Last week, I had the honor of participating in Author Torah Bontrager’s live show, along with a panel of other sexual assault survivors and the topic was “Love After Sexual Assault” – which is something that is extremely important for survivors to have again in order to heal – especially after they have had so much taken away from them. But it’s not easy and it is a topic that survivors, me included, might shy away from or even worse, be terrified to surrender to.
But it starts inside. Self-love – the absolute hardest part to regain after sexual assault. There is an intense lack of self-love because often survivors lose their sense of self-worth after. However, in order for you to reconnect with yourself and learn to love who you are in a wholesome way, you need to feel. It’s frightening to get back in touch with yourself following sexual assault – both mind and especially the body. Rape can make your body feel like the enemy, something that’s been violated and contaminated – something you may hate or want to ignore. It’s also scary to face the intense feelings associated with the assault. But while the process of reconnecting may feel threatening, it’s not actually dangerous. Feelings, while powerful, are not reality – yet you need to feel them to heal. Remember: they aren’t real in the sense that they are not who you are and they will not hurt you. The true danger to your physical and mental health comes from avoiding them. Once you’re back in touch with your body and feelings, you will feel more safe, confident, and powerful. This is because allowing those feelings to move through you, puts you on the other side of them – where your true joy is where YOU are!
My answers from the show:
Enjoy my answers from this very important talk and if you want to hear the rest of the panelists – sign up here to receive the entire recording for FREE!
Question #1: What’s your story in 1 sentence?
My story is the loss of innocence through a violent act of rape, attempted murder and the death of my baby Joseph.
Question #2: How has sharing your story publicly helped you in your healing journey?
When we share our stories – we become empowered. I stopped suffering in silence. For the first time in thirteen years, the sharing of my story – opened the POSSIBILITY to heal. Staying in silence prolongs the suffering and for all of those years that I was silent – my suffering intensified.
Question #3: How has what happened affected your romantic relationships?
Prior to my husband Jason, I avoided intimacy. My trust was taken away after that night at 16-years-old, after the rape. Even within my marriage, I was closed in the beginning – even after I fell in love with Jason. My body was always tense, tight and closed. I felt ashamed of my body, always wanting to hide it. It has take a long time to feel free while intimate with my husband.
Question #4: How do you get through suicidal phases or events (like Valentine’s Day) when you’re alone? Or how did you get through them when you were single?
I have only had a handful of suicidal phases since the rape and having PTSD. When I was younger – I self-medicated with alcohol and as I got older, I stopped that behavior – I always made sure to reach out when my thoughts went awry. I didn’t know how to help myself in the early years of PTSD, but I knew I needed to speak up when suicidal thoughts would present themselves.
Question #5: What’s one way, or the best way, that a potential romantic partner could support you as a sexual assault/trauma survivor? What would you say to a potential partner?
I don’t have a potential partner (married) – but I can use my own husband as an example prior to being married. After he found out what had happened to me, it was still pretty early on in our relationships, so he demonstrated sensitivity and empathy by always asking for permission before touching me. Patience is the number one trait that my husband portrayed with me and is what I would tell another man who was in a relationship with a survivor. To not be afraid of talking about the night (if she needs to) and encouraging her to never give up seeking help and that healing is possible.
A survivor needs someone who doesn’t need to a partner to understand the details of what it was like – but rather what she is going through presently. She needs him to have the knowledge base to know how to respond to the symptoms of PTSD. Doing his or her own research about PTSD, Sexual Assault and trauma is very important for the relationship to thrive.
Question #6: What is your self-care practice?
For me it is knowing how to care for yourself body, mind and spirit. Check in daily and see what area I might be lacking or feeling stress. Stress triggers my PTSD and so I make it a habit to check in daily – first thing in the morning when I spend about twenty minutes in complete silence while meditating.
Nutrition is also a big self-care practice of mine. We are what we eat and food plays a big role in how we feel emotionally and physically.
At least once a day I check in with my breath. And pause and do a minute of deep belly, breathes. When survivors or anyone is in stress – we tend to not take deep breaths. It is like we are always holding our breath. Consciously checking in on how well I am breathing is a daily self-care ritual.
Then of course, at the end of the day, if I am feeling overly stressed, baths or a funny movie is my go-to because laughter is music for our hearts or a good book. I am also not afraid to speak up to my husband and hand off the girls and all the nightly duties if I need a BREAK. Although – after so many years together, he can see right away if my stress levels are maxed for the day and jumps in to help.
Question #7: What are some things that help you for post-traumatic stress? Tools, tips, techniques, rituals, etc.
Writing. It is the most magical tool to reintegrate pain into words, often creating inspiration for both myself and for others.
Yoga. Yoga re-centers my mind and body. It enables me to be in the present moment, feeling a sense of grounded-ness from connecting to my body, the earth and myself.
Dancing. Swaying with my emotions, shaking out the pain and feeling my heartbeat helps me to feel a powerful rush of euphoria. The emotions of grief can hit us so harshly at times, that there is a need to move faster than yoga – so I throw on some of my favorite music and dance like nobody’s watching – releasing the pain through the ebb and flow of swaying shoulders and circling hips.
Question #8: Is love possible after sexual assault? And what’s your definition of love?
Absolutely – but a prerequisite would be to learn how to love yourself again before you can love another. In my memoir, I talk about how I hid behind loving others, like my daughter and my husband and not myself. I wasn’t fully aware I was even hiding, but what I did know was that I was still suffering despite the love I had for my family. Loving yourself is fundamental to loving another person, even your own children. Once I began to heal – my relationships began to change with my daughters and husband. I was able to love them without fear of losing them or without restraint or conditions. Survivors who are not healed, often feel like they have to control their environment and relationships for fear of losing or getting hurt.
Love is the reason for all things, whose eternal presence is seen in acts of kindness and patience yet penetrates act of hatred and discord. Love brings us back – always. – Lindsay Gibson, Just Be