DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA
From the day I was born, I was a fighter. I arrived three months premature in Daegu, South Korea, weighing only four pounds, and spent the first month of my life in an incubator. Although my birth mother did all she could to love and care for me, her husband (my father) was abusive and after leaving him, she struggled to support us and eventually made the heartbreaking decision to put me up for adoption.
At age three, I was placed in an orphanage and then a foster home, before I was adopted at age three and a half to a Canadian couple who spoke a different language and belonged to a culture totally foreign to my own. I not only gained new parents, but an older brother, sister, and younger brother.
My parents gave me and my three siblings plenty of free reign to pursue our passions and encouraged us to always do what we love. During my childhood, I exceled in art, gymnastics and ballet. After turning 18, I moved to Vancouver, which was a big change from the small town life I was used to. I enrolled in post-secondary school, made new friends, dated and found a new daily rhythm.
LIFE AFTER RAPE & SEXUAL ASSAULT
It was during this time that someone who I considered a friend raped me in my own home. It occurred so quickly that I barely registered what had taken place. Immediately afterwards, I resumed my life as if nothing had happened. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had been raped and instead began blaming myself and feeling extremely ashamed. I kept silent and tried to move on. I was twenty when I was raped and I would never be the same person again after that day.
A year later, I experienced another sexual assault, this time by an extremely close friend that was staying over as he was in town. I had been sleeping when I was woken by him touching me. I stopped him but was left very hurt and completely confused. I had trusted him like a brother; again I was consumed with guilt and shame.
At this point, I unconsciously started making destructive life choices. I started drinking and experimenting with drugs to cope, and I became extremely promiscuous. I was completely disconnected from myself. I believed no one could love me if I did not fulfill their sexual needs. I felt disposable and tainted. What I didn’t understand at the time was that these types of risk-seeking behaviours are typical coping mechanisms for many rape survivors.
During this period, I learned to perfect the things in my life that I could control. I needed to prove I was fine and everything was normal. From the cleanliness of my apartment to my grades at school, if I continued to appear like I was happy and accomplished, then maybe I really would be…eventually. But it was all a façade.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
When I was talking with my close friend during a visit, she asked me what was going on. She recognized behavioral changes in me that she had seen in two close friends of hers who had been raped. She asked me point blank: "Jenna, were you raped?" I confided in her about the assault that had happened five years earlier. She said that if I hadn’t consented, or if I had said no, then that was rape. It finally hit me that I had been raped. I had done nothing wrong and he was the one who hurt me.
With my friends encouragement, I told my family and got the much needed love and support to start my healing process. My mother and father got me into therapy and my sister helped me find a support group. I had finally broken the silence that had gripped me for five years.
But my struggles weren’t over. At my lowest point, fighting depression and suicidal thoughts, I met an abusive partner. He struggled with alcohol, drug, porn, and a gambling addiction. He was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. After trying to leave numerous times over eight years, our relationship reached a breaking point after he came home high and accused me of things I hadn’t done. I realized he would either kill me or I would kill myself at some point if I continued in this relationship. When he shoved me into a table, hurting my back, that was my final breaking point. I grabbed my wallet and my cat and walked out the door at 4 a.m., leaving him yelling that if I left he would kill himself. I left anyway. I never looked back.
After that, I took time to heal and started therapy once again. I began running and started to rediscover who I was as I felt lost after spending eight years with someone that I had completely lost my sense of self/purpose.
A year after leaving this relationship, I met a good man — one who is kind, supportive and shares my sense of morals. One who shows his love even when we're in the middle of a disagreement. One who doesn’t limit me and allows me to be myself.
FINDING MY TRUTH
In the fall of 2015 my partner and I decided we needed a change and moved from the city I called home for 15 years, to another country halfway around the world. I wanted to pursue a life of peace and positivity, to accumulate experiences rather than material things, to travel the world, and to help others in whatever capacity I am able. Bali is where I ended up finding my truth and it inspired me to created Duvet Days. I am now in Central America with my partner as we find a new rhythm in our life here. Recovery is a continuous process, but stopping my silence was my first step to healing.
My rape, assault, and abuse do not define me, but form a part of my identity and empowers me. Each has contributed to the woman I have become. I believe my experiences have made me a more compassionate person, a better friend, partner, daughter and now soon-to-be mother.
I wrote this story in collaboration with my dearest friend, Susie White. I will always feel indebted to her for her intuition, insight, unconditional love and support that encouraged me to break my silence.
The sharing of this story was made possible by Rachel Schmidt and Serena Matter.