*This is intended to give Sexual Trauma Survivors a voice and a simple process to heal (with support). If you have not experienced sexual trauma but know someone who has, you may support them by letting them know you are there if they ever want to talk about it and their feelings, or share this article and simply direct them to the healing tools at the bottom.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ~ Brené Brown
It was 2006…
I had a slight crush on him, yeah. I mean he was handsome and confident, definitely a charmer—bit of a bad boy.
We were all drinking, it was college. We were young and free. Artists, getting BFA’s for the real world.
I remember putting my drink down and joked, “Don’t spike it, I’m going to the toilet.”
An hour later, we started making out in the corner of the pub. I was already starting to black out and he asked me to come back to his place. I said, “I don’t want to have sex.”
He said, “We won’t, just stay.”
On the “stumbly” walk back to his apartment with a bunch of other classmates, I laughed with a girlfriend and I pissed myself. Literally, I peed myself and it was all over my dress. I’d never done that before. I guess I was really drunk.
While my classmates had another drink in his kitchen, I tried to clean myself up in the bathroom, barely able to keep myself standing. You know, the kind of drunk where you are banging into the walls like a ping pong ball because you have no balance whatsoever. When I came out everyone had left, and I flopped onto his bed in my wet dress.
I came to and heard him saying, “Your dress stinks, let’s get it off.”
I blacked out.
And then, I woke to him having sex with me.
I couldn’t move; I couldn’t speak.
I heard myself thinking, Stop, stop! What are you doing? Stop!
But my functions were on mute, and I could only witness someone having sex with me while I faded in and out of consciousness.
In the morning, I woke in a daze. I walked naked to the bathroom and saw my pee-dried dress hanging up. I washed my face.
I went back into the bedroom and saw a picture of a toddler on his bedside table. His son, I learned.
I asked“What happened last night?” knowing full well with my fragmented but real recollection, but wanting to hear it from him.
“Don’t worry about it.” he said.
I left, ate McDonald’s for breakfast and went to class.
A few weeks later, I began sleeping with a guy from acting school who when I said, “I have to tell you something,” he replied with, “You f*cked Jacob.”
I told him, “No, he had sex with me when I was passed out.”
“That’s not what he said,” replied this smug meth user that I dated for another seven months because I didn’t think I deserved better.
At another night out of drinking, in that first year of university, Jacob asked me, “Why do you have such a problem with what happened when you f*ck a lot anyway?”
My best friend, bless her heart, responded to my date rape with a seemingly casual, “Yeah something like that happened to me, too.”
A rage grew inside of me, though I did not speak of it.
11 years later. Today.
I held space for a beautiful young woman who cried from the pain inside of her. She had shared with me that she had been raped in college. She also shared how the experience had severely damaged her self-esteem which had affected all of her relationships since.
The shame inflicted on the “self,” and carried for years is almost worse than the actual event.
The torture from others and her own mind that says, Maybe you did bring it on yourself. What did you think was going to happen?
The rage in the womb that begs to unleash a curdling scream of, This was not my choice! Give me my choice back!
There is sweet empty stillness that fills every space when our trauma has been seen, heard, acknowledged, validated, and loved.
The healing process of sexual trauma is gradual. You can’t force it, and it’s not necessary to go dredging up the memory in detail—though sharing our stories is powerfully healing. It takes the shame which hides in the shadows and brings it to the light.
It takes immense energy to put a cap on trauma so you can just survive day-to-day. It’s too much to unleash all that energy in one go, which can cause a total crash of overwhelm, re-triggering all of the emotions and possibly leading to self-harm and violent episodes.
The practice is one of slowly, and only at the pace of the survivor, coming back to the sensations of the body. The body is where the memories are stored, and this is where the healing must occur, in the cells.
Trauma initiates a disassociation from ourselves, physically and also emotionally. We have less capacity to feel grounded or be in touch with our internal truth.
The aim is to reclaim our own body, our own sensations, and our right to feel pleasure: to come home to ourselves and to remember our truth. It’s like we lose our inner compass to what is right for us. We don’t trust ourselves anymore. To follow our feelings and only listen to the voice inside that seeks to lead you to goodness.
It’s through our sensations and feelings that we will rediscover our “truth detector.”
Sexual trauma survivors have to learn, or re-learn, how to set healthy boundaries. Our boundaries begin with being able to feel and understand our own body, desires, and our dislikes. How else can we use the power of our voice to say “no” if we can not determine what our “no’s” are?
Fear is there to keep us safe from experiencing the pain again. But when we stop running and listen, we see deeper that fear is that girl or woman crying out to be held and acknowledged.
Fear actually needs us to listen and stop the striving and pushing to simply survive.
