Sexual assault robbed me of traveling. The only way to heal was to travel again

Sexual assault not only robs autonomy, it robs identities and former selves. It’s far more than the event; the aftermath is often more grueling than the assault itself. Victims are left to carry it around, learning to navigate life with flashbacks, not being believed, all among broken systems, trust issues, depression, isolation, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal thoughts. In my darkest hours, in an attempt to make sense of it all, I believed it was my mission to help survivors, to be the change I wished to see in the world.

And, sure, it’s radical to turn lemons into lemonade, to pick yourself up, turn pain into power, but perhaps it’s more radical to not let it consume you, to live a free and beautiful life of your choosing. It took a solo trip to Costa Rica to remind me I’m so much more than what happened to me—and that while the assault changed me in irreversible ways, it didn’t have to be the death of me.

I will never be who I was, but I’ve made progress in getting my sparkle back. Step one was walking away from law school,  as much a moment of resistance as it was of acceptance. It’s easy to believe you’re throwing away a good thing, a lucrative career, when everyone is telling you that, but my mental and physical being were telling me something different.

Shortly after dropping out of school, I solo traveled to Brazil to see my final world wonder, Christ the Redeemer. As I climbed to the top to meet the giant statue, the tears flooded. It was more than just reaching my final wonder of the world: Even after law school, surviving the legal system and the assault, I’d got ‘that feeling’ back, a resurrection of the ‘old me’ who I’d been searching for since that July morning in 2019. I now knew I could rely on myself and only myself, whether testifying against my rapist in court, getting into law school, or solo traveling the globe.

Brazil was only the beginning. Instead of spending every waking moment thinking about the assault, I stared at maps, deciding where I wanted to go. I spent my birthday in the Dolomites, where I hiked to a winery in a sequin dress. And I did get my cocktail on a Caribbean island, several, in fact, including Barbados’ Food & Rum Festival, Dominica’s black sand beaches, and the remote island of Saba. And almost a year after dropping out of school, I was published in Forbes as an expert in the travel space, a recognition that felt especially sweet. I thought, if only the puffy-faced, couch-ridden Kaitlyn could see me now, I’d tell her, hang on, it’s going to get better.

I’ve accepted that healing is not linear. On bad days, depression and anxiety can find me anywhere from New York City to Namibia. But my redemption speaks to the only person it needs to: Me. Because, everything else aside, I am finally free.

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