I was sexually assaulted on a business trip years ago, but I did nothing about it.
In my head, I logically knew that I was not at fault for the actions of the perpetrator, but my heart felt differently.
It took me many months of depression, shame, PTSD, self-pity, and self-harm to finally accept that the only way out of the nightmare was to accept the entire situation for exactly what it was: a big sh*t sandwich.
I’ve learned that truth is fluid, and in my case, there were no black-and-white details that I can recall. “Likely facts” included things like a substance being put into my drink, leaving me with no memory of my evening, the “fact” that the perpetrator of my assault may not have been the man who put the substance into my drink, the “fact” that my initial reaction the next morning was to protect my career and act like I was okay with what he had likely done to me, and that for a brief period of time, I attempted to pretend that the event never even happened. But even as I trusted that these things were almost certainly part of the equation, questions continued to circle in my mind:
Was I unhappy in the weeks and months leading up to that business trip?
Yes, I was.
Was my life completely out of balance, because I was spending all of my time dedicating myself to a career instead of taking care of my self and family?
Yes, it was.
Was I guilty of spending my entire adult life focused on pleasing others, because I didn’t feel worthy of love?
Yes, I was.
Was I the girl who could occasionally attract the wrong kind of attention after I had been drinking?
Yes, I was.
Does the fact that I was unhappy mean that I was deserving of harm? The obvious answer is no, but I was not confident of this answer. Does the fact that I was focusing all my effort toward a career instead of myself and my family mean that I deserved to ingest the chemicals that were likely put into my drink that evening? Of course not, but it felt like some bad form of karma. Does the fact that I was a people-pleaser and had trouble telling people “no” mean that a man was entitled to take advantage of me in an altered state? No, but I questioned what kind of wrong signals I could have sent. Does it matter that I am capable of attracting the wrong kind of attention if I did not give consent for the things that were done to me? The law says no, but my heart said that was exactly why it happened.
After it happened to me, I did feel like it was my fault. I was certain that I must have done something to give this man the wrong signal. I did feel like all of my past wrongs somehow meant I deserved what had happened to me. I felt this way, because I had no ability to give myself compassion and lacked a sense of self-love. I was afraid to share my truth, because I feared that everyone would finally see my worst flaws. It’s what many of us in this #MeToo movement have in common: society’s norms, combined with a lack of self-love, translate into shame and fear.
The real facts of my particular incident are inconsequential. What matters is that at some point in my journey, I finally woke up. I saw the situation as one small moment of my life and decided to use it as the rock bottom foundation upon which to start building a new one. I am a hard-headed woman, and it took a lot to get me to wake up. The recurring themes in my life up until the assault? They were everyone else’s problem, not mine. The recurrent illnesses in my body, begging me to slow down? Just another challenge to overcome.
I had built a life on being strong and overcoming obstacles without ever asking myself “why”—until this. This horrible, scary event finally got me to ask myself, “What the f*ck?”
In coming to terms with my story, I wrote this poem to myself as an act of self-love. This poem became my story—and my truth.
Wake Up, Goddess.
The rapist tenders thanks
You neglect to protest
Assuming life’s burden
A choice stolen before you could say
Memories don’t exist
Stuck here you cannot stay
Thinking of the formative years
You feel shame and regret
Parents preoccupied with drinking
You forage haphazardly for love
Each failed teenage infatuation
Holding on to shame and regret
Attain a secure relationship
Become an unstoppable force
Marriage, college, babies, career
All pursued to excess
Inexhaustible you endeavors
No acknowledgement of self
Looking at your accomplishments
Feeling inadequate and unworthy
For you pursue a career
By exerting more effort than peers
Achieve executive management position
Bartering merely family and self
When conflict amongst others arises
You’re the one to make peace
Coworkers and friends express need
You succumb to their wishes
You define your self-worth
By the selfless pleasing of others
Looking in the mirror
Seeing someone unbefitting of love
Whenever life gets perplexing
You never slow down for self-care
Successful career, content marriage,
healthy children, all appears to be keen
Until one fateful evening
Meeting the evil who will change you
A business contact, no less,
Your intuition doesn’t alert you
With no recollection nor safety
You begin to unravel
Success is no longer worth it
The people-pleasing is a curse
Let this break you or make you
The time for metamorphosis has come
Continue to choose others in sadness
Or put your needs above else
It’s time to wake up, acquiescent one
The victim you cannot remain
Change your perspective and see
He actually set you free
He awakened a goddess
Live as you were born to be
While I do feel like a goddess has been awakened, my journey has only just begun.
I currently have more good days than bad, but the bad still come out of nowhere and pack a punch. This may be the first time in my entire life that I see myself. I see the flaws. I see the beauty. I accept the flaws. I appreciate the beauty.
My truth is I am learning to love myself, and I am learning to love her above all else.
Author: Dawn Cannon
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina