One year ago, I kind of snapped. I had been holding in all of my pain for too long. I constantly felt like I was crawling out of my skin waiting for news about the trial. I was drinking in a very unhealthy way. I was absolutely stuck in therapy, making no progress whatsoever on handling my PTSD. I was trying to manage this relatively new relationship with the man I’m now married to, but back then I was stuck in an unhealthy pattern of isolating from him and then lashing out when he tried to figure out what was wrong. I didn’t know how to talk about any of it. I knew that none of my friends could handle what I was going through, and I felt like a burden. So I just stayed silent.
I was at one of my increasingly-normal breaking points when I found out that Daniel Drill-Mellum was pleading guilty. I was so relieved that there wouldn’t be a trial at first. But then I got…angry. At first I couldn’t explain why, but I realized that it was because the trial would have been my chance to force everyone to listen to what had happened to me. Everyone who had doubted me, bullied me, and questioned my version of events would have had to read about it in the news. They would have to see what he did. They would have to read about the injuries, the PTSD I developed, and how his friends interfered in the investigation. I felt like, at the very least, this would really kill off all the campus gossip and abuse I had been taking on. And then that opportunity was taken away from me.
Once I realized that I had to explode, I decided that my victim impact statement was going to be long. The original version I had written was almost 10 pages long, single-spaced. Once I finally started getting the words out, I couldn’t stop. I think that even if it had never been shared publicly, I still would have felt an enormous amount of relief. This was the first time that I could just talk. They even told me that I was allowed to write about things that he wasn’t specifically pleading guilty to. It was so freeing. Even in ways that I have been limited and burdened by coming forward since, I will never, ever regret lifting this burden off of myself.
The publicity factor felt mostly awful. I’ll admit that. I never considered that appearing on national TV three times in one year to talk about the worst event of my life would be retraumatizing (even though that seems obvious now). It redefined how I saw myself for a while, and really pushed me into a mental health crisis. There is nothing fun about telling complete strangers about the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, especially when there are details that you struggle admitting to yourself. However, the rewards have been greater than I ever imagined. I’ve found an incredible amount of survivors to connect with in the last year. I finally didn’t have to explain why I had changed so much. I was forced to really confront the details of my own trauma, and have made more progress with my PTSD in the past year than I had in the two years prior. I finally felt at peace with my husband, because I was actually able to open up to him before the sentencing about everything that had happened. I’m able to just talk openly about sexual assault issues and be an advocate when I’m able to. And most importantly of all, I have gotten thousands of messages from other victim-survivors across the world who have reassured me that I am not alone, and many of whom were previously feeling very alone themselves.
I’m a strong advocate of finding a way to speak about your experience. Not on the scale that I did (protecting yourself is super important, never forget it!) but even at the most basic level. Writing about it, telling a trusted friend, or even just getting advocacy services. You deserve to feel that weight lifted. And you deserve to choose how it happens. Break the Silence Day in Minnesota is August 16th, but in reality, your time and place can be whatever you choose. After someone has taken so much from you, you deserve to take back control of what happened. Even if it’s just to tell yourself that you deserved better. And you still do. No matter how you’re choosing to cope, please know that there is support out here. There are more survivors than you could ever imagine who are standing in solidarity with you, even if they’re silent too.