How My Sexual Assault Has Not Destroyed Me, But Instead Transformed Me to Find Resilience and Peace
by Annie Dulhanty
To my abuser:
I remember the all-wood floors. How I love wood floors – and the way that my room felt when I had it all to myself late at night, writing in my journal or watching a new show on Netflix. I remember the last time I felt comfortable in my own room at that house.
That was on June 25th, 2015.
I was wearing something similar to what I had been wearing the first time I met you. When I woke up the next day, and every day thereafter, you told me I was asking for it. It was my way of finally "inviting" you inside of me.
And since waking up on June 26th of 2015, I have believed that maybe . . . yes . . .
I must have been asking for it that hot, humid Thursday night.
There is no other explanation as to why this had happened.
This was the logic I created in my mind: I put on my favorite bell-bottom pants from Free People . . . just for you. I danced around that bar . . . just for you. And then I thought, no, that is what you decided. That decision, it ruined me and created me all at the same time. A year later, I still find myself believing that is exactly what I was doing. Going back and forth with the thought that it was all for you.
Because why would it ever be about pleasing myself?
Let me tell you, I am in no way over or understanding what happened. I haven’t even talked about half of the details. Writing this piece is a small part of the battle I'm choosing to fight.
The details, they unravel on this page.
Day and night, I have convinced myself that what happened to me is my fault – that I should not have drank as much, or I shouldn’t have worn something so revealing. I am responsible for these acts, because I should be responsible for myself, the way I present myself, the amount of alcohol that I choose to consume.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been dancing with you or making you feel like maybe I was down to “hook-up”. Maybe instead of trying to go out and distract myself from the ache I was feeling in my heart from another guy who I was trying so hard not to love, I should have just stayed in and dealt with the pain. That way, I would have never asked for it.
I was begging for it.
After I had too much to drink. After you encouraged me to drink more, pouring liquor down my throat straight from the bottle, I pushed you away from me in the middle of the dance floor, witnesses confirming this act days and weeks after. After I called you his name and you pushed me against the wall out of fury. After you put me in my own bed and turned me sideways because you could barely hear me breathing. After my unconscious, unable mind still said, “no, stop”. After my friend left me with you because you said you would “take care of me”- and for some reason you allowed her to take my word for it, when I was in no state to make a true decision. It was then that I was begging for it, lying helplessly, drunkenly unconscious on my bed – so far from sober my eyes would barely open and my mouth couldn’t form a basic sentence. I was in and out of consciousness.
I was begging for it.
Then, I came to. It was dark and I was in my bed, naked, and you were on top of me. Inside of me. I realized that what was happening wasn’t right and I asked you to stop, even attempted to push you away from me. In that weak attempt you got angry, screamed at me to cut it out. I tried to convince myself that I was enjoying what was happening, because I had to have given you some sort of invitation - but I couldn’t wrap my mind around this act. I felt like at any moment I could throw up. I tried to push you off of me again, told you I was going to get sick. At that point, the anger coming from you was enough to put me into a terrifying shock. You grabbed both of my wrists and said to me something along the lines of: “You’re gonna make me do this the hard way, huh?” You then handcuffed me, both my hands, above my head. At that point, I felt all I could do was close my eyes and keep my mouth shut, look as though I was passed out drunk again. I lied there, helpless. The invasion is unlike any other violation … and an invasion that no one should ever have to experience. It shattered me. I felt weak. I felt unworthy. I felt incapable. I felt unloved.
But . . . I was begging for it.
I blacked out after a few moments, and I am just now discovering bits and pieces of what happened after my mind decided to shut down. I have night terrors and flashbacks not only when I’m sleeping, but when I’m wide awake in a crowded room or alone, trapped all by myself. The darkest moments of my life came soon after what happened – after you stripped me of my identity, my privacy, my independence, my body, my genuine laughter, and the somewhat positive outlook I had developed on life after all the trauma I had been through up until you forced yourself into my life.
The worst part was waking up in my own bed, naked, with you next to me. The panic, guilt and disgust I felt in that moment stirred up anguish, deep in my gut. I rushed to the bathroom and I began to sob, I felt the pain in my genitals and I saw the bruises around my wrist. The vomit came and I couldn’t stop. I dialed my best friend's number and asked her what to do.
“Get him out of the house, right now! Tell him you need to go to work.”
I went to my room and began to get dressed, tears streaming down my face. You asked me where I thought I was going; I said I had to go to work. You said, "Not before you take me home." You forced me to take you home. I was so scared of what you were capable of if I didn’t obey your every word.
And after we pulled in your driveway? You said – “Let me give you a hug.” Like a hug could make it all feel better, normal.
