Taking Back My Power: My Sexual Assault Story

Taking Back My Power: My Sexual Assault Story

I was 14 when a man broke into my family’s house. My friends and I were having a sleepover, and after hanging out in my backyard talking until late at night, we snuck back in to go to sleep, and I forgot to lock the door behind us. I was about to slip into sleep when I heard the back door open, footsteps walking in. I was sure of what I heard, but I didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense to me. Who would be coming into our house? My body and mind froze. I couldn’t think or move. I lay there until I finally fell asleep. My dad woke us up a few hours later to tell us someone had broken in and robbed us. Before any other questions entered my head, the first thing I thought was: Is this all my fault? I forgot to lock the door. For months after that incident, I lay awake at night afraid it would happen again. I got up in the middle of the night to double, triple, quadruple check we’d locked all of our doors. To this day I have to double check my door is locked before I can fall asleep. Even when I’m positive I’ve already locked it, I sometimes lay awake in bed and then have to get up to go make sure it’s really locked.

Is this my fault? I forgot to lock the door.

I was 19 the first time I was sexually assaulted. I had always been a romantic, a believer in fairytales and love stories. I had only kissed a few people, and I wanted to be in love before I experienced anything else. That choice was taken from me. “Do you want to go further?” “No.” He disregarded that no and went further. And further. My body and mind froze. I froze and just laid there, as I had at fourteen. Even as I knew what was happening, I felt like I couldn’t stop it. I just hoped it would end quickly. I couldn’t understand what was happening. It didn’t make sense to me. So many questions flooded my mind. Why would he ignore the word no like that? Why would he do this to me? But one question floated to the forefront of my mind, clearer and louder than the rest: Is this my fault?

Why would he ignore the word no like that? Why would he do this to me?

I was 20 when the nightmare happened again. And again. The word no seemed to hold zero power and I felt my understanding of love and sex and intimacy slipping away. I told them no, I made sure to emphasize and explain and implore they listen to me. They looked me in the eyes and told me they understood, that they wouldn’t cross that line. That the person who did that to me in the past was an asshole. But then they did exactly the same thing. Why were they doing this to me? How do I get back what was taken from me? And again, that question rose to the surface louder and more defined than the rest: Is this my fault?

The word no seemed to hold zero power and I felt my understanding of love and sex and intimacy slipping away

I was 26 when I was groped walking to my car after work. I felt him following me, looked over my shoulder a few times, convinced myself I was imagining things. And then he grabbed me. I spent weeks, months, checking over my shoulder every day walking to my car to make sure I wasn’t being followed. I recounted the incident to the police, standing in my apartment. I reported it. I reported it for my 26-year-old self, for my 20-year-old self, for my 19-year-old self, even for my 14-year-old self. I reported for every version of me I had been, and every version of me I would be in the future. I reported for every other person out there, who has ever wondered, “Is this my fault?” For the first time in my life, that question hadn’t crossed my mind. After all these years, I was finally done letting them steal my power. I was finally done blaming myself. It was finally clear to me: none of it was ever my fault.

I reported it for my twenty six year old self, for my twenty-year-old self, for my nineteen-year-old self, even for my fourteen-year-old self. I reported for every version of me I had been, and every version of me I would be in the future. I reported for every other person out there, who has ever wondered, “Is this my fault?

My power and control were taken away from me during each of these moments. I’m finally taking it back the only way I know how. By talking about it. By reporting it. By standing up for myself. By sharing my story. I still don’t feel safe until I’ve double or triple checked my door is locked at night. I still have a hard time letting people get close to me, physically and emotionally. I still walk faster and clutch my keys in my hand like a weapon when I see a man walking near me on the street. I still wonder what someone’s intentions are, and if I can trust them, or feel safe with them, when we start to date. But what I don’t do anymore, what I refuse to do anymore, is blame myself. It wasn’t my fault. It was never my fault.

If you have experienced sexual assault or harassment or anything that made you feel violated or uncomfortable, I want you to know it was not your fault, and you’re not alone. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need to talk to someone.

Opening Up About my Mental Health

Opening Up About my Mental Health

Starting when I was about five years old, I used to say to my mom, “I’m sad but I don’t know why.” Even as a child, I recognized the common response to “I feel sad” was “Why?” But what if I didn’t know why? What if that was just how I felt? I can still remember those times so clearly. That feeling of sadness welling up inside me, often seemingly out of nowhere with no real trigger, and the frustration I felt trying to figure out what was causing it. Most of the time, I couldn’t pinpoint any “reason” for my sadness. It was just there. Sometimes it would last for a long time, sometimes it would be gone within minutes. My mom tells me I went through a phase in first grade when I would cry and throw a tantrum every single day. She’d hold me until I regained control.

