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Sexual Assault Awareness Month ~ a short story of hope for survivors

As the beginning of the month has been approaching I’ve been throwing ideas around about what to write my blog about this time.  I knew that I wanted it to be related to Sexual Assault Awareness Month (which happens to be in April).  I found myself feeling pulled in different directions in regards to a specific topic.  Do I write about the prevalence, sharing statistics and significance in our society?  Do I write about the impact of being sexually abused or assaulted?  Or do I focus on the aspect of healing?  As I thought about my primary purpose for doing this blog….to provide hope, I decided to write about healing and hope for moving beyond the devastation.  Although, if inspiration (time) strikes, I may tackle another topic 🙂 .

I’m finding it difficult to start writing about hope without first acknowledging why there is a need for hope.  From the moment someone is sexually violated, their life is forever changed.  This is true for children as well as adults.  It changes your sense of self and creates/changes your world view.  These changes can impact a person in long term, devastating ways.  As a result, many survivors believe their feelings, behaviors, relationships, and life will remain the way they are…maybe always have been.  With this belief it is difficult to try something different….maybe counseling, a different relationship, etc.

One of the best ways to instill hope in someone who has been living with the impact of sexual abuse/assault is to share an example of someone who has lived through the experience and come out on the other side.  Not only surviving…but thriving.  The following is a brief synopsis of a (real) survivor’s journey.  I will call her Rheanna.

Rheanna grew up in a fairly dysfunctional home.  Her parents divorced when she was 4.  She lived with her mother and stepfather.  She spent weekends with her father and stepmother.  The sexual abuse by her stepfather started at age 5.  It went on until she was 13.  During that time she was also sexually abused by a friend’s family member.  This went on for about 5 years.

Throughout this time Rheanna knew what the abusers were doing was wrong but blamed herself for causing it to happen.  This created a sense of self that was bad, damaged, unworthy.  Which in turn led to a life filled with believing she was unlovable, leading her into unhealthy relationships and continued unhappiness.

When she was 15 a family member sexually abused her.  This only reaffirmed everything she already believed to be true about herself.  Why else would 3 different people abuse meThere must be something about me that causes this to continue to happen.

Rheanna’s abuse experience is, unfortunately, quite common.  Many victims of child sexual abuse have multiple abusers.  Which, as described above leads to an idea of “proof” that there must be something wrong with them.

Rheanna left home, moving out of state, when she was 17 years old.  She started her healing journey by understanding how she was impacted by the abuse.  Prior to this she believed the unhealthy behaviors, poor decisions, lack of self-esteem were just a part of who she was.  As if it was part of her DNA.  This truly was the beginning of a whole new life for her…one she literally would have never been able to dream possible for herself.

Learning about the impact of abuse, realizing she was not alone, and processing her experience were all instrumental in getting Rheanna to where she is today.  She has become the person she was meant to be.  She believes in herself, while being able to recognize the areas of her life she can improve on.  She is able to recognize that she deserves to be in healthy relationships, both romantic and friendships.  As a result, being able to let go of relationships that only bring pain and drama.  Rheanna has learned what happiness and joy truly feel like.

My purpose in sharing Rheanna’s experience is to help survivor’s know they are not alone and healing is possible.  I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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8 comments on “Sexual Assault Awareness Month ~ a short story of hope for survivors”

  1. I know that healing is possible....but I don't understand why the good things keep going away....why when someone is working so hard to heal, is the rug pulled out from under them....only to have to possibly start all over....its hard to think that there will ever be a time when I am truly happy with myself.....my whole self......

    Do I again shove it all to that place in my head....only for it to surface again....I am scared it will all come back with a vengence....if I don't continue with the healing....if I don't do this now and I stuff it all back in.....what is my life really going to be about....I don't want to put that fake smile back on....pretend everything is perfect....pretend I know what to do.

    How did Rheanna learn to love her body again? Even with the things I do, I stand there thinking that all those people see how fat and ugly I am. Maybe not on the inside...but on the outside. I feel like everyone sees the scars from the damage done, that they see me as a slob. I still continue to do things to make me stronger but cannot seem to get past how I see myself.

    Even with all the progress I have made, I am so scared I will never get to the point where I am truly happy. I am, in my eyes, so unattractive, I will never find someone who will truly love me for who I am.

