When I was in high school, I was raped. Worse than the violation itself was the jumble of harmful emotions that was born of it: the anger, the shame, the fear and the inability to trust anyone that has trailed me through my life. The silence has been the worst. Or maybe secrecy is a better word. Not talking about it, not sharing it, hiding it and hiding behind it. Always hiding. It set up years of obscuring myself from others. And I could hide from anything. Or pretend to, anyway, because I just knew that I was bad. I had to pretend to be something that I wasn’t because I was sure that I was a bad person. So, I would pretend that I didn’t smoke, or that I didn’t really drink that much, and that I didn’t have a drug problem. I pretended that it was okay to have sex with men that didn’t care about me as much as I cared about them. My outward attitude screamed, “Look at me, look at how free I am! I’m fun; I’m open-minded; I’m festive!” because that sounds so much better than, “Look at me! I’m dying inside, and I don’t know how to ask for help!”
More than anything that night, I lost my power. I’m not sure that I had that much at that point anyway. I was only 16, after all, but at that time I was putting together who I might be, and then, after that night, I just gave it all away. I didn’t like how I was or how I looked or what I was like because all of those things just ended up getting me raped. I wanted to blend in, hide, disappear, go away. I stopped wearing make-up, I started dressing down, and I quickly shrank into myself.
Just like that, I gave my power away; I let them take it. And then it blew up the rest of my life, for the next twenty some years. I didn’t know how to say no to anyone. It was just easier to say yes, because betraying myself was better than being betrayed by someone else. I couldn’t be vulnerable in a sincere way. I was just a victim, and that victim archetype swallowed me up and followed me around the world. I was nearly raped in Argentina and then again in Turkey. Nobody could protect me. I so desperately wanted to be cared for, protected, shielded from this terrible life, and nobody could do that for me because I couldn’t do it for myself.
Giving away my power kept me so small. Small was safe. I was so afraid to be anything or anyone because then someone might notice me. My default was to blend in, and not say a word. I couldn’t speak for years, unless I was drunk or high, and boy did I love to get drunk because it felt like I was putting on the outfit of a whole new person. It really was my only escape from me.
All of this giving my power away kept me from expressing who I truly am, and it allowed me to let others define me. It kept me in jobs that were small and in finances that were small. It kept me in a little itty bitty shell, and every once in a while I would poke my head out and feel the light, but then something would come up and I’d stick it back in again.
I’ve had a long search for meaning in my life. It has taken me all over the world and moved me to new places. It has prompted me to read and to learn new languages. It has led me to museums, libraries, and sweeping outdoor spaces. It brought me to yoga classes and ultimately to energy work and a daily meditation practice. With this, I finally, finally, realized that this “meaning” wasn’t outside of me, and I started to pick up those little pieces of my power that I had scattered all over the place and put them back into my self.
I forgave myself, and I forgave others. I forgave them. That doesn’t make what they did okay or even acceptable, but it allowed me to move on. I chose life and living, and I chose to pull myself together. I let go of things that were no longer serving me, and that I was no longer serving. I discovered boundaries and put them into place, and that was when I could finally stop bleeding all over everyone and everything and when others could no longer bleed all over me.
In the end, I came to realize that no one can take from me what I am not willing to give away.
I finally looked into the mirror and said, “I love you, Janet.”
This journey is not without its pitfalls. I still shrink from some things, and I still have trouble expressing my truth with some people. And there are certainly moments when I still give my power away. I am aware of it, though, and I can usually snatch back those little pieces of me before they float off with someone else.
This has been so hard to write, but it had to be written. It was the secret that I was still holding hostage; it was the ever present elephant in my room. It was my last rationalization, justification, excuse, pity party. Right here, right now, I let it go, completely, 100 percent. I reclaim myself and that little girl that I was.