Sexual assault very well may be the thing that’s changed me the most — for better or for worse. Here are the ways I have changed because of my past experiences:
I’m more anxious and stressed than I used to be.
Triggers really take a toll on me. The small ones happen often and can really add up. Plus, a more severe trigger can affect me even days afterward as I wind down from it. They also make me more susceptible to triggers in general, which means even more stress. Yay. Plus, the healing process is slow and non-linear. The ups and downs can be exhausting. Furthermore, I’m facing matters head on. While this means I might heal faster (hopefully) and prevent future problems, it means that I’m dealing with a lot at once. Sometimes it can get overwhelming.
I have to take my mental health into account before drinking.
I have an entire post about this topic, but here’s the deal in a nutshell: I’m more susceptible to triggers when drinking and also react to them more strongly. If my mental health is anything less than decent, I think twice before drinking anything, because that also makes me more vulnerable to triggers. It’ll make a bad situation even worse.
I get nervous when first dating people until I’m sure that they’ll respect my boundaries.
After N, anytime I started dating someone, I would be very cautious at first. In the beginning of a relationship especially I would take things very slow physically. Every guy who has ever sexually assaulted me said something along the line of making it their goal to respect women no matter what. I started to hate it when people said that, because saying “I respect your boundaries” temporarily lost all meaning to me.
My thought was this: If I made my expectations clear and someone had a problem with it, it would be an easy indicator that this person is in the relationship for the wrong reasons and isn’t worth my time. It weeds out the people who don’t have their priorities straight. I think it says a lot about a person if they accept someone’s boundaries without complaint. It shows such respect.
I trust my instincts.
Luckily, rather than becoming very mistrusting of people, I’ve instead paid more attention to my instincts. Sometimes this borders on being paranoid (especially when at bars or walking alone at night). I don’t like that I’m fairly naive, but meanwhile I don’t want to become distrusting of people. I feel that I’m striking a tolerable balance between the two.
I’m always clear about what I do and don’t want.
It used to be very hard for me to tell a person that they’re making me uncomfortable — a struggle that many people can identify with. However, nowadays I have less of a problem telling people what I do and don’t want. I don’t do things just to make other happy. For example, if all my friends want to watch a movie that I hate, I’m not going to go along with it. And it hasn’t happened yet, but if some creep was making me uncomfortable, as long as I felt safe I’d have no problem telling them they need to leave me alone. I don’t care if I offend them. My safety and well-being is more important than their feelings.
I practice consent in all areas of my life.
In the years after N sexually assaulted me, I slowly got better and better at consent. At first it was mostly an attempt to prevent myself from getting assaulted again. I don’t mean to say that it’s ever my fault, but I thought that sexual assault would be less likely if my boundaries were crystal clear. I was wrong. But consent is still super great so I’ve got it down pat with my fabulous boyfriend. I find myself practicing consent in all relevant situations nowadays because it’s a great way to respect people’s boundaries and needs.
I’ve become an activist.
I became involved in social justice issues a few years before N sexually assaulted me, but realizing that I was a survivor and having more opportunities to get involved in college caused me to get heavily involved in activism. My school has an organization for preventing sexual assault, and I joined it a few months after realizing I was a survivor knowing that trying to raise awareness and prevent other people from going through what I have could help me heal. It’s also get being surrounded by people who care deeply about this issue.
I’m better at dealing with stress.
The only good news about getting triggered all the goddamn time is that it’s forced me to come up with a plethora of coping mechanisms which double as ways to deal with other stressful moments in life. I’ve gotten good at talking myself down and using breathing to calm myself. I think I also tolerate stress much better than I used to. Maybe I’m just getting used to it.
I’m more resilient.
I’m not sure if I’ve become more resilient, or these experiences just brought that out in me. Either way, I’ve rolled with the punches and won’t let life circumstances bring me down. Of course it’s not easy, but I won’t go down without a fight. A lot of people over the years have commented on how well I’ve coped with both this and seeing my parent’s abusive marriage as I was growing up. The root of my success is knowing that I have the power to choose how this shapes my life.
I am more open with the people around me and have formed a support system.
I know it’s ironic to say that I’m “more open with people” in an anonymous blog, but I really am getting better at opening up to the people closest to me or whom I trust. I just do this anonymously so that I can have no filter whatsoever and also because I’m not ready to fully “come out” as a survivor. Some people in my life even know about this blog.
It took me a few years to finally start talking about my past, but things swiftly took a turn for the better when I finally started talking. I’ve always been afraid of people saying stupid, ignorant, unsupportive things such as “Just get over it.” However, I’m very careful about who I tell, so I’ve only gotten a comment along those lines once. People have been overwhelmingly supportive. I don’t use my support system as much as I should, but it’s great knowing that people care. It’s especially wonderful now when I get triggered and I don’t have to go through it alone or attempt a poker face to cover it up.
Thank you for reading this article. You can find my backstory here.