Tears and Triumph
"I'm a survivor - a living example of what people can go through and survive." -Elizabeth Taylor
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
In case you haven't been keeping up with my excessive posting of graduation photos on Instagram, I'm graduating in less than a month. The thought is surreal because if we're being honest, I never thought I'd see graduation day.
During the fall semester of my sophomore year I went out to a party with my best friends. The night, which was filled with drinks, laughs and good times, slowly but surely led to events that would alter the course of my life.
When I returned from the party, I invited a friend over to stay the night. This friend and I had been out a few times, my parents trusted him and it wasn't the first time he had spent the night. I was exhausted but as he ran me a shower I remember vividly telling him that I had no intentions of having sex with him. He agreed that I was in no condition to consent and we went to bed. Later that night I woke up with him on top of me, raping me without protection. I cried, I asked him to stop and he told me to shh and let him finish. I cried but I laid there paralyzed.
The next few days were a blur. I was so broke I had to wait 3 days to get paid and buy the morning after pill. I remember being scared out of mind. I remember being a functional zombie for weeks. I remember being even more scared when I took two pregnancy tests a few weeks later and the first test came back positive. The second was negative. I didn't know that not being pregnant would turn out to be the least of my worries.
For weeks, I withdrew from my friends and family members. I skipped class and missed work. I slept most of the day because I stayed up all night so I could escape my nightmares. I was functional but something in me had changed. This went on for months. When I would start to feel better, I would hit a new low. I barely passed any of my classes and I seriously considered dropping out. Over Christmas break I considered not returning to NC State but reluctantly I did.
By the second semester I was struggling. I came back rejuvenated but my energy was zapped as I saw my rapist everywhere. He oftentimes manipulated me into speaking to him in public spaces. The black community at NC State is small so I spent a great deal of time struggling to avoid him. By mid second semester, he announced he was running for a very public position on campus. I watched as most of the black community, people I called friends, campaigned for my rapist. I was in constant pain and exhaustion. I cried, I withdrew from the social scene, and before the end of the second semester I came up with a plan to end my life. On the night I planned to kill myself, my best friend saved my life. My other friend walked me to the counseling center the next day and thus began my journey to healing.
I still struggle with depression and I still struggle with PTSD. I still struggle with nightmares. I still go to counseling but I'm so much better. I laugh more and I love more. I've dedicated my existence to loving, laughing and helping others.
I never imagined that I'd be here today. If things went the way I thought they would, I'd be dead by now. I never imagined that I'd be graduating from one of the top institutions in the country or that I'd be addressing my graduating class as the commencement speaker.
Trauma changes you. It changes your life and the way your perceive the behaviors of others. It changes how you interact with the world but I know firsthand that it doesn't have to define you. It doesn't have to consume you. I'm blessed and privileged and I fully accept that. Many are consumed by trauma and don't have the resources available to help them. Many don't have the support system I've had through the past few years. We owe it to those people to support them and to understand that trauma affects everyone differently.
I'm not supposed to be here. I'm not supposed to be graduating and so that's exactly why in 25 days I'm shouting my way across that stage. I'm just letting y'all know I'll be posting grad pictures for a minute and you might get annoyed but for me every picture is a reminder of God's favor on my life. Favor ain't fair and I definitely don't deserve God's endless love and mercy, but I'm telling you He will extend it regardless. I hope that my story will encourage you to hold on to His unchanging hand and rest in the fact that His will for your life is greater than anything you could have imagined. Keep holding on, it gets better, I'm living proof.