I have been asked how I “hide it so well.” Because by looking at me, they say, you would have no idea that I had been through such a horrible thing. That I carry on in such a way that no one would ever know I had been a victim of such a heinous, despicable act of violation and violence. How do I hide it so damned well? The answer?
Because there is nothing to hide. I just choose not to announce it to every person I meet, or wear a sign across my forehead stating “survivor of attempted rape and murder.” (If you haven’t already, you can read my full story here.) I’m not hiding anything. I’ve just chosen not to allow that dreadful experience to take me over like some demonic possession, parading me around like a helpless victim. I am not ashamed of what happened, nor do I feel guilty. I’m not hiding anything – I’m carrying on; I’m living. I had a traumatic experience. But that experience does not define me. It is a part of me, yes. Did it change my life? Of course. Did I always feel this way? Not exactly.
It took me a long time to reach the surface after fully submerging myself in the metaphorical tar pit that was the aftermath of the assault. I felt empty, yet so heavy that I sank to the bottom of the pit, indifferent as to whether I would ever find my way out. And make no mistake, I didn’t just magically snap out of it one day, like the sun suddenly appearing bright and strong after a tornado has dissipated. I worked hard to get to the point I am at now. Therapy. Friends. Books. Research. Martial arts. Time. Eventually all those things contributed to melting that tar away, slowly but steadily, lifting me to the surface as it waned.
I may appear as though “I hide it well,” but in reality I’ve just become a stronger, more resilient woman who is able to look life dead in the face and not waver. By making it through something that was meant to tear me down and coming out on the other side more fortified, I feel as though I have the power to conquer anything. I carry myself as a strong, confident, humble woman with my head held high and a positive attitude. And that, my friends, is what is seemingly so hard for some to believe – for how could a woman who had experienced such a trauma be capable of carrying on that way?
. . .
The Way Back to the Surface
- Therapy. I was reluctant to seek therapy at first, thinking “why should I pay someone to listen to me vent, when I can talk to my friends for free?”Well, it makes a world of difference talking to someone who is unbiased with a fresh eye (or ear, if you will) on the situation. The trick is finding the right therapist. I did my research online before deciding on who to see. First, make sure you look at what the psychologist’s specialty or area of focus is in – some have more expertise than others in dealing with PTSD (or whatever your focus may be). I also suggest reading patient testimonials and reviews. Sometimes they’re hard to trust as the majority of people who take the time to post are either extremely satisfied or extremely unsatisfied – you don’t really get the in between. Use your best judgement, and most importantly – go with your gut.
- Friends. It goes without saying, friends, partners, and family comprise your number one resource: use it. The most important thing during your recovery is having a network of support, even if it’s only a select few people. Talking to a therapist can work wonders – on the other side of the coin, talking to friends can be even more cathartic. They know you, they know how to comfort you. They can speak freely and offer more candid feedback – i.e. “tell it like it is” – whereas a therapist is bound by license and bylaws to interact neutrally and professionally.
- Books. I purchased and read multiple books during my recovery stage. The more educated you are about your condition, the better you are able to understand what is going on inside of you and are thus more capable of overcoming. And, of course, there is a multitude of books out there on this subject matter. But a few of my favorites are You Are Here and No Mud, No Lotus: the Art of Transforming Suffering both by Thich Nhat Hanh, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.
- Research. As mentioned above, the more you know about your condition, the faster your healing process can become. Understand your symptoms. Learn what triggers are, what yours are specifically, how to recognize and neutralize them, and ultimately nullify them. I have used the analogy of blocking numbers from calling – once I have recognized my specific triggers, I put them on the “blocked callers list” so their power is rescinded and that specific trigger can no longer affect me again. Being aware of what triggers me helps me to prevent an attack or relapse by preparing myself for what’s coming; it’s like catching someone trying to sneak up on you – they can’t scare you if you see them coming.
- Martial Arts. Now this one may not be for everyone, and that’s okay. But from my personal experience, entering the martial arts has had an enormously positive effect on me. Contrary to common belief, the martial arts aren’t just for athletic gain; a martial artist is also one who practices constant perfecting of oneself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually: self-discipline, self-control, confidence, inner peace, and other intrinsic values. I have become a much calmer, more composed individual since I began my martial arts journey. The transformation did not happen overnight – I have been training for almost four years now, and it wasn’t until recently that I was able to see a stark difference to who I was prior. The Path is not for everyone, but for those who do seek it, it is a deeply rewarding experience.
- TIME. Ah, yes. The healer of all wounds. The most elusive of all the components to resurfacing, and the most impossible to measure the appropriate amount. Everyone heals differently. Some need more time than others. For some, recovery could take a mere few years, and for others a full recovery may never feel like a reality. But there is no right or wrong amount of time, no right or wrong amount of healing. I can say, however, that this is the most important of all the components – and it must be combined with at least one of the others. You won’t always be stuck in your current state, whatever that may be. But you must resolve to dragging yourself out of that tar pit, one inch at a time, one day at a time. For if you just lay there and remain stagnant, you’ll never get anywhere.
Questions? Comments? I would love to hear anything you might like to share. Please feel free to post below or contact me privately if you’d prefer.