Some of my most vivid memories from elementary school are of feeling scared about things that, as an adult looking back, most other kids my age probably didn’t even worry about. I started wearing glasses when I was three years old, and I remember every time I would get a new pair of lenses, I would be so nervous the night before going back to school. I thought everyone would make fun of me or say they didn’t like my new glasses or say I looked weird. I remember feeling genuinely terrified to step into my classroom wearing my new glasses. And every time, as you can probably predict reading this, literally nobody noticed or cared. My close friends might notice, and say something like “I like your new glasses!” All my fears were for nothing. The same exact thing would happen when I got a haircut (normally a trim that my dad probably couldn’t even tell the difference after). I can still remember that feeling of panic I experienced every single time, and how I would convince myself that something bad was going to happen. Because I got new glasses or a new haircut.

Fast forward to my freshman year in college. I went through a period where I couldn’t drink alcohol (even just one drink) without ending the night hysterically crying for no apparent reason. Alas, the old “I’m sad but I don’t know why” and regular temper tantrums were back in full force! Aren’t I too old for these? At first I thought the alcohol was to blame, but that didn’t explain the times where I’d go from having a great time with my friends, to feeling irrationally annoyed, or unbearably sad, all while completely sober. Just like I remembered from childhood, these feelings of sadness didn’t appear to have any specific rhyme or reason, and they were often gone in the blink of an eye.

I finally decided to try therapy. The therapist helped me work through and talk about the main things I felt I was struggling with. I had trouble falling asleep at night because I had so much on my mind, I would lay awake worrying about future scenarios, and replaying past events in my head over and over again. Just like I had in elementary school, except instead of worrying about my new glasses or haircut, I was worrying about conversations I’d had or tests I’d taken. I also felt nervous in most social settings, and generally stayed quiet around people I didn’t know. I wanted to be able to put myself out there more, make more friends, and not be so afraid of what other people thought. By the end of my first couple of sessions, the therapist told me she felt I had moderate depression and anxiety, and that I would benefit from medication. The thought of medication scared me, and I decided against it. I didn’t think needed it. Sure, I probably had depression and anxiety, but so many people have it way worse! I had never thought about killing myself, I had never experienced a panic attack. To me this meant it was not bad enough to warrant medication.

After only one semester of therapy, I took a break from it for the rest of college. Partially because I genuinely felt like I was in a better mental place, and partially because it was expensive and I felt bad making my parents pay for it if I didn’t really “need” it. (Note: I’m planning to write a whole blog post about why I think everyone “needs” therapy, so stay tuned for that.) Looking back, I’m not sure that was the right decision. Though I was feeling much better emotionally, and my social anxiety and random crying had all but gone away, without therapy, I found my own ways to fight my demons. And most of them were not healthy or helpful to my healing. I started denying and pushing aside a lot of negative feelings and traumatic experiences I went through, putting them away in a box until I was ready to unpack them. It took me years, up until this past year to be exact, to even start to unpack some of it. I also started some coping mechanisms such as emotional eating, which I am still dealing with to this day. I’m planning to write a separate blog post that goes into that more in detail as well.

Fast forward to my post-grad life, starting about five years ago. I experienced a lot of change all at once: starting my first full-time job, moving out on my own for the first time, and navigating my first serious relationship (part of which was long-distance). Though by most accounts my life was going well, I was suddenly attacked by my old demons. I would get annoyed at my boyfriend for the smallest things, and the annoyance would often escalate into a fit of tears. Unlike my childhood, I could usually pinpoint “why” I felt upset, but the reason didn’t always make sense, and I often felt like my reaction did not line up with the situation. I had moments where I felt like that first grader again, lying on the floor crying, this time with my boyfriend comforting me instead of my mom. I felt totally out of control and at a loss for how to cope with these experiences, and when this pattern continued for several months without getting better, I decided it was time to give therapy another try.

