Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and trauma.

Have you ever felt like one trait about you was a blessing and a curse at the same time? The trait that resonates the most with me is how much I genuinely care about the well-being of others. I care so much about other people that I will bend over backward to help, comfort, and wipe the tears away from anyone who needs it. The people who I have attempted to uplift the most, other than family and friends, are men I’ve dated. Consequently, they are also the ones who I have gotten misused and mistreated by.

Recently, I reconnected with a guy I met in high school who was two years older than me. We were always friendly in and had mutual friends. We even flirted here and there. But this newfound connection felt different, maybe because we were both Pisces and in tune with our emotions and able to express our life goals. But I felt like I met someone who understood me.

However, he wasn’t in the best situation mentally or financially. He’s had a troubled past filled with abuse and poverty that colored his worldview and even guided his actions. After only dating for two weeks, I saw the manifestation of that internalized pain and hurt from his childhood and adulthood.

After a heated argument in my car, he beat me by punching me in the jaw, chest, arm, and face.

After the attack, I was sore, confused, and stuck — it felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. This all happened while he was screaming derogatory things at me. I felt hurt, ashamed, weak, and scared that I had let the situation progress to this extent and honestly thought this could be the end of my life.

Thankfully, I was able to get away and get back to safety with my family.

The next week was filled with confusion, hurt, and constantly having to talk about my situation with mental health counselors, authorities, and doctors. The hardest part wasn’t the physical pain. It was the realization that this attack was now a part of my story and I needed to own that this had happened to me.

Not only was I dealing with the emotional toll of the trauma but I simultaneously had to prepare for my move to Atlanta for an internship with CNN, leaving me little time to grieve or process my feelings.

I took a week to do absolutely nothing but cry, grieve, and vent to my friends, all while handling legal situations surrounding the case. I lived in fear for almost a week, scared my abuser would show up at my house or find my car. I was living and breathing fear.

Once I moved to Atlanta, the feelings of fear didn’t simply go away. I just masked them and put on a brave, strong face because I truly was granted the opportunity of a lifetime that is almost every journalist’s dream. The first week of interning was great. I learned everyone on my team was friendly and welcoming. Once adjusted, I made an effort to put myself out there and continue to produce quality work. I thought that I was getting over my assault and moving forward. 

But the honeymoon period didn’t last long. My second week into the internship, the R. Kelly sexual assault allegations broke. While reading an article written by one of our reporters, I broke down. I went to the bathroom to collect myself. Reading the alleged victim’s testimony brought up painful memories of my own abuse. I fell back into the mindset I was in before I moved to Atlanta.  I felt disgusted, scared, and frustrated, even though the details of the case weren’t the same as my own experience. To be honest, any type of abuse towards women triggers me. Sometimes, it triggers sadness, sometimes it triggers anger, but it always triggers something.

“To be honest, any type of abuse towards women triggers me. Sometimes, it triggers sadness, sometimes it triggers anger, but it always triggers something.”

Healing is a journey, not a destination.

While at work, when those feelings start to come up, I step away take deep breaths, drink water, and continue to work. If that method doesn’t work, I take a 10-minute break to call a family member or friend and talk out my feelings.

Other ways I would deal with it is by using the resources around me, such as support groups with other women, seeing the counselor at work, and being transparent about my situation with trusted coworkers.

My therapist was crucial to being able to be successful at work. She helped me to express how I’m feeling and to create a toolbox of methods I could use when I felt triggered. One of these methods is to acknowledge how I feel, then put those feelings away until I’m home or in a safer space to deal with them. At work, I know I have the support of my colleagues and even the HR department. However, I also didn’t feel the need to tell them every detail about that traumatic experience. Because at the end of the day, I know that experience is a part of my story but I don’t let it define me.

For me, to be successful at work, I had to want to heal my trauma.

I had to realize that caring about people isn’t a blessing and a curse, it’s a blessing until I give it to a person who doesn’t deserve it. One thing that kept running through my mind was, “Why am I an overextending myself for someone who won’t even take the first step for me?” That’s what I have done in my previous romantic relationships but no more. I had to transform the care I had for the men I was dating and transfer it to myself. I also had to not blame myself for the situation or for seeing the good in others. Finally, I had to pour into myself giving myself positive affirmations — and heal to be successful at my new job, and my future.

If you’ve experienced sexual violence and are in need of support, call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).