Editor’s note: This column discusses a person’s experience with sexual violence. It could be triggering for some readers.
Not often talked about, but often experienced by women, girls, boys, and men at an alarming rate. Being part of the one-quarter of women who have been a survivor of a sexual assault in the U.S. has branded and morphed the way I view and live in the world. The lens in which I see men is now tainted into fear, distrust, stress, and anger. When something like an assault happens, in fact any trauma, the body can be caught, or often triggered in fight, flight, or freeze response in the presence of danger or even a reminder of what happened. For example, certain word phrases, men who look like my rapist, certain smells, a dirty old brown Ford, or the mention of assault. Even now I feel my heart palpitating in my chest, my breath labored and my jaw clenched and strong. These intense feelings and emotions are uncomfortable and overwhelming. As time goes on this trauma response does not go away, although my reaction to them (thanks to therapy) is more manageable and less reactive. The constant thoughts of “I could have done this differently,” “I should have said no a few more times,” “It’s my fault” rack my brain. When in reality, like any and all assaults, it is not the survivor’s fault.
Relationships become harder. Relationships that are platonic and those that are romantic. I have learned through time, even when I don’t want it, that I sometimes cannot bear the trauma alone. That I have to rely on my support systems to get through some days or some triggers. Having a romantic partner is difficult and having the trauma and fear around the possibility of future sexual intimacy is a daunting thought. Due to this, I try not to date, try not to put in energy and time into a relationship until I am “better.”
Will it ever be better? A question I ask myself frequently. (Will I ever heal from the trauma and the pain I went through and go through every day?)
Only time will tell.
Some days are a breeze, but on the days where I experience triggers, I am overwhelmed by debilitating fear and panic and the physical reactions to these feelings. The days get easier as time goes on, as I move away from my perpetrator, as I attend therapy, gain coping strategies, and work on healing. The truth is no amount of therapy or counseling or time will ever take it away. The best it can do would be to process the trauma, normalize it, and prepare me with positive coping mechanisms.
I am still here today, I’m still alive, and I’m happy. I work every day in my own life and in my work to educate perpetrators of violence and support survivors of violence.
However, not an easy task for a nation of almost half a million people who are victims each year. Survivors of violence are everywhere. Walking, thriving, struggling, working, in relationships, taking care of their families.
Be aware, be supportive, and believe. Believe those who speak of their traumas and their pain. Ask them how they would like to be supported, because we all need support, whether we admit it or not.
I wanted to share my story for the soul purpose to bring awareness and attention to the impact of trauma on a person, and to actively work to destigmatize and devictimize those who have gone through sexual trauma.
As a survivor of abuse or assault, do not hesitate to reach out for support, know that you are seen, heard, and believed.
For sexual assault support call SASS at 541-343-7277 or CCC 541-344- 6020.
Written by an intern with Centers for Community Counseling.