And as I pulled away, I realized just how broken I had become in just one night. Because of your choice, I wanted to dismiss who I ever was – I wanted to fall asleep and wake up someone new. I drove home in silence, so numb that I had nothing left, no emotion to show. When I got back to my house, I climbed into my bathtub, turned on the shower and sat in a ball in the far corner, my thoughts crashing into each other. After an hour of that, all I can remember is my whole world felt like it was exploding. I called my friend who had left me with him, sobbing. I called my best friend, completely unable to speak and just cried until I couldn’t breathe.
I must have wanted it.
As I was draped in a hospital gown, feeling the cold, rough plastic of the seat beneath me – I questioned what I had done to deserve this. The nurse came in looking both somber and sympathetic. She explained to me that I could ask her to stop at anytime, but it was best that I tried to work through the whole process. She asked me questions – questions I can only recall now because I still have the sheet that she filled out.
One question, I will always remember. "What is his first and last name?"
Your first name, I gave to her.
Last name, no. I was afraid to release it on the off chance that somehow the rape kit got to the police without my consent, that you would find out that I had gone through "the process," or that I would have to sit in a courtroom and have the events of the night piled onto me, once again, cutting into my already damaged body, agonizing me further.
After the questions came the moment when I felt the most belittled, the saddest even. When she began to take pictures of my lesions, bruising, scratches, and tears, she put a ruler next to them, and photograph them with a Nikon camera – an extremely nice piece of equipment; it must have been expensive. I had to have my legs spread open for over ten minutes. I had to be probed where I had already been violated, not even twenty-four hours before. While there was physical pain and discomfort, nothing came close to the pain I had already felt. Two people I didn't personally know in less than one day got to see parts of me that I had only allowed one other person to see up to that point.
I was traumatized. I bit my lip and held back tears that were brought about by immense sadness and disappointment. I swallowed the Plan B pill they gave me, then pill after pill for STDs. When she left the room I discovered a new position that would become my go-to: the fetal position. I curled up, tears streaming down my face and hitting the paper covering the seat sterile hospital seat. The tears soaking the paper made a beat, a cadence. It was like a soundtrack to the most demeaning day of my life.
After that day, my panic attacks reached an all time extreme. I would become so distraught over just trying to live every day, that I was not only hitting myself, I began to hit others who tried to touch me as well. I would push myself to the limit and then deteriorate no matter where I was, in front of people or all alone. But every time I reached that point of self-destruction, others told me I would scream at the top of my lungs.
“How could he?!”
“I am so unlovable!”
“I will never trust another person again—ever!”
I'd even scream out in complete agony, “I want to die.”
My two brothers and my mom were so scared for me that all they knew how to do was beg me to see someone who could begin to help me work through what had happened.
They didn’t want to know the details, they could see it in my face and hear it in my voice.
And all I kept thinking was:
I wanted it.
The next day, you told me. The next week, you told me. You told me you heard what I had said happened and to never talk to you again. You told me I better be on birth control. The next month, you told me. Then, you asked me why people were telling you we never had sex and that I claimed that you assaulted me when neither of those things had happened.
And now, you still tell me, every time you stare at me from across the floor of that club. You tell me, every time I place a foot in downtown Indianapolis. And it happens to me without even having to see you. You tell me from states away.
You know what’s even more terrifying? You tell me in my sleep.
You’re like Big Brother. The other day, I saw you because you made yourself seen by me – and after we made eye contact, you stared at me, making your way closer to me until I was so uncomfortable staying put was no longer an option.
Now, every time a guy looks at me or brushes by, I’m so scared I’ll never be enough just as I am. And right now, I can honestly say that I’ve never been through more physical, emotional and mental pain then what this has put me through. I was drugging myself with Klonopin and alcohol just to forget any type of detail I could when I had the time to think – nearly killing myself so I could feel normal.
I was lashing out at the people who loved me the most – physically hurting people because I was so angry, terrified and deeply hurt, scaring others so badly they begged me to stop drinking and get help.
I fully believed that I was begging for it. That I wanted it.
On November 15th of 2015, in a blackout, I actually tried to end my life. I didn’t feel any desire to “be” anything or anyone. I blamed myself for everything that had happened and was already blaming myself for things that hadn’t even occurred yet.
I told myself I was unlovable and not deserving of respect. Love would never come my way because all I am good for is my looks, my body. I was only good for the way that I acted when I was drunk and how many drinks it took for me to not realize what was happening.
I just wanted someone to love my mind and my thoughts. I wanted someone to love my messiness and my past – but that didn’t seem like an option.
I thought I was out of options.
Let me tell you, in that moment when I decided to take that handful of sleeping pills with a mixer of Klonopins, I had no idea what I was doing. I blacked out because my mind was in such distress, such emotional pain, all it wanted to do was shut down, break free from a feeling that no one should ever have to endure – there is no name for it. It was an out of body experience, watching myself make the decision and battling with two different voices. I told myself I was crazy - because who else battles with themselves that way? In order to put a halt to it, I had to take action and do what the most dominant voice was telling me to do, and so I did… I just let go.