I started seeing my therapist, the same therapist I still see to this day, in the spring of 2016. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years now! What started out as a need to process and try to “fix” the emotional behavior I was experiencing in my relationship, turned into a way to process the countless other aspects of my life, and the many changes I encountered. This therapist has been with me through changes with my jobs, relationship status, living situation, family dynamics, friendships, hobbies, interests. I’ve found it extremely helpful to talk through what I’m feeling and experiencing. There have been times where I wanted to quit therapy because I didn’t feel I needed it, just like I did in college, but I’ve stuck with it and instead of quitting outright, I’ve taken small steps to make changes. While I used to see my therapist once a week, I’ve now cut back to twice a month. Eventually I want to shift to once a month, and then maybe on an as-needed basis.

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past few years, especially when looking back at my childhood and early adolescence at some of what I described in this post, is that my struggle with mental health has not been situational. My mental illnesses have been with me since birth. They’re as much a part of me as the color of my eyes and the freckles on my skin. Feeling sad for no reason and throwing tantrums were possibly the first signs of depression, and my fear and obsession with small changes like new glasses and haircuts was anxiety. Today, I still experience a lot of those same basic feelings and behaviors. There is no cure for them. Small things can feel astronomical to me. I worry about things I shouldn’t worry about. I feel irrationally annoyed and get moody with people I’m close to. I still have moments where I feel like a scared child and I don’t know how to cope. Just yesterday morning, I woke up feeling sad, and, you guessed it: I didn’t know why.

Realizing that my mental health has always been, and will always be, something I have to work on, has been oddly comforting to me. It also allowed me to take a major step in the process of getting myself the help I need: getting on medication. From the first time my first therapist suggested medication, I was terrified of the idea. Maybe it goes back to that fear of the unknown, or fear of change. But about six months ago, I finally found a psychiatrist and started on a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), which helps me manage my depression and anxiety. It hasn’t been a quick fix or a cure-all. Nothing is. But the way I would describe it is a breath of fresh air. A weight lifted off my shoulders. Small changes every day that help me live my life a bit fuller. I’m no longer quite so bogged down by small changes and decisions. I find I can recognize and move past moments of sadness or fear a little easier. When I feel myself getting irritated with someone, I just let myself feel that and let it pass. The best feeling is when something happens and I react in a way that I know I never would have a few years ago.

I’m writing this post for five-year-old Shelly, throwing tantrums every day for no reason. For ten-year-old Shelly, worried everyone would make fun of her new glasses. For 19-year-old Shelly, ending a fun night with her friends by crying herself to sleep. For 23-year-old-Shelly, brave enough to give therapy a second chance. For 26-year-old Shelly, letting go of the fear and starting medication. And lastly, I’m writing this post for myself, right now, as I am, working on bettering myself and becoming the best version of me, while understanding that there was never anything that needed fixing. That I have always been whole exactly how I am. And that I was always, and will always be, worthy of love and of getting the help I need to feel the best I can feel.

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, or you’re unsure if you should start medication or start seeing a therapist, please feel free to leave me a comment, or reach out to me on Instagram @shellyrayblog! I want you to know whatever you are feeling, you are not alone. And you will get through it. ❤️

Opening Up About Being Single

Opening Up About Being Single

In one of my recent posts, I talked about wanting to be more vulnerable, both in my personal life and on my blog. For me, blogging is all about sharing my experiences and aiming to help others. If I can touch even just one person with my writing, I am happy. Lately, so much of blogging and social media in general has become about this facade of perfection. But that’s just not me. I’m not going to pretend for a second that I’m perfect. I’d rather be authentic and share the real parts of life, in the hopes that someone else can relate to me.

With all that said, today I wanted to write about my experience being single. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I even opened up about it in a Facebook post which you can read below. Yay, vulnerability!

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To give some background, I’ve been single for a little over a year. Before that, I was in relationship that lasted for over two years. This past year I have actually genuinely enjoyed being single. I like having independence and being able to fully focus on myself and what I want. I’m planning to write a blog post all about the perks of being single, because I do feel like there are definite perks. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult times too. As I mentioned in my Facebook post, it can be overwhelming to constantly be surrounded by couples. Though I know none of my friend’s relationships are perfect, as no relationship is perfect, seeing all of them happy and in love makes me covet what they have.

Having been in a long-term relationship before, I can remember what it was like to have someone by your side, and I want that again. I want that person who I can call and vent to when bad things happen, or get excited with when good things happen. I want someone to travel with and experience new things with. I want someone who will always support my dreams and help me be a better version of myself. Sunday morning I woke up thinking about all of these things that I want and that I feel like I don’t have, and then it hit me. I do have those things, just not in a romantic partner. I am really lucky to have amazing friends and family. They love me, they support me, they make me feel more confident in myself, and they even travel with me. Realizing this doesn’t diminish my desire for a romantic partner, but it does remind me that love is not absent from my life.

