After reading of the suicide of Daisy Coleman, and the articles outlining how common it is for survivors of sexual trauma to take their own life, I felt that I needed to say something. For various reasons, I’ve kept my sexual assault close and private – I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of sharing details of my experience publicly, thought the “Me Too Movement” made it feel like I should. I worry that we focus on the gruesome stories of what happened, and not on what happened afterwards, and inwards. Though I have spent most of my youth as an activist furiously trying to change the cultures that allow assault – there has also been a great deal of internal work to simply survive the memories in my own mind. This letter is a refocusing on the inner battles of the survivor. It is some of what I wish I could have said to myself at 12, at 15, at 18…
Dear Sexual Assault Survivor,
You should not have had to go through this. The trauma that was inflicted on you was not something you deserved. The actions of those that did it to you are concerning, confusing, and upsetting!
The choices you now face to survive – to move on, to report, to hold it in – are complicated and impossible. There will be so many reactions and opinions within yourself and those you might tell. Coping with all of this, and paying these costs shouldn’t be your job!
If I could speak as a single voice in humanity’s chorus I would say “I’m sorry.” I’m really fucking sorry this happened. That you weren’t protected, that you needed to be in the first place.
Your feelings are a natural reaction to what has happened. Your distress is the normal result of a distressing event.
Your anger is a natural defence – it is a sign that you are fighting to protect yourself. It is your strength. Your fear is a natural reflex – it is a sign that you are different from those that inflict pain for power. It is a smart reaction to the realization that others in our lives can and may hurt us. Your grief is a natural reply – it is a sign of your love and respect for your body that was hurt by this – of the innocence that was victimized.
These feelings may billow and roll through your sky for a long time. They may dominate the weather of your mind.
Shame and guilt may sift through memories, until the story of you in this world is changed. Till you might believe that you’ve changed, been lost. I felt this way for a long time. I grew into an adult in these conditions, and then learned what I have become from the dissecting view of psychology (through therapy and searching). The research was bleak – everything I read told of hopeless stats and an altered mind.
“PTSD”, “depression” felt like stamps with the permanent ink of diagnosis. What could this person do if she carried that label? Should she keep it to herself to get a job? A relationship? Should she share it with others to be understood? To find community?
Slowly, time has done its most precious work – it has acquainted me with my own suffering. After repeated exposure, trauma has made sorrow a familiar guest of mine.
Yes, I have been changed. I have been brought much closer to my fear, anger, grief, and shame. I have learned of hatred and abuse and the destruction they cause. I’ve seen the entitlement, the jealousy, the smallness that has made men assault me.
And I have learned that I can survive all of that. As each battle begins I have more experience in when to fight or flight. Who to ask for support and how I’m willing to be treated now. I have comrades who’ve batted their own abuse. And we can meet at the trauma café to discuss the horrors and humours of life – as few others can.
It is not only possible to get through being sexually assaulted, it is possible to live through it.
Just take your time, look for help that comes from caring hearts and begin to open to it. You are still in tact inside of you and the way you change does not affect that.
Your growth would always have ups and downs and avoiding trauma may not have been possible. Who you are right now is who you are right now. The ability to change is how you heal and grow.
So find a way to keep living. Continue to face your life. “It is already here, whatever it is, it is already here. Now let me feel it.”
Read theraputic advice, find guides for moving forward and looking back. Use your anger to build your strength for setting healthy boundaries. Let fear show you how valuable your life is to you, how much you want to protect it. And let grief live in your heart as a compliment to love and empathy. All of life has grief, but in admitting our shared experience of it we may create community and compassion where once we were alone.
I can’t tell you that I haven’t wanted to give up, that I won’t want to again in the future. All I’m saying is that in those moments I’m going to keep trying to find a way to live – for your sake as well as mine.
The only revenge we are guaranteed on the past is the chance to live well in spite of it.
I’m sorry it has to be this hard, but I am also confident in your ability to continue. Life really does get better. Who you are is larger than what they did to you, and who they are to you. You will continue to grow if you allow yourself to. Love will come again.
P.S. Don’t undertake the burden of fixing the world alone, we are working on it with you and we are getting somewhere.