Tim Mousseau rejects the labels victim and survivor. Instead, he is a learner who has forgiven his assaulter while facing his own demons.
To the person who sexually assaulted me,
In this moment, I forgive you. I forgive you because at a certain point, I had no other choice but to forgive you. I had to forgive you because I could no longer live like you, with that dark mass of emotions defining my choices, my late night thoughts, my actions. To the person who sexually assaulted me, I forgive you because I understand you.
In saying this, I do not mean that I understand why you did what you chose. I will never understand what compelled you to take advantage of another when they were in a place with no ability to defend themselves or what prompted you to record this act. I will never understand what prompted you to stalk and torment someone over a period of two years. I will never understand what compelled these specific acts. I do however understand those dark thoughts that must have drove these decisions. Those emotions of pain, rage, fear, and doubt. I understand you because I understand how these types of primal emotions can redefine your view of the world until the lens through which you view every interaction is warped, conforming to these dark standards.
In these moments, I forgive you because I can no longer be like you. I cannot allow you to continue to dictate what it means for my life to have joy or any semblance of normalcy. I forgive you because while I do not understand your motivation, I understand the manifestation of evil that can possess a person. I understand this because you instilled those dark emotions in me. I forgive you because I pity you for giving into these emotions.
I forgive you because the very primal feelings that drove your actions took root inside me as a result of your deeds. I forgive you because the way you live life, in embrace of this inner darkness, is no way to live.
These are the things they don’t tell you about being a victim. The things no one had conversations about. I talked with countless people processing your actions. I took the medical steps and got tested because it was the right thing. I began seeing a professional counselor who was much better equipped to manage my situation because it was what they prepared me for. I took the necessary precautions to protect myself legally. I took all the choreographed steps. Yet, I wish someone would have warned me. No one ever told me about the primal darkness your actions would cultivate; the visceral hate that you opened. In those moments of darkness, confronting long, locked away demons, these were the times where I wish I had been prepared.
It is my hope that by sharing my story, I can help others recognize the dark place you experience when undergoing this type of trauma; the gateway to a personal hell that can emerge throughout a sexual assault. Through sharing I hope to address the one thing I wish someone would have told me. If only I had known about this darkness earlier, I wonder how differently things may have turned out for me. I did not have this benefit, but through my story, I hope others may because no one should ever have to live with those primal, corrupted feelings that thrive in nightmares.
My name is Tim, and I was sexually assaulted. I cannot say I am a victim because I choose to not let this term define me. I do not say I am a survivor either because the person I emerged from this experience is far different than who I was going in. I am a different man than I was before someone took something from me and used it to torture me for months. It is through these differences that I confronted hidden demons threshing inside my personal hell. It is by these experiences that I emerged from a place of darkness that I never knew existed. And it is through my story that I hope to help someone either understand their own experience or at least give society a glimpse into the lives of a far too large percentage of sexually assaulted men and women.
My descent into the darkness all started with an envelope. The kind of letter you see in cheesy B-roll detective movies. My life changing experience began with a cheap plot device. A letter, sent anonymously to my work. Instead of hand writing, my name and address were taped in printed typer writer font, cut and affixed to the envelope. Everything on the envelope was otherwise plain. I did not think anything of it until I opened the letter and read its contents.
This first letter was tame, restrained. You didn’t directly threaten but instead used the suicide of a friend against me. You told me you wished I had killed myself over them. Where this first note offended me, it did not scare me. It caused me to pause; I puzzled what I had done that would prompt such anger. I kept the note and envelope but dismissed the action as a spiteful prank, only preserving it for evidence.
The next note was not as tame. You made it even more personal. You directly referenced a recent girlfriend. You made a point of mocking how our relationship dissolved. You used highly personal information against me. This letter was an act of power, ensuring I knew you were aware of the finer details of my life. In this letter, you exerted your control. This was the first time I glimpsed into your psyche. You didn’t just want to hurt me, you wanted to dictate my life. This letter was again bad but not terrible. The next few notes were similar. Hate mail, received anonymously, typed never handwritten. Postage varied between neighboring states but even from this close proximity, I never felt afraid.
This all changed with your handwritten note.
I had returned to work from a conference. The conference was obscure, located at a fairly isolated hotel. When I received a hand addressed hotel envelope, my only thought was that I had left behind something small the staff could mail to me. I did leave something behind within that envelope; I only wish I had known before hand what it was. What was being returned to me was a nightmare, what I had left was my dignity and self-worth. For a time, my manhood. Things you took from me a long time ago.
