Thursday, May 1, 2014

'I Used To Dream Big' - How going through sexual assault changes you

Written by: Fenna Vlekke

Being sexually assaulted changes you. Yes I know, every life experience will do that, but this can make you feel like you lost a part of yourself. For example, I used to sing. For years on end that probably was one of the most important things in my life. I liked to be in the spotlights, wanting to be on stage one way or the other. Now I don’t want to be the centre of attention anymore. Most of the time, I’m fine being in the background. Once in a while, I find myself singing a song, and for just that short period in time, I imagine myself performing. It feels amazing, but I also feel like that’s not who I am anymore. I’ve asked three survivors of sexual assault how they’ve changed. And I’ve also asked them a question I ask myself a lot: Do you think it’s part of your healing process to regain that part of you you lost, or to accept that you changed and will never go back to being who you once were?

“It has changed me, and there are times when I look back to who I was before. I was happy, I was free, I was innocent. And now I’m anything but that. But I believe that it is important to look at the small things that occur every day that make us feel happy, even just for a little while.”

Meet Megan*. Before she was assaulted, she wore whatever she wanted and was comfortable in a bathing suit. She felt innocent and strong. She also felt like she had a great future ahead of her. She wanted to be a mother and she had a lot of good friends in her life. She felt wanted and loved by those friends as well.
Now she’s not interested in the things she was before. She lost confidence in herself and can’t stand looking at herself in the mirror. She feels a lot of shame and guilt and feels as though she has almost given up on life. Now all she wants to do is cover herself up and she can’t stand wearing bikinis. She can’t imagine being a mother, because she’s afraid of her own future. Most of the good friends she had before have walked away or betrayed her now.

“Do I feel a part of me has died or disappeared? Yes, definitely. I was naive and never really gave consideration to how a seemingly good person could hurt someone they supposedly cared for. The assault has made me reconsider relationships, sexuality and life in general as not necessarily black and white.”
Meet Stacy*Before her traumatic experiences, she was trusting and positive. She used to dream big and had a lot of ambition.
Now she’s more cautious of new people she meets. She thinks this can be a good thing, but it also prevents people from really getting to know her. A lot of the ambition she had is gone. She’s settled into a job that she doesn’t love but will keep her stress levels low. She doesn’t have the drive she used to have, either in her career or personal life. She does feel that the rebuilding process after the sexual assault has made her more resilient to change. She knows she can handle a lot, so life changes that may scare other people, don’t frighten her as much anymore.

‘Every time abuse happens, it takes a piece of you, a piece dies. That sense of safety and security I had before I am still searching for. Searching for the possibility to find love without cowering. Searching for the ability to trust another person to take care of me instead of me. It’s like I am searching, always searching for something, possibly it is just a sense of peace without fear." 
Meet Linda*. Although she already went through abuse at a very young age, she blocked the experience. In her adult life, she got assaulted again. Before she got assaulted as an adult, she was able to have fun, laugh, have friends, and believed that all she had to worry about, was keeping her son safe. She wasn’t afraid of men and wasn’t afraid of being touched by people.
Now she feels a lack of security, a lack of fulfillment and a lack of true joy. She has a constant fight to keep herself going forward and in the right direction. A positive change for her has been a new direction in her career path. Now she wants to help others who also suffer abuse and has begun schooling to continue that. If not for what happened, she probably wouldn’t have chosen this line of work.

So, is it possible to change back to the person you were before? Megan doesn’t think that's possible. She thinks that acceptance is very important when it comes to healing. It has changed her, and sometimes she looks back to who she was before. She was happy, free and innocent. Right now she’s anything but those things. But that doesn’t mean she will never feel like that again. She has hope. Stacy is a few years into the healing process and feels like she’s just starting to figure out what parts of her life she wants to piece back together and what parts she’ll just leave as is. Linda knows that some of the things she’s lost she will never get back. She can accept that and move on. But with some other things, she thinks it’s part of the healing process to get them back. Thinks like a sense of safety and security, love and laughter and a sense of calm without fear. Because without those things, what do you have? 

“I don't want to live without fear, without love, because if I do that, if I do not find happiness, then they would have won, and I’m not going to let them win. 
In the end I will win.

Question for the readers: How have your experiences changed you?

* I've used fake names in this article, to protect the identity of the survivors.

Written by: Fenna Vlekke

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