** Trigger warning **
My story begins my senior year of high school in 1998. I grew up in Odenton, Maryland, a small town right outside of Annapolis. I went to Arundel Senior High, our school colors were kelly green and white and our mascot was the Wildcat. During my time in high school, I wasn’t involved in a lot of extracurricular activities; I mainly socialized with my group of friends and worked part-time at a local retail store. I was fairly popular in school, most people knew me to be the funny fat girl. That’s not what they called me, but that is who I was. My main crew was a mix of girls and guys, and we would hang out at my house after school since my mom was not home. My dad left the house when I was six, and my parents divorced a few years later. My siblings and I were raised by my mom. My dad was present in my life, but we spent the majority of our time with our mother. My mom was a great mother, and worked hard to support the family. She valued education, and a strong work ethic and did the best she could with what she had.
One spring Friday my sister and I discovered that my mom was going to a night club and wouldn’t be back until late that night or the next day. We decided to have a little party at our house that night. It was the usual crew. There was alcohol and marijuana at the party. In high school, I did not smoke pot, but I did drink alcohol. I had been experimenting with alcohol since I was about 12-years-old, an outcry from previous years of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of relatives. Well, the night was filled with music and partying, and things soon escalated beyond my control. One minute, we were all hanging out in my basement, having a good time, and the next minute it seemed like I was surrounded by a group of guys that have been taken over by some evil spirit.
We had all been drinking, and I was drunk as well. I remember being on my knees surrounded by the group of my guy friends. They were cheering each other on, asking me to perform oral sex on them. I said, “No,” and tried to push them away. My efforts were useless. One of the guys suggested going upstairs to one of the bedrooms. Before I knew it, I was on the bed and one of them had pulled my pants and underwear off. I remember calling for my sister, calling out her name, but no one came. After the first guy raped me, another one got on. There my body lay limp and without life. I just wanted it all to be over. By the time the third guy was on top of me, I heard my sister bust through the door. I remember the lights coming on, and I heard everyone scatter. I remember her saying, “What is going on in here? Betsy, are you okay?” In a place that I have never experienced, my body and mind felt inside out. I remember feeling the tears come from my eyes, and not understanding all that just happened.
The next morning, I asked her not to say anything to anyone. I just wanted to forget all that happened the night before. I didn’t report the incident, I didn’t say anything to my mom or dad. I hated those guys, and I was disgusted at myself. Why did I get so drunk? How could this happen? How could they do this to me? We were supposed to be friends. For more than 10 years, I never spoke about that night, and never told anyone about it. I felt ashamed and the one to blame.
When I turned 30, I decided that I needed to break the silence. The horrors of what happened to me as a child and during high school were killing me from the inside out. My twenties were marked by heavy alcohol abuse, prescription drugs and marijuana. I was looking for anything to dull the pain, and it was easy to mask it with alcohol. Since college was all about partying and drinking, no one thought my behavior was beyond the norm, aside from the times I was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and those mornings I spent throwing up blood because I had drank past what my body could handle.
I knew that if I wanted to live a healthy and vibrant life, I had to let go of that which was killing me. I needed to be free. Free from guilt and shame, from heart ache and grief. I was smiling on the outside and dying on the inside. I wanted to truly be happy, to love myself. In October 2010, I took the first real step towards healing, which was forgiveness. I first forgave myself, and then I begin to forgive those who had violated my body. I forgave those who hurt me as child, and those who hurt me as a teenager. I let go of the anger and pain, and I cried the last tears of those pains. That year, I started to write my memoir. It is a story of victory and inspiration. I needed to share my story, because it is a story of healing and triumph. I used the tragic events of my childhood to fuel my strength as a brave, victorious young woman.
I have a voice, and it will be heard.
If I could rewind time and go back to that period of my life, I would have broken the silence then. I wish I had the courage and bravery to tell my mom or my counselor about the rape. I allowed fear to steal my voice and courage.
If you have experienced sexual assault in any way, shape, or form, tell someone. Allow your family and friends to support you through the process. Rapists belong in jail, not free to violate and destroy lives. Be brave. “No” means “No.”
About the author: Betsy A. Calloway is a published poet, freelance author, artist, and social entrepreneur. Her first self-publication, My Life in Color: The Nature of Transparency, is an inspirational memoir chronicling her personal challenges and victories over the past 30 years, and will be released in June 2014. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in Public Administration at Bowie State University. Follow Betsy on Twitter at @BetsyCalloway, and keep up to date with her blog.