While crafting our stories for Beyond Sex Ed, our professor Brianna Booth presented us with a metaphor. She said our lives were like houses where each room was a story or crucial experience. Some rooms are bright, comfortable and lived-in after years of guests. Others are dark and dusty, having never seen the light of day. When I first heard this metaphor, I appreciated it, but I didn't find it particularly relevant to me. I had worked as a peer counselor, so emotional authenticity felt familiar. But as I engaged in the different activities in the class and started reflecting on major moments of my life, I began to realize just how many parts of myself I simply didn't share.
The story I chose to tell was one that I had never uttered aloud before. I didn't think I could bring it up in casual conversation because it seemed too heavy. I also didn't want to ask friends to sit down for a serious talk, because I thought it was too inconsequential. My inner dialogue always went something like this:
So, you felt uncomfortable at a party.What girl hasn't felt uncomfortable at a party?
Someone pretended they couldn't hear you when you said no.Yeah, but the music was really loud; I guess I don't know for sure that he heard me.
Then you had to call an Uber to leave a party because none of your friends was sober enough to help you.But that's because my friends were having a good time; it's not their job to protect me 24/7.
This confused tangle of thoughts caused me to shut the experience up, to pretend it was inconsequential. If I told myself that night was a one-time incident with no significant impact, I could move on and never look back.
One exercise we did in class involved writing a one-sentence synopsis of our story. I wrote, "My story is about a time that I felt sexually violated and none of the people I trusted was there to help me." After writing this factual summary, we were prompted to reflect on what the story was really about. Thiswas different. Yes, the story was about an incident of sexual harassment ... but why had I never told anyone about it? What was it about this story that made my stomach turn to even think about? As I sat in silence, journaled, listened to music and talked with my classmates, my repressed emotions began bubbling to the surface. A series of lightbulbs started going off in my head:
My inability to articulate the word "no" was actually my need to seem appealing and not come across as unlikeable.
My anger at my friends for not helping me was a long history of feeling as though I was more invested in friendships than others.
My refusal to tell this story was my stubborn insistence on being seen as a powerful woman who could never be vulnerable enough to be "taken advantage of."
My story did not exist in isolation - it was tethered to nearly every facet of my identity. This process wasn't as simple as delivering a five-minute monologue of "what happened." I was breaking open cages I had built years before this story even took place, interrogating parts of myself I thought were unwavering.
This deep dive into myself would have been impossible without the warm community provided by my fellow classmates. One class activity where we had to share an experience of heartbreak with a stranger did more than just break the ice - it melted away my guardedness and coaxed trust out of me. Every time I practiced my story, the chatbox would flood with affirmations:
"Thank you for sharing this"
"I went through the exact same thing my freshman year"
"You are so brave for this"
The anxiety that used to wash over me every time I began telling my story eventually faded. I knew I would be met with warmth, and that my story was safe in the hands of my classmates.
When I finally heard the whole class's stories at the end of the quarter, I felt connected to something larger than life. It wasn't that anyone's story was the same as mine - rather, it was that every single person had a story. My classmates - whom I have passed a thousand times on Main Quad - all had their own houses with their own set of dark rooms. Just because I couldn't see them, didn't mean they weren't there. One of my peers mentioned being ghosted by someone they had kissed at a party, and then carrying that weight with them for months, using it to measure their self-worth. I was caught off guard by a wave of guilt. How many times had I flirted with someone to boost my ego, with no intention of following through? How many times had I kissed someone at a party without even knowing their name? These mere moments for me might be entire stories for the other person involved.
Inevitably, I returned to my story with a new perspective. Did my friends even realize what happened? Had they ever thought about that night again? Does the boy who hurt me so deeply even remember what happened, or was my pain washed away in his drunken haze? Unexpectedly, talking to my classmates softened the edges of my story. It gave depth and new dimensions to that painful night and allowed me to consider that things may not have been as clear-cut as I imagined. My betrayal and hurt were wholly valid, but there was an entire world of experiences and feelings happening around me that night, too.
This class gave me so many gifts: a group of people whom I may never speak to again, but who are safely carrying my secrets; the courage to ask for help in a culture that demands independence; my own story, told in my own voice; a dash of forgiveness.
Daring to share one of the most vulnerable parts of myself with complete strangers gave me courage and trust - which I will carry with me even if I never tell the story again. This class was like finding a dark room and opening window after window until sunlight shone in. It may have taken 10 weeks with only a small class of trusted peers, but my whole life is brighter because of it. I may never air out all the dark rooms of my metaphorical house, but at least now I have the bravery to step foot in them and accept they belong to me just as much as the sunny ones.