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What Is Success?

I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, a CEO, athlete nor a celebrity of any kind. I don’t own a boat of any sort or make six-figures. But I am a success. Here’s how…

The first time it happened, I knew what it was, I said no. I was 18 and it was the week before thanksgiving break in my dorm room. I showered for two hours after it happened. The university I was going to wanted to make him the poster boy for date rape, the police wanted to put him away. But I knew him, I knew his family, his extended family, I had grown up with him, we were in Sunday school together, we had many of the same friends (who I lost anyways), I didn’t want to ruin his life even though he had ruined mine.

The next time it happened, it was the following year, after leaving school second semester my freshman year. I came back, after being hospitalized, and shrinking down to an extremely unhealthy weight (because then I could control what goes into my body). I went to an overnight date-party with a guy I was friends with.

I never should have gone, I was uncomfortable the entire ride to the small Illinois town the party took place at, but I just wanted to feel normal again. He was nothing but polite and gentlemanly, but the fact that I was going to this date party and we were to share a bed and I was without a car, I was nervous. So I unintentionally proceeded to get blackout drunk at the party, self-medicating at its best. I don’t remember going to bed, but I’ll never forget waking up to him pumping away on top of me, I jumped up and shoved him off, immediately wide awake. I asked what happened, he said I had started kissing him. I don’t/didn’t remember any of that.

But I had said yes to the date party, I had gotten wasted, I blacked out. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I didn’t say yes.

The third time it happened was six years later. Six years of self-loathing, drinking, sleeping around hoping it would make me care less or that the guy would care more. Flushing an academic record down the toilet for a major that I was totally unqualified for but because was composed of basically all women and gay men, was much safer. I had had a boyfriend for over a year at one point, which was a small ray of Hope (because he knew about The Original Incident and yet still dated me and stood up for me) but we had split up, and I was broken hearted for several years to follow.

I was living with one of my best guy friends, my mom was going through chemotherapy for stage 3 breast cancer, and I was the counter manager for a make-up line at a department store. A far cry from the sertoma award winning student athlete, cheerleader, women’s rights advocate, honors student, optimistic, history/ pre-law incoming freshman I was 7 years prior.

One of my old roommates was in town and her and I went out and met up with some friends. I talked with my current roommate and we decided to have people over for after hours pop-culture trivial pursuit as we had many times before. My old roommate, current roommate, and friend, Jose, all started playing and had a few more drinks. After an hour or so we all got tired, and my old roommate took the couch, my new roommate went to bed, as did I. I told Jose, if he couldn’t drive to either call a cab or sleep in the easy chair. I went to bed.

I awoke to him, on top of me pumping away, fucking me. This time I didn’t shove him off though I easily could have (he was a lil guy), I just stared at the blank wall and silently let tears fall, waiting for him to be done.

I had invited people over to the house, I had been drinking. I didn’t know what it was, once again, I just knew I didn’t say yes. That was in 2005.

Eleven years later, the waters aren’t as muddy. I know had been raped by someone I knew 3 different times over the span of 7 years.

I moved to Los Angeles to be an actress that August after the last time, because pretending to be anyone other than myself seemed ideal. I barely dated for the 5 years I lived there, which was fine with me because nobody knew me. Nobody I had known for years could come up to me and tell me they didn’t believe me, or not want to date me because of my reputation. I could focus on myself 100% and really not give a fuck about anyone else.

The 5 years I had there were a gift, I acted, worked shitty jobs, worked in television casting, and realized through volunteer work how much I missed working with children. So I moved back home, went to school, worked as a bartender and a paraeducator, worked at a summer program for 3 summers at a program for children with academic and emotional/behavioral challenges, and became an elementary special education teacher. After a slew of failed relationships I met the love of my life. We are a pair, and he is my blessing. I had picked up the pieces and glued them back together. THAT is success.

BUT I am still jumpy when my husband comes into a room and I don’t hear him, I still have nightmares, I still can’t always sleep, I am on a consortium of anti-depressants, have anxiety attacks if I am ever around certain people, if my husband is feeling amorous and I’m not, I withdraw into myself, but he knows why, and still loves me. I am terrified to get pregnant because what if it’s a girl? However, I want so badly to be a mother. I hear stories on the news and break down. But I finally wrote this after years of thinking about it, and THAT is success.

I may never be the things I dreamed of becoming in 1998, but I love who I am. I love my husband, I love my family, I love my friends. I am so fortunate to have the support networks I have had and continue to have. The obstacles I have had in life have made me into the woman I am today, and I love that woman, even when it is hard. THAT is success.

My dream is that no young woman should have what happened to me, happen to them. To have any sort of question as to what IT was. Let me tell you. IT was sexual assault. You did not consent. You were unable to consent. That. Is. Rape. You did not deserve it, you didn’t have it coming to you, you were taken advantage of when you were at your most vulnerable.

Please, join me in speaking out. Don’t wait eleven years like I did, be braver than me. Be your own version of success. Let me know, and I will be with you, I will support you, I will help you become whatever it is your version of success is. I don’t know you, but you are strong, and you are loved. Most importantly, you are braver than you realize.

— Survivor, age 36

1 comment

  • Alissa Ackerman


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