It was nine in the morning during the month of April. As I sat in a lawn chair in my friend’s kitchen, I tried to comprehend how I felt. It seemed the closer I would get to naming the feeling, an empty numbness would wash over me. In the place of the deep-rooted emotion, shame and self-blame moved in and accompanied me for nearly a year. My name is Cheyenne, and I was sexually assaulted.
I was nineteen years old at the time, and I went to a party at my friend’s house. I knew maybe three people there, and even then, I did not know them very well. I ended up enjoying myself and drank a bit. I needed a little space, so I sat on a couch away from everyone when an older man sat with me. He was immediately physical, and in my discomfort, I let him lead me to the room where I knew I was going to decline his advances. I said I was uncomfortable, and he responded with, “don’t worry about it.” At that point, I stopped fighting.
The man was nearly a decade older than me, and he had a girlfriend. Immediately after leaving the room, I was met with judgments and blame courtesy of his friends. Somehow, I was responsible for making this man cheat on his girlfriend. These confrontations further pitted shame into my being. I told myself I was responsible. At the time, I did not even understand how problematic the entire situation was; I just blamed myself for allowing it to happen.
After a summer where intense anxiety made me feel like I was merely floating through life, I made a big move across the country. I slowly worked through my anxieties and ideas about myself when I finally got to that night in April. For some reason, it always stuck with me and gave me a knot in my stomach when I thought about it. After spending some time on the Internet reading articles and other personal accounts of sexual assault and rape, the image started to clear up. One article, in particular, struck a chord, and when I was done reading, I said out loud, “wait, that’s what happened to me.” Suddenly, everything started clicking, and I realized the numbness was a way to protect myself from the pain it caused me. I grabbed my journal and started furiously writing down everything I could remember and everything I felt. I spent the entire day sobbing in my bedroom, and in the evening, I invited a friend over and shared my story.
After this initial breakthrough, I quietly worked through my pain and sadness with reading, painting, and exercise. I did not tell another person until nearly six months later. Slowly, I would build up the courage to tell friends as I grew closer with them. Telling others helped alleviate the shame I held about this harrowing experience. I never wanted to share it publicly still because I was worried about getting labeled or worried others would only think of my assault when they saw me.
As an optimistic person, I tried my best to find some sort of good in this situation. The action itself was awful, and I would never wish that upon anybody. I was forced to go through a pain I never wanted to carry, but it was against my control. Once I accepted there was nothing I could do to change the past, I thought of ways I got to reclaim the experience and how I could turn it into something productive for myself. It made me passionate about prevention and teaching consent. I am a normally passive and quiet person, but I am the first one to call out someone for being too aggressive. I will insert myself into situations and shut them down when I see something potentially sketchy happening.
Although I felt myself reclaiming my story and turning it around, I still felt like I had a small step to take to liberate myself. Sharing my story on a personal, private level brought a lot of good into my life and into the lives of others struggling with their own assaults. I was able to feel a deep sense of connection with my friends. However, I thought of the personal accounts I read when I was still confused. If other brave men and women had not shared their stories, it may have taken me even longer to get to the bottom of my experience.
Every person has a different path of healing, but I felt sharing mine to a larger audience was a necessary step in mine. While I will never heal entirely, I want to use my pain as a safe place for others to share their stories and their pains. During a recent art show, I sold the painting I did based off my assault. The buyer described it as “beautiful,” and that is when I knew I was in control. I had regained my power.
After recently moving back to Idaho, the place where it all happened, I feel now is a good time to finally share. In the city with some painful memories for me, I am taking hold of my experience here. I am going to put so much love back into this city. I will no longer be silenced by shame or guilt because I have finally given myself the compassion I extended to other survivors. It took four years, but I finally feel like I am the writer of my own story, and I am writing it with strength and beauty.
We met Cheyenne at Treefort Music Festival, where she shared her story with us. Cheyenne wrote her story out so that we now have the honor of sharing her story with you. Thank you, Cheyenne, for speaking your silence.