Trauma After A Sexual Assault
If you talk to someone who has never been sexually assaulted, they might tell you to get over it. If you talk to someone who doesn't understand trauma, they won't know why you're still "stuck on it."
If you talk to someone who is trauma-informed, they get it. They will listen to you and sympathize with your pain and struggle. Because they understand the awful reality of trauma, they won't ask you to "move on." They won't accuse you of "asking for it" or making a big deal out of nothing. Sexual assault doesn't just ruin your day; it isn't a setback or something to simply "get over." It changes your perspective on life, your disposition, and even your brain chemistry.
Your journey is unique
There is no magical healing after a sexual assault. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will lead to recovery. For some, it's criminal justice: seeing their attackers put behind bars. For others, it is getting as far away as possible from the one(s) who hurt them. Counseling, healthcare, and support from loved ones can help- but again they don't fix it all. Depending on where the assault happened, you may need changes to be made at work or school. If you can't go back to work, you might need economic assistance. Any of those things are perfectly reasonable requests. Allow yourself the freedom to think about what you need.
Sometimes it might feel like you're taking one step forward and two steps back. If that's where you are, take a deep breath and try to give yourself grace. Sexual assaults are not normal events. Your body isn't programmed to recover easily from something like that. You can heal and life can go on, but it will take time and lots of care.
If you find yourself having flashbacks, remind yourself you're not crazy. If you tense up and feel like crying when someone gives you a hug, please know there's nothing wrong with you. Anything or anyone can become a trigger, so don't beat yourself up if you respond irrationally. Your body and your mind are trying to keep you safe. You'll figure out what you need to cope best with your circumstances. Every person is different; your journey is going to be unique.
The most important thing is time. Allow yourself time to grieve, to process, to be angry. Take as long as you need to recover a sense of control in your life. Remind yourself that the assault was in the past. And every day, try to take back a little of the power that was stripped from you.
Relationships might be difficult at first
When you've been violated, it can be difficult to trust again. We often hear from survivors that sexual intimacy is a tough spot after an assault. If you feel comfortable doing so, warn your partner(s) about your potential triggers. They may not completely understand, but they may be able to avoid things that hurt or frighten you. If they aren't patient with you, consider whether that relationship is good for you. You deserve someone who is going to be understanding and loving. Even after a sexual assault, it is possible to have healthy, loving relationships.
Counseling can be a helpful tool if you're struggling with intimacy. Therapists may be able to help you disconnect your past trauma from your current relationship(s). If you don’t know where to start, give us a call. Our advocates can give you the names of counselors in your area who work with victims of sexual assault.
The Making, Not the Breaking
Without a doubt, experiencing sexual assault changes your life. You can't simply move on and we would never ask you to. But it also doesn't have to end your life. There are many survivors who have taken their trauma and funneled it into a passion. This morning, I watched a Ted Talk from Lydia Ward, a survivor of child sexual abuse. She emphasized how she didn't let the sexual abuse ruin the rest of her life. As hard as it was to talk about what happened, she began to find freedom as she first shared her story. She found power over those who hurt her and purpose in helping others who have been assaulted or abused.
Your story isn't the same as hers. You might not feel comfortable sharing publically. But you can find freedom from the evil that was done to you. And your journey to recovery can make you into someone incredible. No longer simply a victim, but a survivor.
So What Now?
Have you kept the assault or abuse secret all these years? Are you suffering alone and in silence, afraid no one will believe you? Or do you continue to be haunted by the memories and triggers of everyday life?
If so, I'm glad you found yourself here, on our blog. I hope you're feeling hopeful. Because there is hope for you. Our advocates have been waiting for you. They are ready, whenever you are, to listen and to encourage you. We will believe you. And we can help you brainstorm what your journey to healing will look like. We are NOT here to tell you what to do. You're the expert on your own life! We only want to support you in the process and to provide resources you might be looking for. Call us, any day, any time, at 1.800.770.1650 or text "IOWAHELP" to 20121.