How I Took Back My Body

When I was eleven years old the world felt like it was moving so fast. Too fast. So fast that I wanted to physically slow it down, but when I did, my brain was so confused that I couldn’t keep up with it. I felt like I was breathing so quickly that my body could quit on me at any moment. For an eleven-year-old, you’re not supposed to be having anxiety attacks. It would unfortunately take me nearly 8 years to figure out that I was having a panic attack.
Let’s let some time pass to when I was 15. I just had my first kiss, in love for the first time with the man who was older than me and made me feel loved and accepted one day and like I didn’t exist the next. He made me feel so bad about myself after he had given me my first sexual experiences, which I wasn’t ready for, but felt obligated to do for him. I would be sneaking around my parents, rebelling for love. I was just a baby. Today he still assumes he’s in love with me, nearly 4 years after he sexually assaulted me, something he still doesn’t comprehend as being a problem. I wouldn’t realize for two more years that he’s the reason I hated myself.
The day that began my road down the rabbit hole was on a warm spring day. I decided to wear a dress because it was too hot outside for pants. We were both in broadcast class and almost always snuck into the studio during lunch when nobody else would be in there. We would kiss and cuddle one day, but the next he would most likely play hard to get, basically ignoring me, making me upset, which just fueled his fire. One day I had had enough of his games and wasn’t in the mood to play along. He decided he wanted to make me feel better. I kept telling him “no”, “stop”, “please” and yet he kept going, as if I was supposed to like it. I saw the principal outside of the door, but I was too afraid to scream for help. He finally stopped, thirty seconds that felt like eternity. I thought I was supposed to like it because I thought I loved him, therefore, how would he be able to hurt someone he cared for like that? I didn’t fully comprehend what happened, so I decided to ignore it, suppress it, and eventually try to forget about it.
I was 16 going on 17. I had been talking to boys on the regular. Hooking up with them in random parking lots or just on the side of some dirt road getting naked but never letting him see me in the light. I had resisted feeling anything for them, but right as I start to trust them and become happy to share myself with them, they would leave without warning. I still thought I wasn’t pretty enough or skinny enough or good enough to have someone love me for me. I thought I had to be cooler, less bubbly, or have more sex appeal, or else boys would never pay attention to me. I thought it was my fault that they left. That I was the problem.
I had never felt so disgusted and dirty. I could scrub myself skinless, and it still wouldn’t be enough. I was hyper-sensitive, exposed, physically wanting to remove my soul from my body. I had finally cracked. But this was something to be celebrated. I finally understood that I was surrounding myself with men who didn’t mean shit to me because that’s how my first love had treated me. I was suppressing my feelings just like he suppressed his. He ruined me. As I came to this revelation, as I was re-discovering my truth, I felt everything at once. It was as if every part of me was exploding like fireworks on the fourth of July.
My anxiety, depression, PTSD, everything. It was all there right in front of me. I had been self-medicating with the attention of men who I thought were everything but ended up being my heroin. It felt so good, but as soon as my high was over, I felt so disgusted with myself that there isn’t even a word that I can think of that could describe my aversion towards myself.
After I had felt clean, a boy who had been my best friend since my freshman year of high school came into the spotlight. He helped me see that I am attractive without makeup, without starving myself, without having to make myself look good for others, and instead showing how happiness is the greatest beauty of all. On my eighteenth birthday, I had lost my virginity, but I had gained a lifelong love. We may not have been in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. That summer we began our love affair, and it was epic. He was my best friend who gave me back my confidence and an experience I will never forget. I couldn’t ask for a greater end to an awful chapter in my life.
Philadelphia. My next chapter. My second home. Freshman year. I took one step backward, two steps forward. I was dating the boy next door. Literally. He seemed so perfect at first, the guy I had been waiting for, the real deal, my future. Until it wasn’t. In the span of 3 months he went from being a sweet, sensitive, loving guy, to telling me that I shouldn’t wear such tight leggings if I didn’t want to get fucked. I felt pressured into having sex with him for weeks and it hurt me in ways far worse than I can even hope to describe. My heart ached, my vagina ached, because I couldn’t wait for it to be over. In that moment, I was taken back to when I was 15 and in love with the man who hurt me, and now it had come full circle, 3 years later. I loved him. Right? That’s what I told myself. Until I told my friends what happened, who assured me that what he was doing to me was not love. It was in that moment that I knew everything had to change. Permanently.
When my father was driving me to the bus stop one day and I had felt the world move. Every twist and turn of the road felt so fast through my mind yet everything around me felt so slow. I would tell my father that everything was moving too fast. All he could do was tell me to breathe and it would soon go away. I felt the heavy breath; every inhale was like an elephant weighing down my chest. I would try to focus on the cool, spring air, to try and distract myself from the numbness coursing through my body. I didn’t know what this meant until one day around the time in between my summer romance with my best friend and the winter romance with my second mental abuser that I went to my father complaining of another moment of the world seemingly being unstoppable. My father always knew what I was talking about, which was comforting, but I always wondered what it meant when I was having these attacks. Was there something that would trigger these episodes? Or was it random? Was it my fault? What was wrong with me?
I had gone to the doctor the following week coincidentally for a routine check-up and I had a breakdown right in front of her during my first pelvic exam. As soon as she walked through the door it was like everything, I had held inside spilled out with me hyperventilating while I was being penetrated, reliving one of the most painful feelings I have ever experienced all over again. She was worried. Clearly. Who wouldn’t be? I had to assure her that I was okay even though I clearly wasn’t. I had told her how I felt like the earth was moving and I couldn’t make it stop. I told her my dad knew how I was feeling but I didn’t know why, so I asked her if she had any idea what could be wrong with me. She told me that my father has suffered from anxiety for nearly his entire life. Suddenly everything made sense. I had of course known what anxiety was and I always knew I would get sad sometimes, but the fact that this was happening more often and over longer periods of time, she was concerned. I was put on anti-anxiety and depression medication. In as little as two weeks, I felt the biggest weight be taken off my shoulders. I was free.
Today I am finally the woman I was destined to be. I am a proud sister to a twelve-year-old boy who I will help raise into a respectful man. I am a proud daughter to the only two people on this earth who always believed in me. Today I stand strong, as a survivor, a beam of light that will never be dimmed.