A group of students gathered in Dittmar Gallery on Thursday night for Take Back the Night, a yearly event in which survivors of physical or sexual assault speak out about their experiences. Last April, I went and sat in silent solidarity with other Wildcats who shared their stories as victims of violence. But my solidarity was just that: silence. I wasn’t ready to acknowledge what had happened with my on-again, off-again high school boyfriend. I didn’t want to admit that I had nearly two years’ worth of nights to take back.
I can’t “take back” what happened to me. There will always be pain. I will always remember the words that were said to me. I’ll remember being called pathetic, an embarrassment, a bitch. I’ll remember the fights in his room, the fights in my room, in the car, the cafeteria. I’ll remember the screaming, the crying, the broken car window.
And sometimes the fact that I have to remember those things frustrates the hell out of me. I hate living with it on those days. Like the day I spilled water on my former college boyfriend during dinner at Plex and found myself crying in his bathroom because the fear that he was going to yell at me was too much for me, despite the fact he’d never even raised his voice.
Or like the nights I am asleep and wake up afraid because I’m having a night terror. I see a spider and it comes so close to me that I jump out of bed and turn on the light. My roommate wakes up, and already knows what’s happening. I listen to her voice, I feel the carpet on my bare feet and touch the coldness of my cinderblock wall until the blurry line between my past and present becomes clear. On those nights, life feels unfair.
But on other days, I feel stronger. I feel less like my past, and more like my right-now.
A big part of my right-now is counseling. Every week I sit down with a licensed therapist and acknowledge that yes, I was abused. And as much as I have tried to pretend otherwise, that matters. And the right-now is exhausting.
I’m one of those emotion-suppressers. I constantly tell people I don’t have feelings, which is bullshit. My counselor tells me I’ve kept down my feelings for so long because that’s what I needed to do to get by, and she says I was justified in doing that.
That was my past, though, and I don’t want to be that way now. But as we all know, change isn’t easy, and neither is dragging up those feelings I’ve kept at bay for as long as I can remember. It takes everything in me to bring up feelings I’ve kept down for a long time for a reason, even if it is for just an hour a week.
The Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence says that one in four women and one in 13 men are victims of domestic violence, but I have to believe it's more than that. It’s hard to admit that you were abused. My mom always wondered why I’d come home so late so many nights. I’d tell her I lost track of time, or that I stopped for gas, but really, I was hunched over my steering wheel, praying that the tears would stop so I could make it the last half-mile home.
My closest friends never asked what was happening. They could see the emotional damage, they noticed the hateful whispers during class, they called him toxic. They didn’t understand why I stuck around, and to this day, neither do I. I’m constantly wondering why I stayed. But there’s a loss of control inherent in being a victim of abuse, and that, more than anything, is deeply painful to acknowledge.
Having been abused makes you feel like you should have been smarter. But the truth I’m slowly coming to realize is that how I handled being abused wasn’t a question of intelligence, it was a matter of survival.
It’s not just abuse, though. We’re all struggling to admit our problems. Some of us are perfectionists, some afraid of failure, some lonely. But what I’ve learned to understand is that silence isn’t productive. I’m tired of pretending like my problems just aren’t there, because when I do that, somehow they sneak up on me and every time they appear, they’re worse than the time before.
Recovering from abuse or any kind of trauma is a marathon, not a sprint. And sometimes I feel like my asthma is kicking in and my legs are giving out. And if I have to rest and wheeze on the sidelines, so be it. I can’t take back what put me on this track. We all have nights we can’t take back.
But we get to pick our own finish line. We get to choose our after.
And to be honest, I have a lot of hopes for my after. I’m pretty fucking excited about it.