Regaining Power Over My Body

by Anna Marie. This essay originally appeared in Boshemia Magazine: Power. CW: Sexual assault and rape.

Hernan Sanchez

Hernan Sanchez

For me, as a woman and feminist, power and sexuality often go hand in hand.  To be unapologetic in your sexuality and femininity is a powerful statement. To have that power taken away from you feels like a loss of identity. In February 2016 I was raped by my roommate’s best friend, someone that I knew and trusted. As it does to so many victims, this incident changed my life forever; I felt a huge loss of power and control of my body and my choices and had no idea how to regain it. Losing this power felt like losing me and it’s taken over two years to start feeling like I’ve found that woman again.

Prior to my rape I had been a sexually confident young woman; I felt powerful. After losing my virginity at eighteen I’d had half a dozen one-night stands and a couple of boyfriends over the span of two years. At the time of the incident I was ‘seeing someone’ and was enjoying casual sex with them. Now, please don’t mistake me as someone who viewed sex as something to use as a power play against men, I simply liked my body and felt empowered by my sexuality and healthy sex life.

After my rape that power was stolen from me. My new trauma compounded with my pre-existing depression and anxiety, and I became a shell of a person. My rapist had taken my body and made it his property; I no longer owned it. Combined with the possibility (that did become my reality more than once) of bumping into him and I stopped eating, sleeping, or going outside. All physical contact became an intimidating threat and sex, previously so enjoyable and powerful to me, was not even an idea in the outermost edges of my mind.

For a long time the body I had once been proud of disgusted me and I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. As far too many of us know all too well, self-loathing is one of the most vicious and poisonous things in the universe. After months of struggling the thing that helped me get over this was actually something totally cheesy I saw online. Once a week I would force myself, no matter how much it tortured me, to stand naked in front of the mirror and point out one thing I liked about myself. Just one. And ignore everything I didn’t. For the first couple of months it was hell and I’d cry just thinking about it. After a while, I’d look forward to it – hey, you’re gonna give yourself a little self-esteem boost today, isn’t that cool? It was immeasurably hard, but so worth it.

Two and a half years later, I’m at a different university and have gotten professional help for my mental health. I’m a lot better than I was, but I think I’ll always feel a little differently about the physical aspects of relationships than I once did. The hardest part of day-to-day life is not reacting to the touch of male friends; when one hugs me, I’m immediately on edge, afraid. After all, my rapist was someone I would’ve once considered a friend. Strangely, the act of sex itself doesn’t scare me anymore. Perhaps that’s because sex is something I can mentally prepare myself for, whereas a casual, friendly touch comes out of the blue and I momentarily feel that same loss of control again.

It’s a never-ending journey, but the power is now firmly back in my hands. Every day is a slightly different struggle, but I’m on the way to loving, and feeling in control of, my body again.

It is mine, and not his.