by Lana DiCocco
I said no. It happened anyway.
Shocked more than anything, I kept my mouth shut. It was my first semester at college. How do you put rape into words?
It is clear to me now. I should have fought him. Used pepper spray. Walked the six miles back to the dorms.
But I was young and fragile. I just stayed quiet.
My story is everyone’s story. We are all survivors.
I carried the rape with me like an unspeakable, heavy cloud. I never reported it. I was too afraid to say anything. Because I stayed quiet, I developed many personally destructive habits as a way to deal with the pain. I based my self-esteem on the acceptance and approval of others. I turned to excessive drinking, hooking up and unhealthy diets that were more like eating disorders. I wanted someone to save me so badly. I just wanted to feel. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to feel loved and truly valued. But only ended up feeling numb.
I was afraid that every guy just wanted to use me. Any sign of interest from a guy and I felt an urgent need to escape. I assumed everyone could see the Scarlett letters “PTSD” branded on my forehead. More than anything, I was so ashamed of my emotions and the fear I felt. My grades, my golf career and my personal relationships all faltered from the weight.
A serious boyfriend made his opinion very apparent – it was my fault because I had been drinking that night. He had no idea what I woke up to the next morning. He had no comprehension of the flashbacks and the triggers that I lived with. I don’t think anyone would ever say something like that if they truly understood the emotional aftermath of sexual violence.
A year ago, 9 years after the rape, I realized how much I still needed to heal. I had a solid career and social life, but was tired of grasping outside of myself for security and love. I wanted to once and for all face the experience and define it for myself.
I started going to therapy. My therapist told me that I needed to get to know myself and take myself on “dates.” Most of the Lana dates consisted of hiking, swimming, yoga, reading and writing. Activities that were cleansing and empowering. I hiked the mountains of Utah, feeling strength in the stillness of nature as I meditated on self-acceptance. How could I love myself with the unwelcome memories? With the paralyzing fear of being used and abandoned? How could anyone else ever love me? The more I hiked and wrote, I realized it didn’t matter what anyone else thought or expected or said. All that mattered was that I loved myself and knew my own strength.
I can love myself because I am me. It’s so simple. I don’t have to be anyone else. I kept repeating in my mind – I will always be there for you. I will never let anything like that happen again.
I realized that it was never my fault. I did not choose to be raped by having a drink that night. I said no. It was not my fault that I did not felt safe enough to tell anyone at college. It does not make me worthless because the environment was not supportive and open about sexual violence.
A guy can never fill the void inside of me. Neither can a high salary. Nothing external can ever fill that gaping void. True acceptance and enduring love starts from within.
Women should not expect others to protect them. We should be carrying our own pepper spray and be ready to use it. We should be aware of the health and emotional issues that affect women and take proactive responsibility to take care of ourselves. Healthy living is a choice and an attitude. It is our way of being prepared for life’s storms.
My story is unfinished. I’m no longer afraid. I will always take a stand because I know what I’m worth. I’m a fighter and there is no way I’m backing down.