Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
Healing is such an elusive word. I use it everyday in my work as a a rape crisis counselor. I say it to my friends. I mention it about my own life experience. Yet when we are in the midst of healing. When we really need to understand it and know it and see it as tangible, it escapes us. Seven years ago I was sexually assaulted by a boy with whom I was in an abusive relationship. I was 13 and did not have the tools to articulate my needs or process my experience. [I will link a post about the importance of talking with youth about teen dating violence and consent shortly]. Five years ago I was assaulted again by a man I w0uld date for six years. Again I did not have the tools. In summer of 2015 I was trained as a rape crisis counselor. For the first time in my life I had the tools to describe what happened to me, that alone was healing enough. Less than a year later I ended the unhealthy six year relationship. I had been empowered to advocate for myself. I could move forward. I could ‘heal.’ Healing seemed present in my life. I thought this must be it. It is a life long process but I have come so far. I felt supported. I felt safe. I felt invincible. This may be the greatest of illusions created by the idea that we have grasped the eternity behind healing. Fun fact [and by fun I mean appalling]: Sexual assault survivors are more likely to be assaulted again. Some studies suggest 35 times more likely, other studies say at least three times as likely. Whatever the number, it is there and it is true. In October 2016, five days before writing this post, I was raped again. I know. Its egregious. How could this happen to me a third time. Believe me, I am floored too. I am physically safe and sustained no bodily injuries. I will let the initial shock sink in.
It’s okay to stop now. That was a lot in a few sentences. Honor your boundaries. If you’re still with me, let me just warn you the next part of this post is going to be what I think healing is now in the immediate aftermath and it is not the pretty healing I thought I had done.
Today is the first day I have not had a complete breakdown. And even if it was not, that would be okay too. I missed three classes this week. I broke down four separate times at work. I spent five hours at university health services getting preventative antibiotics. Within the first day of the assault I turned in an assignment. Healing. Feels. Elusive. But I tried to remain high functioning. My brain is wired differently now at 21 than at 13 and 16 when the last two incidents happened. I have more words to process. But maybe that is worse. Last time I was stuck in the shock phase of Rape Trauma Syndrome so long that by the time I got around to processing my emotions and experiences the feelings were less intense. They were manageable. Right now, this is not manageable. Because Healing. Is, Elusive. It’s even worse to be a rape crisis counselor and be here, again. Because it adds to the sting and the patronizing catch 22 of thoughts where I catch myself in feelings like self blame and I am so cognizant of what the feeling is and that it is not my fault but I have to just sit with it. Healing. Is. Elusive. I LITERALLY ACTUALLY have all the tools to heal at my disposal. I make different paths to healing more tangible for survivors AS A CAREER. Why can’t I do it. I am in therapy. I have a strong support network. Because Healing. Is. Elusive. How can we facilitate healing when we are in heightened states of arousal, when we are bombarded with an assay of emotions, when someone has put our physical health at risk, when we are in overload, when we have to go back to the doctor in a couple weeks to be retested, when even when it’s over it’s not over, when people expect us to go to class and takes tests and write papers, when we have to go to work to pay bills, when we have to smile for our friends so they stop worrying, when we lie to our families, when the drop of a pin makes our hair stand up, when everything gives us a panic attack. WHERE IS THE HEALING. Where is the healing in the self blame and the guilt and the shame and the dry heave and the stress and the lies and the sleepless nights and the weight gain or weight loss and hair loss and circles under my eyes and the wrinkled clothes and the zoning out and the procrastinating and the migraines, dizziness, fatigue from medications. WHERE IS THE HEALING. Healing. Is. Elusive. We crave it most when we need it most but it is the least accessible. It’s been hyped up.
The Art of Healing is when it stops being so elusive. When it reinvents itself within you. When little by little, less of the bad moments creep in to your happiness. Over time your brain wires and rewires. The things that used to give you joy will give you joy again. You’ll laugh more genuinely again. The heightened state of arousal will deescalate. Even if you have to deal with six months of not knowing about your physical health, you will slowly start to feel safe in your body again, you will stop feeling foreign in your own skin. I’m on day five and I am feeling this already. Writing this post gave some of it back to me. Healing begins when some of these moments creep back in, interrupting the bad. Right now the bad is overwhelming for me. And it will come and go. It’s okay if at first the good moments are few and far between. Give them, however scarce, a seat at the table. And slowly there will be more of these good moments. The bad will still be there. But healing is knowing and living that the bad is part of who you are not all of who you are. Healing comes with knowing yourself. Here’s what I know to be true for me: I find healing in sharing my story to heal others. I have a long way to go. But I have taken three steps to healing in the last five days: 1) i have told my story so that others can bear witness and help me hold this story 2) i have taken back control of the things that I can control 3) i have put it down for the world to see so that it no longer threatens the life it belongs to but rather may breath life into others. So I hope this post finds you well, and if it does not, I hope it finds you better. I hope you have the clarity to pinpoint what ritual is the most healing for you, and I hope you allow yourself to fruitfully indulge in that ritual. I hope that I have given you a glimmer of hope, that there is light on the other side of this tunnel.