Danielle’s Story I sit here in the early morning hours on my yoga mat with the sun streaming in through my balcony doors, rewriting what is probably the tenth or twelfth version of my story. This is a story that I have revisited for the past four years, rewriting countless copies and tearing apart all the little pieces. The pieces where I felt joy, vulnerable, hurt, and strong, feeling like in those moments, what I was reading wasn’t and couldn’t be me. Telling my story is in a way, a leap of faith. It is the final piece I need to finally feel free of all the walls I’ve constructed over the years. I suppose you could say this story is a somewhat overdue ode to the past few years of growing into myself. I will start by disclosing that the way I choose to identify with my experiences will not necessarily be the same way someone else chooses to identify with theirs. Personally, the terms victim and survivor never resonated with me; the labels feeling too permanent. I prefer simply saying that sexual assault and abuse is something that I experienced. When I was sixteen, in the summer of 2014 I was sexually assaulted. I remember the night exactly. It plays out in my mind like a scene from a movie. Around 2 a.m., I snuck out of my parent’s house. He picked me up at the side of my house in someone else’s car. My intuition kicked in right away and I started thinking it was a little strange. He told me that it was just going to be me and him. He lied. Ten minutes into the drive, he told me that we were going to hang out with a couple of his friends. He drove us to his friend’s house and brought me downstairs. More warning bells went off in my head, I wanted to leave. Minutes later, I was being pressured into having sex. “Don’t be boring”, “why aren’t you being any fun?” I was asked. “I’m not sure, I don’t think I’m really in the mood for this,” I responded. He went on anyways, and so did one of his friends while their third friend sat on the couch and did nothing, even though I could tell he knew it was wrong. A fourth person, was asleep in their room six feet away. Ten seconds in, my mind shut off and shut me out of my body. At the end of that night, I went home and pretended like nothing happened. I would continue to do this for the next three years. Prior to this night, the same person that picked me up that night, the one that I thought was my close friend, sexually abused and manipulated me for six months. The six months of sexual abuse and manipulation I endured at his hands conditioned me into thinking that my voice didn’t matter, that “no” was just a word that you say when someone offers you something you don’t feel like eating. Those initial six months told me that I was unimportant and my consent didn’t matter. To protect myself, I locked those pieces and memories away in a box somewhere and stored them in the deepest parts of my mind so that I could survive and make it through the day. I had plans and goals I wanted for myself. I didn’t have time for ‘unpacking my trauma’ to be on that list, so I did what I could and I tried to move on with my life. I figured that if I tried hard enough, I could convince myself that I was fine. I distanced myself as much as I could from any form of emotional connection or sincerity. I learned to be cynical and overly analytical to compensate for my own protection. I calculated for every single thing that could happen in any scenario, so that I felt prepared and wouldn’t miss anything. I learned to build walls, and I got really good at being angry all the time without letting anyone else know. I was angry at him, at his friends, and at myself. I shut out everything and learned new coping mechanisms. Eventually, in the end time caught up to me. It took me three years to acknowledge that I was sexually assaulted and abused, and another three years, four different therapists, and copious amounts of journal entries to want to completely revisit that night and pick up the pieces. And here I am now, another two years later, sharing my story with you. Trauma doesn’t stick to a rigid timeline; it doesn’t care how perfect your life looks or how great you seem to be doing. At any moment, trauma can come in and rip the ground up from under you. It can turn your world upside down all over again. My constant flashbacks and triggers that were starting to surface into my everyday life forced me to sit down with myself and start over again. I learned, unlearned, and relearned so many things that I thought were definitions of who I was and how I should be. I learned to experience all the deeply beautiful and painful moments that come with and will continue to come with every season of my life. Most importantly, I learned what it means to live my truth – authentically, boldly, and fearlessly. There are days that I feel amazing and then there are days where I feel like I have regressed and every simple task is ten times harder to do. I’ve come to realize that those days are normal and they are okay. I am allowed to give myself room to feel every emotion that comes my way, whether it is a good day or a bad day. I am allowed to take up space however I feel comfortable doing and in whatever way I want. I do not own anyone else’s guilt or responsibility for their actions, and they do not translate to my own. My character and how I chose to respond are mine and mine alone to define. The thing about healing is that it is not linear. Moving on does not have a concrete definition. Moving on is really about going back to the places that are the darkest to sometimes pick up the pieces all over again just when you’ve felt like you made progress. It is about healing my relationship with my mind, body, and soul; to honour all the versions of myself that I will shed and grow into. It is a long, arduous journey that is not always pleasant, but can sometimes surprise you in the smallest ways. It is a journey that has to start somewhere.