A Tattoo with Mom: Maddy's Survivor Journey
Not letting my assault define me was the motivation for a trip to a tattoo studio with my mom In December of 2019. She and I got matching tattoos to represent how far I have come in this last year, and as a reminder that I will not be broken.
The tattoo itself is a symbol of a Fire Rose. This symbol is worn by the survivors who joined Lady Gaga at the Oscars when she performed her song, ‘Til it Happens to You. All the people who joined her on stage were sexual violence survivors, and this tattoo has become a universal symbol of strength and unity.
For a little over two years, I was in an incredibly toxic and abusive relationship where I was groomed and manipulated to believe that it is normal for partners to be sexual with you while you were sleeping.
I was seventeen when he entered my life. I had just started my freshman year of college and was away from home for the first time. For more than two years, we had a very toxic relationship with many forms of abuse. He started sexually abusing me in October 2016, right after I turned eighteen. During the entire relationship, he manipulated me to believe that this was just something partners do.
I would have never thought that my partner would be my abuser. When you are in an unhealthy situation, it can be so much harder to see what is happening, because the abuse has been normalized to you.
When you think that something is normal and everyone’s boyfriend does those same things, you don't bring it up to your girlfriends or your family. When I look back, there were many red flags that I did not see. My body started to have physical reactions in order to protect myself. I have never been someone to have night terrors but found that during the nights I did have them, he would not assault me, it was my body’s way of trying to keep me safe. I have also learned that my mind protected me by keeping me asleep while most of the assaults were happening. My therapist explained to me that this is a way of protecting the brain from trauma, similar to fight-or-flight, it is basically an out of body experience. I do have memories from some of the countless situations, but I am slowly taking the time to process these memories.
After over two years of abuse, I finally removed him from my life. To prevent him from attempting to manipulate his way back in, I blocked his phone number, social media, and even his family; there has not been any contact since.
In the weeks after our breakup, I began to realize that I had experienced more abuse than I had originally thought. I started to acknowledge what had happened to me and tried to begin processing it myself without telling anyone. As a result, I mentally unraveled, my grades suffered, and I truly felt alone. I learned that I could not do this alone and I needed the support of my friends and family. So, in November of 2018, I finally told my family and friends, and my journey of healing and processing began.
Over the last year, I have been on what feels like a never-ending emotional roller coaster. I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. I have jumped between one-on-one therapy and group therapy, learning how to walk-through my trauma narrative and learning how to embrace the good days and work through the bad days. I have begun to understand my triggers and learn new coping mechanisms.
One thing that I have always been set on is the fact that I refuse to let this break me. I know that this experience is part of me, but it does not control me or define me.
Eventually, the dark, looming clouds will part and let the sunshine through. The process of healing is never easy or a straight line. I have had plenty of good days and plenty of bad days. In this last year, I have learned it is about being thankful for good days and working through the tougher ones. Just know that you are not alone, and it does get better. Part of my journey has been learning that many women have been through similar situations and may not even know.
I want to bring awareness to this form of sexual violence. As I started my journey of healing and processing what I had been through, I wish that I could have found other survivors with stories like mine— for the times when I felt hopeless, alone, or as though things would never get better. Part of my own healing process is telling my story so that I can help others. That is why I am so passionate and grateful to tell my story, because maybe someone will read this story, and I can be for them, what I needed to hear in my darkest moments.
When I look back on marking one year as a survivor with a tattoo, I know that my tattoo isn't just for me— it is a symbol for other survivors that it does get better. It is also a signal that I am a safe person to come to when you need support.
If you are currently struggling, I want you to know that it does get better. There will be a time when what happened does not cross your mind every day, and there will be a time that you feel comfortable in your own skin every day. To those who are reading this who have been in my shoes, you are so strong, and I am here for you.