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A Brave New Ending: How one woman reclaimed her life after rape

The following article was written by our guest blogger Elin Petersen. Elin is obsessed with music and breakfast foods and is passionate about empowering woman and giving back. She has a sense of humor and willingness to speak without hesistation that keeps you coming back for more.

Photo credit: Tim Mattila Photography

“When we deny our stories, they define us.

When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” - Brene Brown

They don’t tell you that you’re allowed to bloom after you’re raped. I’m here to tell you: You can absolutely bloom. This is a story about blooming.

In May of 2017, I was raped. I became a statistic that I had dreaded my whole adult life. Anything I tell you about the event itself will make us all little uncomfortable, and this post is not about that kind of discomfort.

This post is about the discomfort of growth, the process of blooming, the revival of self.

After shock and denial, I managed to tell my mom and a few close friends. I spent the earliest days oscillating between franticness and sleep. Asking for help was hard. I was a strong, resourceful, independent person but suddenly, I found myself confused, manic, and exhausted - completely incapable of focusing.

And my women, my tribe - they became my heroes. They kept me fed, they found me therapy, they helped me understand my rights. They kept me busy. They kept me close.

I started to fear that anxiety might rule my story and it was true some days. But luckily, I had a few things to distract me. My first 5k was coming up in October of 2017 and I needed to train. A 5k, in retrospect, is pretty simple to train for, but it was early on in my fitness journey, I had just lost about 50 pounds, and I had definitely never run before. Never.

Suddenly I was running four days a week - short distances mostly and alternating between running and walking and I was terrible but I was going. I was doing this. My first 5k was fun but I didn’t breathe normally for hours after. I was so damn proud of myself. So when entries for the Detroit International Half Marathon went on sale, I signed up. I knew I had 10 months to train and I thought I would be able to figure out how to do 13.1 miles in that time frame.

At first, I wasn’t running with my trauma as much as I was attempting to run from it. My greatest fear was a legacy of victimhood - the antithesis of my being. If anything I was a victor and survivor. After all, isn’t that why I chose to sign up a half marathon?

Thankfully, I was working weekly with a trauma psychologist who has been able to draw me out of any victim mindset over time.

I filled out the next 10 months with a couple more races: another 5k and the Crim (a 10-mile run) leading up to my Half in October of 2018. My training runs allowed me to fill my weeks with structure and space for my mind to run alongside me. I would give myself permission to process my trauma during this time alone with myself. It became a secondary form of therapy, especially during the hardest days. I would find myself craving a run, even though, physically, I was a pretty unskilled runner.

My second 5k came and went without much incident but I’d still never run more than 3.1 miles. I gradually increased to longer training runs, which meant more time working through my trauma. Let me tell you, I cried during every single one of my long runs. I had so much to learn about distance running: What energy supplements worked best for me? (Chocolate Outrage GU). Have I run enough in these new running shoes to do a long run in them? (No). Should I buy compression socks? (Oh god yes).

The one year anniversary of my rape came in May 2018 and I had been dreading it. My therapist suggested that I take some time off as a safety net in case it turned out to be a hard day for me. Instead of it being a day of mourning and fear, it became for me a day of empowerment and self-care. That became the day I reclaimed my body, my mind, my spirit, my story.

Photo credit: Justin Lang

Three days later I got a tattoo as part of a fundraising effort to Enough SAID to help end the backlog of untested rape kits in Detroit - a poppy under my elbow. The tattoo artist raised $1,200 that day and also inspired me to fundraise for the same charity during my Half Marathon campaign. I realized quickly that it had become much more important that I become a megaphone for other survivors who weren’t able to tell their stories so boldly.

This is where I started writing my brave new ending.

I decided to kick off fundraising ahead of my birthday and to ask for donations in lieu of gifts (you can still donate here.) But I knew that meant I had to tell my story, which meant telling it publicly. It also meant first telling my family members that didn’t know my story yet. It was the scariest week of my life, yet my vulnerability was met with so much compassion, love, and support. By the end of my birthday week, everyone in my life knew my story and I had raised over $1,100 for Enough SAID. I was shaking off my victimhood. It was amazing and I felt unstoppable.

I kept running toward the Crim in August. Long runs were taking up half of my weekends and my weekly mileage kept increasing. On a particularly hot day, I got a late start for my 8-mile run and I had to stop 4 miles in. I felt so defeated - I was 13 days out from the race and had only one more long run before the Crim. I rallied my tribe again and they showed up for me. They helped encourage me, gave me running tips, and inspired me to keep going through the toughest run. My final long run before the race was a success and I was ready to go.

Photo credit: Elin Petersen

The day of the Crim there was a 2-hour lightning delay, I was soaked, my nutrition was off, but I kept going. My dad tracked me the whole race and met me six times along the course. And though it was so encouraging and I had all the support in the world, I was uncomfortable and grumpy for days following the race. This is how I learned about the Post-Race Blues and how I learned that discomfort is a sign of growth.

I began looking at the Half Marathon with laser-focus and decided that after the half, I was going to quit running if it no longer served me. It allowed me to take control once again and determine that all I cared about was finishing. It was an outlet and a commitment and I was ready to stick with it through the race - then give myself the chance to walk away. In some ways, finishing the race (I did, by the way) was the end of this chapter of discomfort for me. I raised over $2,000 for Enough SAID and hopefully helped some other survivors find justice. My whole body hurt but I felt strong and relieved to be done.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Rape survivors are all around us, healing and growing in their own ways at their own paces. Some are like me, living it openly, others aren’t. And every path is okay. This kind of journey is deeply personal and we all carve our own beautiful path.

Be patient, have courage (even when it feels impossible), and ask for help when you need. Healing is complex and uncomfortable. And though much of that work comes from within, so much of my ability to bloom is thanks to those who watered me along the way with love, endless support, brunch dates, running tips, and text messages. They were beacons on the darkest days and they’re certainly ghostwriters in this story.

Most days I still find myself blooming, growing and figuring it out. Some days are harder: the anxiety creeps in, I am emotionally exhausted and I have a hard time sleeping. But time heals. Cliche, but more true than I ever knew before. The good days outweigh the bad and they make the bad days a little easier to navigate. I think that is what makes me most proud of myself: I found a way - made a way - to reclaim myself amidst the chaos. I wrote a brave new ending.

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