This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month’s focus has been Prevention is Possible. And that is a fantastic motto. It’s an incredibly important angle to come at this issue from. I’ve written a few posts about how you and I, and everyone we know, can help with prevention. I believe in it.
I also believe in healing. And for you and me, who are survivors of sexual assault, healing is a subject that needs to be addressed. What I’m about to say may trigger fears, tears, anger, and pain. So, practice self-care, first and foremost. But if you can read on, I think this message about healing is one all survivors need to hear.
I was a victim 24 years ago. In weeks leading up to my rape, I felt special as my attacker gained my trust and charmed me. In the days and weeks following my rape I certainly felt like a victim. I barely felt like anything at all, though, really. Gross, disgusting, unworthy, pained, on display. I was certain the wounds would never heal. I couldn’t imagine how. They were so raw and inflamed. I thought about suicide. I thought about homicide. Eventually, after some intervention and time, I stood up again even when I wanted to stay curled up in the corners. I put on a smile when I only wanted to cry. I pushed everything inside because I still couldn’t imagine a bandage big enough to let those wounds heal.
Denying the hurt and pain, pushing it all aside…that isn’t healing. And it won’t last.
After I found a counselor who didn’t let me pass off my smile as a sign of how I was really feeling, I began the work that comes with truly being on a healing journey.
Let me pause here. Two important notes in that last sentence…
- After I found a counselor… Once I realized I wasn’t able to keep the pain away, I sought out counselors. Not all therapists/psychologists/pastors are created equal. There are different styles of therapy, different personalities, and different goals. I found I didn’t want a male therapist. I decided I didn’t like one who let me pretend I was okay. I realized that I didn’t want to bring my faith into my healing. It took me a few tries, but I finally clicked with someone and she and I…we made strides.
- …on a healing journey… I don’t think that healing from sexual assault is a destination. Its a journey or a spectrum, something on-going with the potential for forward and backward movement. It took me 24 years to get where I am now. I’m in a great place, but there are still times that I get the rug pulled out from under me. And I suspect there always will be. Part of healing, though, is that I know how to process and deal with triggers, jokes, rude behavior, unexpected sympathy, and other people’s pain and understanding.
So, I found someone I connected with and she started challenging me to think about things, write about things, talk about things, and begin to heal. It was work. Sometimes it still is. Remember, it’s a journey. But it was better than drifting through life, scared with a festering wound. It was better than wondering when my boogeyman would force his way into my dreams. And it was worth it. I started feeling my wounds heal.
Then I started sharing my story. This isn’t a step that everyone takes, but for me, it was necessary. I’m a storyteller. And it turns out that this step was important for others too. Because as I told what happened to me, others shared with me what had happened to them.
I’ve heard how saying yes to everyone means not getting raped – leading to dangerous (physically and emotionally) promiscuity. I’ve heard how being as undesirable as possible might protect someone from becoming a target again – leading to sometimes debilitating lonliness. I’ve heard from adults who’d never told anyone that they’re Grandpa raped them for years as children – and struggled with body image and self esteem, even passed those struggles on to their children. I’ve heard from teens who didn’t think their assault was as bad as someone else’s because no weapon was used – and have suffered and struggled in their heads.
All those stories are now part of mine. They’re part of my journey. Likewise, I am part of theirs. And I hope that after telling me what they have, these victims have realized, like I did, that they are now survivors. They deserve that label. They have survived. And as survivors, they deserve to live again. We all do.
Living isn’t a passive thing. Healing isn’t a passive thing. You need to actively pursue them both! When you do, though, you’ll see the world differently. The pain that clouded your vision and invaded your sleep will recede into the shadows. Maybe it’ll be replaced with smiles or laughter or other expressions of joy that haven’t been there since you were assaulted. Maybe you’ll look in the mirror one day and see worth. Maybe you’ll shed tears of astonishment over how far you’ve come, rather than how far there is to go. And when you heal and live with purpose, you might find love, trust, vulnerability…purpose.
That’s my message for you, my hope for you, fellow survivor – that you find meaning and passion in your life. It all starts when you take the first steps in your healing journey.
Love to you.
So much love,