cw: sexual assault
After the countless hours I spent last year on sexual assault prevention techniques and safe/consensual sex seminars, I felt confident in my victimhood. For me, fighting against the systemic powers that reinforce toxic masculinity has changed the way I see my place in it all. From being a struggling, suicidal victim of sexual assault in my undergraduate years to my time as a workshop leader in “Writing Survival,” I have gotten to know myself as someone who is healing through helping. That is, until this year, until my first semester in graduate school.
At first, I was sure that most of my stress was coming from the twenty-five-page paper or the in-class discussions where I always feel like a prick, or even living so far from East Tennessee, but it became a bit more apparent over time that maybe I wasn’t only reacting to natural stressors. I found myself—and still do regularly—falling into deep depressions for weeks at a time, holding onto what little reality I could, usually in the form of watching multiple seasons of television shows or getting drunk enough to dance. This isn’t my depression. After years of practice, I know my depression, and this is not it.
Because of this, I started to examine my coping mechanisms. They’re the ones I’ve taught myself out of preservation, the ones I fine-tuned to allow me to use my trauma as a survival skill for others. They’re not fit for re-living trauma, only moving past it. So, when the “Me Too” campaign began and Weinstein was outted and Jeffrey Tambor and god the list goes on and on, I didn’t realize I wasn’t able to withstand this type of re-visiting or re-writing of my own trauma. My first semester of graduate school, where I’m supposed to learn new study skills and new ways to interpret literature, is fogged by a haunted maze of triggers.
This is getting too intense for me. Here’s a list of things I’ve been thinking about:
- I have far fewer intense emotions when I’m well-fed, but I also have far fewer intense emotions when I fit into my pants.
- The first two months of graduate school should have killed me but didn’t.
- I wonder what it was like to be in graduate school the last time there was a public sex scandal.
- Was it like this with the Bill Clinton scandal?
- What would happen if Johnny Depp was accused of abusing Amber Heard NOW?
- My cat bit me and ran away and I yelled “we’re not done here,” so I think it’s time to stop being single.
- I never thought I would be tired of drinking, but I am.
- What does it mean for me to develop coping skills to manage my reaction to everyday conversations about sexual assault?
- Isn’t this conversation what I wanted? Didn’t I want people to talk about it?
In a world where the president’s name is bleeped out in TV shows and the word “rape” is used and misused more than ever, how do survivors of sexual assault continue to be part of the conversation? I wonder how many people have felt how I feel: alone with a trauma I’ve become unfamiliar with because so much time has passed, scared to engage with anything outside my most confined comfort zones. I’m re-writing my identity as a survivor. I’m learning to let every day hit me as hard as possible, and I’m learning to stand back up. It’s trial and error, really.
There is something I’ve realized, though: I did it. With just a few pages left to write of my seminar paper and projects coming together and students who make showing up for work enjoyable, I can say that, at the bare minimum, I did it.