One Decade Later

I’m conscious of dates.

I’m aware of the cyclical nature of time.

I believe in paying homage to important events when their anniversary arrives, not because I want to linger in the past, but as a way to remember who you are.

After what happened a decade ago, I have had to install mechanisms into my life that remind me of just that.

When you engage in any romantic relationship, you take risks. Normally the risk you worry about is getting your heart broken, not your mind.

When Youssef raped me on this day 10 years ago, he broke both.

When you have a broken heart you can feel lost, but when you have a broken mind you definitely are. He didn’t break my heart by being a perfect man and then letting me down. He didn’t break my heart by promising me the world and then not delivering. He didn’t break my mind by telling me I was the one and then choosing someone else. He didn’t break my mind by asking me to be his girl and then hiding me from the world.

He broke me through rape.

Rape is used as a tool in war. The mental health ramifications of being sexually assaulted can manifest themselves in many different ways. Trauma leaves a burden on the survivor to either remain seated by what you have experienced or figure out how to stand up again. It seems like every time I tried to stand back up I was pushed down again, but like Cardi B says, “knock me down 9 times but I get up 10.”

At times the pain and the mountains I was facing felt like I was taking on Mount Everest without a map, proper gear and other key essentials. But I trusted myself to get to the other side. I believed in something bigger than myself, whether you call that energy source God or The Universe, and I had faith in that higher power. I had belief in nature and the good in the yin and yang.

2Pac said, “there’s gonna be some stuff you’re gonna see, that’s gonna make it hard to smile in the future.” Right now is one of those moments I am having trouble smiling in. As George Floyd’s murder has sparked Black Lives Matter protests worldwide, there is an incredible amount of violence seen at the hands of police against peaceful civilians exercising their right to express their frustrations with a system that can only be described as a “failure”. The system has failed me numerous times, but you don’t see me raising my white arm screaming “All Lives Matter” because no one is saying that all lives do not matter by saying “Black Lives Matter.” Just as being an advocate for women’s rights is not saying that men should not have rights too, the Black Lives Matter movement is about advancing the human rights of the Black community, not eradicating the rights of others.

To me it’s simple, you’re either down with human rights or not. So you’re either with Black Lives Matter or you’re not.

As I have reflected on the days leading up to this one, it is impossible not to think about all of the Black women who have been raped. It is impossible not the think of my friends around the globe from all different places who have been raped despite the various differences in our societies. Sexual assault and rape are issues that plague every single sector of society, the consequences of which affect everyone. It is a women’s rights issue that we should all be able to stand up for, not against.

Today I decided to go back to where it happened. I had been wanting to go the Old Port neighbourhood of Montreal for a while now to sit by the St. Lawrence River but hadn’t worked up the nerve to do it. Youssef lived there and that’s where we used to spend time together.

As I sat by the water today, I thought about all of the people that I represent on this issue. I thought about all of the silent voices that cannot speak because they are minors. I thought about all of the silent voices that cannot speak because they do not have the ability right now. And, I thought about all of the victims of rape who do not survive and cannot speak because they are not here to do so.

I came home and then I made this video of my day, edited alongside two of my songs “Loved U By Mistake” and “Tidal Wave.”

When I got home from my day I wrote this:

Truth be told I want to scream

In fact, when I got there

To the place we used to go

That’s how I felt

Like I want to scream so loud the whole port could hear me.

Scream so loud the whale in the St. Lawrence river would create a tidal wave with his fin just to wash away the tears you’d made me cry by the water so many times before.

But this time there were less tears.

This time I reflected on me, not you.

This time I didn’t see you hurting me, but I saw me getting stronger.

This time I didn’t feel your presence lurking.

This time there was a sun shower.

That NEVER happened with you.

This time I had peace.

I NEVER had that with you.

This time I was whole.

I was NEVER whole with you.

I stared at the water,

Mesmerized by the waves

And I didn’t think of you.

I didn’t think of anyone.

I thought of me.

I thought of my strength.

I thought of my courage.

I thought of my survival.

10 years later,

I can return to the place

Where you took a flower’s identity

And you tried to erase.

I Survived The Night

This morning marks 8 years since I survived my first night in a psychiatric unit of a hospital. Well, an emergency psychiatric unit to be specific. I say “survived” because not everyone is so lucky. My first night sleeping within the cold foreboding confines of a hospital ward, designed to detain those in heightened mental states, was exactly as you would expect. The first 24 hours from the moment I stepped foot into the hospital until the following afternoon were composed of straight horror film scenarios, except it was real life.

Between the tall male that had just been released from prison who was warning me that where we were was “worse” casually bringing up rape, to the heavy-set woman who tried to choke me out in my sleep, I knew shit was f*cked. Worst of all, no one was taking my personal testimony on something as private as my own thoughts, and there were no psychologists or therapists to speak to at all. Just a shrew of a psychiatrist who diagnosed me within 20 minutes of arrival. I spent most of that 24 hours frantic about my new reality, and for the other portion of time I drew “universes”.

I sat on my hospital bed in a communal room where for the first time in my life I was being observed under harsh circumstances, and all I could think to do was draw.

Since that day I have become stronger, not because I was hospitalized but in spite of it. There is a problem with the way our healing system is set up and it is okay to recognize that. In fact, it is imperative to do so. If we ignore that the mental health system has its failings then we fail any member of the public in crisis.

What I saw in those first 24 hours didn’t tell me everything about the journey that laid ahead, but it did show me that I could get through it. I survived that night and many more…many worse.

Since that day I have had to rebuild myself, my reality and almost every aspect of my life.

To all of the psych ward survivors out there: I see you. Even if you aren’t raising your hand to say that you’re a part of the club…

I see you.