When I opened the note, my life toppled from the pinnacle of my constructed tower. This was the first time I felt that beast. Those primal, dark places that I can now forgive you for, the animalistic instincts that I now recognize with the power to redefine a person’s life. These feelings clawed out of me from the dark place. The place we left behind when we stopped killing each other in caves during the stone age. The place we left behind when we stopped having to commit crimes against one another for survival. This was my first taste of that ancient and destructive deity; that natural instinct of survival that it was me versus everything else. In those moments, my life became a whirling dervish of hate, anger, and raw pain.
This time the letter held nothing written. It might have been better if it had writing. I would have preferred mocking. Any thoughts I could have rationalized. Yet this time, the envelope contained nothing but a picture. An unforgettable picture; me. There I lie on a bed, naked and unconscious with clear reference to what had happened. In that envelope, it wasn’t only this unforgettable image you left me, but instead the key to the darker sides of our humanity that most of us spend our entire life trying to hide away. You seared both an unforgettable image and lingering emotions into my conscious that I have since spent months pondering. In those moments, I gave into a dark side of my humanity because I did not know where else to turn. In those moments, I ran.
I physically ran from my office. I abandoned my post in hopes that on the outside I could find new life. I left my building for the breath of air and the light of day that I hoped would erase everything from reality. Instead what I found was a loss of identity. In those moments where I ran away from your note, I also ran away from my self. I am not sure if I ever stopped running. I am never sure if I ever reclaimed that old sense of me.
To call the next few weeks transformative is an understatement. The man I was before that letter and the person I became after were highly different. You took something from me that day. You took something from me the day you took those photos but clearly due to my comatose state in them, I never knew what you had taken. No, you took something from me the moment you addressed that letter and made it clear you had the upper hand; that you always had control. You took something from me when you made it clear you were not only watching but you knew how to get to me. You took much from me but you also gave me something new. You provided me a new addiction, a new release, a new method of escape. You released a side of me I did not realize could exist.
In the moments after receiving that letter, I experienced a tumult of emotions I didn’t know possible. It is darkly humorous, if you ever want to feel truly alive, go through trauma. When you enter into that trauma; You. Feel. Everything. It was in those coming days that I sought to numb this new poignant sense of life. I remember that first day, running until my legs gave out and I collapsed in a heap on the side of the trail. I remember how tears mixed with sweat. And then I remember getting up and running further.
I remember drinking. An entire bottle of whiskey at once. Drowning everything. I remember I was with friends where thankfully one knew but a majority didn’t. While they tried to care for me, to those who had no clue what was happening I seemed insane. I drank and drank. And when I bordered on the beckoning line of oblivion, I remember calling my mom, my mother, and weeping to her about what you took from me.
I remember my first few counseling sessions. The first one, I cried. The second one, I cried. The third one, I cried again. This third time, the tears were different. This time they were not tears for what you took from me, but instead tears for what you left me. Two weeks is how long it took for me to articulate the new set of corrupt emotions I inherited. Two weeks is what it took to completely redefine my life so that instead of feeling in a way related to any positive spectrum, I experienced emotions that only resonated in dark places. Two weeks to acknowledge I had inherited the emotions we are taught are destructive, poisonous, and filthy. Two weeks it took to let these primal, animalistic sentiments sink in. And this time I cried for what you had given me.
I remember the first time I formulated those emotions into a coherent thought. When I gave them flesh and allowed them credence in my life. The first time I provided light to my new view of the world. I was on the phone with my mom, another letter a few weeks later had prompted this call. No picture this time, just more words. Out of the countless calls I had with my mom, I remember this particular one best. She was afraid for me. She was afraid what might happen.
The letters had started to come from inside my state of residency. With no return address, we did not know where but you also had started to deliver them to my home. I remember getting these letters and reading over them. Your taunts and not-so-veiled comments about the actions happening in the photo were not lost. I dissected every word pretending to be a cryptologist looking for hidden meaning.
I remembered my mom’s reaction. She told me she was scared. She was afraid you were escalating things. That you, whoever you were aside from a phantom from my past haunting my psyche, would soon drift to physical violence. I remember my mom asked me if I should move, what I should do for safety, what would happen if you tried to harm me physically.
I remember her telling me she was afraid that you would try and come after me. She was afraid you were going to hurt me. I will never forget my response just as much as I will never forget the first time I saw that picture or felt those claws of my personal demons. Crying, my mother asked me, “What happens if they try to hurt you?”
