As I watched someone run a stop sign that morning, it hit me that I was naïve to think that everyone stopped at the signs. That everyone respected that word for what it was.

No matter how long I brushed my teeth the morning after, I couldn’t get the taste of him out of my mouth and no matter how long I spent in the shower, I couldn’t shake the feeling of his hands. I couldn’t even look in the mirror. 

I remember standing in front of the mirror, feeling the ghosts of his hands. I felt as if someone had taken the light inside of me and snuffed it out. 

You got me riled up, what did you expect? 

I didn’t expect for sleep to evade me because of the darkness the night brought and when it finally came it brought terrors. I didn’t expect the panic attacks in the middle of the day as I walked across campus. I didn’t expect my feelings of well-being and safety to be so violently ripped from me.

I have a tattoo on my wrist that says breathe. And I remember walking across campus during a panic attack and looking down. A whole lot of understanding and peace hit me in that moment. One day, I would walk across campus without a panic attack, one night I would sleep all the way through, one day I would start to eat normally again, one night the terrors would stop, and one day I would feel safe again. I planted that seed of hope in that moment.

I remember the overwhelming feeling of a God who loved me and would help me gather the strength to face each day as it came. I feel that love every day still. I am blessed with a fiercely protective and loving family. I was blessed with loving and understanding church leaders who helped me to understand that nothing that happened was my fault. I was blessed with a counselor that helped me work through a lot of the PTSD. 

There are still days that I feel very anxious when I am out in the open on my own, but they are few and far between. The night terrors stopped months ago and my sleep schedule has become as regular as a college students can be. 

When I look down at my wrist and see that word, breathe, I am reminded of how far I’ve come. When I look in the mirror now I see the light shining brighter than before. That seed of hope has become a full-grown sunflower.

I stood in front of that mirror for months telling myself: he will not win, I am stronger than this. 

He did not win and I am stronger than I could have ever imagined.