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I catch myself saying: “I wish you knew me before I was the dead girl walking,” more often than I would like to admit.
Most people in my life now don’t know I was sexually assaulted by a friend in college or how I changed as a result.
Even after six years, I see the shell of the person I used to be before a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, and a series of betrayals, heartbreaks, and disappointments which shaped me into someone I no longer recognized. I became the master of faking smiles and forcing laughter, so no one noticed how numb I became—devoid of any positive emotions and lacking all hope.
However, over the past six years, I have also self-sabotaged the possibility of letting people know me again. At times, I have embraced the life of a loner or I have forced myself into situations where I know my shy, introverted ways will flounder. Maybe I am too afraid to allow myself to trust again, to be receptive to new possibilities, and to let people know the real me.
The daily minutiae are a constant battle between moments of regret and moments of gratitude. I catch myself foolishly imagining all the “what-ifs,” wondering what I would be like, or if I would allow myself to trust and love if all the events of the last six years hadn’t occurred.
I lament the ways I hastily responded in anger, frustration, and bitterness to the people around me during the first year after my assault, and sporadically at times after that year, and regret how I behaved at times. Meanwhile, I have grown as a person in ways I will always appreciate, even though the journey was much more painful than I would have preferred.
Despite all the change, I sometimes recognize my old self when she dances unabashedly while perusing books or walking around downtown singing punk rock songs during her lunch break. Occasionally, she shows up when she gets excited about an obscure, nerdy passion or when she hops on a plane to explore an unfamiliar city alone in search of peace, beauty, and mystique.
It took me until now to acknowledge she will always be there at my core, but also accepting I need to embrace the new me because if I don’t love her, no one else ever will.
Nonetheless, I am finally allowing myself to let the waves of grief hit me so I can shape my own unique path to healing—accepting it won’t always be a linear process. Sometimes, the sorrow will come suddenly, while there will be days, weeks, or months even when I will be living in euphoric bliss.
Accepting my new self is not just trying to find happiness and contentment again; it means being ready to welcome new beginnings and new adventures. Such as embracing solitude because I like it (not as a mechanism to keep people away) and opening myself up to the possibility of heartbreak, disappointment, and devastation because although they sting, they are worth the risk to live a fulfilled life.
I am allowing myself to stop letting the past rob me of a joyful future.
So, you may have not met the “old” me, but I hope you get to meet the “new” me—scars and all.