There Are Things I Wish All Survivors Knew

It’s been quite a few heavy years for survivors. We’re seeing a more vocal conversation about sexual violence in the media. This creates plenty of unfortunate opportunities to see the negative ways that victims are spoken about. I keep thinking about what I wish I’d known early on in my healing journey. We all are going to respond differently. This is why those claims people make about “what they’d do” are laughable. Neurobiology is real. None of us know how we’ll respond to trauma. Our brains are literally (not figuratively) compromised during trauma. Our scrambled brain’s recollection is unclear, not linear. It’s recalled in uncommunicable emotions, feelings, fragments (not lies). Brain function is compromised. Fragmented.

I initially felt in pieces. Initially I felt at fault. Initially I felt sad, angry, ashamed. I wanted to erase it. I tried to figure out how I could’ve avoided it. I didn’t tell a soul. I experienced sexual violence four times from age 5 to 19 (by relatives and strangers). Not once did going to the police or getting a rape kit cross my mind.

There are things I wish I could have told my 19-year-old self. There are things I wish all survivors knew early on their healing path.

1) Understand that, unfortunately, this happens way too often to way too many people. There was no need to isolate myself in shame. I wish I would’ve reached out to at least one friend or family member. Even reaching out to a hotline could’ve led me to building support for myself.

2) Therapy is worth the work to find someone that is the right match. Therapy was nothing ever discussed as an option when I was growing up. “Pray it away/Give it to God” was offered up in my community. I went to several therapists that just did not click. When it finally did, it gave me so many new ways to process what happened. It cleared my cloudy thinking. It helped me manage depression. Assisted me in choosing the right antidepressant. I’ve been going for 20 years. It has saved my life.

3) Our fear is way more convincing than it could ever be real! The fear I felt was worse than any actual post-assault threats to my safety. I wouldn’t second guess myself about so many things. I wish I knew that this happens to survivors. I’d have started sooner building me up to trust myself above all else and act despite fear. Fear doesn’t necessarily go away but we can make acting despite fear a forever life practice. I’ve found that spending time in quiet and writing allows my mind to untangle what is imagined self-doubt versus what is real.

4) The shame is not mine to hold. No one is to blame for what happened except the perpetrator. Sexual violence is one of the only crimes where the victim is bullied into feeling like they could have prevented it. Every survivor does the best they can to get out of the situation alive. Fight, flight, or freeze responses take over. None of us could EVER be at fault. I wouldn’t get blamed or feel shame for someone else robbing a bank. I wouldn’t let a bank robber change the way I value myself.

5) No matter what, my body remains mine to enjoy as I choose! I get to allow others to see it or not, touch it or not. I set the boundaries. I get to enjoy sex or celibacy equally. I had to remind myself that not everyone that wants to be intimate with me is dangerous. I took a self-defense class. I danced on showgirl stages all over the world. I currently study Krav Maga. I wish I would have done things to give myself control over my physical body sooner. I wish I knew that learning new things could help reset my brain. I’d have danced or kicked and punched sooner.

I’m no longer scared to share my story. I simply refuse to be silenced. I hope it helps more survivors heal faster and not feel so alone. I hope it helps survivors reclaim our minds. There is only so much time in a day and so few days in a lifetime, that we deserve to have as much joy as possible. I can’t feel anger all the time. That harms me more than anything else. When we experience love and courage, we infuse more goodness into existence. Refuse to let any evil in the world steal your ability to experience happiness in as many moments as is humanly possible.

-Essence, Survivor