When I was a senior in high school, I wanted to dance. Not pow wow dancing, not even ballet, but the muscular aggressive style of La La La Human Steps. I was in rehearsals for a musical and had a new dance instructor who encouraged me to do what I loved and to pursue it through serious study. The week before my opening performance, my mom and sister were out of town and I was alone. I woke up later to find a strange man in my bed with one hand in my pajama bottoms and the other over my mouth. I fought him off as best I could and managed -- I don't know how I managed -- to break free and run for the door. There was a small landing at the bottom of my steps, one that turned the stairs to a sharp right. In my haste I navigated badly and felt a wrenching pain from my ankle to my knee. Somehow, though, I ran about a mile away to a convenience store where I called a neighbor to come get me. He took me back home, checked the place, but there was no one there. We never called the police; he just left me. Alone. I was alone for almost two days before my mom came home. My leg was badly swollen and I could barely walk. She took me to the hospital and I lied to everyone about what happened. Just said I was clumsy. It wasn't until almost twenty years later when I finally told my mom the truth.
But that's not really why I am writing. I am telling this story because of VAWA. Because of VAWA, I wanted my husband's son to speak out in support of all tribal provisions for Native women and in doing so, I wanted to make it personal. I wrote to him of my rape. I wrote to him of how my dream to dance died that day and how the path I was on for many years was not a good one. I wrote because of his Native wife and his Native daughters and my prayer that what happened to me would never happen to them, but if it did, through VAWA they would be protected.
And my husband FREAKED. The thought of me telling this story, of telling my truth, was so shameful to my husband, an old-school American Indian activist, that he couldn't bear it be told to his son, couldn't bear that I even suggest such a thing could happen to our daughter-in-law, to our takojas. I realized then, that even in the most politically and socially engaged families, the sexual violence against Native women was too raw, too horrible to be spoken of, especially when it happened to someone you love.
But that kind of silence is not my way. There are many things that have happened in my lifetime. The rape, the way I dealt with it, the way I didn't deal with it. I have enjoyed many of Creator's blessings as well. But good or bad, these stories have shaped me to be the woman I am. Many sisters have stories like mine, even much worse than my own. These stories are our medicine. We will tell them to heal ourselves and to heal one another. And we will not be ashamed.
As I sit here staring at a blank page on a laptop, I try to choose which sexual assault story to share. I laugh to myself - because I have a dark sense of humor which has undoubtedly kept me alive - it’s ridiculous I have more than one to choose from. Even more ridiculous though, is the fact I’m trying to choose one. They’re all important, they all hurt, they all cling to the dark corners of my mind which I’ve found I can control...but not erase.
So I’ll share them all...month by month...one by one.
Rewind 14 years, early Summer. At the time I was living with my best friend and her family in Bismarck, North Dakota. Said best friend was away that evening, meaning I was left to my own wandering mind.
In my teenage angst I crawled through the window, nabbed a cigarette from the 18 year old next door, and took off for a walk...at 1am. There’s this beautiful hill near the house. Even though it’s in the middle of the city, surrounded by a couple schools, this hill is beautiful. It’s where I went sledding, where we would roll down the hill on a nice Spring day, and where we would meet up after school to laugh, play M*A*S*H, and maybe even kiss a boy. It’s also the first place I would feel terror.
So there I was...perched on the side of the hill with a smoke in hand. Starring up at the stars, wondering what life had in store for me. (I was, after all, living with my best friend - things were not exactly going as I had seen them play out in my mind years before.) Upon inhaling the last breath of sweet tobacco, I stood up and laughed as my young body - still unaccustomed to a nicotine rush - stumbled down the hill. Not ten steps from where I was sitting I heard a truck coming. It’s now past 2am and it strikes me as odd. (Keep in mind, this is North Dakota pre oil boom...very much “small town” even in it’s capital at this time.) I pay no mind, but pick up my pace slightly...something doesn’t feel right.
