Stories that Matter presents Sami Holmes, a survivor of sexual assault. Sami was sexually abused twice; once in high school and again in college. Sami wants other victims of sexual assault to know that: “ Throughout this process, I turned to and relied heavily on God. Although I wanted desperately to know why this happened to ME, I knew that I needed to remember that answers to my unremitting questions would come all in due time. I needed to put all of my faith in God and His plan for me. I needed to trust that God would show me the “why” on His own time because His plan for each of us is perfect."
Please share your story about sexual abuse (please give as much information as you would like)
It was the spring of my senior year of high school. I had been going to a small UFC gym for over a year; I loved the warm and encouraging family atmosphere it held. One Saturday morning, stretching and waiting for the 9AM class to begin, I saw that we had a new instructor. The new instructor caught my eye because he was younger than the other trainers and pretty attractive. Over the next few weeks, I saw that he was outgoing, friendly, and had the same sarcastic sense of humor that I do. I remember one afternoon specifically I was in a terrific mood because it was the first day of spring break, I just had a great workout, and as I was leaving the gym, Spencer asked for my number. We started texting and a couple of days later he was coming over to my house. He met my mom before she went upstairs to go to bed and then we watched old episodes of Spongebob Squarepants, talked, and laughed together.
Towards the end of the night, he started kissing me. I remember being thrilled that the spark I felt for him seemed to be reciprocated. What started off as a harmless night of watching an episode of Spongebob Squarepants and talking took a drastically dark turn. I didn’t want to take things further, but he did. I wanted to take things slow and get to know him. I had only had sex with one person, that person being my boyfriend of 2 and half years that broke up with me 4 months prior and I was still hurting from that. I was raised to believe that sex is an intimate experience you only share with someone you deeply care about and fully trust.
He knew all of this yet he still took advantage of me. He heard me say “no” in every way comprehendible. He felt my hands on his chest, my muscles straining to push him off of me. He looked me in the eye as I pleaded with him to stop, please stop. He shushed me, and told me I liked it. I wanted it. I was just playing hard to get. He took the sacred, intimate aspect of sex away from me. He did this under my parent’s roof, the home I grew up in. He did this on the couch that my family, to this day, sits on. He invaded the innermost part of myself that I guarded, cherished, and only shared with the one person I chose to have sex with. He took all of that and more away from me and I didn’t get a say in it.
What are some of mental challenges that follow along with sexual abuse - how do you cope?
I don’t remember much of the following weeks. I automatically blocked it out and pretended like it didn’t happen; I carried on with school, sports, spending time with friends and family, and applying to colleges. Months passed and I went away to college. At some point during the first few months of college, I lost the ability to pretend and began to grasp what had happened to me. The façade I held up for months was beginning to crumble. I would get sad so suddenly; it didn’t matter if I was having a great day, if I was crabby, or if I was laughing with friends, I’d feel this blanket of sadness washing over me. Some days I would be able to snap out of it but other days I couldn’t shake it and the funk would linger for weeks.
I started to feel paranoid when I was by myself in public, especially at night. I found myself defensively building an impenetrable cement wall up whenever a man showed any interest in me. Flashbacks of being handled like a rag doll, shoved up against the wall, treated like I wasn’t a respectable human being began to happen. With flashbacks came mental breakdowns. I would cry and cry until I didn’t have the energy to cry anymore. It was as if my body thought if I let it all out, the tears and emotions, that maybe one day I wouldn’t be locked in this mental cage of rape and shame. The embarrassment, doubt, and guilt was overwhelming. It was affecting my day to day life. I confided in a few friends and they did their best to comfort me. Their kindness and patience with me did not go unnoticed, but through their efforts to help, I saw that this problem was bigger than me. I couldn’t keep trying to do this on my own. I needed help coping with this. After all, how could I expect my friends to help me when I didn’t even know how to help myself?
Our mind can play twisted tricks on us if we methodically mull over a certain incident long enough. After a while of brooding, the fine line of reality begins to blur and we question what actually happened. I became so consumed with the “what if’s” - time and time again, I uncontrollably fell down the rabbit hole of wondering if I could have done something to prevent or stop it from happening and if it was my fault that I was raped.
I thought my life as I knew it was over. I didn’t feel like a normal person. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. All I knew was that I felt tainted because of what happened. Ruined. Damaged. Worthless. I would always be chained to this event; the word ‘rape’ would be branded on my back forever. How would I ever move forward with my life after this? How would I ever have a normal, healthy relationship? Who would ever want to be with someone who was raped? How could someone like me when I didn’t even like myself?
What tools, tactics, people, have you used to stay uplifted and get through these tough situations?
A fault of mine is being too prideful to ask for help, which is why I didn’t seek outside resources of help for nearly 2 years. But eventually, I decided that I was tired of feeling sorry and beating myself up for not being able to fix this on my own. Nothing can change how the rape happened, only how it is comprehended and dealt with, so I sought counseling. Thankfully my university offered free counseling services and after one hour-long session, I found an unexpected amount of clarity. I vividly remember how freeing the first counseling session was; the song lyrics ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone’ seemed to be playing on a loop in my head as I walked out of the office and into the bright, warm sunshine. I felt liberated and as if the rape started to release me from its cruel, icy grasp. The counselor helped me look at the situation from a different perspective or as I call it, she showed me the “why” behind this incident.
What would you tell other people that have experienced sexual abuse - to motivate then to stay uplifted?
Throughout this process, I turned to and relied heavily on God. And through strengthening my relationship with God, I was able to view the two most harrowing experiences in a brighter light. The shift in my perspective and positivity happened so gradually that some days I didn’t feel as if I was progressing, but God was always quietly working in my life. Although I desperately wanted to know why this happened to ME, I knew that I needed to remember that answers to my unremitting questions would come all in due time. I needed to put all of my faith in God and His plan for me. I needed to trust that God would show me the “why” on His own time because His plan for each of us is perfect.
What does this month mean to you - sexual assault awareness month?
For quite some time, I had felt God calling me to share my story publicly rather than in small groups, one on one conversations, or fitting situations as I had in the past. In 2019, a little more than 6 years after I was first raped, I shared my story publicly on Instagram. Sexual assault awareness month is what gave me that final push of courage to speak my truth - even though I was “a day late but not a dollar short” as I put it since I posted my story on May 1st.
But sexual assault awareness month doesn’t hold a resounding, celebratory significance to me. The meaning, assurance, and support felt within the month of April encouraged and empowered me to finally share my story, as I’m sure it has for countless other survivors. But I yearn for that comforting feeling that enables survivors to feel safe enough to speak up and share their story to be felt year round, not just one month of the year.
My hope is that the overwhelming love, support, hope, and security that survivors feel during sexual assault awareness month bleeds into other months and breaks down the stigma and barriers that survivors feel surrounding sexual assault. And that speaking out, believing before accusing, and sharing trauma is no longer a taboo, uncomfortable topic but a normal, necessary, and regular topic of conversation. That is what needs to happen to not only help us survivors feel like normal, healthy, functioning human beings, but ultimately to decrease and prevent the obscene number of sexual assaults that occur each and every day.