Recovering from sexual assault is a complicated process that never seems to end. But it has to start somewhere. I started with my hair.

Content notice: Discussion of sexual assault, aftermath of sexual assault.

I first had the idea to shave my head in October of 2015. I was tired of my long hair and when I cut it into an asymmetrical bob, I couldn’t help but want to go shorter. I cut my hair again in December and it still was too long. I finally decided to just go for it and yesterday, I went to the hair salon and told the stylist to take it all.

There are a variety of reasons why I did this. Like the rest of the world, it would be an oversimplification to point to any particular one and exclude the others. One of the reasons I cut my hair was purely practical. I hated having hair in my face all the time and with the winds whipping these days it was beyond annoying to try to continually restrain my thick, wavy hair. One  of the reasons was that I had never had my hair this short before and I wanted to see what it looked like. But what spurred me on to take this dramatic step was an attempt to piece back together my shattered self-image following a sexual assault.

During my emergency therapy session, my therapist asked me if I was having revenge fantasies. I wasn’t. I never did. I had been having vivid thoughts of self harm because it wasn’t my attacker I blamed. I was completely obsessed with thoughts about what I should have done to avoid the assault. I was playing over that night’s events in my head with such ferocity. Always assuring myself I should have been more forceful, I should have fought harder, I should have done anything other than what I did.

I was furious for what I told myself I allowed to happen. Not only that, but this was far from my first sexual assault. I was raped less than a year ago and was still coming to terms with what happened when the events of last week transpired. I kept telling myself that this keeps happening to me because of what I’m doing (or not doing). It has to be my fault because look at how quickly it happened after last year.

Redefining my self-image was part of my way of coping. My other ways so far have been alcohol and binge eating. So a haircut seems much more positive. Another way I coped was through writing.

When I started writing about the assault I kept using the word “theft” to the point where a poetry editor assumed someone had taken a physical possession from me. But what was taken was my feeling of safety, my trust in other people, and, most devastatingly of all, my sense of self.

Everything I had lost was replaced with fear and self loathing. My overthinking brain kicked into overdrive. I questioned whether I could trust people I’ve known for years. I reeled from the idea that it could happen again. I hated myself for going into a traumatized passive state and not fighting my attacker tooth and nail. I couldn’t stop crying from the overwhelming feeling that I needed to punish myself.

Cutting my hair was one tiny way I could carve out a space for myself in my own body. That this is my physical form and I get to decide what happens to it. Coping with a sexual assault is a complex and personal journey. Mine begins again with new hair.

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