Finding self love as a young woman in our society is about as easy as finding a unicorn in your backyard. However, at the age of 18, fresh from graduating from an academically rigorous local high school and preparing to enter college on a scholarship, I was bubbling with pride, excitement, and I was feeling like the queen of my world. I had been through a lot to get there – nothing was handed to me – but I kept fighting. I loved myself for that. My family life sucked, but the parts of my life that I controlled were phenomenal. I had the greatest group of friends in the world, a job with fun coworkers, and a hot boyfriend (who wasn’t phenomenal… but he was older, drove a mustang, and was totally into me, so I felt pretty great about it).
In mid-June, my boyfriend and I headed to a house party at his friend’s place. I felt especially pretty that day. I still had a nice tan from prom season, my hair was freshly bleached, I was the skinniest I had ever been in my life, and my cute Hollister clothes had me feeling like a beach Barbie. (Can’t remember what I wore yesterday. Yet, I remember every single thing about how I looked that day.) Despite my positive attitude, my boyfriend was being an absolute jerk. We got into a bitter fight and he left me at the party. Less than an hour later, his “friends” drugged and raped me.
After locking myself in my bedroom for almost two days, I told my boyfriend what happened. He took me to the hospital and to my local Special Victims Unit (SVU). There I learned what it meant to be revictimized. I had a female detective call me a liar repetitively, try to get me to change my story, and effectively convince me that if I followed through with the report, I would lose my scholarship and not be able to attend college. I left the SVU as a different person. So quickly I had been demoted from queen of my world to a outsider. I had lost control.
This June will mark ten years since the disgusting incident that changed my life. I would love to say that I have regained reign over my world, but I’ve never been a great liar. For those of you that have experienced sexual trauma, you know that the aftermath is something that words cannot do justice. I apologize… I have no secret formula that will help you cope with your trauma. I have no magic words or actions that will make you forget. I certainly don’t have the perfect outfit, makeup tip, or Cinderella slipper that will help you conquer that evil witch in the mirror.
What I do have… what I have gained in the last ten years… is a fews strategies I have successfully used to stop feeling like an alien in my own body. Maybe they will help you, maybe they won’t… but it sure as hell is worth a try.
RECLAIM YOUR BODY
That dress that you’ve drooling over at the mall… that little tattoo you want but your boyfriend hates… that nose ring that you aren’t sure you can rock… that hairstyle you’ve been too scared to try… GET IT. DO IT. TRY IT. Take control over your body and how you look and feel. Have a little fun. Express yourself. Do whatever you have to do so that you crack a smile when you look in the mirror. Wear whatever makes you want to take a selfie again. Kicking that evil witch out of the mirror and seeing me again was the greatest progress that I have achieved. And, honestly, the me that I see today would kick that 18 year-old “beach Barbie” me’s butt. So glow up = complete.
EMBRACE YOUR PASSION
While I would eagerly encourage every person to embrace his or her passions, finding and embracing the things you are passionate about almost seems like a necessary step to rebuilding yourself after sexual trauma. For me, it was giving up my safe spot as a business student and taking some risks. Sure I would make a lot of money as a successful business student, but I never once left class feeling energized or excited. I decided to let my personal experiences take the wheel and it drove me into a career in Criminal Justice. Keeping my city safe and fighting for victims has brought me a sense of peace I never thought I would find. I found my passion. The passion gets me through the tough days. It is the only thing that breaks through my bouts of depression, anxiety, and self doubt. Passion is magical. So take a chance, bet on yourself, and magic can happen.
TAKE A LITTLE YOU TIME
It’s simple – you can’t pour from an empty cup. As a single working mom, I struggle with taking time out for myself. It always feels like there’s a million other things I should probably be doing. So I go and go and go like the Energizer Bunny until I crash. I will always be the woman that will give anything and everything to those in need… but what do I do when I have nothing left to give? Self love isn’t selfish. It is a survival tool. You will be utterly amazed at how much you stronger you feel after taking the time to do something that brings you happiness. Personally, I have drowned a lot of misery in bubble baths and big glasses of red wine. I have also attacked punching bags with fists of rage and canvases with paint brushes until I ran out of anger. Find those little activities that bring you happiness and serenity and make them fit into your schedule.
REMEMBER THAT LOVE WILL GET YOU THROUGH
This I learned the hard way. After sexual trauma, it is normal to build walls around yourself that keep people away… even the people that you love. For years, I was an ice queen. I let no love in and no love out. I was so effective at cutting people out of my life, that I am fairly confident that my heart had been replaced by a machete. It got me nowhere. Eventually, a few people came into my life that were strong enough to cut through my walls before I could cut them out of my life. They gained my trust and I was comfortable enough disclosing my rape experience to them. I was scared that they would think differently of me. I was scared sharing these details would ruin my strong girl persona. But you what know tearing down those walls got me? Unconditional love. Friends that see the the good, bad, beautiful, and ugly in me and still think I’m Wonder Woman. Arms that have become my safe space and shoulders that never seem to mind taking some of the weight I’ve been carrying. Through love, I have overcome the darkness in me.
So have I forgotten my sexual trauma? Am I done coping? Have I moved on? NOPE! Every day I am regaining a part of myself that was stolen from me and finding something new about myself to love.
I am progressing. I am fighting. I am surviving. I love myself for that.
Written by contributor writer and ambassador for Self Love Beauty: Heaven Henwood