It’s been quite awhile since I’ve last written. And as usual, a lot has happened, to say the least – I have officially transitioned away from science and started an amazing new job that I absolutely love; I tried the online dating thing out of curiosity (let’s just say I’m no longer curious); I have continued to push my case against my abuser forward when the school keeps trying to push it back; and I have confided in even more people about the reality of what happened to me.
As I’ve mentioned more times than I can count, there are many reasons why a survivor may choose to not go forward and share her story. And I thought I had experienced just about all of them. But one reason I had never fully understood until now, is that once you tell someone what happened, they may, and most likely will, see you differently – as a victim.
Unlike the previous times I confided in people, I told these latest individuals not as much out of choice, but because of my Title IX case against my abuser – yet another consequence of this ongoing battle. And one of the scariest things is knowing that once you say those words, you cannot take them back. Your truth is out there for yet another person to know, absorb, and evaluate. And taking in their reaction is one of the hardest parts about telling your story. It makes what happened that much more real. Because now, it’s not only affecting you, but these people you are confiding in. And most importantly, it affects your relationship with them.
Because even after you’ve finished telling your story, the hard part is not really over. Life doesn’t just go back to the way it was before you told your truth, just like life doesn’t go back to the way it was before the abuse. There is something in their eyes, in their voice, in the look on their face, that wasn’t there before – slightly imperceptible at times, but still present nonetheless. I’m not sure if I’ve figured out what exactly it is yet – a mix of sympathy, pity, disbelief, horror, and probably a hundred other emotions all at once.
And I guess this is why, lately, I’ve been feeling like the word “victim” is stamped on my forehead for the whole world to see. And I’m realizing that even though I can move forward from this experience, and I think I am starting to, it will always be part of my past. It will always be my story. And it will always have the power to change my relationship with anyone, to evoke a reaction from someone that I can’t even fully describe, to make me feel like I’m somehow different or “other” because of what I’ve experienced. It is what makes people see me as a victim.
I know intellectually these people don’t see me as no more than “just a victim.” These are caring and compassionate people, and that is why they had a reaction to my story – because they truly care. But maybe I don’t want to be seen as a victim at all anymore. I guess that after 2 years, I am finally getting tired of that label and all the feelings that go along with it. Because we are so, SO much more than just victims and survivors. We are daughters, friends, neuroscientists, dog lovers, artists, musicians, and writers. “Survivor” is just the beginning.
I am not a victim anymore, and I pray to God that I never will be again. But I will always be a survivor. And maybe it’s okay that these people see me slightly differently, that they understand this one other part of me. Because this experience was real and it is a part of my past. It has shaped who I am and led me to where I am now. And even though there are definitely days when I still struggle (shout out to Title IX), I am in an infinitely better place in my life than I have been in a very long time. And that is something to be grateful for.