Fear begs to be held with presence and compassion.
This is the real healing remedy that is inside of us.
The shame, fear, guilt, rage, grief.
They are our children who need us, their loving adult who needs to take care of them by being there with them, giving them a voice, standing up for them, and honoring them by moving forward to live a beautiful, body-connected, and self-affirming life.
Here is a process to help support healing from sexual trauma. If you haven’t experienced it but know someone who has, please pass this on to them:
1) Give yourself permission to take the time to heal.
Give the hurt, sad, and angry parts of you the space and presence to be seen, heard, validated, and loved. These parts may be simmering under the surface and only come out around certain people or in certain areas of your life—most likely in your personal and intimate relationships. It may look like shutting down, passive aggressive behavior, rage, anxiety, feeling unsafe, no desire for sex, having poor boundaries, or being hyper-sexual.
Take some time out from your busy life to devote to your journey back to wholeness. It will be the best thing you can do for yourself, your friends and family, and every other area of your life. Even if you cannot take a few months off work or away from your kids, dedicate one hour or one day a week to your healing.
2) Give voice and expression to your emotions (fear, anger, grief).
In a safe and private space, meditate for a moment to connect yourself. Ground yourself the earth, to your higher-self, and grant yourself unconditional love. (You don’t have to know who or what this is, just ask for love to surround you).
Make a deep commitment to yourself to be safe, not to hurt yourself, and to hold space for your emotions to express and release.
Put pillows around you, light a candle, and breathe. Then lay on the floor and let yourself make low, guttural sounds, as you do let the emotion rise up and out. Let yourself shake, cry, or scream into a pillow, stomp your feet, pummel the floor with your fists. Say whatever you want, like “It’s not fair!” It’s okay at this time to act as a “victim,” so you can feel everything, give your emotions a voice, and let it all out.
Often, under the numbness is anger, and under the anger is grief. So let yourself dig deep. When/if you hit the grief, let it flow until you have cried it all out.
When you feel the emotions start to slow and calm down, breathe deeply with your hands on your body and send yourself love—knowing love and the grounding of the Mother Earth has got your back and are holding you in healing energy space.
Say some loving self-affirming mantras out loud; such as “I love and accept you. I approve of you. I trust you. I am loved and protected. I am committed to allowing you to feel, heal, and reveal your truth.”
3) Take it easy.
Have a warm bath with candlelight, play some soft soothing music (binaural beats are good too). Drop some essential oils and healing herbs (rose petals are wonderful for self-love) into the bath. Hold your hands on your womb center and sink deep into relaxation. Breathe, and let yourself just be.
4) Write in your journal.
When your mind is racing with thoughts or fear, grab your journal and do a mind dump. Get everything out. Instead of letting your mind run the show (or your life) try to work against the mind, meet fear with acceptance.
Say out loud; “Hello fear, I hear you, trying to predict, control, and warn me of what can go wrong. I’m listening, I know you want to save me from being hurt again. I know that life includes pain and I know I’m strong enough to deal with that with love. So, let’s write down what you are so worried about and have a look at that together.”
Once you’ve got it all down you can take some deep breaths (breathing and checking back in with how your body feels is key to your healing—the antidote to dissociating) and see how you feel. Has your mind settled? Do you feel more free of fear? Could you let yourself rest and sleep now? Would you like to do the next step now or in the morning?
5) Read over the mind dump with an objective view from your higher-self.
Allow yourself to see how fear just wants to be seen, heard, and loved. Notice how these fears are probably not based in anything real (they are fears from the past being projected into your now and future). Ultimately, you cannot control anything other than how you choose to feel right now. So choose to make healthy, loving, kind choices for yourself. This may be as simple as deciding to let your mind relax so you can get a good healing sleep.
6) Write a list of all the tools you have to help ground you, calm you, give voice to, and to lovingly accept where you are.
Put this list in your purse or wallet and also on your bedroom wall, so you can refer to it anytime you need. These seven tools are a great start.
7) Sisterhood or brotherhood support.
Having support from other women (or men if you are a man) who understand your experience and your journey is vital to your healing. Either get a sacred-sexual-healing coach or a therapist to work with or find a women’s/men’s group who are committed to healing trauma somatically, holistically, and consciously. It is shame around sexual trauma and abuse that keeps us from reaching out to others. We feel are a burden and that people don’t want to hear about our struggles, or we feel deep shame around what happened to us, maybe even that it could have been our fault, so we stay silent.
Break the code of silence and speak out to those who you know you can trust. You are not meant to do it alone.
I’m here for you.
I love you.
Author: Lillie Claire Love
Image: GhazalehGhazanfari/ Flickr
Editor: Deb Jarrett