© 2018 by Kate Ryan.

You can compartmentalize your experience, but ultimately your traumas and your heartbreaks compound on top of one another. 

 

I think part of the reason I've been so happy in my life is because I've been cut open from the inside and have exposed my soul to all of this and am still here and still fighting for something. 

 

*

 

They sort of had a reputation for being "the rape frat." 

I remember my orientation leader warned all the incoming freshman not to go there. 

But it was oddly and scarily a running joke on campus.

 

I had had a couple of drinks, and some girls that I trusted invited me to a party, and I said yes. 

 

I remember getting to the party. 

I remember being offered a shot.

And then I remember nothing after that until I woke up on the bathroom floor of a different frat house. 

 

I was completely naked, and I didn't know what happened. 

And somebody was shaking the door handle, yelling "Are you in there?  Who's in there?"

 

Eventually, they broke into the bathroom, and there were several people looking over me. 

And one of them was that fraternity's sweetheart. 

And this girl happened to be from my sorority. 

So they called her to basically airlift me out of this situation. 

 

I was given a bunch of men's clothing and shuffled into a taxi or an Uber. 

And I remember her telling me, "Nothing bad happened. 

You have nothing to worry about. 

You don't have to tell anybody this happened. 

I'm taking you back to your dorm. 

Just walk past the front desk and don't talk to anybody.” 

 

I woke up the next morning, and my roommate, who's still one of my best friends to this day, looks at me, and she said, "Why are you in men's clothing?" 

 

And I had no idea. 

I was told that there was a role on campus that they called the sexual assault prevention coordinator.  

He explained to me, and I will never forget this, that if you get drunk, and you have a Lamborghini and you give away a Lamborghini legally, that exchange is invalid, because you didn't give sober consent to give away this car. 

And something clicked for me. 

 

*

 

I found my bag and my phone and my underwear by using my Find My iPhone app in the woods. 

 

Girls told me that there was a video of me and would joke about it to me as if it was something that I had chosen for myself. 

 

It felt like everywhere I looked, people knew something that I didn't know. 

And so very quickly, school became impossible for me. 

 

*

 

I finally got the names of the two guys that people referred to in the video and one of them was sitting behind me in my musicianship class that semester and had said nothing to me.

 

This was a class that was required for my major. 

I needed to finish this class.

So I spent a couple of weeks just trying to sit it out, but he was literally sitting over my shoulder. 

And that was unbearable for me. 

 

I went to the dean of students and reported the incident. 

This was probably two or three weeks after it happened.  

And she was entirely unhelpful. 

 

She told me that she talked to the boys whose names I had given her and they said that nothing happened, so I shouldn't be concerned. 

 

She told me things, that I needed anger management, counseling, that I should change my major, which I did. 

 

*

 

I ended up changing my major from just a music major to a straight theater performance major and continued to sing. 

 

But the entire performing arts building itself was this black void in my mind. 

I would immediately feel like people were watching me, that he could be around any corner, that my professors knew things that I didn't know, that people had been talking about me behind closed doors. 

 

You really lose your sense of purpose when that happens, because it feels like nothing is in your control.

Fast-forward to what was supposed to be my senior year, and I still hadn't finished my degree. 

 

{A professor advised I to take a semester of classes at a theater program in California in order to gain some space and perspective.}

 

It felt like I was about to jump off of a cliff. 

Because I didn't know if I was smart or valuable anymore, and it felt like that was going to be the litmus test for me.

 

I lost my phone the first night. 

I left it in a shop that we were in, and I freaked the fuck out.

I was like, "Oh my god, I can't do anything right. I'm just useless. It's done.”

 

And I ended up telling my roommate in this impassioned speech, which was this huge coping mechanism that I had for a really long time. 

At that point in time, I feel like people weren't talking about date rape. 

 

And she said, "Oh my God.  That's one of the reasons I'm here too."

 

*

 

We felt like we had become sisters who were crusading for ourselves and for other people and would sort of get on our high horse and tell people how we felt about men, and sexuality, and toxic masculinity and these sort of buzzwords.

 

{A peer I described as making her feel demeaned and uncomfortable asked to read from her journal during a rehearsal.}

 

And he opened my journal and read this page that was like, "Getting my nails painted is always such a satisfying experience for me.  It just makes me feel so put together no matter what's happening.  It's like a small act of beauty and kindness to myself." 

