My sexual assault experience seems like a typical cautionary tale. I went out to a party less than two minutes off of my college campus, and the guy who invited me out took advantage of me while he was extremely intoxicated. Despite this being such a personal experience (since I was the only one who witnessed it), so many other aspects of my life changed over time. Most of these things are not even correlated with the event, which took me by a bigger surprise.
I’m a huge advocate when it comes to sexual assault victims. I sympathize with them and I want to look out for them. But what is more important, is educating the masses on the outside, the people who haven’t been through this. Sexual assault is truly something someone cannot understand until they have been through it. But as a writer, my job is to tell you those understandings.
Therefore, I wanted to share all of the things that changed in my life after my assault. Some of these came as a surprise, and some of these I’m still mentally preparing for.
1. I Lost a Lot of Friends
By a landslide, this was the most unexpected circumstance that changed after my sexual assault. I particularly didn’t share much about my trauma except to initially inform my friends of what happened. The details I shared with my loved ones about how I was feeling and my coping mechanisms were more a cry for help than they were to just talk about casually, but that got lost in translation.
Overtime, I slowly started to drift apart from my friends and they slowly started to drift away back. Right after my series of events, all I wanted to do was isolate myself in my own room and not talk to anyone. But by the time I was ready to pop out of my shell, a lot of them were taken aback by my recent lifestyle choices and thought I was too “depressed”.
Unfortunately, trauma is a very ambiguous situation, and every person will react differently to it. A lot of friends promised me right away they would be there for me through the thick and thin of it, but they didn’t know what the thick and thin even was.
2. Dating is Terrifying
There isn’t any need to explain this much further in depth. I wrote an article a while ago about what my first relationship was like after my assault. It goes without being said that I had the irrational fear of being taken and raped in a back alley or a stranger’s home, but the fear was also so much deeper than that.
When someone does something like sexual assault your dignity, humility, and power is completely stripped away from you. This leaves you “naked” from a mental and emotional standpoint. The thought of just being open and vulnerable with a partner was sickening to me after that, and I had the mentality for a while that nobody can be trusted.
While it gets better over time with keeping my composure on first dates, those intrusive thoughts are always in the back of my head. Before my assault, I used to get really excited and have butterflies when it came to going on first dates. But more recently, the innocence of dating has died. I approached dates with much more caution before I let myself relax and have fun. This makes it much harder, as I come off as being cold or not interested when all I want to do is be open. It’s very contradictory and adds another layer of adversity to relationships.
3. Sleeping Isn’t Rejuvenating Anymore
Everyone’s sexual assault experience is different. Personally, I have had frequent nightmares for months. Ever since I started having nightmares, I began sleeping in much later into the day and taking more naps. To others, this came off as me being “lazy”. The reality is, I can struggle to fall asleep due to the impending anxiety I have about what may come in my nightmares. Then most nights, a nightmare would occur and would lead to a vicious cycle of waking myself up, calming down, and falling back asleep in hopes of getting some quality rest (but it never really quite happens).
On the rare occasion, I do get a good night’s sleep without any disturbances. However, these are so few and far between it’s almost never enough to truly suffice. Needless to say, this takes a major toll on your day-to-day life, and I wasn't always at my best to efficiently get done what needed to be completed.
4. Masturbation is Much Harder
As TMI as it sounds, it is something that pops us as being a difficulty from time to time. Something that was once a personal form of self care and brought a lot of relief now feels taken over by a traumatic experience.
While this is something in which you have full control over, it is hard to sometimes differentiate the two circumstances. Since both events have a similar stimulus, it can be easy for your body to immediately resort to a fight or flight mode, even if you’re not in any immediate danger. Survivors have to reclaim their control and confidence even if it is to do something as simple as masturbation; something that is truly just meant for pleasure.
5. Concentration Seems Nearly Impossible
One of the most common symptoms both after people experience a traumatic event and PTSD is a lack of concentration and losing focus. While recovering from my assaults, I was simultaneously a full time college student when realistically I should’ve taken a temporary leave. Most days of sitting in class or at work was just staring at the wall and listening to my professor’s lectures going in one ear and out the other.
Fortunately, this can be fixed after an immense amount of self care, healing, and time. But unfortunately, everything else has to go on the back burner. Depending on the individual, it can be difficult to juggle healing from trauma with other day to day responsibilities. I wasn't able to actually feel present again until I admitted myself to an outpatient program where I had no other choice but to be present and focus on myself.
6. What Looks Abnormal to Everyone Else is the New Normal for You
After my experience of being assaulted, my social behaviors became extremely erratic from the outside looking inward. About 95% of my time I wanted to be in uninterrupted isolation so I could completely dissociate and unwind. But for the other 5%, I jumped to the polar opposite end of the spectrum.
During these sporadic times (but usually Fridays and Saturdays), I wanted to do as much as my body was physically capable of when it came to socializing. I went to way more parties, hooked up with more men to feel “in control”, and would drink to the point of blacking out. After binging on maladaptive behaviors for 48 to 72 hours, I go back to being in completely solitude and depression. This wasn’t like me, this was never “like” me.
Everyone reacts to trauma differently, and there’s no way to determine how someone will react until it happens to them. Regardless, it’s important to be sympathetic and patient with whoever the survivor is. Even if their behavior isn’t how they would normally act.
7. You See Everything in a Whole New Light (Whether it’s Good or Bad)
Even after spending almost a year processing my traumatic experience, I still am not able to put a finger on the person I was before all of this happened. Every perspective I have on society and the world as a whole just feels like an unsettling alteration of my original thoughts.
I used to think colleges and universities are the biggest advocates for survivors when it comes to sexual assault and rape culture. Especially this is considering the fact that women ages 18–24 in college are three times most likely to be sexually assaulted than a women of any other age not enrolled in college. But when I cried for help because every aspect of my life was falling apart, my Title IX Coordinator told me to just “keep going to counseling” and things will get better.
I was always told growing up that if god forbid any kind of assault was to ever happen to me, the first people I should tell are the police. Growing up, I didn’t want to ever become part of the large statistic of victims not reporting their sexual assault to the authorities. But when I finally did, justice never followed through at the end. My case was just another folder in a dusty file cabinet somewhere.
A lot has changed in the past year or so I have been processing my own sexual assault experiences. None of these things were truly going to change my life until after the fact. But in the end, I have been able to come out on the other side as a much stronger, resilient, open person.
If you or anyone you know has been struggling with an incident(s) of sexual assault and rape, visit rainn.org for more information and resources.