This is a story about my experiences with metabolizing pain, recovering from a lifetime of micro and macro aggressions; moving forward from sexual and emotional assault and abuse. This is a story from the future to tell everyone still facing the beast that you can beat it, you can bury it, you can be strong, you were never not strong, and today, after it drew it’s claw and pointed at you, that was the moment you became stronger than you were before, because here you are.
Trauma changes us. It makes us different. Not worse–different.
It’s true, different can be worse, but it is not defined as worse. You might feel like you are worse, like you lost something essential or you are out at sea and suddenly you’ve forgotten what way the shore is. You might feel like you are worse, when ravaged by the trauma and swollen with thoughts, feelings, sensations and burdens you look in the mirror and do not recognize the face of the person looking back. You might feel worse when you cope, finding relief in food, cigarettes, drinking or drugs. You might feel like you are the worst person if yourself that you have ever been, when you are in it. And you may be. But every city is worse after the bombs fall. Every person is worse after the boot lifts from the side of their face. Every night is dark, but the sun rises again. And you are not changed for the worst, though you may be temporarily worse, you are the sun, not the landscape. And you’re going to come up in your life again, and again, and again, everyday, until you see the coastline again, your face will smile back at you in the mirror, your body, soft and forgiving, is still on your team, and you’ll realize you are rebuilt, maybe just a bit, and that different isn’t worse, it’s just not the same as you were before.
Trauma steals the story from us. But it does not steal us from the truth.
It’s hard to even put the story together at first—what they did, why, how it started, when it started. Who you were when it happened and how it came to be. What did you do or say? What did you think? What did you try? When did it get this bad, go this far, slip out of our control. Maybe it was never in our control. That’s a lesson that took me years to come to. Maybe for all my control, all my strength, all my feminism and all my bravado, the reason it happened was because I couldn’t control someone else, and they decided to do it. What kind of story is that? Not one I can tell the way I wanted to tell it. “He did this to me because _____” well why did he? We can’t answer the questions they ask because it’s not our story alone. “He’s like the sweetest guy I know, how could someone like that do this?” … “I don’t know. I’m not him.” Our failure to understand the nuanced psyche of the people who have hurt us us not a failing in the telling of our own stories it is an impossible task of explaining why someone else hurt us. And trauma, and all the other gifts it brings for us, makes that an impossible story for us to navigate nor tell. Our inability to tell the whole thing however, does not mean that we have lost the right to our story. It does not mean it didn’t happen or that we are somehow responsible for all the details and inconsistencies that may exist for every person who comes to run their fingers through the pages and decide for themselves if that really went down this way. No matter how many times they tell us “nah”, no matter how many times a friend, a cop, an ex, a judge, a commenters on a forum or anyone says “hmm, I don’t think so” it doesn’t ever mean it didn’t happen. No matter what they say, it does not take us out of our truth. Trauma takes the story, but we remain in the truth.
Trauma is the mark someones selfishness has left on our lives. Surviving is the legacy that we build on that spot.
We are not victims of someone else’s weakness, we are champions of our own strength and resilience. I know in my heart the weight of rebuilding after the betrayal of abuse. I know the path because I walked it, slowly, and largely alone. Along the way I learned everything I could with the hope that one day I might be able to help illuminate the path for other survivors by telling them how I found my way back. This is another step along that way. For years I have been doing one-on-one support for women and other people who have survived as well. I focused my energy on finding people who felt alone and walking beside them through the dark. After several years and dozens of survivors I have decided to share the things I experienced and what I came to know in order to maybe create a resource for people who are struggling to articulate or express the complexities of being a survivor–the ways that it changes, day to day, even hour to hour. The things that seem inconsistent or contrary to surviving, that cause us all so much unnecessary guilt and suffering because there is no tidy way to unpack this box. The spectrum of emotions, reactions, triggers and trials that come days, weeks, months and years after the abuse. I am almost 7 years out on a rape and 4+ years on an extremely emotionally abusive (and emotionally controlling) relationship. I can say from the other side of the woods, that yes, there is an other side of the woods. There is another life. There is a resurrection. We all get a return.
Surviving is a refusal.
Surviving is a rebuilding.
Surviving is a right.
Surviving is revenge.
Surviving is restorative.
Surviving is justice.
Surviving is POSSIBLE.
This is a story for anyone that may be helped by reading about my journey from the bathroom floor to my feet, over and over again and again and again. This is a chronicle of all the times I got back up–it’s a love letter to myself, and a to anyone else who is still surviving, a tribute to those who didn’t, and it is a storming back into the dark to resurrect what we’ve lost along the way. It is a thread from my new self through the shadows to my old self. I don’t know if it will help anyone, but it’s worth it even if it only helps me. I don’t know what anyone else can or should do to survive, but maybe we can find some community in the act of fighting together, in our own ways. To all the people I have pain in common with, I love you, I believe you, I survived it, and you can too.