Understanding and Healing Sexual Trauma

– TRIGGER WARNING –

We often think of rape as happening in a dark alley with a complete stranger. In reality, it’s usually someone you know or have met before, or maybe even someone you trust. It may even occur somewhere you consider safe, like your home. For me, it was my boyfriend who raped me, at our home. We even lived together. I had given consent before. But this time I said no, multiple times. He tried to convince me, coerce me, change my mind…. then just took what he wanted anyways. It took me a long time to realize it was actually rape. It wasn’t violent. I didn’t scream. I just waited for it to be over because that was the easiest thing to do. I couldn’t overpower him, or get away. I basically just froze. I had no power or control. I was in denial and disbelief. This was the person I deeply loved and was suppose to love me and care for me. This was someone I trusted.

When you say no, but they try to coerce you or convince you, that’s still rape. Even if you’re dating the person and are intimate, you can still say no and they should respect that. It is not your duty or obligation as a partner to cater to their “needs.” Just because you’ve said yes before doesn’t mean they will continue to have rights to your body whenever they want. There should be a mutual, enthusiastic YES! You can change your mind in the middle of sex and that is ok, they should respect that and stop. It took multiple rape awareness classes through work to learn this many, many years after the fact.

In an extreme situation, you either fight, flee, or freeze. Your mind is so overwhelmed and not prepared to handle what is happening, so you go into survival mode. In these situations what most people don’t talk about is how the easiest survival instinct is simply freeze.. to wait it out until it’s over and pretend nothing happened. But the body remembers. There is no time to process the emotions because the body and nervous system are in overdrive and shock. So, like with all trauma, the unprocessed emotions get stored in your body. Prolonged unprocessed emotions and your nervous system remaining in a heightened state for a prolonged time can turn into PTSD, anxiety and/or depression. So for a time after an event/s you may still be in freeze mode, or even fight or flight. You’re still in shock. You don’t know what to do – how do you go on living a normal life? You may feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself or it was taken from you. You may be lost, angry, deeply hurt, numb, apathetic, etc. You may feel like this for years if you don’t actively work on healing the trauma. That’s what happened to me.

Rape stays with you, no matter how it happens, no matter with whom. It is an invasion of your body without your consent. It can make you feel unsafe, unworthy of love or affection, make you not comfortable being touched with other partners, feel like to can’t trust others, can’t trust yourself, hate yourself or your body, avoid certain places or people, hate a song you use to like, feel out of control, feel scared constantly, alone, ashamed, isolated, or blame yourself. You may feel like the whole world is no longer a safe place. You may do the “if I did____, then it wouldn’t have happened,” or “I should’ve not said___ or done ____.” It’s a vicious cycle going down the “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” road and it will get you no where.

Remember that everything you experience is a normal reaction to trauma. You did the very best you could. You did absolutely nothing wrong nor did you do anything to bring it on yourself. It was not your fault. That remains solely on the perpetrator.

Start Healing:

Start talking about with with someone you trust who will remain calm and allow you to talk rather than trying to “fix it.”

Talking about it will help you regain your power and control.

You can also call a support line or join a support group. Learning for yourself that you aren’t alone and other people have had similar experiences helps a lot.

Forgive yourself. This was not your fault. There was nothing you could’ve done. You did the best you could given the situation.

You must FEEL to HEAL

Journal how you felt during and after the event/s. Name the emotions. Sit with me and allow yourself to feel them and anything that may come up. You may feel the need to cry or feel angry or scared – whatever it is that comes up, it is a chance to heal.

Reconnect with and get back into your body.

Yin yoga is really great – it’s soft, slow, meditative, low impact, and allows you to get deeper into the body.

Dance. Any kind of dance. Just move your body however feels good and whatever you feel it needs.

Do any activities you use to enjoy but maybe don’t do as much anymore. Reconnect with yourself and your interests.

Tai Chi or QiGong

Practice mindfulness – this keeps you present instead of stressing about the past or having anxious about possible future what ifs. Be aware of what’s happening in the moment. Using your 5 senses is a great way to start. Paying attention to nature and little things and finding joy in those things – like watching a squirrel play or a flower blowing in the breeze. Take time to slow down so you can notice and appreciate the little things.

Practice meditation – It takes some consistency but meditation can drastically decrease anxiety that comes from trauma. Remember the point isn’t to clear your mind, but to notice your thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them, and allow them to pass. You want to observe without judgement. It will be challenging to sit still with yourself and your thoughts – most of us have never done this before and it can be scary to be alone with yourself. But it’s a good first step towards relearning who you are, letting go of who you are not, accepting yourself, and loving yourself again. At first you may have a ton of thoughts and it can be overwhelming a to take a look at what’s actually going on in your mind. You can try imaging each thought as a thought bubble floating by, a cloud or a wave in the ocean. You can simply say, “I see you, thank you for sharing with me,” and wave goodbye. Focus on your breathe coming in and going out and each time a new thought comes up, acknowledge it, then return your focus to your breath. This actually trains your mind and rewires your brain. Anxiety is from living in the future, depression from living in the past, peace comes when you live in the present moment.

Be kind and gentle to yourself. You are not a victim, you are a survivor, and one day you will be a warrior. You will be stronger that you’ve ever been. Our traumas tend to shape us, help us grow, and eventually be able to connect with others on a deeper level. It helps us have more compassion and empathy. You sharing your story with someone else could help them not feel so alone and give them hope. That’s why I have this blog – I’m turning my mess into my message, my past pain into my purpose. I’m sharing how I overcame and healed, and that it’s completely possible for you to as well. But you have to want it, really want to heal. It starts there.

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