I was raped. There, I said it. Although this incident happened in my life nearly 25 years ago, those three words were hard for me to voice. As a writer I have written about my experience, but to actually try to say those words, I would find I couldn't utter them.
At the time of the incident I was married and the mother of four small children. Rape doesn't happen to "women like me." I went to church, read my bible and prayed. Hell, I was even the director of the children's Sunday school department.
But happen it did and in a very big way. At the time of the rape I don't think I had even met a woman who had been raped before and it certainly never entered my mind that I would at the young age of 27 be sitting in a room with seven other women who experienced the same terror that I did.
I learned that one in every six women will have had an attempted or complete rape here in America. I learned that many women never report it, especially if it was someone they knew. They somehow felt they had something to do with it.
I lived in that shame and fear, and if I were to be truly honest with you, today I still carry some of that shame around with me. The attending physician in the hospital examined me as the nurse held my hand. I wept and stared at the wall. She patted my hand and said, "You are safe now." I remember the pictures taken of my blackened thighs as the doctor remarked, "You will be fine, hon. You put up quite a fight and that asshole should burn in hell for what he did."
His anger somehow didn't make me feel better, but I witnessed his compassion towards me. The next thing I do remember is that I put myself to bed. I literally couldn't get out of bed. It had happened in October of that year, and I can remember missing Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
One early morning I heard my 6-year-old daughter enter the room. I closed my eyes not wanting to be seen. She touched my forehead with her chubby hand and laid a note on the nightstand and quietly left the room just as she had entered.
I lay still and motionless, not even wanting to breathe. The hurt, the pain, the betrayal all surging inside my body. After what seemed like a long time I turned my head to see her Crayola pictures on the outside of the piece of paper.
Inside I opened it to find these words: "Dear Jesus, please help mommy get better so we can have a Christmas tree."
The tears fell down my cheeks as I felt the strength begin to surge from my heart. I allowed myself for the first time in months to take a deep breath. I was stronger than this. I was not going to let anyone take my life from me anymore.
I opened up the drawer to the nightstand that was next to my bed and found the card the nurse at the hospital gave me laying on top. I slowly dialed the number and heard the voice on the other end of the phone: "Rape crisis hotline. This is Suzy. How can I help you?"
I shared my painful story with her as she reassured me that I would be okay and that she would do everything she could to help me on this part of my journey. She asked me to come to a new support meeting that would meet the following day at 1 pm and, if I needed a ride, they would come and get me. I wrote down the address and told her I would be there.
My hands were shaking as I put down the phone, yet I somehow knew that I needed to be there.
The next morning I showered and dressed and got myself in the car. I drove to downtown San Jose, which I never liked to do before and now this made it even more terrifying. I found the address, parked and sat in my car for about 15 minutes gathering up the strength to go in.
This was a club that I never wanted to be a member of. I signed in and was directed to a room that had a few couches and soft lighting from the lamps. There I was joined by seven other women, all older than me. As we each told our stories I found that most of these women were just beginning to deal with a rape that happened many years previously. I vowed then and there that I would work through whatever I needed to do so that 20 years later I wouldn't be in their shoes.
I went to those meetings for about three months and each meeting made me stronger. I no longer walk in fear and shame; that is something I know I don't need to live in.
So how did I become the woman I am today? I realized that the rape was not my fault. I realized that I had four children who needed their mother and I realized that no one was going to take my power from me. The first few years were very difficult, I won't lie to you. I struggled with fear, depression, anxiety. Some days I would start to cry and I just couldn't stop. Some days just breathing seemed to hurt. But each time I looked into my children's eyes and saw their faces I knew I would not let that incident define me.
It was through that pivotal moment that I found writing. I wrote every day. I wrote in my journal, on scraps of paper, in the sand. I wrote until it didn't hurt anymore. I wrote it because I couldn't speak about it. But finally like Anais Nin so wisely said:
"And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
The first time I shared with a friend I was raped, and actually voiced those words, the shame began to fall away.
Today, I am a woman of 50 and as I look back on that young woman I once was, I hold her gently and kiss her cheek and say, "You are strong; you are a survivor; you won."
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.