Suffer In Silence

I’ve always hated crying. I think mostly, it’s because I don’t like feeling emotionally vulnerable. I have always liked to be the strong, tough girl.

It started back when I was 12, when my mom was first diagnosed with terminal cancer. At such a young age I was dealing with an incredible amount of sadness, grief, and fear. Those strong and overwhelming emotions were more than my little heart could handle at times.

So, I started to internalize things, and try to just silently suffer through it.

Mostly, I think I wanted to be strong for those around me who were also struggling; especially my mom. I felt like if I could be strong and not cry or show my fear, that maybe I could help her be stronger through it all too. I also wanted to be a strength for my twin sister, and my dad too.

It’s so interesting to me now, looking back, at how much that habit of internalizing my emotions has affected my life. Because it became somewhat of a toxic habit to silently suffer, and never ask for help or never let people in when I was hurting.

But, it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized how dangerous silent suffering could really be.

The Moment That Changed It All

I have briefly written about what happened to me when I was 18 before, here, but I wanted to bring it up again in this post for a specific reason. It’s difficult to do so, but I have felt very inspired to share my story in the hopes that I can help others who are going through something similar, or who might in the future.

As a freshman at Utah State University, located in the gorgeous mountains of Cache Valley, I was eager for what my future held for me. College is supposed to be fun, new, and exciting; and my 2 years spent in Logan definitely were all of the above.

However, there was one event that literally changed my life forever. Even now as I start to type it out my palms sweat, and I feel anxiety rising in my chest. I will never, ever forget those few moments. This moment literally poisoned my time in Logan with this thick, choking darkness that in the end forced me to move away and never return.

I made many friends in Logan, including athletes on various sports teams for the school. As an athlete in high school, and a lover of sports in general, I loved being around anyone else who shared my passion for sports.

One friend in particular was a hockey player, a very popular and friendly one at that. He had friends throughout the campus, especially since that year the hockey team was playing particularly well and the student body enjoyed going to the USU Men’s Hockey games.

We would talk often, and I trusted him. He was funny, charming, attractive, and an all around nice guy.

Spring break came around that year, and my sister and I and a few of our closest girl friends decided to borrow a mini-van and go on a fun road trip through Las Vegas, and then to Huntington Beach in California.

After spending a few sunny days on the beach it was time to return back to Utah, but our friend (Mr. Hockey Player) offered us a place to stay outside of Las Vegas on our way home at his parent’s house. We went with him to a local house party with his friends, and it was there that he told us he would not be returning to USU because he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and was starting treatments soon, starting with surgery the next morning.

We were all upset for our friend. We ended up going back to his house early, while he stayed out on his self-claimed “last night of fun” before the cancer treatments. We went to sleep in the living room, but I was woken up around 3 in the morning by him when he came home. He asked if I would come talk to him for awhile because he was nervous and scared about everything, and I of course agreed, because he was my friend.

It was very clear he was intoxicated, because he was stumbling up the stairs to his bedroom. Still, I felt no danger and followed him. I was worried for my friend and wanted to talk to him and help him through whatever he was dealing with. As I walked into the room and turned to say something to him he came at me from the door he had just locked behind him, and pushed me forcefully onto the bed.

He was normally not aggressive in this way, and I was beginning to feel panicked. He was very drunk, and much larger than me, and I was starting to worry about being able to get out of the room. He kept saying things like “This is my last night, I want to enjoy it”. He was also becoming more and more physical, not allowing me off the bed, and when I started to push back against him to get up he eventually held me down by digging his elbow heavily onto my chest, while holding my my hands down above my head with his other hand.

Many times I begged him to let me leave, telling him we could talk in the morning when he wasn’t drunk. When my pleas went unanswered, I started physically trying to fight him back. The more I pushed and started to fight him, the harder he held me down. He tried to kiss me and I bit him as hard as I could. It made him angry, and more aggressive. I started to think he was literally going to suffocate me because I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore. I tried to scream out but since my chest was being pressed upon so forcefully I couldn’t get more than a whisper out.

And then just like a scene in a horror movie, that you never think will actually happen to you, he quickly ripped down my sweat pants, held down my hands again, and proceeded to rape me. Everything hurt, my entire body was tensed in my fight-or-flight situation, and I prayed to pass out at one point from not being able to breathe so I wouldn’t have to consciously remember what was happening. I was living a real nightmare, pure hell that I would never wish upon anyone.

