Western Homecoming, a day where ‘pancake keggers’ kick off the morning, and hoards of dressed up party go-ers begin to celebrate. A day where drinking a copious amount of alcohol is encouraged and drugs are rampant.

I recently read an article about Homecoming that stuck with me. It pertained to some window ‘art’ that some Western students thought was appropriate.

57d5a9becbab0-imageThe picture of the words smeared across that window are burned in my brain: “No means yes.. Yes means anal”.

It has taken me weeks to digest this article, let alone discuss it. Not that the article itself is offensive, but the fact that it had to be written is what disturbs me.

I wish I could say that this article or the normalization of this behaviour surprises me, but it doesn’t.

In fact, it’s expected.

My first and only Western Homecoming experience was in 2009. Little did I know this day would change my relationships, how I viewed the world, and how I felt about myself.

I had always viewed myself as a strong individual. I played sports, I’d taken self defense, and carried myself with a sense of confidence. To be honest, I felt pretty untouchable.

In a matter of moments, that was gone.

The young woman who walked around with such courage, the woman who was so sure of herself was no longer there. In a few minutes, I had my personality and my self-worth stripped away from me.

I will never forget my assault or the face of my attacker.

Sometimes I wonder if any of the cars driving by on Richmond Street saw me being dragged into a bush. Why didn’t anyone stop? Was it seen as ‘typical’ Homecoming behavior, or did people not know what to do?

Contrary to what people may believe, you can be in plain sight, on someone’s front yard and it can still happen.

My immediate reaction afterward was to lie. I lied to my friends, my family, and anyone else that noticed a change in my personality.

I’d never been so embarrassed in my life. How could I let this happen, why didn’t I yell louder, how could I be THAT girl?

The truth of the matter is, we’re all that girl. Trying to hold ourselves to a higher standard, one that most times isn’t realistic or attainable.

The years to follow would prove to be even more trying.

I coiled up in isolation, a place that felt safe, a place that I was in control of.

I moved far away from home and secluded myself in a tiny apartment. I pretended to go to school, although most days were spent watching TV under the covers with an array of terrible food, which was becoming a crutch I could count on. I chose how much I wanted to eat, when I ate, and what I ate. It gave me a sense of control and made me feel good – or so I thought.

60 lbs later, I had no idea who I was anymore. I was completely and utterly lost.

I had a decision to make: I could continue down this road or do something about it.

After two years, and several attempts I finally showed up to a sexual assault counseling appointment. There was a part of me that knew that once I walked through those doors, I would be labeled as a victim and a sexual assault survivor. A label I never wanted to carry.

Slowly, I started to open up and go out in public again.

A lot of times these outings were coupled with severe anxiety and panic attacks, which on more than one occasion landed me in the hospital. I would love to say those visits helped, but I was often sent back into the world with a prescription for anti-depressants and no real tools for coping.

The truth is there are no real tools.

When you’ve had something taken from you that wasn’t there to give, it’s hard to wrap your mind around it – let alone make sense of it.

I learned that speaking openly and not being ashamed was the biggest help to me.

It took me an incredibly long time to stop feeling guilty, embarrassed, and scared. I am still reminded by loved ones today not to beat myself up about how I reacted and handled my assault.

Today, I consider myself extremely lucky to be surrounded by wonderful people that uplift me in every way possible.

I’m still in the process of opening up to loved ones in my life, and I feel honoured that they are still by my side. Even though I may not have spoken with all of them, I would never have imagined that seven years later I would finally feel comfortable enough to broach this subject.

For all of the men and women who feel alone, you’re not. If I can suggest anything, TALK. Talk until you can’t talk anymore, and don’t ever feel like you are diminished because some low-life decided to commit a crime.

And for everyone else, don’t feel sorry for me. Today I wear my label with pride. My label isn’t that of a victim or a survivor.

I’m Lauren, someone who overcame something awful, and one of the toughest people I know.