Saturday, September 22, was the 3 year anniversary of when I was raped… most recently. Let me explain. This was not the first time. I have a long history of surviving these experiences, starting as early as the ages of 3 and 5. And this is not uncommon. Many people, especially those who started their lives as victims, are victimized again. Predators have a keen sense of who would be a good victim, and those who were victimized in their formative years know no other way of being. It has taken nearly a decade of intense therapy to unlearn the things that I was taught as a child victim.
I hear a lot of people substitute the word “survivor” in place of “victim.” In the years that you are just surviving, this is very accurate. You’re a victim when it happens, and a survivor in whatever you do afterwards to keep yourself alive, moving forward. I developed addictions, an eating disorder, and other self destructive behaviors to survive. My brain could not cope with reality. How could it? Reality was a living nightmare. Pure hell. These are the things I did to survive. To kill this thing inside of me. To get by despite it all. I thought I was doing pretty well. I didn’t realize the extent to which these experiences were destroying my life, until my behaviors came to a head. It was life or death from there. Keep doing what I was doing and let it kill me, or fight and as a result, live. My problem was, I didn’t want to live. I had no interest in it whatsoever. Which is why I nearly died numerous times. But there was some sort of secret spark in me. It was the bane of my existence, and it wanted me alive, when every other part of me wanted to die. It was my incurable hope. And thus, this blog was born, to document it. To explore it.
Today, I don’t see myself as a survivor. I am beyond that. I use the terminology, because it is what people are familiar with. Today, I am a thriver. My life, my success, my flourishing, is my big “fuck you” to everyone who hurt me. Though, today, I’m not angry or bitter. I let that go. It was too heavy. I punished myself with it long enough, believing that I was somehow punishing them by doing it. All I knew was someone had to pay. But I forgive myself for that now. I didn’t understand. I forgive most people, but contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is not necessary for healing. Some things, only God can forgive. I am only human. Today, my heart hurts for that little girl, for every little girl still living and suffering. Not just those who are still being abused, but those who are now grown women, with little girls still trapped inside, reliving it daily. Punishing themselves for the acts of others.
Look, I’ve come a lot further than a lot of former victims ever do. I’ve been blessed. But I do know this: I am supposed to share my experience so that the others know it is possible to not just survive, but to thrive. To use the pain as fuel. To live your meaningful lives. These are things you CAN overcome. As a matter of fact, there’s now even a name for that: posttraumatic growth. And you can achieve it. I promise you, you can.
I don’t want to make it seem like these these things won’t affect you for the rest of your life. They never go away. They will always hurt. At times, they still haunt me. But it is possible to get to a place where they no longer control you. Where they do not shake you. Where you can observe them from a distance that will prevent you from broken by them every. single. time. You’re heart can hurt for the child within, but you will be equipped to comfort her with the compassion you never received. You. Can. Heal. And you can help others do the same. Once you find that love for yourself, you will want to share it with others. ALL of us who were victimized deserve that.
Take it from someone who has been there, it really does get better.
For those of you who don’t know the It Gets Better Project all started in 2010 when Dan Savage, in response to a rising number of suicides linked to bullying, made a youtube video with his partner to inspire hope for young people facing harassment.
The It Gets Better Project’s website says: “The It Gets Better Project’s mission is to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.”
The idea is great, but I also believe it is universal.
It doesn’t just apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, nor victims of bullying or high school students.
Whoever finds this post and is struggling: It really DOES get better. I promise.
I’ve recently been following the heartbreaking story of Rehtaeh Parsons, a young woman who was raped, then bullied until she decided to take her own life. I wish this message had found her. Because it does get better, even for those of us who have lived through the most devastating, terrifying, and degrading form of violence there is. Even for Rehtaeh, it could’ve gotten better.
I’m in tears as I write this, because I didn’t make it to this conclusion for lack of trying to kill myself. I had two life-threatening attempts, but somehow lived to know that these things come out on the other side.
Life isn’t as hopeless and painful as it can, at times, feel. I know there is plenty of pain to be felt, and despair to be trudged through, but I know something else too. I know that as dark as it can get, it can get that much brighter. I know that these feelings that consume, even they will fade away and make place for new ways of feeling.
I used to be so certain that the darkness would last forever. For me, it was a good 28 years or so before the clouds started to part and make way for light. I can look at that time now and understand what growth came from it. I know that I am that much stronger because I went through it. And I see now how my experience can benefit others.
That’s everything this blog is about.
Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I had a twinge of hope that kept me alive, even when I wanted so badly to die. My hope plagued me, because it seemed to work against all the hurt I knew in my life. I just wanted to let go, and sometimes, I did. But I know something about that nagging particle of hope still imbedded somewhere deep within. It was a glimpse. It was a glimpse at what could be. And for me, what now is.
I wish Rehtaeh could’ve known this. There are so many people out there right now, who I wish could know this. I don’t even know your names. I didn’t even know Rehtaeh, but right now, I cry for her like she was a dear friend.
If you’re looking for some shred of hope, a reason to stay alive, I pray the words of this stranger can be that for you.
I don’t believe suicide is selfish or wrong, because I know it is not an act entered into lightly. I know the despair it takes to bring you to that decision. But it cannot be an option, because your life has worth, and meaning, even if you don’t believe it. The anguish doesn’t become extinct through your death, it is simply passed on to others. To those you loved most. No, the anguish is defeated only through living a meaningful life. Through sharing your struggles with others. Through finding your joy.
None of us are as alone as we sometimes feel.
It may feel like it is taking to forever to get there. But you WILL get there. It may feel like more than you can bear. But you CAN bear it. You may think no one understands, but I do. You may think this darkness is all you will ever know, but you will live your fair share of joy as well.
It really DOES get better. I promise.
IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS, CALL: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
As adamant as I am about the issue of sexual violence, I feel that maybe my take on it can come off misleading. See, because of my own history with sexual violence, it is hard for me to actually be a part of the fight.
In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to “stop watching the news.” So, I did. Around the time, I had become fixated on the Shanyia Davis story. A mom sold her 5 year old daughter into sexual slavery. The daughter was later found raped and murdered, then tossed on the side of the road, like trash. I was dumbfounded and destroyed by this story. It pretty much shattered my world, and I couldn’t stop following it. How could someone do that to a child? How could a mother do that to her own child? I couldn’t understand it, and it made a frightening reality come to light for me: there is evil in this world, beyond my comprehension, and even with what I’ve been through, I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
I wish I could tell you that when I stopped watching the news, everything got a little lighter for me. And maybe it did, a wee bit. Even to this day, I go online, and pick and choose headlines based on their triviality. “Reality TV is going down the toilet–literally” The more serious stories, I avoid. I know enough just by the headlines. “Police: Florida man linked to up to 1 million child porn videos, images” The headline says enough. I don’t need to read about this pig, and start to mull over the fact that those 1 million videos and images, mean that tens of thousands of children were forced to participate in sexual acts to make that stuff. I know that already. Although, maybe some people don’t. Maybe a lot of people are completely desensitized to that stuff, and don’t even consider those children when they read a headline like that. For them, I say: READ THE ARTICLE, and think about it.
For those of us who have survived similar experiences, I say: Don’t torture yourself.
No, I understand enough without subjecting myself to it. I heard tidbits about the Steubenville rape case. Enough to get a gist. I cannot read an article about it. I simply can’t. Maybe this makes me a hypocrite, or maybe it makes me self-preserving, I don’t know. All I know is, I just can’t stomach it and hold my world together.
Similarly, I write about the fight to end this stuff, because I cannot actually participate in the fight. I’ve been on the front lines of the battle, and I know how hopeless it is there. For those of you who can stay there and fight this battle, I thank you. I know what it feels like to notice that the army is lacking in numbers, and that all the people at your side are survivors. A lot of times, it is survivors like me, who cannot manage to stay and fight and hold their own lives in tact, but they fight anyway, their very livelihood falling by the wayside. I understand that.
It feels like screaming endlessly in a sea of people, who know you’re there, but choose not to acknowledge you.
I cannot actively delve into the numerous cases of sexual violence and survive. This is what I learned in recovery. If I want to survive, I have to take a step back. Sometimes, this makes me feel helpless and useless. Most of the time, I know it is what keeps me breathing.
I learned that in recovery, but I also learned something from my relationship with God: This battle isn’t just a physical one, or an emotional or mental one. This is a spiritual battle too.
Now this is where my two worlds collide. I know a lot of feminists working without God, and a lot of God-loving people, working without feminism. For me, these two worlds are not mutually exclusive.
I cannot be out there fighting emotionally, mentally, physically, or judiciously, but I can fight like hell spiritually.
I’ve started praying feverishly on the subject of sexual violence. I learned from my relationship with God, that the fight to end sexual violence isn’t hopeless, it just can’t be fought alone. Human beings simply don’t have the power to end it based on the sure will of the fight. We aren’t that powerful. But I fully believe, that with God at our backs, this battle can be won.
