After Pain And Tragedy, You Can Find Your Way Forward.
People often say, “Do not let your past define you.” Over the past few months, I have spent considerable time pondering this adage, and I have struggled as a Krav Maga student and as an instructor.
I have struggled because, for ten years I have tried not to let my past define me, but I’ve found that this struggle is not where my energy and focus belong. The truth is, nothing in your past can define you without your permission. What always defines each of us, however, is how we respond to the tough challenges life can throw at us.
Ten years ago, I was assaulted and violated. It was the summer of my seventeenth birthday, and I was in a rebellious stage in my life. I was partying with a group I should not have been with and making poor choices. Because of the poor choices I made, I was scared to admit to anyone where I was, or what I was doing the night of the assault. So I decided not to tell anyone what happened.
For five years I was completely convinced the assault was my punishment for the poor choices I had made. Finally, I told my secret to a longtime family friend who walked through the event with me. The conversation helped me come to terms with the fact that, while I was making bad decisions at that time, the events that night were a violation of my will – and I neither chose nor deserved that outcome by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My friend urged me to tell my family and seek help, but I felt it had already been too long since the assault, and I was not willing to “dump” it on my family’s plate. I knew they would want justice, and at the time I had absolutely no fight in me to go through any kind of legal battle. I also believed that I had come to terms with the assault, so I did not think any “good” would come in breaking my silence. So as I had previously done, I just went about my business as if this life-changing event had never happened.
Three years ago this month I joined Krav Maga Houston as a student, and occasionally the issue of sexual assault comes up in class. Stories would be told and I would nod my head in agreement, as if to say “Oh yes that is a sad story,” but I never spoke up. I never shared my story. In fact, most of the time, I just completely blocked it out of my mind. I did not want to be another statistic. I did not want to play the lead in some sad story whispered from person to person.
When the assault happened, I did not know the first thing about self-defense. I believed that if I fought, if I tried to stop, it would make matters worse. So I did not fight–my only resistance was in asking him to stop.
As I advanced as a student, the changes I experienced were far more than the physical transformation noted by some of my fellow students and instructors. I truly found myself for the first time. I redefined myself. I pushed myself. I learned to love myself. I found a new peace, where I had little in years past. I learned to fight, and more than anything, I learned I was worth fighting for.
When I became an instructor last September, I wrote an article about my journey from student to instructor. I struggled then, because I knew I was not sharing my full journey, and I’ve continued to struggle with this omission ever since–in the sense that it tainted the authenticity of my story.
As an instructor I teach men, women, and children how to defend themselves in situations just like mine. So why pretend that it didn’t happen? My goal is to empower my students, just as I was empowered by the instructors whom I now call my brothers. The realization of all of these thoughts and emotions has given me a voice. I am breaking my ten years of silence to share my story with you.
Rape is an ugly word that makes everyone (including victims of it) cringe. Talking about it is uncomfortable and painful. This is one reason why many do not talk about this openly (and when we do it is because we are speaking of a story we heard on the news). But in reality, it happens far more often than any of us would ever like to admit. This story should be shared, because, no matter the circumstances, no one should walk around feeling what I felt for 10 years.
In talking to my fellow instructors about this recently, I have come to a few conclusions in my own process. We all have a story. Some of our stories are not as ugly, but they are part of us. As I see it, we basically have two ways we can respond. If you have ever been a victim and you allow your past to define you, you will remain a victim. Or you can accept that you cannot change the past and use that experience to motivate you. This is how I have chosen to respond, though it took me years before I was able to harness this power and use it to my advantage.
Krav Maga can be a great place for redefining yourself – if you allow it to do so. It is a place where you can learn more than self-defense. My violation is an experience that is part of me and will always be. Sharing my story, while painful, is incredibly healing. I encourage you to share your story. Because no matter the choices you make, you are worthy of defending, you are worth saving and, believe me, you are never too far gone to reclaim yourself.
So my advice to you is – don’t waste any more time letting a negative experience define you. Decide to “own” that experience, lest it own you. And then use it to fuel your efforts in bettering your life.
Train hard and train often.