I cannot thank you enough. For in reading my story, you have become part of it now, too. All survivors need to be heard. Need to be believed. It is part of how we can heal each other. It is a gift.
But my story has only been a grain of sand in an hourglass. One among the millions of women who have experienced sexual assault.
Trauma is inevitable in human experience. People we love will die. Our bodies will get sick and grow frail. We will suffer accidents and injuries. Natural disasters may befall us. Car crashes can leave us shaken. There is no escaping trauma.
And there is no point in creating a hierarchy of trauma. Each experience is so distinct. So personal. The path through it is unique to each survivor. But there is every reason to examine the systems that enable abuse and violence, and to question the ways that our culture facilitates and excuses it.
So much trauma—particularly the traumas of racism and sexism, ableism and homophobia and transphobia—is entirely preventable.
And entirely unnecessary.
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It may be comforting to believe that sexual assault survivors can one day be “done” with trauma, and therefore, if you meet a woman who is struggling, who lashes out at the world, who is eager to hurt someone as badly as she herself has been hurt, it can be tempting to assume this woman has failed. She just needs to do better, so she can get to the place of peace that other survivors have proven is possible.
But that is not remotely close to the truth.
Healing, for traumatized women, is never truly “done” in a sexist society. I am only peaceful because it has been seven years since the last assault. It is the longest stretch since I was 12 that I have lived free of assault and abuse. The more assaults a person survives, the more difficult recovery becomes after each new trauma. If a man assaults me tomorrow, perhaps shoving me against a wall because he wants my shopping cart (let’s say I took the last one), I will be right back in the rage and terror, the hatred and bloodlust, the nightmares and flashbacks.
And I am likely to stay there. For a very long time. No matter how hard I try to suture up the wound another man has just sliced open.
A woman, once raped, is not somehow inoculated against the violence of men. In fact, she is more vulnerable, not less. The more assaults one experiences, the longer the abuse goes on, the more likely that PTSD becomes long-lasting.
There is no end to this story until it is safe for all of us.
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So here, in the very last post of this nine-month journey you have taken with me, I have something to ask of you.
I have thrown the doors open wide and shown you as much as I can bear to. And many of you have come to care about this person you have read about. You have empathy and gentleness for me. Hope. And a desire to know I’m all right. If you met me, I think many of you would speak to me with kindness, compassion, respect.
So here is what I ask. If you are a woman who has also survived trauma, take all that gentleness and all that caring and all that hope—and turn it on yourself. All of it. Offer yourself the kindness that you would offer someone else. Because you need it, too.
And if that’s hard, I offer you mine. Here. Take it for a while. As long as you need. Because I’ve been there, and no one who hasn’t passed through the darkness can understand it. You deserve more than what you have been given. You never deserved the trauma at all. So lay it down, and take my compassion for you. You will find a way through it, in time. You will grow to be kinder and calmer and happier. But don’t hate yourself because you aren’t there yet. Start here. Right here. With yourself.
And if you haven’t been a victim of gender-based violence, look around you. One in six women has survived rape or attempted rape. One in six women knows a rapist who, chances are, you know, too.
So educate yourself. Reserve your judgment for the men who assault and rape, rather than the myriad ways women struggle towards sexual, emotional, and psychological wholeness. Be compassionate and gentle, recognizing that you never know what anyone has gone through or where they are in their healing process.
None of us ever has a full understanding of what anyone else has survived. Survivors usually don’t pull out their traumas during everyday conversations, inserting sexual assault somewhere between job hassles and the latest TV show.
Move through the world with that knowledge. So that the next women you meet—a friend for coffee, a cashier at the supermarket, a coworker, your sister who was babysitting your kids, your mother, a barista—you find it easier to treat with gentleness. Statistics suggest at least one of them is a sexual trauma survivor. If someone snaps, you know better now. They might have PTSD. They might have just been beaten by a male family member or a husband. They might have been raped decades ago, but some asshole at the gas station just sexually harassed them, and they’re back in the trauma again.
If you’ve learned anything from this blog, I hope you have learned this. You just never know. Someone next to you on the sidewalk is healing from something horrendous. And you’ll never know.
If you are healing, be patient with yourself. It takes a long time.
If you are still mostly intact, be gentle.
Kindness from a stranger can do so much.
So offer that. Educate the men and boys in your life about consent. Vote in favor of laws that penalize rapists, rather than victims, and vote into office candidates who will support such laws.
But above all, be considerate. Nine out of ten rape survivors are women, and 94% develop PTSD in the immediate aftermath. We are carrying the weight of our culture’s misogyny, and it takes so much space and safety and effort to heal.
Help ensure that we get the chance to.