_MG_5372There's something I can say with absolute certainty: I, in this moment, am the happiest I have ever been. But another thing I am certain of is that I fought to get to this point. This is a post with some confessions. Confessions that I have wanted to disclose for a very, very long time. But I feel that this post is important because I want to provide you guys with the honesty that you deserve, and the context that we all need to carry on with my little living room we all have here on the internet. I'm honestly a little shaky and light-headed writing this. Okay. Here we go.Every time someone asks me why I started a blog, I tense up. I have created this dichotomy of two reasons why my blog exists; both are true, but one is the easy explanation and the other is one that I even struggle to explain to myself. I typically tell people "I just wanted an outlet for all of my ideas, outfits, thoughts... I just wanted to create something." And this is true. This is so very true, and I was lucky to have people close to me to motivate me to make my digital haven a reality. But there is another reason. Something dark that festered inside of me for a long time (more on that in a minute) hindered me from expressing myself and making sense of who I am as a person, and my blog emerged around the same time that I finally started to feel a sense of self-confidence and self-worth (a journey that I am still on). This dark thing that was affecting me motivated me to pull myself up and create something and discover myself, and here I am, two-and-a-half years later, with all of you, in a position I would have never dreamed myself in. Though I have been open with close friends about this topic, I have never been vocal online about it out of fear, as well as my own questioning of whether or not it was appropriate to discuss.I have wanted to tell you this in a video, in a podcast, ANYTHING but in a text post. But I am sick of waiting. I am sick of trying to say the right thing over and over again. So I am going to say it now.DSC_0861I, Ashley Ballard, am a myriad of things. I am a writer, a student, a daughter, a sister, a partner. I am a diehard fan of Evil Dead. I am a friend to you. But there is one other thing that I am.I am a rape victim.Unfortunately, this probably isn't much of a shock. According to RAINN.org, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. It seems that we are surrounded by this topic. Between the social media phenomenon we all experienced in the wake of the unjustly light sentencing of rapist Brock Turner, to the disclosure from former Runaways bassist (and my personal hero) Jackie Fox regarding her rape by Runaways manager Kim Fowley, it seems that we are becoming desensitized to seeing stories like this in mainstream media, as well as from people all around us. And we shouldn't be. Desensitization can lead to the normalization of this in our society, and the fact that this happens to anyone, regardless of race, gender identity, sexuality, socioeconomic status, is absolutely unacceptable. But I digress.It doesn't matter who did this to me. What I will disclose is that it was the year I graduated high school (this happened 3.5 years ago), I was openly in a relationship with this person, my peers and classmates knew I was with this person, and I was convinced nothing was wrong. The unfortunate truth is that a lot of people have been prey to this exact same situation: emotionally abused to the point of believing nothing is wrong. I did not realize that I was raped until I was a freshman in college, living in my dorm at my university. I was sober. I was conscious. I said no. I was publicly humiliated at times leading up to this moment in attempts to guilt me into this situation. That is all I am willing to share.The reason I am sharing this is that I no longer want to feel like I am lying to my readers. I have come a long way from this -- I don't panic about it anymore. I no longer feel anger or loss of control. But I still have my down days - 1 out of every 6 women still have their down days. I feel that this gives me closure.Author and blogger Leslie Morgan Steiner gave a TED talk on domestic violence in January of 2013 which discussed her experience as a domestic violence survivor. Though I would not consider myself a victim of domestic violence, there was an underlying message that stood out to me when first listening, and has become a crucial postulate in my emotional growth following this event: honesty spreads awareness. I have always been open about my rape with people around me in real life, not to invoke sympathy or attention, but to bring a positive light back into the world. By sharing my story, I hope to spread the message that sexual abuse, of any nature, regardless of who the inflictor is and who the victim is, is, point-blank, absolutely fucking wrong. By sharing my story, I hope to educate others and spread the awareness that this happens to too many people. 288,820 victims per year too many.You can legislate, debate, deal with the law all you want. But at the end of the day, real change comes down to us educating our children, peers, students, and loved ones that rape is wrong.Okay, the rough part is over. On to the good stuff."Happiness is a journey, not a destination" is the biggest fucking cliché. If you have a mug or something with this on it, I highly suggest you break that shit immediately. But there is an ounce of truth to it. If you sit there reminding yourself to be happy in the moment, you still aren't going to be happy. If you keep working towards the goal of being happy, you're going to be preoccupied with finding happiness in that way also. Thus begins this catch-22: "WTF Ashley, you're telling me I should live in the moment, but not?" And yes, that's exactly what I am telling you. Stop telling yourself to live in the moment. That's not living in the moment. Instead, shrug it off, break your stupid novelty mug, go outside, and find something better to do with your time. And the happiness will come.giphyThis is exactly what I have done. For the past few years, I have started a blog, found the area of study that's right for me (~*~journalism~*~), traveled, fallen into young love, cultivated relationships with the people around me, moved into my own one-bedroom apartment where I have creative control, joined a community of beautiful people on Instagram, started the journey to body confidence, read every essay I could get my hands on, and, most importantly, I became an adult. And that is the best revenge of all: becoming the best person you can be without having to remind yourself to. Each one of you has your own unique story and you are all so, so special. Don't let one piece of shit ruin your life. You are powerful. You are your own.If you enjoy what you have read, share this essay with someone important to you. P.S. that gif is a little clip of the camper I stayed in on my best friend's property in the woods outside seattle. you may remember it from my snapchat (ballard_ashley). it was a peaceful morning.