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When I was 19, I had a summer job at a shoe store. One night, as my coworker and I were closing up, a man robbed the shop and raped me at gunpoint. Afterward, I was in shock. I just couldn't believe that something like that could happen. For days I asked myself, "Why me?"
But it wasn't long before I became uncomfortable with feeling like a victim—once I noticed that people will let you stay in that woe-is-me state for as long as you want. There were some so-called friends who came by after my attack, not to comfort me or offer support but to gawk at me, to gather a firsthand account of what I looked like or how I seemed so they could gossip to their friends. I started going to counseling because I wanted to move on. Therapy helped me ask myself, "Who in my life is going to encourage survivorhood, not victimhood?" Suddenly, a light went on. I realized I had been keeping people around even when deep down I knew they were bad for me. I had overridden myself.
After that I started trusting my instincts. If someone lacked decency or respect, I didn't allow that person to stay in my world. A lot of women seem to think the way to ingratiate themselves is to put down other women or backstab. That's the quickest way to be eliminated from my life—try that with me, and you're out. It might sound harsh, but you know what else is harsh? Someone who makes you feel victimized, sad, and anxious. We give a lot of others significance in our lives even when they don't deserve it. It doesn't matter if they're family or if you've known them forever. If they're not good for you, they've got to go.
In my career, there have been roles I haven't taken because someone involved with the project gave me a bad vibe. I don't care how much money is on the table: No job is worth feeling uneasy every day. As women we're taught early on to be polite, to be nice, to not make anyone uncomfortable. But I always remember this great line from a movie: "All we have...is all these years." We can fill those years with toxic, negative people or with fun, positive people. You don't get any points when you get to heaven for putting up with bullshit.
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From the April 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!