I am writing this for the survivor who can’t see out or past. Consider this a survivor’s guide.
- The violence is not the end of the story. It’s not even the beginning.
Your life is a beautiful thing. It’s filled with many stories and many memories. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who you were before and who you are in the aftermath. The violence can be overwhelming, give you nightmares and wake you up. It can feel like it’s the only memory that matters. It can pervade your present, fill you up and drain you out. Fight to remember the memories around it that have made you smile. And laugh. Laugh like hell. Fight to find the present in today. Notice the world and take note. It’s hard to see, sometimes, but it truly does get better. There is strength and good in you and around you.
- I believe you.
I believe you. I believe you. I believe you. No, really, I BELIEVE YOU. “I believe you” are the most important words you will ever hear. They were the most important ACTIONS anyone ever performed for me. I was not only told I was believed but I was shown. My friends believed me audaciously. They stood by me adamantly. They testified in court for me. When I lost my case, they told me I had the truth by my side. They believed me when I struggled to get the words out. They believed me when I doubted myself. To this day, it can feel unreal. I make so many excuses for what happened. But I know deep down the truth. I am believed. I believe you. I believe you.
- It’s not your fault.
It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. I could say it again. It’s not. No matter what crazy justification you will try to come up with, it’s not your fault. A few months ago, my roommate came home to me curled up under a blanket on the couch. “What’s wrong?” She asked. She knew my story. I sat there and struggled to tell her. “Just tell me.” She said. Finally, I started to cry. “I just need to know it’s not my fault.” It’d been years since everything I went through but I still could not believe that I had not done anything to make him hurt me. She cried and started saying those words, “It’s not your fault.” She said it again and again. She made me look her in her eyes and said it again and again until we couldn’t cry anymore and reached that line of emotion between tears and laughter and began to laugh. She held me. It’s not your fault.
- This IS the most painful thing you will go through.
Yes, you have to find the good in today but nothing will change that this is the most painful thing you have gone through. But find a healthy way to deal with the pain. I’ve drunk and smoked and done drugs and self-harmed. I’ve overdosed, been hospitalized. I’ve tried to escape. You will not escape but you can find a way to make the pain hurt less and it fades, it really does fade, in time. A year ago I stopped cutting and started dancing. Dance party became code with my friends for “The pain is really, really, really bad and I need it to go away.” My friends and I would dance. Blast music. Laugh. Stand on furniture. Dance, dance, dance. So, please, dance. Construct something, build something, write something, do something but don’t hurt yourself to escape the pain. This is the most painful thing you will go through. But believe me, your beautiful self needs healing, not more harm.
- You are the solution.
You can’t change what happened but you can change how you deal with it. Think of the people you can relate to because of your pain. Think of all the people you can connect to because you share that experience. You have so much power. Do good with the horror you’ve been dealt. And don’t give up. You are the solution.
- Be honest.
Tell people when you can’t take it anymore. Be honest with them and yourself. Acknowledge how much you can handle. Don’t be afraid to walk away. When you are triggered, it’s the most overwhelming and terrifying thing. Sometimes, my vision would go white. I couldn’t stand anymore. Do not be afraid to walk out. Do not push yourself further than you can handle and do not let people ask more of you than you can give. Ask the professor for a break if you are suffering a lot of PTSD or otherwise struggling—and if s/he won’t give you break, ask a dean or CWS for help. There is no reason you should have to pretend that you can do it. Sometimes you can’t. Be honest.
- People are gentle.
Not everyone is as callous and hurtful as the person who assaulted, raped, or beat you. Find friends who are gentle. Find a partner who is gentle. Be gentle with yourself. Allow people to treat you gently. Sometimes we survivors are so strong, we resist being taken care of. Allow people to care for you. Being vulnerable enough to let people help you is sometimes the strongest thing you can do.
- You are tremendously brave.
You are so brave. You are so brave, my friend. You are the strongest person I have ever met.
- You don’t have to be a survivor.
This is a funny idea but for me, I feel so far past my assault and so healed that I rarely identify as a survivor anymore. You don’t always have to identify as a survivor. If you feel like a victim right now, then definitely call yourself a survivor. You are not a victim. “Survivor” can become your identity for a while when you are lost and traumatized. It can help you realize your strength. You can be a survivor if you want. But the goal should not be to “Survive” but to “Thrive.” Be a thriver. One day, you will THRIVE every day and not just survive each day. It does get that much better, I promise. Don’t just survive.
- Please don’t you ever feel like you’re less than perfect.
You are whole. Not damaged. What I want to change is your feeling you are hurt irreparably. I had a counselor once who had to straight up tell me, YOU’RE OK. I was going to therapy wondering why I felt like I was healed. Shouldn’t I be struggling with this for the rest of my life? No, the funny thing is that I don’t struggle with it as much anymore and it can be that way for everyone. You are perfect and whole. You are not damaged. And that brings me back to the first point. The violence is not the end of the story. It’s not even the beginning. You are the story.