This story includes details about sexual assault.
My heart has always gone out to Demi Lovato. I admire her transparency about addiction and appreciated her advocacy for mental health. The “Alone” singer came forward with her experiences of sexual abuse in her moving YouTube docuseries, Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, where she revealed that she had been raped by a co-star when she was 15 years old and a virgin. When I learned this, I had a deeper understanding of her struggles. My virginity, along with my innocence and my optimism, was also taken when I was 15 years old and raped.
Like Lovato, I’ve experienced the long-term impact of being raped as a teen: PTSD. Nearly all women who have been raped experience symptoms of PTSD. According to psychiatrist Dr. Georgia Gaveras, PTSD in teens who’ve been sexually assaulted may prevent them from exploring their sexuality, developing healthy relationships and understanding their own identity.
Lovato developed disordered eating, self-harmed by cutting and became addicted to various narcotics. Sexual assault survivors are 10 times more likely to use other major drugs. Dr. Gaveras says, without treatment for PTSD, substances can offer temporary yet ultimately detrimental, relief.
The 28-year-old “Confident” hitmaker remarks in the film that she’s been trying to be free for 13 years of her life. At 19, she became sober, and at 25, she had a near-fatal overdose, which came a decade after her co-star raped her. The dealer, who provided her with substances when she overdosed, also raped her, as she was not coherent and couldn’t give consent.
Watching Lovato reflect on her experience showed me the reality of what my life could have become. Like Lovato, I went down a dark path after being raped as a 15-year-old virgin. I controlled my eating and kept an anonymous Xanga blog where I tracked my calorie intake from food and how many calories I burned through exercise. I mixed alcohol with painkillers and was tempted to try cocaine.
Watching Lovato reflect on her experience showed me the reality of what my life could have become.
“One symptom of PTSD is emotional numbing and non-suicidal self-injury. It’s a way to feel something tangible when someone feels nothing at all,” Dr. Gaveras says. Lovato explains the struggle perfectly in her docuseries, “I turned to those coping mechanisms because I genuinely was in so much pain that I didn’t want to die and I didn’t know what else to do.”
Fortunately, after a year of self-harming behavior, I became reacquainted with an extremely clean-cut friend. He became my boyfriend for several years. I credit him for pulling me out of the darkness. I have no doubt that he saved my life.
Trying to take control over your body after being raped is common. “When someone, especially a child, is assaulted, they can have a feeling of helplessness. Often, taking control of something else which is tangible and solely within your control (such as eating) is a way to manage that feeling of losing control,” Dr. Gaveras says.
I still need control over my body, but have found less harmful coping mechanisms, such as wearing tattoos. I suffer from bouts of PTSD with flashbacks, deep sadness and a need to have control over my sex life. As the “Sober” songstress said, “That kind of trauma doesn’t go away overnight.”
I’m horrified that Lovato had an experience so similar to mine and I’m proud of her for coming forward and encouraging others to do so. “Everyone that happens to should absolutely speak their voice if they can and feel comfortable doing so,” Lovato said in her documentary. Even if you’re not ready to share your experiences, there are many ways to seek help. If you have survived sexual abuse text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. Or call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.