My response, my first actual vocalization of those primal feelings you cultivated inside of me still haunts me. “Mom, I don’t care who is doing this. If they ever come after me, I will kill them.”
Those words stuck in the air of the conversation as much as they stick here. Uttering them was the recognition of a thought that I had imagined but something I never fully articulated. I, someone who tended to avoid violence, and would never think of that rationale, was diminished to a place where my reaction was the sincere hope that someone would come after me with intent of hurt. I wanted you to come because if you did, I wanted to repay you; pain for pain. I wanted to cause you pain unimaginable. I wanted to show you what you had taken from me, but more importantly, I wanted to show you the darkness you had given me.
This is why I had to forgive you. I had to forgive you because of the hate that no one tells you about. These dark emotions no one prepares you for. Throughout all the conversations, reading all the literature, educating myself on everything, I learned it all. I was told it all. I was prepared for the reactions when people accused me of being at fault. I could work past when people coyly blamed me. When they asked me why this was happening as if I could understand what would prompt you to do this to me.
The books prepared me for when people doubted me. I was told people would assume that it wasn’t true and I was prepared when I was asked, “Are you sure you are not gay and were complacent in this?” I even got used to the validity of the letters being questioned and being asked “Are you sure you aren’t doing this for attention?” Conversations and readings prepared me for these experiences.
My counselor made sure I was ready for triggers. I learned how to cope with being afraid of the mail. I learned the times it should arrive every day of the week including how it came later on Thursday. I learned what it meant to brace myself anytime I received a letter without a return address and even to cope with the let down of adrenaline that happened when it turned out just to be a hastily written note with no time for those extra few lines. I was ready for the triggers when people got too handsy in touching me whether they were in crowds or they were a little too tipsy. I learned how to excuse myself from situations where fear was present because of someone else.
I learned how to manage. I learned what it meant to be in pain. I learned how to endure the late nights of wondering who you were that took from me. I learned how to go through phases of questioning. I learned how to cover up my thoughts. I learned about a new form of addiction in turning to alcohol as a masking factor. I figured out the steps I needed to take to feel like I wasn’t constantly emasculated. I figured out slowly where I needed to move to hide my pain.
No one told me about the rage though. It was like an addiction. The first time I felt it, the first time I experienced it, it drained me. It built inside of me and consumed me. It lingered within me. To use cliche phrases like it resonated within the “pit of my stomach” or “burned in my heart” are trite examples of what this really was. This rage wasn’t a burning or a weight. It was an all consuming transformation of the self. Like any addiction, it wore away at parts of you. It moved through your veins, and you could feel it in every inch of your body. It left within you a need you didn’t even know you had in the first place.
I don’t think that I experienced these emotions solely because I am a man. I do not think they emerged because of the aggressive traits society often pigeon holes as masculine. I experienced these emotions because I am a human and you violated me. You took something from me but in its place you left me with this growing tumor. You planted a cancer inside of me; a vile mutation that recalled a piece of the soul we left behind a long time ago. Your actions were the precursor to a level of hate akin to the experiences of Cain as he murdered Abel. The type of darkness that breed in places where humanity despairs.
In moments of utter desolation and confusion, this rage emerged. Sometimes when I was at my weakest and sometimes when I was at my strongest. Across everything it was there; it wanted me to be 100% aware of it. It was not always at the forefront but as the filling in a crack, it lived in small spaces nothing could cleanse. It was both a comfort that held me together in times of doubt and the darkness that pulled me back into the depths of my nightmares just when I thought I was able to awake from those miles of hell.
You left me with this darkness but it is because of this I had to forgive you. The human body is not meant to sustain this dark aether that made home in my mind, my body, my heart, and my soul. It burned through me and left me gutted. I was afraid of what it would lead me too next. I was afraid of how this darkness, surely the same one you felt, would cause me to act. I had to forgive you because while you embraced these dark places, I could no longer live within them.
I forgive you because I am not you. I forgive you because I am not sure what caused those dark feelings within you. I could never imagine what would prompt those kind of actions. I know I have made mistakes, mistakes I gladly own, but I am never sure what warped your mind to the place that I was the entity you so powerfully hated. My best guess is that in the moments where you sexually assaulted me, you felt a power you so craved, you finally could control some form of the darkness.
