Putting back the pieces Life after sexual trauma

Lynn Murahwa Creative Writer
How am I supposed to feel? That is the question millions of women and girls ask themselves when society calls on them to ‘act normal’ after suffering the fate of sexual trauma. Where some physical wounds my fade, deeper, more complex ones remain.

When is the appropriate time for someone to recover or ‘bounce back’ after they have been raped or sexually abused? What are the set steps that someone can take in order for them to feel normal again in the eyes of their peers? It goes without saying that there is no set handbook on how to live after surviving rape and sexual assault.

Most women who have who have experienced rape are uncomfortable using that word. In fact, most try to avoid it and instead use language such as “I had an incident,” “You could say that he took advantage of me,” or “He had sex with me but didn’t really want to”.

The perpetrators of these heinous crimes can somehow manage to twist the narrative that makes a woman feel more comfortable in accepting that maybe she gave off signals of consent rather than admit to being raped. This is because the emotional and psychological impact of the trauma can feel too heavy for the survivor to bear.

There is a stigma, so strong, attached to the word rape that often makes survivors feel that if they say it aloud, it somehow means they are tainted or irreparably damaged. When that is far from the truth. Healing and acceptance does come but in no one specific way.

The attributes that make us all unique as individuals apply as well to how we process pain and trauma. Where one person may compare a headache to being hit by a stray locomotive, another may take a sip of water and feel fine. We process things differently and that is ok.

Seconds, days, years or decades can mean the same thing or nothing at all when a survivor of sexual trauma has to relive their experience. Time elapsed does not equate emotional or psychological healing.

A person who has been raped will generally experience high levels of distress immediately afterward. For example, rape may bring about strong feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness. These feelings may differ in strength from day to day or may intensify depending on whether a survivor feels safe in their current environment. This is why it is impossible to have a set time or method of healing.

Where someone could have been assaulted at the workplace, resigning from that environment may bring some semblance of peace. But another person may have been assaulted by a family member in their home which may bring with it deep feelings of distrust, betrayal and unsafety in their own home.

Feelings of constant endangerment or a need to always be on guard, and may result in difficulties forming and maintaining relationships. The isolation that might stem from this can further prolong the healing process.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault remember that no one should pressure you or tell you how to feel or when to feel it.

Acknowledging what happened may take years and that is ok, work things out in your own time and space. In the beginning, it’s important to be selective about whom you tell. Some people are caught up in their own issues and thus unable to respond in a supportive manner. Your safest bet is a therapist. Many therapists are trained in helping you through rape recovery and are able to be supportive and compassionate.

Nurture yourself. It is very important to nurture yourself throughout this process. Be kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself; be patient with yourself; and do healthy things that make you feel good, be it a scented bubble bath, new hairstyle, exercise and yoga, buying yourself some flowers. You deserve it.

Some might never quite work through it, but the important thing to remember is that it’s possible. Staying the course with a positive mind-set will help you make progress and heal. You are a survivor!