1.) You have to balance multiple aspects of pain.
Not much is as psychologically and physically trying as momentarily losing control of your own body. The debilitating loss of control is something that sticks with you longer than the physical pain you were forced to experience. Not much other than assault leaves you with a struggle to figure out which pain to address first, and therefore not many things other than assault and the healing process after experiencing such a horrendous thing teach you the tool of addressing your body’s many needs all at the same time.
2.) You are forced to learn how to feel isolated even when you need support the most.
You are forced to smile in the hall so no one notices the pain behind your eyes. You constantly pull your sweatshirt sleeves down to hide the bruises you know would raise questions. You try not to shake too hard or become physically ill when he walks past you in the hall, or when he smiles with a sparkle in his eye you won’t possess again for months to come as you struggle to come to terms with what has happened. Even though so many people are willing to help, it is natural to go through a period of grief and shame before opening yourself up and the ability to trust another human is possible again. You have to become your own biggest support system in the weeks following one of the worst things you could experience and that builds such character and an irreplaceable level of self-respect when accomplished.
3.) You learn how to be comfortable with the feeling of vulnerability.
For a while after the assault, every man is a threat. If a man looks at you too long on the street, your legs go numb with fear. If a man offers you a pamphlet with promotions scribbled all over it while you walk through the city, you assume he’s just finding a way to get you close enough to him that he can do the unthinkable. You can only hide in your bedroom for so long before you’re forced to go back into public and continue to be the person society expects you to be, and it takes serious guts to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
4.) In todays day and age, you are forced to to relive your experience through the media and are still expected to heal.
Every time an assault is acted out on screen or a news article pops up in your feed about a rape, a feeling of nausea sweeps over you. Feeling fear and anger because you know the path of hell that girl is about to endure if she ever wants to face the world the same way she did before her attack. Friends read off titles of horror movies as they scroll through the selections on Netflix but so often the words rape, assault or abuse fill the description and you either have to find the voice to whisper one more time that you don’t want to see this film or you swallow your tongue in hopes you won’t be the buzzkill. You sit back and relive the horror playing out on the screen that some of your friends have never even considered are a reality for some people.
5.) You realize compassion comes in every shape and size.
When we can’t express why we are hurting, the ones we love still can figure out what is wrong. Whether we are a survivor who has shared our story or one who is still suffering silently, we can verify how love in any shape or form after such trauma is so powerful. Whether it is a therapist who gives you an hour long therapy session behind closed doors, a mother and father who holds you as you rock and cry without explanation of why, a friend who walks you past the boys locker room because you just can’t look him in the face that day, or a teacher who gives you one less homework assignment because she can see the bags under your eyes — every little thing helps us when we can’t stand on our own any longer and we realize how many people really do have our backs.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault and you need confidential help, call the sexual assault hotline 1-800- 656- 4673. More people are willing to listen than you can even imagine.