01/04/2012 06:02 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2012

Sexual Assault: Can You Ever Move On?

More than a decade after surviving rape, I still wonder if sex for me will ever be normal. I am sure I am not the only sexual assault survivor who wonders this. Rape, one of the most violent acts known to man, is a violation of the most intimate parts of your body, parts that society encourages young women to protect, preserve and save for someone special. If your first "sexual" experience is a violent crime, can sex and rape ever be dissociated?

It doesn't exactly matter if you were raped before or after you lost your virginity. Regardless of when, the trauma contorts the way you feel about yourself and your body. Additionally, it confuses your sense of being a sexual being. People who have a good understanding of their sexuality tend to have healthier sex lives. Having good self-esteem and confidence enables them to feel sexually empowered, a mental sphere that is very difficult to reach after surviving rape. Rape is a humiliation that stays with you long after the actual crime has been committed.

After what happened to me, I wanted to hide from anything overtly sexual. Through eating disorders and addiction, I pushed away reality and ignored my developing sexuality. I couldn't embrace womanhood, it did not feel safe for me. It felt safer to push away the very thought of sexual intimacy and hide behind addictions and unhealthy behavior. I could only equate sex with all things horrific and felt uncomfortable receiving that type of attention from men. I never felt sexy and I didn't want to be viewed as sexy either.

My biggest fear was that embracing my sexuality would make me a target for rape once again. Instead of deriving strength and confidence from my growth and development into a woman, I hid from myself and my fears in variety of unhealthy relationships. Even in those relationships, sex was never something that could be considered entirely consensual.

It was either coerced sex or sex to keep the boyfriend happy, and that was it. They weren't good situations but they were more predictable than what I feared, possible date rape, or even being overpowered by a date while conscious. These were fears that constantly filled my head, things that most people, including myself, do not worry about until it is already too late to prevent it from happening.

I never was sexually empowered or felt sexy -- until now. Perhaps it is normal for victims of rape to lose this sense of empowerment because when you are raped, in that moment your power is taken away from you. For years I struggled with addiction, eating disorders and unhealthy relationships. I was afraid to let go of the control I had by isolating myself in these addictive behaviors. Caught up in my addictions, I felt safe from being raped again.

A decade passed. I spent ten years in arrested development, trying to avoid the inevitable: having to go out there and be on my own as a woman, a sexual being. Finally, I took a deep breath and went out into the world. I worked, dated and went out with friends. I was able to survive out in the very world I'd feared for so long. Empowerment came naturally when I finally stepped out on my own and found that I was not raped or attacked. I became more self-assured and confident each time I challenged myself by leaving my comfort zone. Eating issues and addictions were replaced by self-esteem and joy. Problems that I thought I could never get rid of, even cycles of addiction, seemed to effortlessly melt away when I faced my biggest fears. And eventually I felt comfortable in my body. I finally was able to define myself as a sexual being and acknowledge my sexual power in a healthy and natural way.

Check out my upcoming book, I Know Why They Call a Shell a Shell: Tales of Love Lost at Sea. The book is about trying to break out of the cycle of abusive relationships, one bad romance at a time.

Read more by this author at Hayley's Comments.

If you are the victim of sexual assault, call the confidential, free National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE(4673).