I fully believed I must have been begging for it.
Then, my roommate decided to call 911.
I had to be driven to the hospital. There I was drilled, again, with question after question.
Why did you want to end your life?
Don’t you realize you have so much to live for?
You’re beautiful—you’re only 23!
How often do you drink?
What has depressed you?
You should think about looking for God and reaching out to him. What traumatic things have occurred in your life leading up to this suicide attempt?
Have you ever been abused?
I didn’t have any answers. The answers to those questions I am still trying to figure out.
That night, I wasn’t allowed to go home, I was at the highest risk for suicide. Early the next morning, I was transported from the hospital to Options, a behavioral health facility.
My days spent in there were reflective, dark, haunting . . . and probably the best possible thing to have happened to me. I was all alone, stripped of any freedom and connection to the outside world. I had only a few things to take advantage of: time spent with therapists and psychiatrists, with other patients struggling through similar battles.
With my empty journal. With my thoughts. Toxic thoughts that at one point almost destroyed me.
But nothing like the way that you did when you violated me, and the innocence I had and the wiling to explore life that I once felt. But I left both broken and healed – inspired by myself and the others I spent those dark days with.
I didn’t want this.
I have days that turn into nights where I can’t stop thinking about what you did to me. How it must be my responsibility to put you behind bars. It can’t be taken back. What you did is engraved in me forever and it is a part of who I am.
I didn’t press charges – I was scared that no one would believe me, and on June 26th of 2016, my rape kit will be officially destroyed. Evidence, GONE. Forever. I will never be able to lawfully hold you accountable for what you did to me.
That’s scary, knowing that I will run into you. You, unscathed.
Me? A different person because you broke my spirit. But honestly, I want to thank you. Not in the kind or happy way; I’m not appreciative of you at all.
I want you to know that I am a warrior because of this. I could have spiraled downhill, crashing after what happened. I could have tried to kill myself again or I could hold so much hate in my heart that my life would end up meaningless, bitter.
Instead, I am RESILIENT. I will PERSEVERE.
I began to find my way after I stepped out of Options. I reinvented my look, cutting my hair. I discovered my life passions: mental health and music.
I went back to school and completed the semester. I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations. I picked up DJing and discovered my natural abilities and a talent with a turntable. You know what? I love it. And I'm good!
I have discovered what I want to do. I want to use my talents as a DJ to help raise money and awareness for mental health. I wouldn’t have made this discovery if I hadn’t been for your malicious, conscious act.
I bounced back because I knew there was a reason that my life has been one of loss and trauma. Starting with the loss of my father at fifteen, to my best friend's suicide at eighteen. Then having my heart broken at twenty-two, then this assault less than a year later.
People have turned their backs and they've turned against me when I've needed them the most. I have made it this far so that I can help the next person to let them know that they aren't alone!
I'm going to be there for the next victim of sexual assault. I'm going to be there for the next person who feels abandoned. I'm going to be there for the next woman who curls up in a ball, because she'd rather be asleep than awake! I'm going to be there, because I have come back.
I have beaten YOU.
To me, and to those who wish to change the rape-culture we live in:
This isn’t the whole story.
There are some things about the assault that are too difficult to even discuss or bring to light yet. The one thing that I want people to understand is that I am fighting to discover who I am and my purpose on this world – I am learning to love myself.
I will always fight back, no matter what happens next. I am resilient, no matter which way you bend me I will never break; I will always come back stronger and ready to fight – not just for myself but for every other person who needs two more hands to make it through the day.
It’s true, real transformation seems to happen after the most difficult of times.
Think of it this way: after a wave crashes against the shore, there is a few seconds of serenity.
That serenity, it’s what I fight for – what I live for.
Those seconds following the crash are when I realized what I have overcome, and what I am yet to overcome. It’s beautiful to feel so empowered by the actions you've taken—to live between the crash of the waves.
If you read my story today, and can relate with what I've gone through—or perhaps know someone who has suffered from trauma and assault—I want you to know:
You are stunning.
You are marvelous.
You are strong.
You are resilient.
You are a fighter.
You can do this, and you will do this—you will live on.
I will be waiting for you at the shoreline, between the crashing of the waves, where the calm water meets the shore.
About the Author
Annie Dulhanty a 23-year-old recent college graduate living in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. She grew up in a nearby small town, Lebanon, where she was molded into the person that she is now. Annie has a deep passion for music and listens to it often. She has been in training and is currently beginning a career as a DJ in downtown Indy. She has a profound love for the ocean, and loves to explore and discover new cultures. She loves fashion and expressing her personality and emotions through the clothes she wears. She works at Free People as well as serving at Lincoln Square Pancake House to support her hardcore shopping habit. Mental health has been both a struggle and a passion of hers since the age of sixteen. Her hope is that her story embraces you with love and encourages you to fight for the advocacy for women.