Survivor Alliance Founder Story: Letting go of “should”

Sharing my #survivorstory

I’m Dru, founder of Survivor Alliance, and here’s my story:

I can hardly remember what life was like before I was raped. I mean, the memories are there, but I don’t recognize the girl I used to be. At the start of my junior year of college, it all seemed to be coming together: I was taking classes I enjoyed and was doing well; I was a captain of the women’s lacrosse team; I finally felt like I had my tribe. Life was good.

[Not] all fun and games

Then came midterms week. Despite running on 36 hours with no sleep, my roommate and I decided to go out and celebrate a friend’s birthday. After the bars closed, a few friends came over to keep it going. By 3-4am, someone decided it was time for sleep (damn those early morning classes at the law school).  Seeing how late it was (and this being pre-Uber times), he decided to go to sleep . . .  in my bed.

Honestly, I didn’t think much of it at first. Nothing wrong in sharing a bed with a friend. Plus, he would be asleep by the time I went in there anyway. No big deal, right?


When I finally decided to crash, he was still awake. Waiting for me.

I should have used better judgement. I should have kicked him out. I shouldn’t have tried to be nice. When he wanted to have sex, I should’ve been more forceful when I said no, again and again. Maybe that would have changed things. . .Maybe not.

Maybe you’re familiar with this storyline. I’m afraid it’s one I’ve encountered so many times over: sexual coercion. When men refuse to be rejected, giving in gets you to sleep quicker than saying “NO” until they give up. This happened so many times as a young college student that I honestly thought it was normal. But this time around, it was more than that.

We fooled around for a few minutes, until the lack of sleep caught up to me. I needed sleep. And despite his pestering a few minutes prior, he agreed to stop when I asked.

I don’t know how long I had been asleep before I felt him inside me again.

He roughly moved in and out of each orifice as I just lay there, face shoved into the pillow, too tired to stop it. Fighting would have made it worse . . . right?

As to that, I’ll never know. Instead, I pretended everything was fine. After a few hours of sleep, I drove my rapist home and went about my day. Something about it all felt wrong, but I ignored it. It was a time of celebration. The next day was my 21st birthday.

For a few months, I didn’t acknowledge what happened that evening, but that didn’t stop the downhill progression. I began drinking more, blacking out way too often, and alienating myself from those closest to me. My once good grades started slipping. I stopped believing that I had control over my life.

No more feelings of flattery when men I didn’t know complimented me at bars. No more shaving. Body hair was my chastity belt. I obviously couldn’t be trusted to control the situation on my own.

One day, the truth of the matter crashed down on me, like the rush of a wave with those strong undercurrents. I was raped.

The dark days

Per my mother’s advice, I started seeing a therapist at the health center on campus. It helped some, but I found sharing so draining that often the appointment was the only thing I’d do all day.

Things got slightly better before they got way worse. The current was so strong. I couldn’t catch my breath.

9 months post-rape, towards the end of my last summer break, I went off into the deep end. Most of the summer was spent holed up in my room, reading Game of Thrones and staring at the ceiling. I quit my research job entirely. I gave up my officer position and quit the lacrosse team, feeling like such a disappointment to all my beloved friends and teammates. I felt like I had nothing left, and I didn’t know how to explain why.

It didn’t take long after that to hit bottom. One evening, involving waaaay too many drinks and too much of my own oversharing, stands out in particular. Months of struggle culminated in the biggest shitshow of my life. I felt the need to explain why I’d stopped hanging out with everyone, but I must’ve dwelled on it too long. I don’t remember most of the in-between, but by 2am, I broke down and called my dad crying about wanting to kill myself. And worse, I physically fought back against my friends when they tried to save me from this shame. My friends watched as I hit my lowest point.

I was too embarrassed to keep seeing them regularly after that.

Hungover the next day, I had to make THE most difficult phone call ever: I had to explain to my dad where the 2AM calls came from, that I was raped and my life was a train wreck of sorrow, self-pity, and suicidal thoughts. Nothing in life could ever prepare you for that conversation. It broke my heart.

It was then that I knew I needed some serious fucking help. To save me from myself, I had to take time off work and spend that weekend back home with family. I didn’t even trust myself to drive those 60 miles alone, so my mom actually had to come pick me up. I’ve never been more scared for my life. The following week I enrolled in intensive group therapy.

Progress is not always linear

I’d like to say it immediately got better. But really, there were several more mental breakdowns in the coming months. I spent 9-25 hours a week in group therapy until October. Some days it absolutely sucked. But most days, I was pushed to explore deep into my thought patterns and behaviors, attempting to identify the factors that were keeping me in such a hopeless state. It gave me hope that I could one day be free.

I dropped out of the therapy program on my 22nd birthday, believing I was “over it” now that my mood had stabilized (maybe that was the antidepressants working). It felt monumental, stopping therapy on the anniversary of the trauma. I know now that one year is not nearly enough time to move past something like that.

The remainder of my senior year was a struggle, but I kept myself so busy with school, friends, applying to post-grad jobs, and working 30-40 hours/week waiting tables that I didn’t have much time to wallow. Then 3 months after graduation, I moved to the West Coast to start fresh and build a career. Despite the pain of uprooting your life like that, it was one of the best things I’d ever done. I moved out of  the room where I was raped, stopped seeing all those friends who remained friends with my rapist, and most importantly, moved to an area that’s got everything under the sun to promote mental, physical, and spiritual health.

A key to my happiness was joining a women’s circle through the organization Woven. From working in such a male-dominated space and constantly trying to be someone I wasn’t, this circle was my reprieve. For over a year now, we’ve been meeting regularly to discuss our lives and emotions, and it makes me feel valid. We lift each other up. And personally, it really accelerated my healing.

This journey has been so full of ups and downs. But all the work I’ve done to promote my own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being has made the highs higher and the lows less frequent and shitty. My healing isn’t over. I’m not sure if it will ever be. But I do know that I am so much stronger, happier, and healthier after going to hell and back than I ever would have been otherwise.

So why share now?

Drusilla Cowan, founder of Survivor Alliance

Sometimes telling your story brings up so much pain and latent trauma that it feels better to keep quiet. To stay silent. But as long as you do, the story holds its power over you. The details haunt you. As I write this, I realize how many of these details terrify me still. But when this goes live and I release this energy into the world, I will be free.

It’s like how doctors sometimes have to re-break your leg so it can heal back properly. I’m reopening wounds to release the toxins. I can’t say this putting your story out there is right for everyone. But for me, sharing only makes me stronger.

Do you want to share too?

This isn’t all about me. We are hoping to collect stories for as many survivors as we can, and demonstrate how much strength and resilience there truly is in this world. Join us by submitting your story in the form here. Every survivor who shares their story will receive a free Alliance Pin. It can be worn as a sign of solidarity and a way to indirectly connect to other survivors in your life.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing or aren’t a survivor yourself, but want to support the cause, buy an Alliance Pin of your own. Wear it to stand with the survivors in your life. The proceeds from these purchases will be used to offset the costs for survivors and keep this site running.


Comments are closed.

  1. Randi 3 years ago

    Dru, I am so proud of you and the progress in healing you have made. You are a true role model — even when it’s hard to share, even when recovery isn’t perfect, your realness and brutal honesty brings such hope that there is life after the pain to others. Thank you for the work that you have done and continue to do for rape survivors; it is appreciated beyond words.

    • Author
      dcowan 3 years ago

      Hi Randi, Thank you so much for the kind words of encouragement. I appreciate you taking the time to write that. <3 Wishing you all the best, Dru


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