TAKE BACK THE NIGHT

TAKE BACK THE NIGHT

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Take Back the Night

For most of my life, I kept all my feelings bottled up inside, and I wouldn’t allow myself to acknowledge any anger or pain. I thought that by ignoring the pain, I could somehow avoid experiencing it. What I didn’t realize was that I would eventually have to deal with all the emotions I suppressed. Over time, it became increasingly difficult to hide my problems, and I desperately needed someone in whom I could confide. Thankfully, my parents sought counseling for me, and this was the first step in what has become a long, harrowing journey.

For the past four years, I have been striving to conquer my depression and end the mental and physical torture I inflict upon myself. I have begun talking about an issue from my childhood that caused a great deal of anger and self-hatred: sexual abuse by an extended family member. Initially, it was difficult to speak about such a painful time in my life, but the tremendous support I’ve received from family and friends has made an immense difference. I can’t even begin to express the sense of relief I felt once I disclosed this painful secret; it was like an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders.

As a victim of molestation, I have carried a large burden of shame.

There is something very healing about the words: “It was not your fault; it is a horror that no one deserves.” Once I realized how much this insight helped me, I decided I wanted to talk with others who had been through similar traumas. When my mom informed me of a candlelight vigil in New York City to speak out against sexual crimes, I immediately decided to attend. Although I looked forward to participating, nothing could have prepared me for the life-altering experience I would have.

Even though it’s been almost two years since I participated in that momentous event, I still think about that night. Recently, while looking through some old journals, I came across the following entry. As I read it, I began to relive the evening I took part in, an amazing event appropriately called “Take Back the Night.”

Dear Diary,

I have to write about the unforgettable time I had tonight! At 8:30 P.M., I took a train into Manhattan and then a cab to Greenwich Village.

When I arrived, I was overwhelmed by the amazing scene. The entire area was blocked off, and a huge circle of women sat on the soft earth below. I found a spot among the crowd and took a deep breath. On a small platform set up for this event, women took the stage to share their stories of abuse. I was also surrounded by a multitude of T-shirts, each designed by a victim of sexual crime. Small shirts represented childhood abuse, while larger ones symbolized trauma that took place later in life. These shirts displayed such comments as “It wasn’t my fault,” “Love and hurt,” and “Rape kills.”

Repeatedly, my eyes welled up with tears that refused to fall. I was numb from the pain, inundated with shame as I rocked back and forth in fear. I wanted to scream and cry, but I was too embarrassed to do so in the middle of the crowd. When I could no longer hold it all within, I ran inside the bathroom and sank to the floor, sobbing. A few people asked if I needed help, but I could not respond; their voices seemed far away. Eventually, I picked myself up, grabbed a few tissues and headed back outside.

When I returned to the rally, volunteers distributed white candles for our march through the Village. Women of all ages stood together. We screamed the chants, “Wherever we go, however we dress, no means no and yes means yes!” and “All colors, shapes and sizes, this is the power that rises: take back the night!” As we stormed through the dark city, our unity illuminated the crime-filled streets. Police officers walked beside us, and people came out of clubs and restaurants to see us and listen to our message. I held my candle high in the air and felt a strong sense of purpose. In my mind, I was telling the person who hurt me that he had taken too many years of my life, and I would no longer grant him that power.

I left the Village just after midnight. Even though I am exhausted both emotionally and physically, I feel an immense sense of activism and accomplishment. It was moving to see such a shocking number of people who have endured this pain. Their stories and our common bond have inspired me to continue speaking out! This evening, there were many different emotions amidst the crowd: agony, despair, anger, etc. However, there was one feeling that shone through all of that darkness as a powerful beacon of light: hope. It was a hope so strong and plentiful that everyone could take as much as they needed and store it in their hearts forever.

Life is about giving and taking, and this evening I was able to do both. I let go of the burden and shame I have always felt, and I embraced a new sense of peace and self-worth. I took the power of my future back into my own hands. I recognized that I must no longer live in the shadow of the past, and I refuse to spend one more day of my life as a “victim.” The time has come to open my eyes and acknowledge what I am, always have been, and always will be: a survivor.

Lauren Nevins

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