Recovering From Sexual Abuse
Trigger Warning: This article talks about trauma stemming from rape and sexual abuse.
1 in 5 women in the U.S are raped or sexually assaulted at one point in their lives. It happens every day and almost every 2 minutes, 13% of those women will attempt suicide. These statistics paint an alarming picture of the aftermath of sexual abuse. In reality, the torment doesn’t end with the act—it follows victims throughout their lives and into their futures. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD aren’t uncommon in sexual abuse victims. Many also struggle with trust issues and a decline in self-worth. It’s an overwhelming and insufferable experience that can feel never ending.
Everyone reacts to tragedy and trauma differently—we all have our own style of coping. Regardless of what your recovery steps look like, it’s helpful to know methods that will get you closer to a comfortable and content mind-sight. One way to initiate healing is by opening up and reaching out to someone you trust. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what happened to you. For me, this was the hardest part. It took me over a year to admit to myself that I was raped, and an additional year to tell my closest friends. Saying it out loud felt wrong, embarrassing, and shameful—but once I came to terms with it I was one step closer to rebuilding my sense of self and reclaiming my identity.
Once you face your demons you can tackle them. This next step is about ridding yourself of any blame you felt obligated to take on and, instead, nurturing yourself with positive reassuring thoughts. Always remember it is not your fault. There is nothing you could have or should have done differently. Remind yourself of this everyday, whether you say it out loud or put it in writing—doing this will help the feelings of guilt eventually fade.
While positive affirmations are a great practice, trauma runs deep and has many faces. As I mentioned before, many victims of sexual abuse struggle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. There is no real way to avoid this, but acknowledging the signs and anticipating triggers can go a long way in helping. Try familiarizing yourself with techniques or practices that calm you during moments of anxiety (i.e. self-calming, or breathing, techniques). The good news is you’re a survivor and yes—like many things—it will get easier with time, so give yourself time.
Lastly, victims of sexual abuse commonly experience feelings of detachment. We may detach from friends, family, work, hobbies, and—even worse—sometimes we’ll detach from our own bodies. This experience can be incredibly frightening and cause us to feel even more alone and confused. I remember struggling to look at my naked reflection for a very long time. I felt like my body didn’t belong to me or was somehow tainted. We have to actively connect with ourselves and with others, do things that make you pay attention to your body and indulge in self-care: practice meditation, go for a run, dance in your room, get a massage. Don’t be discouraged to participate in social activities. Do things that once felt normal, like going to a movie or out with friends—eventually they will begin to feel normal again.
Women and femmes are tenacious and toughened creatures, capable of withstanding the many rocks thrown at their windshields. However, some of these rocks are much heavier than others, more difficult to withstand, and more difficult to recover from. Sexual abuse, assault, harassment, and rape change a person's spirit in a way that seems impossible to undo. It may feel like you will never heal, but recovery is attainable through support and courage. It may not come easily, and it probably won’t happen overnight, but it is possible—and more importantly, it’s necessary.