I pray for the victims, that they find healing and wholeness despite their experiences. And I pray for those who are on the front lines fighting, that they have the strength and ferocity to not back down, no matter what. I pray for the un-listening, uncaring world, that their eyes and hearts are opened to this battle, and that they join in the fight. I declare miracles over this battle, that it be won by the side that is good. And I rebuke evil’s grasp on so many of us through such violence. I declare victory against evil, and an end to sexual violence.
For those non-believers, you probably think this is useless. But that’s ok, we all have our opinions. Maybe prayer isn’t for you, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to join in the movement.
For those believers, I hope you’ll join me in prayer.
We have the power to end this battle. We just have to claim it.
Sexual Assault. Do you have to go through it to care about it?
This question always arises for me every April. I have a lot of friends who know someone with autism, and thus, support Autism Awareness month, which also happens to be April. This year, I see that friends who know someone who’ve benefited from an organ transplant supporting organ donation. April is also Organ Donation Awareness month. What simultaneously inspires and disheartens me is the fact that these people know someone who have been through these things, so they support these causes. Every one of these people, and the other 400 people on my Facebook page, know at least one person who has been sexually assaulted: me. And yet, the only people I see supporting this cause are the people who have themselves lived through such violence.
I think this is a huge problem in our culture. “As long as I haven’t been raped, then who cares?” Right? Why do I continuously find that the only people driven to stop sexual violence are those who have personally lived through it? Is it really that hard to imagine how awful it is if you haven’t experienced it? Do you really not care that much about the women and men in your life who have been victimized by sexual predators?
I think a lot of it has to do with the silence surrounding the issue, because it sure as hell isn’t the lack of prevalence. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18. (Finkelhor, David, et al. “Sexual Abuse in a National Survey of Adult Men and Women: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Risk Factors.”) Are you really going to tell me that you don’t know at least 4 women or 6 men?
No, a lot of it has to do with our silence around the issue. Anything sexual is taboo. You know, as long as it isn’t sexual imagery in time square, music videos, magazines, television, movies, or books. From Fifty Shades of Grey to Abercrombie ads, sexuality is everywhere. However, when it comes to sexual violence, we best not talk about it. Virgin ears, and all.
Or maybe it is the violence part of it. Although, I recently saw Olympus has Fallen, and it suggests Americans have an endless thirst for blood. What’s a movie without a good knife through the head, eh?
Nah, it is just the careful combination of sexual and violence that sends people fleeing in a frenzy.
Let me be frank, you know someone, nay, you know A LOT of someones who have been sexually assaulted in their lives. Not convinced? Start asking around. Your eyes might just open. It is likely that your between your daughter, sister, best friend, mother, aunt, or cousin, at least one has been sexually assaulted.
What then is our problem with talking about it?
I venture to guess that this culture of victim-baming has a lot to do with it. As most recently displayed in the Steubenville rape case, which has brought out the Ugly and the Brave around the issue of victim-blaming. Keep her full of shame = Keep her silent = Let’s just pretend this stuff never happens = No one cares about Sexual Assault Awareness month, except for survivors of sexual assault.
Maybe I am being blunt, but I am personally insulted by the lack of interest around the issue. And I expect a few more people to be displaying their teal ribbons after today.
Let me tell you, from personal experience, about the residual effects of trauma. After it happened, I could barely sleep. I stayed awake, alarmed by any small sound in the night. I never felt safe. I have yet to be able to trust men. I have flashbacks, that feel as though I am reliving the trauma over again. Therefore, I relive it over and over again. My startle reflex is incredibly sensitive. When I went to see Olympus has Fallen, I was jerking repeatedly, startled by the loud sounds. Even a shadow on my computer screen makes me jump. Whenever I am put into a vulnerable situation, I get disoriented and overwhelmed. My pupils dilate, and I become sensitive to sounds. Walking to my car in a parking lot at night, for example. I avoid situations which might trigger these effects, such as: being around men, being by myself outside, being intimate with someone, or alone at night. It has been years, and I am still working to undo the harm done.
I’m not saying I am not living a fulfilling life. What I am saying is that it has taken years of hard work to get to where I can. And what I want to impress upon you is that my case is lucky. I’ve had a lot of resources that most people never have. Such violence haunts a lot of people till the day they die. It breaks their souls. And mending a soul isn’t easy. And even when mended, there will always be scars.
That is all I’m trying to say. Sexual violence is an issue worth caring about.