I recently had an anniversary. About a year ago, I was unable to sleep and up late at night calling anonymous help lines. To even admit this, I am bashful. Who wants to represent the image of a person who has reached the point in their life when calling anonymous help lines in the middle of the is nothing out of the ordinary? I did this for about a week until one night I was connected to a local hotline, not one of those 24-hour hotlines that have someone sitting by the phone around the clock. Nope, the person I spoke to on this particular night had been sleeping and was woken up because it was their night to watch the hotline. For the next few days this counselor, the one I had awoken, relentlessly called me until I agreed to go to the Rape Crisis Center in my area.
Not long after that, I reluctantly showed up at the doorstep of this old house turned office building in the middle of the city ready to talk about what happened to me ten years ago. As I rang the doorbell and waited for security to let me in, I figured that talking to a counselor couldn’t possibly make me feel worse than I already did.
The woman I spoke to that day was not much older than me. She was very kind and not judgmental. After a session or two, I began to feel a little bit better. My counselor validated me simply by saying that what happened was not my fault. Many survivors of sexual assault, including me, find ways to blame themselves for being raped. Personally, I always felt responsible because I put myself into the situation where it happened. I felt that it was my fault because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. My counselor explained to me that regardless of this thought -that even if I was in in fact, in the wrong place at the wrong time– rape is still not a justifiable consequence; regardless of the wheres, whats, and whens of the situation, what happened to me was a wrong, violent, and illegal act, and certainly not my fault.
In retrospect, my thoughts, fears, and perception of the subject were similar to that of a young child’s: they were not sensible or grounded in reality. Trauma this great can catapult a person into a state of arrested development in which they revert to a mental state where they, like a child, need reassurance and validation from and outside voice in order to mentally process the situation.
My counselor provided me with much insight and put a lot into perspective for me. Not long after, when I was feeling especially healed, I wrote to Gender Across Borders to see if they were interested in publishing my first story idea “I am A Rape Survivor”. Seeing my story in print was the ultimate validation for me after hiding this secret for almost ten years. During that decade, I was afraid to come forward for fear that I would be called a liar. The few boyfriends I had told about it invalidated me so badly, it caused me to never want to speak about it again. When my first article was published, I felt that even though no one would ever be prosecuted for these crimes, I was still able to stand up for myself and other victims in a bold way. This confidence didn’t last long, however.
After seeing my first article in print, I felt naked and exposed. Initially, I thought that publishing this series of articles would be the final step in my healing process. At first, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. Maybe I had, but then something magical happened. Readers who had been sexually assaulted left me comments. People who were going through the same pain as I was thanked me for writing the article. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel equally naked and exposed as each consecutive article in the Rape Survivor Series was published. I often did. Sometimes I even cried. As time went on, more people wrote to me and left comments sharing their stories and thanking me for putting mine out there.
I always stayed positive when responding to readers. I didn’t want them to give up on their healing, I knew they could do it, although the truth was that often, I felt like there was such a hole in my spirit that even after all the counseling and everything else I had done, the pain would always be with me. One day recently, however, I noticed that I hadn’t been thinking about what happened to me at all. I went out into the world and tried my best. Things didn’t always progress as fast as I would’ve liked them to, but they did progress.
Now, I write to relay one simple message to other sexual assault survivors out there: you can get past this. You can have your life back. You can conquer the world. I wasn’t always the strongest. There were times when I thought that I couldn’t do it, that I would never get past it. I thought that being raped (which, in the perspective of an entire lifetime, took up fractions of a day) would make the rest of my life unlivable, and I was wrong. So to all my readers, Gender Across Border’s founder Emily Heroy, for letting me share my story with the world, my editors Colleen Hodgetts and Erin Rickard, I want to say thank you! Below I’ve listed a few suggestions that, although cliche, will truly help you on your healing journey:
1. Never give up. Even on your worst day you must strive towards healing. Don’t give up on yourself. Stay persistent. Even when nothing is going your way, keep going. If healing is truly your goal, you will find a way to get there. It sometimes takes a while.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (if you think you need it). It might be helpful to lean on someone else. Don’t be afraid to accept help when it’s offered. This might be a blessing in disguise.
3. Find a Doctor or a counselor to work with. It is helpful to have a good professional on your side. They are invaluable resources and often will be more than happy to support you on your healing journey. Sometimes it takes a while to find a person that you mesh with, but often you get lucky and find them on your first try. As they say, when the student is ready the teacher appears.
4. Grit I recently learned about something called grit. Grit is the idea that you keep trying even after every possible door has just been slammed in your face. Grit is the ability to still get up every time you fall or are pushed down. Grit is getting out of bed when you just want to disappear. I didn’t realize I had this quality because even though I didn’t give up, I felt like giving up, and I felt really weak at times. Grit is something that you realize you have after looking back on things. You will build more self-esteem if you get out there and just try, because the truth is many people don’t even get that far, but I know you can, so don’t give up!
Best of luck on your healing journey!
“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.” (Source)
This article was originally published atGender Across Borders.