“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.” – Charles Swindoll
My story is one you hear often. It’s a story that hits home for most people because they know someone in their lives who has been through what I have been through. My story is complex. I was raped. But my story is so much more than that.
I was raised in a beautiful world, one that was filled with good people. I have been incredibly fortunate. But I am too trusting, too loving, too forgiving, I have always been this way. It makes me unfathomably sad that we live in a world where these characteristics are preyed upon.
Initially, I felt like I did something wrong. The guilt and desperation to recall every detail ate at me in every way. Why couldn’t I recall what I ate? Why didn’t I scream for help? Why wasn’t someone paying attention? Why is this happening to me? Why did a stranger take advantage of me like this? Who was he? Why couldn’t I remember? Until that night, I had never experienced real anxiety. I’d get stressed over tests, homework assignments, work assignments, tiffs with friends, but it wasn’t crippling anxiety by any definition. Then my world changed. And I was so angry. Real anger wasn’t an emotion I had experienced but I had so much anger and no idea how to process it. I had no person to direct my anger at since I had no name or real face of my attacker, so I directed that anger at myself and at the people around me.
I lost myself. I questioned every detail about my life. I had no control over my emotions — I lashed out, hurt people I love deeply, drank too much, and cried all the time. At my loneliest, I thought about ending the chaos, the tornado inside of me that was meaningless to the police, the lawyers, the judge, and the jury.
My anxiety had no boundaries. I feared getting on the subway, I would have nightmares of terrorist attacks, I hated flying, I had a real fear that I’d become homeless. I imagined losing all my friends, hurting my family, and getting fired from my job (the only thing I felt good at).
I felt hopeless and wanted to give up trying to feel better, I just wanted it to magically happen. But, I slowly began to realize that despite finding myself in a situation I would not wish upon anyone, I was also presented with an opportunity to start over. To the best of my ability, I began to work to come to terms with my past and better myself for the future. I wish there was a formula for healing because sometimes it is so. damn. frustrating. I remember the day after I was raped and was finally home from the hospital, I told one of my best friends and roommate the only thing I needed her to do for me was to push me to take an active role in my healing.
I did take the time to find a good therapist. It took me three different therapists but I finally found the one who challenged me; she challenged me to not be a victim, she challenged me to define the word progress, and she challenged me to describe how I would look when I’m healed. I quickly realized that progress and healing are subjective. I would have many ups and downs and they would come throughout my life.
I defined my own progress by setting achievable goals (whether that was to exercise twice a week, to read a book, to go on walks, or to get dressed for work instead of going in workout clothes). I didn’t hold myself to unreasonable standards or punish myself if I failed. And I did fail — I’d go days reaching my goals and then I’d go out with my friends, drink a lot, or spend days in self-loathing and find myself feeling back to square one. However, I realized this was healing and the next time, I’d go longer than a few days, perhaps it would be a few weeks. I promised myself to be less hard on myself.
I shed the notion of being healed. Healing is a process that would never end. I would always be healing. And there would never be a formula for it and it would always be a frustrating journey. But it is a journey that I have control over. I could wake up each day and choose the attitude I’d have that day. My dad used to read the quote at the top of this page and when I was a kid I’d roll my eyes, but it has now become so much a part of who I am.
In many ways, I am a much better daughter, sister, friend, lover, and human because I was raped. I have taken the time to do things for myself and set boundaries that allow me to take care of my needs and be more present with others. I have come to appreciate each day, even when I’m having a low one. And I rely on my incredible village for support. I have the best family, the best friends, the best colleagues, and I continue to surround myself with people that make me feel good. This is as much me telling my story as it is thanking those who have made it possible for me to have the courage and strength to speak it.
In six days, it will have been two years since my world shifted. And finally, I have found forgiveness. I have forgiven him, whomever he is, despite the pain he caused me. I have found the people in my world who lift me up, who support me and love me and want me to succeed.
Most importantly, I have forgiven myself.
Written by Martha McKinley