6 Things I Learned From My Sexual Assault
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Health and Wellness

6 Things I Learned From My Sexual Assault

How I turned my abusive past into my story of empowerment.

6 Things I Learned From My Sexual Assault
BBC News

TRIGGER WARNING: mention of sexual assault and abuse, as well as brief mention of self-harm.

First of all, I need to preface this by saying that writing this article concerns me. I have seen too many articles about this particular subject that claim to speak for the general population of assault survivors. I am solely speaking of my personal, unique experience with sexual trauma. I am also not insinuating that it is the victim's job to learn anything from something which that person had no say over. But I felt the need to write this.

When I was seven years old, I was molested by a cousin. Please, do not gasp, as it is far more common than you realize. Unfortunately, that event, along with other environmental and psychological factors, led me down a very dark road as a teenager. I lost my self-worth, became involved in an emotionally volatile relationship, and self-harmed in various ways for years. I tried to kill myself when I was 15 and developed an eating disorder slightly prior to that which would trouble me sporadically, until the beginning of my senior year of high school. I was even re-victimized twice during high school, as I experienced sexual coercion and trauma by a friend and an attempted rape at a wedding. I developed post-traumatic stress disorder, and I still suffer from nightmares periodically. This estranged relative took everything from me.

However, through extensive counseling, I am learning to reclaim my story. I have learned that I am not at fault and that, as a social work major, this is the population with whom I desire to work: teenage girls and women who have experienced forms of sexual trauma. Meaghan Ford puts it best when she says in her poem "Trauma Game":

"I have been learning new words for survivor / And they are all my own name."

This is why I feel the need to share my story. This is why I feel the need to explain how I have evolved from this event. I can finally take back what was done to me and make it mine.

1. I learned to believe myself.

One of the hardest things about my assault was that by the time I realized what had happened, several years had gone by. While I had and still occasionally have flashbacks and nightmares, I could never recognize if what I had gone through was just a bad dream. I would have random attacks in which I would scream and rip my hair out while wondering what I had done. It has been painful, but I largely believe now that this did happen. In fact, I know it did, and acknowledging that has allowed me to heal, as well as believe myself when something in my life feels off or I have a gut feeling about a situation.

2. I learned that all of my feelings are valid.

After coming forward about this event, some days I would cry and shake for hours. Some days I would be angry. Some days I would feel nearly normal. Some days I would laugh. While these various emotions about the assault look significantly different now, I do still grieve. I have days where it is the whole room, and days on which it is just a painting. At first, when I had good days, I feared my grief was not genuine. I now acknowledge and accept all of my feelings as acceptable and justifiable.

3. I learned that there is no timeline on grief.

Confession: I am still learning this one. I am currently working on a group project in my social work class about the effects of sexual abuse on children, and there are days on which this seems like an overwhelming task. And to be honest, I have the tendency to be critical of myself for not being fully healed. I know I need to stop this unproductive and destructive self-dialogue, and I will. But it will not happen overnight. It cannot happen overnight. So I will continue to make progress, day by day.

4. I learned that I cannot blame myself for that which is outside of my control.

When I first began the healing process, I blamed myself immensely for not fighting. After the second victimization, I blamed myself for nearly sleeping with my best friend's ex-boyfriend and for leading him on. I have learned not to do this for a multitude of reasons, but the only one relevant is that the only people who can stop sexual abuse are those who abuse. It was not my job at seven years old to fight, considering I did not even know what a sexual act was. It was not my fault for not wanting to go further with a boy who coerced and victimized me while happening to be my friend's ex. While abusers typically try to create a setting in which to place blame on the abused as a means of victimization, I have healthily learned to overcome that.

5. I learned to seek help when needed.

Prior to coming out about the assault to a school guidance counselor, I bottled up everything. I had very few people I trusted (for good reason), and felt embarrassed about asking for help. It took me years to become fully comfortable with proactively putting my mental health first, but this semester, I took control and addressed my needs before things went south. I feel much more comfortable and open having done this, and I do not believe I would have done it had I not come forward to my guidance counselor four years ago about my assault.

6. I learned that recovery is a lifelong process.

I still struggle, 11 years after being abused and four years after coming forward, but I struggle differently now than I did at the age of 14. I have become an emotionally mature person with a bright future who still hits roadblocks from time to time. I am self-aware and recognize my triggers and how to deal with my very specific situation and challenges. But I will fight every day for as long as I can tell. That does not mean I will hurt every day, but it will be something I carry around for a long time. I am continuing to learn to be OK with that. I am continuing to advocate for others and combat sexual violence at large. But, most importantly, I am continuing to heal.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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