There is no right way to tell my story. No convenience or ease. Because there is nothing ‘right’ about it.

I was raped.

July 24th, 2015. A girls trip to Vegas. My first time, and believe me I heard all the warnings. I heard all the slightly-humorous, slightly-serious jokes about ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’ How a young girl like me needs to be careful. How Vegas has its own set of rules.

Yet it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how careful you are, or that you honor the buddy system. It doesn't matter because he wanted to. He made the decision. Nothing was going to change that.

I don’t remember how I got there or where I was. Yet I knew his face. The pressure, the exact weight of his body on top of me. His hand prints bruised into my skin. The cold white bed sheets. The pain. The presence of another in the room. The haze. The blood. The complete disconnection.

When he was done, I was thrown out of the room. I only had my shirt and shorts, not even shoes. I stumbled to my feet. Dressed myself. Banged on every hotel door. A stranger lets me in. I collapse.

I wake up. Security guards surround me.
"Hey honey, are you okay?"
"Whats your name?"
"Are you okay?"

By this point I didn’t know what was real, what wasn’t. Was it a dream? Where am I? How? Why? Luckily the security guards got me a taxi and sent me back to my hotel. But the weekend wasn't over. This wasn't over. I carried it with me everywhere. Not everything that happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

My pain mirrored the rape. As if it was happening over, and over, and over, and over again. As much as I did not remember, my body did. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn't wash it off. I would scrub my skin bare yet his hand prints never left. I see his face on strangers. I hear his Scottish accent in movies, on tv, on the radio. He always finds me. I was emotionally numb, yet physically broken. I could feel everyone's eyes on me, I felt like everyone knew. That they could see it in the way I carried myself. Yet no one knew, but I wish they did. I wanted everyone to know that this isn’t me. I'm not normally like this. I felt like I was living a lie. I didn’t recognize myself. I just prayed that I could hold myself together. That I could hang onto the cracks of my foundation.

This resulted in a serious concussion—on top of recovering from a previous one. It was a miracle I walked away from this. I was seeing three separate doctors each week, and a therapist as often as her schedule permitted. My memory started coming back, still in pieces. My brain worked overtime trying to fit everything back together, trying to make sense of it.

I began to question the values and beliefs I once held so close, the ones that the rape destroyed. I was speechless as I faced the world where this is accepted. Where this is something we simply don’t talk about, because it makes people uncomfortable. Because, sadly, I had been sexually assaulted before. I was starting to think that this is just how it is, that maybe I just need to accept this? I had so many questions but never an answer I could settle for, but they all were reduced to one. Spoken with bewilderment more than outrage: why?

To this day I have not received an answer, yet I have grown past the question. I don’t need an answer. The pieces he left me in, I decided to keep. I used the little I had left to push forward. To decide. Finally it was MY turn to make a decision. The most important decision of my life: to not let this define me. To push through it with everything I have. And let me tell you, it is NOT easy.

To consciously face the flashbacks. To allow myself to process the emotions I refused to feel. To face not only the rape, but every traumatic thing in my life that attached itself to it. To completely open myself up, to be vulnerable. To allow myself the privilege to feel again. To find true courage and strength that I didn’t know I was capable of.

Through this trial I have found forgiveness, I have found peace, and I have found myself again. I can honestly say I have accepted what happened. The rape no longer has a hold over me. And I will continue to move past it. To allow myself to heal. To fully feel. To truly live, love, and be present in my own life. It has taken everything inside of me to get to where I am today. It is an ongoing process, but it is possible.

Although I have not shared the entire story and its gruesome details, I hope I can relay a message of hope to people out there who are not ready to share their story yet. I want you to know that I believe you. I want you to know that it is going to get worse before it gets better, but that it will get better! I want you to know that you can heal, but it is up to you and only you. This decision is YOURS.