The letter that follows was both addressed to myself as a means of encouragement, because I had just started therapy a few months earlier. It was also something that I hoped to share with other survivors who have lived through the trauma of sexual violence to inspire and encourage them to fight their way back from the abyss. The book referenced below was the first time that I saw myself as a survivor rather than a victim. My journey back from that dark place required that I claw my way back towards life. It is not an easy to task to bring your body, mind, heart and spirit back when you felt so fractured. If you choose to leave a comment please be sensitive to that. Thank you and feel free to share this with someone who needs to hear this message of hope.
September 30, 2008.
If this letter has reached your hands than you are beginning on your journey of healing. You may ask yourself why I have addressed you as dear survivor instead by your name. The truth is that I do not know who you are, only that like me, someone has betrayed your trust, and violated your rights. These two last facts mean that someone has victimized you in the worst way, but it doesn’t mean that you have to remain a victim for the rest of your life.
In this letter, I am writing a message of hope to you and any other survivors who read it. There were many things that I wished others had said to me when I was in the very early stages of healing that I wish to pass along to you. First of all, you may wonder what a survivor is. Aphrodite Matsakis in her book, The Rape Recovery Handbook, wrote that, “you will be referred to as a survivor more often than a victim to emphasize a truth more significant than victimization: the human capacity to bear what seems unbearable and to keep on growing; despite the wreckage of the past”(4). A survivor is someone who has the strength to bear what seems to be intolerable, and to move from that towards healing.
My own story began when I was a high school senior. A man who I thought that I knew and who I trusted brutally raped me. My strategy to deal with the pain afterwards was to numb myself to it and try to move on with my life. Heavy drinking was one of the many self-destructive ways that I tried to numb my pain. I also chose romantic partners who abused me, or did not treat me with respect because I hated myself so much. I struggled to complete university, and became a professional in my chosen field.
For ten years, I spent my life surviving, but never living my life fully. A few months ago the world that I had created so carefully and maintained by hiding my pain crashed down around me. I was hospitalized for major depression and put on suicide watch. The nurse who took my vital signs that first night in the hospital saw me crying for the first time in many years, and sat down on the bed next to mine to listen to me. Her compassion to listen to me started the real healing process and made me feel like maybe I mattered.
What ever has happened to you was horrible and was not your fault despite how much you might blame yourself. Our perpetrators are never around afterwards for us to express our pain and anger to, so we take it out on ourselves by doing self-destructive things. These actions are only a temporary distraction from the real pain.
It has been several months since I was released from the hospital. With counseling and by learning new coping strategies I am slowly healing. I am an ordinary woman who has faced what seems to be unbearable pain only to keep on growing and thriving. These days my ability to smile, laugh and sing has returned. I am learning to love and take care of myself. I am in a healthy and loving relationship. My strengths are contributing to the community through volunteer work. My rough days are getting less frequent the more that I am healing.
Abusers do not discriminate based on age, race, religion, appearance or sexual orientation. All survivors deserve to receive healing, respect and love. It is my wish for you as I close this letter that you will accept the help offered to you for it is not weak to ask for help, or to feel intense emotions. The numbness, anger, sadness and any other intense emotions that you feel are normal reactions to something traumatic that happened to you. You’re not crazy for feeling these things all at once either.
It is my wish for you that you have safety, good health, healing, and a future filled with lots of happiness.
A Fellow Survivor