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July 29, 2019

How I Define Myself after being Accused of Sexual Assault.

 

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*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

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A name represents a lot—it represents the generations of people that have come before us, as well as the legacy that will carry on for generations to come.

How do you feel about your name?

Some studies suggest that liking your own name is predictive of well-being and happiness, and it may also positively affect your self-esteem.

But sometimes, your name affects how other people treat you. While we can understand the harm of assumptions, for the human mind it is a fast way to categorize a lot of information in a short amount of time because, unfortunately, a name is also a descriptor that allows people to make quick judgments about us.

Our reputation is what our name means to those who don’t know us, who spend almost no time thinking about us. It’s what we get reduced to when we aren’t illuminated by love.

Reputation will rise and fall according to how closely we track or depart from the ideals of our society—and these tend to be pegged to financial success, sexual propriety, decorum, marriage, sobriety, the sanctity of family, and the purity of children.

And how do I know this?

On October 26th, 2010, my name appeared on the front page of the Guelph Mercury Newspaper.

That was the day the paper reported that I had been accused of sexually assaulting a co-worker.

That was the day I started to hate my name.

When speaking our truth, it is easy to be drowned out in a sea of voices, but as author Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, joy, trust, intimacy, courage…everything that brings meaning to our lives.”

Being accused of sexual assault is the least interesting thing about me, and while I was never convicted, the story almost crushed me. Not only did the story appear on the front page of the paper—twice—but it is the number one thing that appears when you Google my name.

This story represents my own individual pain, hurt, and anger, especially when those who don’t know me google me before we meet and craft opinions or judgments about me based off what they’ve read online.

This story is a constant reminder that no one will ever see me as I am—that they will always qualify “me” in connection with the way the story was written, and then the story becomes more important than who I am.

I spent years nervous to apply for a job or even go on a date. I was never sure how to address it. I was conflicted on whether to disclose the story, because I knew it was just a mouse click away.

The question haunted me: should I tell them? It never felt right. People who get to know me know that I am not that article, and I wanted to give others the opportunity to know me before I said to them, “This is what you’ll get if you Google me.”

The thing that made me feel the most helpless was the complete lack of control. Google results are just there, eternal, always reminding me of the cost, what lies behind me, and what will always feel a little sad and bruised inside.

But the worst thing—the part of this story that I feared for eight years—was what would happen when my son eventually googled my name and read this story before I had the courage to tell him myself.

When you are faced with adversity, instead of asking “Why am I going through this?” ask yourself “What is this trying to teach me?” Nothing that ever happens to us is wasted. Although I am familiar with pain and didn’t make it out unscathed, I eventually choose not to be a victim to the story.

A few weeks before my son’s 10th birthday, he and I were walking home from the park when all of a sudden the Google Car drove past us. The universe clearly decided it wasn’t waiting for me any longer, because without hesitation, my son said, “You know Daddy, when you Google your name a lot of things come up.”

The gift for me came in sharing the story that I had long-feared telling. Because, like all great stories, when we focus on the lesson, we quickly move beyond the adversity.

And what did I learn?

I learned that our identity is self-chosen. Other people may give us names and labels, but our identity can only come from us. Our identity represents how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to perceive us.

Identity is a personal process that is complex and full and fluid, and depending on the situation and circumstance, what we call ourselves can change over time—especially when what once resonated with us no longer does.

So I took the time to review my identity. I can’t change the past or what shows up in a Google search, but I can ensure that the future will be nothing like it.

But today, after almost 10 years of feeling like the underdog and hating my last name, it now represents the power of the journey that I have been on and everything that I have learned along the way:

Compassion
Authenticity
Humility
Inspiration
Leadership
Love

Or C.A.H.I.L.L.—my last name.

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