Four Years Later (Trigger Warning)

3:45 PM



My name is Carisa, and four years ago today, I was sexually assaulted.

Those are the single hardest words I've ever written in this blog, and some of the hardest I've ever put down to paper in my life. I won't lie to you-as I sat here, trying to write this post, I struggled to let myself leave them down.

At the same time, though, I've been dying to write this for a few years now, but I haven't found the courage until today. It's funny how life after trauma often becomes a series of contradictions that are hard to explain.

I've wanted to put these words down for so long for several reasons. The first is that putting them to paper reminds me that it's real, and it's a step in my healing process. For everyone else, it puts a face to a statistic for people who want to deny that sexual assault survivors live and breathe in the world around them. It normalizes the experience. And if I can be one person who teaches someone how to help a fellow survivor, or how to survive themselves, then I've done a world of good by doing this today.




I'm not going to go into the gory details of my assault because the truth is, I don't have to. You don't need to know the how, the hour, what I was wearing. This is the first thing I can teach about surviving sexual assault: you don't owe anyone an explanation. You get to decide what you share, and what you don't. Your story belongs to you.

Here's what I will share. I knew the person who raped me; he wasn't some stranger in an alley. I had alcohol before I was assaulted. I invited him to spend some time in my hotel room. I let him kiss me. I didn't scream out or fight back when I was raped. I never called the police. I didn't have a SAFE exam at a hospital.

These details have haunted the back of my mind since the day it happened. Was I really a victim if I didn't report it? Was I really a victim because I invited him back to my hotel room? Was I really a victim because I was stupid enough to believe him when he told me he just wanted to sober up? Why didn't I go to a hospital? Why didn't I yell for help?





I can't lie and tell you that every bit of these questions is resolved in my mind, and that I fully believe I did all the right things. I'm not sure, even today. But here's one thing I do know: I made the right decisions for me in that moment, and that's all I was capable of doing. That's all you, or anyone, can do--make decisions based on the information that's available to you in the moment.

What I can give more insight into is what happened afterward. The truth is, I couldn't have told you the morning after that what I experienced was rape. I didn't put the words out there for four days. I know now that I was hiding from myself, trying to deny what had happened to me. Everything had felt wrong afterward, but I couldn't even say why. It was only when I returned to my job as a social worker at a domestic violence shelter the following Tuesday and said the words, "I had sex, but it wasn't consensual" to my beloved friend and coworker, and I saw her facial expression, that I realized the weight of my words. I had been raped. And even though it was my job to help other women through the most traumatic experiences of their lives, I had no idea how to navigate my own trauma.

That's something else I can share, really: even an experienced counselor in this area didn't know what to do, or how to heal. It's okay not to know for days, months, or years after. And it's okay to take it day by day. 

I can't express how hard it was to do anything. I couldn't be alone, I couldn't be with friends. I had crushing panic attacks. I was convinced that my emotions would literally crush my windpipe. I wasn't sure I was going to survive.

So I tried a little bit of everything. I went to individual therapy. I went to support groups. I talked to my friends. I cut off all my hair. And a little less than three months later, I moved from Texas to Baltimore, the very city where I had been assaulted, to immerse myself in a law school education so I could help survivors like myself get the legal help I'd never been brave enough to seek for me.

Today, four years later, I work with survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. I got the law degree and now I go into court with women who are, truthfully, much braver than me. I represent their interests in a way that I never let anyone represent mine. I'm doing what I said I would always do. It's not easy-there are days where I have to face down my own triggers in the faces of strangers.




I don't have all the answers about how to survive an assault. I only have the expertise of how I survived. I'm here, four years later, and I'm alive. I still struggle with some things.  I can't wear chokers or touch my throat for too long without panicking. But I can now say out loud that I was raped. I'm not afraid of it anymore. I know that I didn't ask for what happened to me. I know that I'm not to blame. And each day, I get farther down the path to progress.

Like today. Today I got myself together and I went to the same bar where I met up with the man who would assault me later that night, a place I hadn't been for four years. I walked two blocks down and one block over to the hotel I stayed at. It turned out to be oddly healing to see that that hotel is now Hotel Indigo and no longer the place it was when I stayed there. And then, then I changed into this dress and felt power as I posed on the sixth floor of a place that shaped my new identity and made me the woman I am now.

If there's one piece of advice I can give, it's this: if someone tells you they were raped, believe them. It doesn't matter if you think you'd feel differently in the same situation. This is their story, not yours. 

There's one piece of the story I haven't talked about yet, and it's this: the people who surround you in the days, weeks, months, and years after an assault. I hope that you are as lucky as I am to have or to find people who will love you unconditionally. I have been beyond lucky-I have been truly blessed by the people that have surrounded me, rallied me, hugged me, and loved me over the last four years. I lived through the first week because my co-worker, Nanci (mentioned earlier in this story) literally took me into her home and let me stay so I wouldn't be alone. This post wouldn't even exist today without the encouragement of Jenn. Our friendship started through blogging and has become an incredible network of support, love, and inspiration. I am amazed over and over again by the people who have come into my life and stayed for the most difficult moments I have ever experienced.

I'm so grateful to you for reading this, and if you ever need help, please feel free to reach out. I'm here, and so are you. We made it.




xoxo

Carisa

Photography: Jenn Jean-Pierre of Comme Coco

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12 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing -- and thanks for being the wonderful person that you are. You're such an inspiration and don't let anyone tell you otherwise ❤
    Xo
    Taylor
    StylishlyTaylored.com

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    1. Thank you Taylor <3 I appreciate your kind and beautiful words! You're the best.
      xoxo
      Carisa

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  2. This was a really powerful post, Carissa. Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry that you had to go through this, but I am glad that you turned an awful experience into part of your personal growth journey. <3 B

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    1. Thank you so much. I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone, but I'm grateful for how much growth I've had over the last four years. <3 C

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  3. I read this last night and couldn't put into words about how reading this made me feel. your story really touched me, I'm sorry you had to go through all of that but thank you x1000 for sharing it <3

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad what I wrote touched you in any way. <3 You're amazing.

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  4. Carisa you are amazing. I am reading this while crying because your story is powerful and these images are powerful and just wow. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for the reminder that it is okay to not be okay and that you dont have to have everything figured out or owe people any type of explanation. Love you!

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    1. I'm so grateful to Jenn for shooting these images! They were everything I wanted them to be and more. Thank you for being such an inspiration and a true friend to me-I love you so much!

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  5. So much love and respect for you. Elise and i are always around if you need anything. ❤️

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    1. So much love and respect for you too. You're a true inspiration. You guys are the best. Love you <3

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  6. This is such a POWERFUL post. You are truly an inspiration for sharing your experience with such grace.

    xo Anna Elizabeth
    https://www.lifestylebyannaelizabeth.com/

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Anna. You're amazing. xo Carisa

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