I’m writing this from one of my favorite Austin cafes, Cenote. I was writing outside, but then I got bitten up by mosquitos and had to come inside. I’m adding this in here because I realized it has a parallel to what I’m talking about in this post. Mosquito bites suck. It isn’t fun to have itchy bites all over your legs. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m having a great night at one of my favorite places, enjoying good food and a nice glass of wine. Sure, I could choose to focus on the mosquito bites and let that ruin my night, but I am choosing to focus on the positives.

Being single sucks. It is not always fun. It can be lonely and make you doubt yourself. But if you look around you and take everything in, you’ll realize there are still wonderful things you can focus on. This past year has given me so many gifts and offered countless lessons. I’ve been able to focus on myself and my goals and dreams, and it has lead to some amazing memories. I started a new job, I’ve traveled to three new places, I’ve made many new friends and reconnected with old friends, I’ve started learning to play the keyboard, and so much more. By all accounts, this has been a great year. And it all happened without a boyfriend by my side.

What I want and what I need are two different things. When I see my friends in happy relationships, I want that. But if this year has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need that in order to be happy and successful in life. It doesn’t meant that I don’t still want it or think I will have it eventually, because I definitely do. But it does mean that I am choosing to focus on the present and what I currently have, instead of being sad about what is missing.

If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: Focus on the love you have in your life, not the love you feel you’re missing.

 

Dealing With Feeling Left Out

Dealing With Feeling Left Out

In my last blog post, I wrote about trying to be more vulnerable. I want share my thoughts and feelings about a variety of topics on this blog, in the hopes that some of you can relate. So with that in mind, today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind a lot lately, which is the idea of feeling left out.

In the spirit of vulnerability, I’m going to start by sharing one of my most vivid childhood memories that deals with feeling excluded. In fourth grade, I had become very close with a girl in my class. We would wear matching outfits to school so we could be “twins”, and were attached at the hip for most of that year. Then suddenly, my friend started spending time with another girl. I noticed the two of them walking to classes together and playing on the playground without me, and I started feeling jealous and hurt. I was worried I was losing my best friend.

I remember one day in particular, we were walking to PE class. I saw my friend and her new bestie walking in front of me. I tried to catch up with them, but they turned around, looked at me, and walked faster to avoid me. Not only did this make me feel even more sad, but it also made me angry. In fact, I still remember exactly how angry it made me feel, and I would argue to this day that is the angriest I have ever felt in my entire life. I was so angry that when we were running laps in PE class a few minutes later, I ran behind Friend Stealer and pushed her down! Or rather, I attempted to push her down. My skinny, weak self only managed to make her stumble.

Moving on to current times, I think social media has only made it easier to feel left out. I recently checked Instagram, only to see some of my friends hanging out without me. Granted, I already had plans that night, but I still got that familiar pit in my stomach when I saw their Stories. Social media makes it so easy to see what other people are doing at all times, so it’s easy to feel left out or get FOMO. When situations like this come up, I notice that my first internal reaction is similar to how I felt in fourth grade. I start to think negative thoughts like, “am I losing my friends? They probably don’t want to hang out with me anymore.”

Now, I want to be clear that deep down, I don’t truly believe those kind of negative thoughts. When I try to take my emotions out of it and just look at the situations logically, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation that does not involve people purposefully excluding me. But that’s the thing about emotions, isn’t it? You really have no control over how something makes you feel. The only thing you have control over is how you choose to react. Luckily, as an adult, I have gained the ability to stop myself from outbursts like pushing someone down when they exclude me. I no longer feel the overwhelming anger building up inside me, but I do still feel the sadness.

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When I experience situations where I feel left out, I choose to focus on the positive side of things. I remind myself of all the friends who are making an effort to spend time with me. Instead of letting the negative self-talk consume me, I attempt to change the narrative in my head. I think about all of the fun times I’ve had with friends recently, and remind myself that those fun times aren’t going to end just because a few people hung out without me. Sometimes by just thinking a little more logically about the situation, I’m able to make myself feel a little better.

It’s fascinating to me how, although we undoubtedly mature as we age, we still face many of the same emotional struggles as we did when we were kids. We just learn how to handle them better. Instead of pushing someone down, I’m choosing to get my feelings out in a blog post, and focusing on the positives in life. Yay for being more mature than my fourth grade self!

