Samurai_ko (samurai_ko) wrote,
Samurai_ko
samurai_ko

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An open letter to "Jane Doe" of Steubenville, Ohio - "You're not alone."

Dear "Jane,"
You're not alone.
Not by a long shot.
You see, albeit with a few differences, I have been where you are right now, in that I am also a rape survivor. And I was sixteen years old when it happened. Since I can't go back in time and tell any of this to my younger self, I *can* at least tell you. And maybe I can help you avoid many of the mistakes I made as a result of what had happened.
Right now, not only must you deal with the harsh reality of what has happened to you, you are also dealing with the brutal public scrutiny of a nation and a world. That, I cannot even begin to imagine; to be honest, I'm not sure I even want to. I've read both the public outpouring of support, and the public flood of vitriolic, hateful bile that has come your way. (I can only pray that you are embracing the former, and ignoring the latter.) But if you are anything like I was, you are wondering, almost obsessively, if it really was your fault.
The answer is no.
To clarify that, as to whether or not you should have been drinking, that... okay, yes, not the best decision you could have made. But what happened as a result... no. What other people do is not your fault. They had no more right to drag you around, film you, subject you to the physical and emotional abuse you underwent, any more than they had a right to pick up a loaded gun and blow your head off, just because you were drunk. Had they been even remotely decent human beings, they would have found one of your friends and said, "She's had too much. Take her home." Instead, they indulged in petty, brutal, mindless self-indulgence. And that is not your fault, either.
You are also probably wondering if this has 'devalued' you in some way - that you are no longer worth anyone's love, affection, trust, or respect.
The answer is no.
This has not cheapened you, it does not make you any less deserving of the fundamental dignity, compassion, and self-worth that is every human being's right. It does not make you a slut, it does not make you worthless, it does not do anything save make you aware that, well, some people are just assholes.
And most of all, you're wondering, "What happens now?"
The answer is, "You survive."
I've always held the philosophy that there is existing, surviving, and living. Existing is where you do just that - you exist. Your life has all the excitement and meaning of plate glass. You are just... there. Survival is getting through the day, one day at a time. Your focus is on putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward inch by inch toward whatever your goals may be. That is what you must do right now - you must weather this storm, and focus on getting through it and past it.
Then comes living. Living is where you find joy, sorrow, anger, laughter, passion, and beauty in the world around you and *within* you. Of the three, it's the hardest to do, but it's the most rewarding. And one day, hopefully soon, this is what you'll be doing.
Right here, right now, you are alive. Everything else is negotiable. And you must negotiate it on your terms, not anyone else's. It won't be quick, it won't be pleasant, and God only knows, it won't be easy. But it *can* be done. And I can say that with absolute, unwavering conviction because I have done it myself.
*****
In my case, I was stone-cold sober. And I was beaten and raped, more than once, by my fiance. The single biggest difference, however, was that no one else knew - not my parents, not my friends, not my teachers. Nobody. I couldn't tell anyone, first because he'd threatened to hurt my family if I did, and second because I was too ashamed. But third... because I had literally blocked it out of my memory after a short while. If I couldn't remember it, it didn't happen. Or so I thought. Until two years later when I got to college, and the memories started coming back. And the self-sabotaging that I had been subconsciously doing for the previous two years became insignificant to the conscious self-sabotaging I began at that point.
My grades went down, my health went from pretty good to abysmal, and I began drinking. (I luckily avoided drugs, apart from one spectacularly bizarre incident with secondhand marijuana smoke at a Rush concert, but that's another story.) I wrote reams of bad poetry and would cry for hours over minor things. I had regular nightmares that I couldn't remember when I woke the next morning. I would skip classes for days at a time and sleep twenty hours a day. I had one casual sexual involvement after another. Worse, I went from one abusive relationship to another - both physical and emotional abuse. I figured that since I was already damaged goods, no one would want me for anything more, and even if they did, it wasn't like I deserved anything good, anyway.
It all came to a head when I was twenty-two, when I tried to kill myself. (My third suicide attempt, by the way - the first two were during my junior and senior years of high school.) I took a bottle of sleeping pills washed down with about a fifth of Everclear. By all accounts, I *should* have died. But I didn't. All that happened was I woke up the following morning, not even so much as hung over, staring at the ceiling, completely mystified at why the afterlife looked like my apartment. For a moment, I honestly thought I was in hell.
Suffice to say, my friends were not at *all* happy with me when they found out about it. They were angry, they were hurt, but most of all, they were disappointed. That hurt worst of all. These were my friends - people I cared about, and who cared about me. And I had just let them all down in the most blatant, self-centered way possible.
So... I chose to change.
It wasn't easy, let me tell you. I had a lot of negative habits to undo, a lot of physical and psychological damage to repair, but eventually, I did it. I stopped drinking, I started studying again, I got myself back into better shape. I still made mistakes, though, when it came to relationships. However, three years later, when the next one turned abusive, this time, I picked up the phone, called a friend, and begged, "Come get me." He came and got me. It was the last abusive relationship I was ever in. And with that, I was finally free.
It has now been twenty-two years since that first terrible night. I finished graduate school, graduating magna cum laude. I have a good career doing something I enjoy, and a sideline business doing something I love. I am happily married to a good man (our tenth anniversary was this past September). I have a circle of close friends who are good men and women I am proud to call my friends. I have a much wider circle of people I've met online through games I play (we've met in person, too). And while I'm more overweight than I'm really happy with, I have a pretty good self-image and am happy about myself.
*****
So no matter what anyone else says, no matter what dark whispers and doubts you may endure... you will survive. And you will *live.* If nothing else, it's said that "the best revenge is living well." Don't let them take that away from you. No matter what they have done to your body, your soul is far, far stronger than you might believe. Draw strength from what you can - pray, if you wish. (I won't presume to tell you how; seek the comfort of the divine in whatever form you believe, or if you're more of a humanist, draw comfort from knowing that human beings are, to quote Doctor Who, "indomitable.") Discover an outlet for yourself - something creative, something athletic, anything that you can use as a release for your emotions. Find those precious moments of beauty and love and laughter, and celebrate them. And know that there *are* people out there who believe in you.
If you ever want to talk to me, I'm here. You can send me a private message here, find me on Twitter (I'm there as @Samuraiko), whatever works for you. I will do my utmost to listen, and give you what comfort and support that I can. (So will my husband, for that matter, if you want proof that there are good men out there.)
Survive, and live.
You're not alone, Jane.
Your friend,
Michelle Travis
Tags: letter
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  • I have had it.

    I have had it. I have goddamn HAD it with some of you people. Aurora. Newtown. Nova Scotia. Sandy Hook. Steubenville. Boston. And so many, many…

  • Why CITY OF HEROES is important to me...

    I have been and always will be a misfit, all-intelligence-and-no-wisdom, socially graceless geek. It's like there's a part of me that got…

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    What happens when a virtual world is condemned to oblivion? Dedicated players of the online game City of Heroes struggle for the very survival of…