  2. T ~ Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and concerns. You have brought up important aspects of the process of healing that I know others have struggled with as well.

    First, it is important to remember that healing is a process.....typically a very long process. I didn't discuss it in the original post, but, Rheanna's journey took years to get her where she is. Much of that time in and out of therapy as needed and continued practice of the new things she learned. Years of creating and practicing boundary setting and self care were also important aspects of her healing.

    Secondly, life is a process in itself. Everyone experiences ups and downs, including Rheanna. Although, it is certainly true that some experience many more downs than others. The difference for her and others who are able to move through them is that they have learned and practiced ways of healthy coping for a long enough period of time to know, to fully believe, they will get through whatever difficulty arises.

    For many, body image issues are not really about the way their body looks. It's more about how they see themselves as a person and how they feel on the inside. The more you believe in yourself, the better you take care of yourself, and the less your sense of self becomes about how you believe others see you.

    Generally I would say that "stuffing it all back in" is certainly not the best way to heal anything. If you believe someone has let you down, it might be a good idea to consider speaking to them about it. It's important to recognize your needs and advocate for yourself.

  3. This is beautiful. It is so important to share that there is healing after sexual assault. I am a rape survivor and I have a book coming out next month about my journey. I started a blog a couple of days ago! Check me out!

  4. Teena ~ Thank you so much for commenting. Congratulations on your blog and your upcoming book! How exciting for you. Writing and sharing your story can be such a helpful part of the healing process.

  5. Thank your Peggy for sharing this inspirational story! I have so many questions and so many words of admiration for "Rheanna" and everyone and anyone else who has made it to the other side. I personally feel so alone, so helpless, so hopeless, soooo... restricted/confined/trapped/unheard.... BUT, reading stories of hope like this one shines a little light into my mind. To think about real survivors not just "getting by" or inching through life, but really truly thriving and living free... it speaks volumes about the possibility of change.

  6. LL ~ Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment. I truly appreciate your participation. I'm also very happy that hearing "Rheanna's" story has provided even a small amount of hope. It is the reason I do this blog, have this website, and am a therapist. You are certainly not alone in your struggles...as you can see by other comments within this blog. Your comment will likely resonate with others and help them recognize they are not alone.

  7. (The following comment contains detail that some might find difficult or triggering to read) Hi, My name is Patti and I'm a survivor of Rape and torture for many years. I'm married for 32 years now and have 3 grown children. My past haunts me every day! I have flashbacks all the time from so many triggers all around me. I can't look at roofs on buildings because I was raped on a roof at 8 years of age. That was just the first time. I was also dragged down into a dark storm cellar behind the building we lived at in Brooklyn. I was only six when this girl started dragging me down there. She would then place her hands around my neck and choke me until I passed out. Every time I woke up..I thought to myself..Oh MY GOD I'm still alive as I would brush the rats off my body and climb the steep steps to the heavy door I would have to pop open. This went on for 2 1/2 years. Almost daily. Some days I was lucky and ran so fast that I was able to get away. Most days I wasn't so lucky. I was raped more than once as well. I'm telling my little story here because I read the other comments about how woman view themselves after such a Trauma. I have always viewed myself as damn lucky to still be alive! I feel that when I got married at the age of 20..I felt like I'm finally home from a 19 year old war zone. I'm a very over protective Mom and the fear has never left me. Thirty two years later...I still live with horrible fear. For my children as well as for myself. But there's one thing I do know....There is help out there for anyone who seeks it. I'm still seeking after all these years. I know I will find something or someone and get the help I need. Because I'm a very deserving woman. I survived so many traumatic experiences. I'm strong and I LOVE helping others. I want to do something special with the rest of my life..I would LOVE to help other woman who were traumatized in there life time. I want to tell all of you that you didn't do a thing wrong! That you're beautiful just the way you are and that love is out there for you to find and you have a lot of love to give as well. We're still here! Worthy of so much! I believe we all ...as survivors..we all have the right to live in peace and stop living in fear. That's my wish for all the survivors of trauma. Keep searching for the help. Don't ever give up on yourself because we are all so strong and worthy. That's it for now. Keep searching!

  8. Patti~Thank you so much for sharing your story and helping to create hope for other survivors. Your belief in yourself and your healing is inspiring.

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