An Open Letter To My Fellow Survivors

woman wearing white shirt near tree
Artur Nasyrov / Unsplash

My dear fellow survivors,

Before writing this, I wanted to seek all of you out and hold you. I wanted to sit and sip tea with you and hear your story; I wanted to note the color of your eyes, the tenor of your voice, the way the sun fills your face, because these things matter to me.

You matter to me.

I cannot meet all of you. The number of us, for one, is appallingly high. One in five women and one in seventy-one men will be raped at some point in their lives; one in three women and one in five men experience sexual violence.

I cannot know you all by name. Our names, for one, we often choose to keep secret—for safety, for pain’s sake, for shame, for power. But I can offer this to you, my fellow survivors, as many as will read this, in lieu of my open arms, ears, and eyes. I can give you evidence that most of us (if not all of us) are listening.

I am always listening.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

This is not a political piece, but even I will admit that the news lately has been nearly unbearable. I know that you, too, have felt the unbearability of these headlines, of their content, their implications, their dark black ink.

This week, a national leader has openly mocked—to the supportive cries of his followers—a survivor’s words. The same leader has undermined the credibility of fellow survivors’ truths, suggesting these were mere political currency.

Still others have displayed fury and vitriol at the notion of women sharing their powerful voices and claiming their own basic human rights.

These attempts to silence survivors are heinous; it is all too easy, as a survivor myself, to submit to these horrors.

We are allowed to weep at this. We are allowed to rage. But don’t let the news dictate your power. Don’t let the smaller voices vanquish your larger one. Your experience matters. It will always matter. This is the headline I want you to read, again and again.

The right people will listen.

I wish I could tell you that everyone will listen to your story when you choose to share it (if you have not already chosen to share it). I wish I could say that claiming this traumatic experience was easy; I wish I could say that everyone will respond to such claims with love.

Many people are afraid to respond and to listen. In fact, I have learned—in my limited experience—that fear and shame limit many from giving survivors what they need.

You might find that more people will choose to ignore you than to listen to you.

This has been the case with me. You will understand when I tell you that I am more comfortable using the word “rape” now than anyone else familiar with my past. You will understand when I tell you that no one asks about it. You will understand when I tell you that many—even those I love—have blamed me.

My dear friend, remember that the right people will listen. They may not listen in the way that you want at first. But they will listen. And they will continue to do so. Hold on to these listeners—bind them to you. They will help you remember that you matter.

(The first time I felt truly heard was when I called RAINN. Do it, if you haven’t done so already.)

Let the story move through you.

With all that is happening right now, you may be tempted towards silence. I know I have been.

But the story lives in you; it has a voice. You have a voice. The best times to let it speak are those in which the world threatens to silence it most.

Let it move through you. Turn to art, writing, dance, running, shouting off of mountaintops. Pour your story into a journal or a pumpkin spice latte. When you feel that no one else is watching your journey, watch it yourself.

I put my anger into my paints, for example. I pin up butcher paper on my bedroom walls and finger paint, scream, and cry until I have nothing left.

Find support, even when you don’t want to.

I dragged myself to a survivors’ support group last year. I reluctantly booked counseling appointments. I explored hypnotherapy, Thai bodywork, and sound healing, approaching each session as I would a dental cleaning.

I am glad I did these things, as hard as they were in the beginning.

When the loneliness yawns, find your support. It is there, even if it is in the form of licensed professionals. There are people trained to hold you and help you navigate these sharp corners, no matter what shape your story takes.

Don’t let fear of cost or health insurance coverage deter you. There are ways to work around this. Your health matters above anything else.

Don’t depend on others’ validation.

I have waited, my dear friends, for so long. I have waited, I have cried into pillows, I have stared at the bottom of empty wine glasses, longing for someone to validate my pain.

That validation has not come.

I now know why. It must come from me, even though this is not a wound I created, even though I was victim once, am now survivor forever.

There is no value in waiting for others to tell you they honor your scars. You must honor them yourself. This is a bitter pill, but it is a good pill.

I am here to tell you I am still waiting to swallow this pill. But it rests on my tongue, slowly dissolving.

I will let you know that I validate you, everything about you, always. But I will also let you know that this is not everything. Your personal validation is everything.

You are not alone.

This sounds trite, I know, but it is a truism for a reason. You may wish to cave in, to crawl inside of yourself and hide from everything. I have this wish every day.

You may think no one else is here to witness this, that no one else understands.

You are not alone. You will never be alone—I am here. And I am one of thousands, of millions. Eventually, we are all going to shout so loud the clouds will bounce.

Do not forget this.

It is hard for me to end this letter, because in a sense, it is a letter that never ends. Yet I will end it with me reaching out my hand, and with you taking it. Hold on. Hold on forever. And then open your mouth and shout.

Love,

Me TC mark

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