11/24/2014 03:23 pm ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

The Second Thanksgiving: One Year After Rape

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Trigger warning

On November 24th of last year, I was raped on my college campus. When I staggered back to my apartment at almost four in the morning, I collapsed, sobbing, into my roommate's arms. I felt like I couldn't breathe, like there would never be enough air to breathe again. My body ached and I kept thinking over and over again: This can't have happened; this didn't happen. She guided me to the couch and I shoved my face into the cushions, too ashamed to look at her, too overwhelmed to sit up. Finally, I told her in broken sentences what he did to me. I fell asleep there, with her hand stroking my hair and tears still falling.

Three days later, I left campus to go see my family for Thanksgiving. I still felt the pain of the rape when I walked. It hurt my face to try to smile. I couldn't bring myself to tell my family what had happened. When we ate Thanksgiving dinner, I couldn't imagine ever being thankful for anything again.

I returned to campus on the afternoon of Black Friday. My sister and twin brother who I rarely get to see didn't want me to leave. My parents were worried about me and asked me to stay longer. Being around my family was too difficult; I worried that if I stayed my mom would sense that something was horribly wrong, or, worse, that I would have a moment of weakness and tell them I had been raped. So I shut them out. I left and spent the rest of Thanksgiving break in my apartment, completely alone, staring at the ceiling.

This week marks a year since I was raped. When I look back, I will remember 2014 as the year I shut everything and everyone out of my life and dealt with my assault. This year, my world shrunk to a size only big enough for two: my rapist and me. I broke down memories, ambitions and relationships into pre and post rape. I've defined myself almost entirely as a consequence -- I became the girl who was assaulted.

This year was dark. I fixated on my rape and rapist. He was with me in a way that my family was not. I thought of him before my best friends, before any romance and before myself. I obsessed. I wondered about his mother, his sister, his therapist -- Do they know? Do they hate me? I let the evidence and my memories play on a loop daily as I searched for details I had missed. I wanted to know why he had done what he did to me. I wanted to know why the college hadn't better protected me. In the past, I could always fall back on logic to provide answers, but this time I only grew more frustrated.

Days and weeks and months passed me by with no new insights and only more questions (Was he sorry? What did he mean to do that night?) . My rape was a puzzle I couldn't solve. I made no movement towards the future because there was no future. I lost track of friendships, because I couldn't get out of my own head to live in the present. I didn't see that my friends and family were worried sick. I didn't realize how much effort they put into caring for me daily. I didn't notice that they were feeling my pain and grieving with me. I didn't see anything except my own suffering and failure to move on.

I spent all year being angry. I was angry with my rapist, with the college and with myself for being unable to "fix" it. The guilt, shame and blame ate at me. I felt extremely alone. People say that being raped changes you, but I didn't become a different person; I simply became my most. I was my most sad, most vulnerable, most defiant, most protective, most destructive and most angry all at once. I never want to look like her again.

This week it will be the first anniversary of my assault and the second Thanksgiving since I survived. I could spend it like I spent last Thanksgiving and be reclusive and angry. No one will ever tell me to stop being angry at my attacker, at my college or at my circumstances. If I want to, I can spend the holiday saying life isn't fair and I didn't deserve to be raped. People will listen and validate me, because life isn't fair and I didn't deserve it. But I do not want to think about my rapist while I help my mom prepare the turkey. I want to enjoy seeing my siblings. I want to start seeing the good in my life again.

I can be mad until the day I die, but at a certain point it isn't protective. When I see that an entire year has passed I realize how much I was hurting myself by holding on to anger. I will never know my rapist's intentions that night. I will never be able to look at my rapist and ask him: Why? Why did you do this to anyone? Why in the world did you do it to me?

That is the truth of life after rape. Anger cannot indefinitely shield me. Logic and reason cannot heal me. I have to heal by letting go. I have to accept that some hurts are senseless. There is a quote that I've taken to reading each morning and each evening: "Holding on to anger is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die." I am letting go not for his benefit, but for me.

In preparation for this year's holidays, I have made a pact with myself. Instead of focusing on the worst person in my life, I will be grateful for my friends and family who have helped me survive this trauma.

To retrain my mind, I made modest resolutions. When I start to think about my rapist, I call a friend and check in on how they are doing. When I feel angry with myself or disconnected from my body, I exercise. I'm starting to run again and the pain forces me to be mindful of my present self. I push to run farther, and when I finish I feel gratitude towards my body. I try to focus on what it can do, not what has been done to it. When I worry that I will always define myself as a "victim" I will remind myself that my person is too thoughtful, intelligent, kind, and a kaleidoscope of other adjectives too expansive to ever be pared down to a single word.

I can't say that this shift in thinking is easy. I will have days and maybe weeks when I regress into anger and fruitless rumination. I do think that changing how I engage with the past is the key to helping me be a better person. I hope I can take my power back by being peaceful.

I hope that I can recognize that while my rape will never be OK, I will be.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.