In one last effort to fight back I was able to slide my right leg up just enough that I could knee him as hard as I could in his stomach. It shocked him just enough that he let up on my hands and I threw a right hook across his face and then kicked both of my feet into his chest and pushed him off of me. Due to how drunk he was he lost his balance and stumbled back across the room.

I had no time, I quickly jumped up from the bed, pulling my sweats up from my ankles as I ran down the hall. I found a bathroom downstairs by where all the other girls were asleep, I locked the door, and shook violently on the floor fearing he would come after me and drag me back upstairs. I also feared he would harm the girls sleeping just on the other side of the wall.

After what felt like an eternity, I hoped he had passed out upstairs when I hadn’t heard anything. That’s when I threw up twice. Afterwards I tried to pee and was horrified with how much blood there was everywhere down there and in the toilet. I laid in a ball on the floor and cried. I was still worried about making any noise, so I tried my best to cry quietly. I wanted to scream and let it out but I couldn’t.

I finally emerged from the bathroom some time later, I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I could see the sunlight starting to come through the windows in the living room. I checked on my sister and the other girls, and they were all safely still sleeping there. No signs of my attacker.

In a delusional haze, I laid back down next to my sister, and I remember snuggling up really close to her. I wished I could wake her up but I didn’t know what to do. I never fell asleep I just laid there up against her, shaking and fearing he would come down any minute.

Eventually everyone woke up, and thankfully we had planned to just get up and leave. Some of the girls went to say goodbye to our host, but I of course did not and immediately climbed into the van to hide.

I know my sister knew something was wrong, but she didn’t ask me on the ride home. I was quiet, and tried to sleep through most of it. At one point when we stopped at a rest area I noticed there was blood on the front of my sweats. I felt nauseous, and it all felt like some awful dream.

The Aftermath

I hoped it would all just disappear. I did tell my sister what had happened when we got home, but I decided since he was not returning to school because of his cancer, that I could just brush it under the rug and forget about it all.

I stayed silent and told no one besides my sister; I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn’t want to hurt them. I was afraid to tell my church leaders because I worried about being blamed for what happened, or getting in trouble with violating the chastity laws I was supposed to abide by. Because of the fear and the shame I stayed silent.

But, as cruel fate would have it, the following fall semester my attacker did return to Logan. I didn’t know he was returning until I literally ran into him on campus. It had been almost 6 months, but seeing him face-to-face brought me immediately back to that horrible night.

I panicked and ran from him, not knowing else what to do. I thought maybe I could just avoid him, but unfortunately for me that would not be easy since we had a lot of the same friends. He texted me and asked why I ran from him, and wanted to hang out. I just ignored him and hoped he would stop.

He didn’t stop though. He persisted on bothering me, sending me texts, calling, and eventually ran me down on campus about a week later. I asked him as bravely as I could to leave me alone, that I wanted nothing to do with him. He asked me why and I didn’t want to answer, but when he kept following me and asking I finally snapped and said something along the lines of, “Do you really need me to tell you why? You should know why.”

With a confused look on his face he said, “Why, because you’re embarrassed we had sex?” It was like a knife was stabbed through me when those words came out of his mouth; so nonchalantly, so casually, as if that night had not been the nightmare I had been replaying in my mind since.

“We didn’t have sex… You raped me.” 

When I said that, something visibly changed in his stance, and he responded with;

“Yeah? Well no one will believe you, because

I’m an athlete and you’re a nobody.”

I walked away, shaken to my very core. I hadn’t been planning on reporting what had happened, but I thought maybe I should. I was worried he would come attack me again, or start spreading the rumor that we had consensual sex. I talked to my sister about it all, and to a few of our roommates. Somehow, a friend of a friend of a friend (who was not my biggest fan) heard my side of the story and decided to tell the hockey player.

That’s when versions of my nightmare story spread across campus, and that’s when I became the center of a witch hunt. Because this guy, this popular athlete who played on the hockey team with the winning season record, had so much support around campus, and according to him I was a “nobody”. So who would care what this nobody says? This girl accusing one of their favorite athletes of something so horrific, so terrible?

To make a long story short, the rest of that year I was bullied almost every day on campus and on my phone by friends of his. I was called a liar, I was called a slut, I was blamed for it happening – people said I wanted it and I asked for it. I even heard a rumor that I actually took advantage of him, because he was drunk and I wasn’t.

To say this was a living hell is an absolute understatement. I feared for my safety anytime I left my house to go to class, which became the only time I ever really left towards the end of the year. I was so belittled and so beaten down that I remained silent and I never came forward and reported the rape. He got away with it, while I eventually decided my only option was to move out of Logan, Utah and start over new somewhere else.

