Not everyone views Valentine's Day as the day of love. And no, I am not referring to people who have renamed the day "Singles Awareness Day." I am talking about those of us for whom Valentine's Day is a reminder of the violence that was once (or continues to be) inflicted on our bodies.
While I have told this story many times to therapists, loved ones, partners, colleagues, and others, I realized today that, outside of my journal, I have never written it down. Now, more than ever, I believe it is vital for our stories to be recorded, for others to see themselves reflected in truth telling and for the path to healing to be made clearer through our authentic narratives. As a survivor of sexual assault, molestation, and rape I recognize the importance of sharing my journey with others, not only fellow survivors.
On February 14, 2002 I was raped, for the first time, by someone who I thought was my best friend. We were on the fencing team together and the rape took place after we had both changed in our respective locker rooms and were heading back to the gym. My "friend" told me he had a Valentine's Day gift for me and that it was a surprise. What came next was not at all what I had been expecting when I heard the word surprise and may in all likelihood be why someone surprising me still sets my teeth on edge to this day.
Up until that day, I was still, by my church's and society's construct a virgin. Meaning that I had not had PIV sex. I was "pure." One of the saddest moments after my rape came not because of the violence carried out on my body but because I feared what would happen if my family and my church were to know that I wasn't a "virgin" anymore. I had been taught for so long that a woman's virginity was inextricably linked to her worth as a person and just like that, in mere moments, my worth had been diminished. While I no longer subscribe to these systems of belief, at the time, it greatly contributed to the devastation I felt and later the chronic depression that plagued me.
When it was over I limped to meet my mother who was waiting for me in the parking lot; I mumbled some excuse about why I was late and apologized. It wasn't until we got out of the car that she noticed I was limping and inquired about it. I told her I pulled a muscle and it would be better with a hot shower. Once in the shower I sobbed, mostly because I believed I had sinned and because I did not think I could tell my parents, or anyone, what had happened; I did not think I would be believed, a belief that many survivors of sexual violence hold.
The icing on the cake came when my father got home from work. You see, Valentine's Day is one of my father's favorite holidays and he loves to lavish the women in his life with gifts. So when I got out of the shower I took the very little energy I had left and let him do just that.
For years, I told no one. For years, there was no grieving. For years, I created alternative facts just to help me get through the day; to the point that I actually convinced myself it was consensual.
The thing about grief though, is it always finds its way out.
During my freshman year of college I began having flashback nightmares and panic attacks. My body and my mind were in a battle and my body, because the body always remembers, won. For the first time in my life I mourned not only that rape but the other sexually violent offenses that had been committed against my body over the years. I honored my body by no longer making it pretend that February 14th was a day of love for us.
Currently, I am engaged to an amazing woman who loves me completely and unconditionally. We celebrate our love 364 days a year. Today though, I, and many others, mourn; and that's okay. Today can hold the vast complexity that for some, this is a day of supreme love and for others, it is a day of monumental grief. So yes, let the lovers love, AND, let the mourners mourn; there's room for all of us.
P.S.--A few years ago my partner wrote a piece about what it is like for her to be in relationship with a survivor, you can find it here.