Having been in the place of darkness, I know the dangerous power of the emotions that emerge. I understand the desires that hide in those closeted crevices of the soul. The dangerous whispers of “wouldn’t it be great if you…” Those phantom voices that lead us to act on our dark urges because by satiating them, we pretend we can control them. For me, those specters used to coax me that it would be great if I could repay the harm you caused me. For you, I imagine those ghost convinced you of control if you violated me, if you sent me those letters, if you stalked me, if you threatened and attempted to shame me. You gave into those manifestations. I did not. This is the difference between us.
When you go through something like that, it redefines your entire life. It did mine. I went from living alone to with a roommate because I was scared. I used alcohol to mask my emotions and thus hurt others. I used a good woman for a relationship I did not need because it was comfortable and thus ended in disaster. I was constantly angry and distrusting. I hate to call myself a survivor of sexual assault because really, I never survived. After months of this, I realized no longer could I let you define me. I remember the exact moment I decided this; to forgive you but not become you.
You robbed me of far too many moments. These were the moments I hated you. These were the moments I feared you. These were the moments I struggled. These were the moments I questioned my masculinity, my existence, and my worth as an individual. These were the moments where I abandoned hope of being normal in exchange for the anticipation of the next letter. The next envelope with typed writing.
These moments consumed months of my life. I remember these moments. Even more so, I remember the moment I forgave you. It was not a special moment. There was no magical factors and nothing profound happened. I was not predicated by a loss of a loved one nor inspired by an experience. I was not in some place of significance. It did not happen during a counseling sessions and it was not a response to a conversation in one of my support circles.
The moment I forgave you was just a moment. A moment of exhaustion. I forgave you because I was tired. I was tired of the nights of wondering. I was tired of being terrified and in my fear, angry. I was tired of letting you consume and define me. The moment I forgave you came because in that moment, I recognized the man who I had become, the person I had transformed into.
I remember that moment because in those seconds I stopped wanting to hurt you. Instead I found myself hoping that eventually, you might be healed. That eventually things would solve themselves for you. That eventually the darkness that caused your actions, for whatever reasons, would be forgotten. I found myself hoping that in your moment, you could finally let go. In those moments I stopped hating you, I forgave you.
My mom always used to tell me that when you are walking through hell, sometimes you just have to keep walking. For years, I walked through the hell you created inside of me. For months, I experienced these moments of visceral hate, pain, fear, and loathing. Yet across all this hell, the most significant piece of my experience was forgiveness. There were days where I did not understand it. There were countless days I was relieved. There were days when the beginning precepts of that lingering darkness began to reemerge. Yet once I had made that choice to let go, I knew I was okay.
There is something significant when you recognize the pain caused to you by another because of their own pain and in turn you can finally let go your own pain. You can just let go. It is a profound feeling, and one that I wish no one has to experience because of the severe tragedy that prefaces this feeling of release. It is a feeling though that I wish upon everyone who has experienced these type of incidents.
I write my story, I share it, in the hopes that someone who has gone through even an ounce of what I have underwent can read this and understand. To use the common phrase; it gets better. It does get better. In time, those pains, those reactions, that hate, the dread, the confusion, the fear. The laying awake at night agonizing what it means to have had this experience. The dark sides of ourselves that we have tried to desperately to lock away. They fade. You can overcome them. You can move past them and become healthy. It takes time. To trust again. To experience life like you once had. It takes more time than I wish to let go of that darkness. It is possible to over come it.
I write because of what I wish someone would have warned me. In everything I was told about my experience, I was warned about what you had taken from me: my security, my sanity, my body, and my innocence. I was never warned about what you left with me. I was never prepared for the darkness you left behind inside of me. In this moment, and the many that have preceded it, I let that darkness go.
In this moment, I forgive you. I forgive you because I had no other choice. I had to forgive you because I could no longer live like you, with that dark mass of emotions defining my choices, my late night thoughts, my actions. To the person who sexually assaulted me, I forgive you because I understand the pain that caused your actions. We are not the same though.
I forgive you because I will not become you. I forgive you because I chose to not let you define me. I forgive you because through you, I have peered into the darkest places of my heart and soul. I have faced personal demons I never imagined possible. I forgive you because I am not those parts. Those sides of my nature are not the legacy I will leave behind. I forgive you, because in this moment, I will not give up to this side of humanity.
My name is Tim. I am neither a victim nor a survivor of sexual assault. I am neither brave nor broken. I am an experiencer of acts reflecting one of the darker sides of human nature. I am a learner from these moments. I am a better man because I walked through my personal hell but I never stopped walking. I made it to the other side.
Photo: Tim Mousseau