What does it really mean to let go? When we turned this question over to our editors and readers, their responses proved that grief, catharsis, and rebirth come in all forms—whether it's finally moving on from a failed relationship, rebuilding oneself after a painful trauma, or quietly saying goodbye to the person you once were. Our series Letting Go highlights these compelling and complicated stories. Below, blogger Rachel Rhee of The Dimple Life shares an intimate look inside her recovery after sexual assault. Ed. note: This story shares details about sexual assault that might be triggering to some.
It was supposed to be a typical, fun weekend night out. I remember getting ready for the evening, feeling confident in a new LBD I bought. I curled my hair—and you know when you do your hair, that means you’re committed. I was excited to meet up with my friends and go to our favorite neighborhood bar. It started as one of those just really feel-good nights, where the DJ played my favorite hip-hop songs, my friends came out to hang, and I just felt really happy.
As the night started to wind down and the bar lights started to flicker on, signaling us to wrap the evening up, we all lingered outside before ultimately all deciding to go home. A friend offered to walk me home to make sure I got back safe. I welcomed his company because you just never know which stranger might be around the corner, waiting to take advantage of a woman walking down the street, alone. Better have a friend with me, just in case, I thought.
On the walk home, my friend and I talked like usual. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for the actual act itself of him walking me home. He had never offered to do that before. When we arrived at the lobby of my apartment, I thought he would request his ride-share, but instead he wanted to come upstairs. He said he needed a glass of water, which sounded innocent enough, and I thought nothing of it. Upstairs we went.
Except it wasn’t “just a glass of water.”
I started the night feeling confident and full of life and somehow ended the night locked inside my bathroom, crying to a girlfriend over the phone. How did a night filled with dancing with my friends end up with me telling this predator to “please stop” and get off of me? Just hours earlier, I was so happy.
Did I somehow ask for it? Did I say something that could have been misinterpreted? Maybe my “please stop” wasn’t a clear enough “no”? Was it what I wore? (Attention to anyone who has survived any type of assault: No, it wasn’t what you wore. And no, you absolutely did not ask for it. Repeat that as many times as you need to until you believe it. It is the truth.)
Sadly, sexual assault at the hands of a known assailant is not uncommon. According to RAINN, seven out of 10 assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. And unfortunately, equally as common are the feelings of shame and loss of self worth. I experienced these emotions, along with denial, confusion, grief, self-pity, and helplessness, all within moments of one another.
Will I ever come back from this? This was a recurring theme in my head. Not being able to get out of bed felt familiar. Having the blinds drawn down in the middle of the day felt familiar. Experiencing flashbacks just by hearing loud music felt familiar. Until, one day, I got tired. I got tired of feeling helpless and imprisoned in my own existence. I didn’t just want but needed to feel like myself again.
The first step in overcoming my pain was understanding it and accepting it. But progressing to acceptance meant I had to change the conversation in my head. Therapy helped me understand that I could no longer deny the trauma happened or question its severity. I learned that I needed to accept my circumstance and embrace all stages of my grief. I could no longer coast through my days, numb, and answer “I’m fine” when asked how I was doing. Therapy taught me one vital lesson: It is okay to admit that I am not okay.
Once I learned to admit and accept that my feelings were valid, that’s when I could learn to let go and start healing. “Letting go” and what that means is different for everyone. For me, I needed to learn to let go of the shame and this notion that I would be viewed as less than. Even now, years later, certain moments will come up where that familiar feeling of lack of self worth comes creeping back. And that’s when I remind myself that my experience does not define my whole being. It is a puzzle piece to the larger picture of my existence. My worth is not defined by the actions of another. My worth is defined by what I say it is defined by.
Ultimately, the road to healing has been a process. Letting go is a process. It’s a process that is never fully completed. There’s no timer that goes off letting you know “You’re healed! You can move on!” It is a continuous and active state. Healing is a series of thoughts and actions that eventually move you through to a stronger, more whole version of yourself—and that is beautiful.