I was bullied and shamed into silence. 

Silent No More

I refuse to ever remain silent again. I was silenced for so long, and now I want to share my story in hopes that someone else out there will find the courage to not be silenced. I hope someone else out there who is reading this will find the strength to report their rape, to turn in their sexual abuser, or to tell someone about the person who is sexually harassing or assaulting them.

Silence actually has noise; it is filled with grief, pain, despair, loneliness, and everything hurtful that can be imagined. It’s filled with voices wanting to be heard, women and men who are being abused and mistreated who want to scream out for justice for what’s happened to them, and stories of people who just want to feel safe again.

When we succumb to the silence we allow the rape culture that has taken over our world to win, to continue to enable this toxic and corrosive way of living.

So I am refusing to ever be silent again.

This is why I became involved with The Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City.

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It’s a wonderful sanctuary where anyone can go to receive help if they’ve been assaulted or raped – there is a 24/7 hospital team that accompany anyone.

There’s also a 24/7 crisis hotline with trained volunteers on the line waiting to help anyone who calls in. The number is:

801.467.7273

You can also speak to advocates at the office. Professionally trained advocates offer information and support to survivors as they navigate the impact of sexual violence on their daily lives.

Trauma therapists are also on-site offering help to survivors to address the long-term impact of post-traumatic stress on their health and wellbeing.

Survivors can also join in on a variety of group services, to help one another through the healing journey together.

This coming Friday (June 8th 2018) is the center’s annual Hope & Healing Gala, which I have been helping to organize the silent auction. All the proceeds go towards the services I have mentioned – it all goes towards helping survivors heal from the traumas they have been through.

If you would like more information about The Hope & Healing Gala, or The Rape Recovery Center please feel free to email me! aly.paintedwithgold@gmail.com

I am also here for anyone who needs help navigating their way through their own hellish nightmare like mine. I am here to help anyone I can, in any way that I can!

Breaking the Rape Culture

While my attacker will never be charged with what he did to me, I hope other survivors out there will be able to bring theirs to justice.

Once we as a society start making changes, then maybe the sickening amount of sexual assaults and attacks will diminish.

  • We need to hold the attackers accountable for their actions. No more victim blaming or shaming.
  • The trivialization of sexual assault needs to stop. No more of the excuse that “boys will be boys” that so often gets thrown around.
  • Too long have we become tolerant of sexual harassment. Why is it ok to treat anyone in such an abusive and demeaning way?
  • No more scrutinizing the way a victim dresses, blaming that for why they were raped. “She was asking for it, look at the way she was dressed.” It’s total BS. (I was wearing sweats and a t-shirt the night I was raped, definitely was not ‘asking for it.’)
  • Society in general needs to take rape accusations more seriously. So many times I have heard, “Oh, she probably made a mistake and slept with the guy and is trying to cover it up by lying that he raped her.”
  • Why do we continue to teach women how to not be raped? There are self defense classes offered everywhere. How about instead, we start teaching people TO NOT RAPE OTHER PEOPLE?

My list could go on and on.

Can’t Silence a Survivor

The #metoo movement was an incredible step towards preventing sexual violence, but it was not the reason why so many people have started to step forward. It gave survivors, like me, the strength and courage to finally feel brave enough to say something – because for once we felt like we had enough support on our side to do so.

That’s part of the problem too – so many people criticized the women coming forward with past assault and rape claims when the #metoo movement went viral online. Doesn’t that seem odd to anyone else? Instead of criticizing the people coming forward, maybe take a step back and see how horrifying it is at the sheer amount of people that have been silent for so long until now, afraid to come forward? That should be criticized.

Feeling that I have support from others, and knowing that someone else out there might also find courage to say something too – that’s why I chose to speak out now and break my own silence publicly.

I speak out for me, a survivor, and I speak out for anyone else who has also survived sexual assault and/or sexual violence.

If enough of us speak out, the silence of the survivors will become the loudest voice out there.

So speak out, find your support, report what’s happened to you, and start the healing process to let go of it all.

I continue to make progress towards never silently suffering again, and I invite all of you out there who read my words to do the same. You do not ever have to suffer alone again, in the toxic silence of sexual violence. Share your story, raise your voice, and be heard.

“You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth, and raging courage.” – Alex Elle

 

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Photography: Troy Kolterman MUA: Julie Artistry 

 

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