, expressionless, and thinking to myself how I was now a “woman”, and the ghost of my former self.
In the silence, I decided that this was my burden to carry, and mine alone. And so I went home and didn’t utter a word of what had happened. I was completely aware and under no illusions that I had changed, that my path had changed, but I refused to let it change others, or affect people I loved. That night majorly changed how I viewed people, and how I trusted people I thought to be my friends. I isolated myself, which was even more challenging as I began college only months later. I threw myself into my studies and my working life.
Looking back I find it ironic that in my time of desperately wanting not to be seen, that I craved human interaction, I craved comfort. However, as I held myself responsible, I closed myself off to the idea that I was worthy of true friendships and genuine care. Subconsciously, I found myself drifting towards people who were more than content to keep me down and feeling inadequate. Friendships and relationships were toxic, and I came to believe that I didn’t deserve anything more.
Thankfully, and somewhat unintentionally, I found myself becoming close to a few people who somehow saw something in me that I, myself, had become blind to. Over time, I cautiously allowed myself to become more open with those who were becoming people I felt that I could be a truer version of myself around.
One day my friend, Jay and I were talking about a news story, and I made a throwaway remark about myself and made reference to what had happened. I don't recall the exact words I uttered, but I vividly remember the heat in my cheeks as I stared down into my half-finished cup of coffee. A swift change in the conversation happened, but Jay refused to let it lie.
Over the next few weeks, he repeatedly told me that he knew that there was something that I needed to share and that he was there for me when I was ready. Just knowing this started chipping away at the wall I had so carefully crafted around myself, and, one night when we were just chatting about life, I just blurted out what had happened. I didn't go into details, and yet immediately the weight of over five years of silence, lifted. I was terrified that he would respond by saying something that would trigger the near-constant guilt I felt.
Even something as well-meant as "you are not to blame" would have overwhelmed me. And yet, he simply sat and listened. When silence overcame me, he looked over and told me that I was courageous, I was safe now, and that he was always there.
Simple words. Words that at the time I did not believe at all.
To this day, I still find it incredibly challenging to allow myself to trust others. However, I have learned that there is freedom in being able to own my story with those I can trust and that having a small circle of friends that I can wholeheartedly rely on makes all the difference.
I still haven’t told my family, and I never will. Too much time has passed and there would be more damage done than good. And I’m okay with that.
During my worst days, I lost my spark and a lot of who I was. It was only a natural response to such trauma, and it has taken many years to face the shame and the blame that haunted me. I’d be lying if I said that I have fully conquered this demon, but these days, for the most part, I know the truth. I know it, and more importantly, accept it.
Despite the best efforts of others that night, I wasn’t broken. Bruised and dented, and cast into the shadow, yes, but most definitely not broken. Nowadays, for the most part, I can look in the mirror and see me, the me that I am now, and at the same time, the girl I was back then before people tried to break her.
Both reflections still smile the same, and still hope the same.
I spent more than a decade, believing that the loving, carefree girl with a list of dreams, had disappeared, but I’ve come to learn that she never really left. To realize this I’ve had to forgive myself, and learn to find peace in acceptance.
I cannot change what has happened to me. No amount of wishing or praying will alter that. I can, however, change how I see and treat myself. It’s a process I struggle with every day, but each day I embrace being kinder to myself.
I will hold my hands up and say with hindsight, I might have done things differently. For starters, I would probably have reported it, and also, sought out therapy support. That would have been a far shorter, and possibly less painful road to go on. And yet, I do believe the end result would have been the same.
I still have nightmare days. The days where it all feels too much, and I’m overwhelmed with everything that has happened. The days where it would be a whole lot easier to admit defeat. The days where all my senses betray me, and I’m cast back to a place I wish my brain and body would just forget, those times when I can still hear the words they spat out. “Stubborn bitch” as they left the room, and I lost myself to the dark. After that night, I despised being called that.
Nowadays, I am proud of how my stubbornness is a part of who I am. It is what gets me through the times where giving up seems like not only a choice but the only one. I’ve come to learn that even worst days come to an end, and they don’t get to define you. Not if you choose otherwise. These days, I’m standing tall in my own way, and smiling and loving with all I am. I am whole, making it a breath, and a step at a time, and only I get to decide on the effects these worst days hold over me.
*Due to the sensitive and personal nature of this post, the author has chosen to remain anonymous.
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