Before I’m able to process what is happening, I’m running. There is a guy hanging out the side of this truck banging on the side, yelling “We’re gunna kill you Squaw!”. The only thing that came to mind? My Mama’s voice telling me to “cut to the side if you’re ever in the path of a tornado” - and this was much worse than a tornado. Yet still - I had no other advice, I was out of ideas...I cut to the side and ran. I ran towards the college across the road. There was a brick building and some type of shed which I was able to place myself between...and tell myself over and over I wasn’t going to die this way.
A sentiment I wasn’t so sure was the case when I heard that big truck rumbling up to the building. I had nowhere to go. I had no plan...and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to scream. I had frozen.
They pulled up, of course they knew exactly where I was (it’s truck V human...I knew they would find me). A clammy hand grabbed me, and ripped me out of my safe space into beer laden breath and devilish shouts I could no longer make out. The whole thing is a blur from there. I know one guy kept watch while the other took the time to shove his hands up my shirt, down my pants, in my mouth...he was speaking, but I wasn’t exactly all present to even know what was being said. In my mind, I was riding my horse through endless fields. I didn’t want to be there. Anywhere but where I was. Even if the escape was only in my mind.
(Later I would learn the body has three responses to dangerous situations; fight, flight, or freeze. It brought a certain amount of peace to me knowing my freezing was a natural response. Knowing my body did what was right in the moment for me to survive. I no longer felt as if I had failed, but as if something deeper in me took over and kept me alive.)
What I’m sure had only been a few minutes, yet seemed like hours, had passed. I can still hear the one keeping watch telling his friend they needed to go - how he felt like someone was watching. With some coaxing, it’s exactly what they did. They left...and me? I dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks. I still couldn’t move, but I was alive. I couldn’t even believe it, I was alive.
After some time I found it in me to pick myself off the ground and walk back home, squeeze back in the window, and curl up in bed. I wouldn’t speak of it to anyone for six years...not even to myself. As long as I didn’t say anything aloud, it didn’t really happen.
It’s now been eight years since I finally told my first story. I told it to myself first...speaking the words aloud in my room. It hurt, terribly...but it also lifted an immense weight I had been carrying. I hadn’t realized how much energy I was spending trying to make that night nothing more than a bad dream. I realize now, I was running from my own healing - but I also realize maybe it was good for me to run for a moment. Sometimes we’re simply not ready to begin healing...and there’s nothing wrong with that. I beat myself up for a while after I began healing for not starting down this path sooner...but I’ve realized it was probably for the better. I just wasn’t ready before.
For the first few years when I told this story I would sob uncontrollably...there are times when I choke up still (if you’ve taken an Arming Sisters course, you’ve probably seen me shed a few tears - or even cried with me), but they are now tears of healing. No longer tears of terror or fear. Telling my story has immensely helped lighten the load for me - and finding out I wasn’t alone, knowing others had experienced similar situations, made me feel like I could speak up. It made me feel like I had some form of backup. Above all, sharing my story helped me shed some of the heavy weight from my shoulders so I was finally light enough to take a step toward healing.
When I originally launched Arming Sisters back in 2013, I incorporated a blog called Stories of Strength. I’m not sure why I didn’t bring it over to ASRW, but it’s time to do so now.
Why Stories of Strength? Because stories of recovery post sexual assault are extremely hard to find in the media. You can find any other recovery stories quite readily - from substance abuse to car wreck survivors - but search for stories of healing post sexual assault and you’ll be hard pressed to find any.
This won’t only be recovery stories though - this will also host the raw stories we as humans need to get out. The dark, ugly, and stomach churning times we carry with us slowly begin to slip away, one layer at a time as you heal. One of the greatest ways to begin healing? Telling your story.
So let’s bring inspiration to others together...take a few healing steps together...and remind each other we are not alone.
If you’re interested in contributing, please send an email to:
Of course you do not have to submit with your real name. Feel free to remain anonymous, or use a pen name.
Any and all are welcome to join in this journey!
Regardless of gender identity, sexual preference, ethnicity etc...you only need be an Earthling.