 

And he shut the journal and goes, "I'm sorry, that's the most basic thing I've ever read in my life." 

 

And I was like, “You don't understand that my self-care is crucial to my mental health.  And we were sharing journals to be open with one another, and you just mansplained something that I like doing for myself.  It wasn't for you."

{When I returned to Washington, she was told her credits would not transfer.  She still had a year and a half of school to complete.}

 

I was so incredibly anxious that year that I went back. 

I was prescribed some anxiety medication, some depression medication. 

I think I had to be on it when I was in the thick of things, because it was too over stimulating for me to handle. 

 

Sometimes I would step onto campus and it would feel like my body was on fire. 

 

*

 

But I finally graduated in a grand total of 5 and a half years.  

 

{I moved to New York that fall.}

 

I felt like I was unstoppable for the first six to 12 months that I was here. 

I started a million projects at once to occupy all of my time.

I was kind of coasting on this high of feeling like everything was all behind me. 

 

But slowly but surely, all of those triggers would slip through the cracks at unexpected moments. 

And I would find myself dealing with things in unhealthy ways. 

 

I was drinking a lot, and smoking a lot of weed, and really self-medicating with substances and over-socializing, and just finding ways to focus on anything but myself.

 

As somebody who values human emotion a lot and celebrates all kinds of emotions, that was a way for me to check out and not feel things. 

It was a way to dull things out, and that was really sad to me. 

 

The hardest part of this entire journey has been figuring out how to love myself. 

I had such a strong sense of self-love when I arrived at college. 

I had my flaws of course, but I felt so secure in myself. 

And in a lot of ways that's the biggest loss that I've had.

 

So now I'm on this journey to get that back.

 

*

 

I have found a certain level of consistency in actively choosing to value people who care about their health.  I care more about myself when I'm around those people.

 

I became really addicted to hot yoga, directly following what happened to me. 

I would go five or six days a week, I would practice in my apartment. 

It sounds do cheesy to say, but I found a certain inner peace and calm through practicing yoga.

My mind tries to re-track that moment and find more detail and more proof to myself.

Those are really negative spirals for me to go down. 

 

I have one technique that I came across a couple of years ago. 

It's called tapping. 

I've gotten really into acupuncture after all of this, because I found it to be really useful way to reset my body's sensory overload. 

 

Tapping basically allows you to manually reset those points by tapping on yourself. 

You'll tap on your acupressure points and you'll say, “I'm feeling very overwhelmed because of the way that man touched my shoulder, and it's ok that I feel that way.” 

It just allows you to release the emotion by admitting to yourself the emotion is valid.

 

But it looks very weird to do in public. 

I can't be at a cocktail party and be like, "Hold on, let me just hit my body a bunch really quick." 

 

I've found a lot of breathing techniques to be useful, a lot of meditation techniques to be useful. 

 

*

 

I think I'm still working out what I need and when and how to ask for it.

There are only three people in the world that I feel comfortable asking that of:

My best friend, my mom, and my boyfriend. 

 

I wish I could say my dad, because he's been very involved on this journey. 

Both of my parents know it happened and have been endlessly supportive in so many different ways. 

 

But he's a man, and that's really hard for me to be really honest about the way that men make me feel sometimes. 

He wants so badly to understand. 

But in a way I think he avoids thinking that it could have actually happened to his daughter.  That part of my history is erased when he looks at me, which can be nice in a way but also very alienating. 

 

And then I remember the moment that my parents drove down to DC. 

This was when I was trying to come back from California and I needed to hire the lawyer to help me talk to school.

I don't know if I would be there today if they hadn't done that for me.

 

*

 

When I found my boyfriend I was so confused.

I made a lot of mistakes when we were first dating, and that was ok.  

That was such a new concept to me that I could admit to being deeply faulted and still worthy of love. 

That blew my mind. 

And as a result of accepting that love I have become such a better person. 

 

*

 

You can't do anything alone.  Ever. 

 

When I was growing up I used to cry a lot watching the news, and I still do. 

Because I was so sad to see what was going on in the world. 

And my mom used to tell me that I can't carry the whole weight of the world on my shoulders, that no one person is strong enough to do that. 

 

And that's something that I have to remind myself all the time. 

We all have to do it together.  We all have to carry this weight together.

 

-I