Do you have any childhood memories of feeling left out? Do you still have moments of feeling that way now? Let me know your experiences in the comments!

Finding my voice: a journey to vulnerability

Finding my voice: a journey to vulnerability

I’ve always been a private person, which I know may surprise some people considering I have a blog, and have talked about fairly personal things on here in the past. But generally speaking, I have a tough time talking to people about the difficult things that I’ve been through or am currently going through. I also have a hard time sharing the exciting and wonderful things that are happening to me. I just tend to keep a lot to myself and process things internally.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to try extra hard to convince myself to share things with people. My earliest memory of this is when I was in second grade, and finally, (after months of her prodding me), admitted to my mom which boy in my class I had a crush on. I can still remember that feeling, of almost sheer panic, as I said his name aloud, as if I was giving away something I could never get back.

Fast forward to my college years, where this pattern continued. I joined a choir my freshman year, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me an entire semester to tell any of my friends I was in choir and invite them to one of my shows. About a year later, one of my best friends said to me, “You never tell us anything! I feel like I don’t always know what’s going on with you.” She didn’t say it in a rude or accusatory way, her tone was more of disappointment at the things she was missing out on knowing about me. This has stuck with me all this time, and it’s been a constant reminder for me to try to be better at letting people in.

“It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.” ― Amy Poehler, Yes Please

Much like my personal life, I think I could stand to open up more with my blog as well. I feel as though you, as my reader, are like college friend, who just wants to truly know me. I want to start letting you in more, to show you the truth of my life, in the hopes that you may be able to relate or at least learn something. I have so many ideas for topics I want to write about, from mental health to relationships, but there’s always a voice in my head telling me “you can’t talk about that. You can’t share that on the Internet!” 

Consider this post my official proclamation that I am going to start ignoring that voice, and start listening to the other voice that’s telling me “Go for it! You have something worth sharing, and people who want to listen.” In the coming weeks and months, expect to learn a lot more about me and the things I believe in. Project Let People In begins….now!

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ― Brené Brown

Do you have a difficult or easy time being vulnerable with people in your life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

How To Navigate Life Changes

How To Navigate Life Changes

Fear of change is pretty much universal. Nobody likes the unknown, and everyone gets comfortable with what they are used to. But inevitably, our life will change whether we like it or not. Some changes are expected, and others are a total shock to us.

I don’t have any data to back this up, but I think our 20’s might be the time with the most change. As a 24-year-old, I feel the last four years have brought the most changes of my life so far. I studied abroad for a semester, graduated from college, got my first full-time job, moved into my own apartment, lost a relationship, left my job, had family structures shift, and lost my relationship again.

Through all of these changes, some good and some bad, I managed to keep my head up and stay relatively positive, using some of the tips I mention in my How To Stay Positive post.  Lately, I’ve been thinking of ways I have been able to navigate change, and I wanted to share some of my tips with you all.

Live In The Moment

As I mentioned above, everyone is afraid of the unknown. It’s easy to worry about the future, especially during times of change when our future seems so unknown to us. It’s also easy to dwell on the past, and wish that we could go back to what we had before. However, neither of these patterns serve to make us any happier. Change happens, and we can’t go back to what our life was like before. We also can’t predict what is around the corner. All we can do is make this day, this moment, the best it can be. Focus on living in the now, and let life take you where it takes you.

Embrace The Change

There is always a silver lining to whatever change you are experiencing. Change can be stressful, but it is also an exciting opportunity to have a fresh start. You are starting a new chapter in your life, and you can take whatever course you want! I was terrified when I left my job, but I also felt a sense of freedom because now I can choose what I want my next step in my career to be. Do I want to continue working in social media? Do I want to give real estate a try? Or do I want to do something completely different? I’m embracing this life change and looking forward to what is to come.

Create Routines

Part of why change is so frightening is that we feel like we can’t control it. Feeling out of control is never fun, so I try to find small things in my life to take charge of, to set up a sense of routine. For example, my mom and I have been taking walks every morning during the week. Starting my day with a walk (and girl talk with my mom) not only helps me feel happier throughout the day, but it also helps me feel like I am in control of at least one portion of my life. Setting small routines like that is a huge help when everything around you seems a bit chaotic.

 

I hope this helped you all, or will be of help in the future when your next life change occurs. Let me know in the comments how you’ve been able to get through big changes in your life!