The following letter, To My Fellow Survivors, was written by an amazing survivor who recently participated in a support group at Tri-Valley Haven. We are so grateful she has given us permission to publish this:
My rape happened over ten years ago and for ten years, I thought I was fine. I told myself to suck it up, that it was not as bad as some other stories that I had heard, that I was being selfish and to not let it affect me, that I deserved it because I was not good enough. These thoughts replayed in my mind over and over again. They became deep-rooted in my soul. I went through these ten years making bad choice after bad choice—from an eating disorder to self-injury, promiscuity, stealing, lying, anger, and depression, you name it. I thought there was something wrong with me as to why I could just not be happy. Why was I making these unhealthy choices? I knew that I had all this anger built up inside me, but I thought that I had dealt with this part of my past, so when my therapist mentioned that she wanted me to go to a support group, I was very hesitant to say the least. I was willing to try anything, though, because I was at my breaking point. I made the call. I thought, even if I do not like it, I can get out of work early on Fridays.
I was really nervous my first class. I did not want to talk to these people that I had never met about something so personal; plus, I do not trust anyone. The more you let people in, the more they can use that against you. I had learned this too many times. I went week after week, did my homework and opened up as much as I could. We then received an assignment to create a collage of how we felt at the time of the rape, and how we wanted to feel as a survivor. I was not a fan of this. I felt it was stupid, childish, and a waste of my time, but I was going to do it and prove myself right.
I clipped out a pile of sayings in magazines that jumped out at me, not knowing which side I would put them on. Once I completed that task, I just started to glue them on. I felt nothing, no emotion, like this was just a school project for a grade. After I was done, I looked at my board and was astonished. My “bad side” truly represented that horrible night—the pain, the horror, the sadness and the depression—everything I felt then and at that moment ten years later. It hit me. Somehow, looking at those words that were lost within me made it actually real. I finally felt something other than anger. I felt sadness for the girl I was, the girl that I would never be again, the girl that lost a piece of herself that night.
I then turned the board over and looked at my “survivor side.” I started crying. Is this really what I am supposed to feel like as a woman, as a survivor? Proud, Strong, Courageous. Even if I could not be or feel all of the things I had glued on that board, the possibility of being a little free from this pain and darkness is what I wanted. This was probably one of my first, “AH HA” moments. I think after this project is when I started to open up a little more to the other women in the group.
Then the teacher told us that the next assignment was going to be writing our story. “Um, WHAT? Not going to happen.” What could possibly come out of doing this? I was very skeptical. I know what happened to me. Why do I need to write it out?
Needless to say, I sucked it up and started writing. As I wrote, I again felt nothing. It was like I was writing someone else’s story. This is stupid, I told myself. I had gone through years, telling the same version of my story—the bare minimum with friends and family who were concerned. Wasn’t that enough? It wasn’t until I actually started writing details of what he did to me that I started to feel sadness and anger. I finally sat there and realized fully what had happened, what he did, what he said, what he made me do. I remembered things that I had forgotten about, things that I think my mind made me forget until I was ready to process them. I did not think it would be ten years later, but I know now that I wasn’t ready then.
I then had to find a safe person to read this to. That was the scariest part. I had never confided in anyone about the gory details. I kept those parts locked away inside me for so long. No one knew the shame I felt, the guilt I placed on myself for not fighting back, for freezing, for letting someone do this to me, but writing my story and reading it to my counselor proved something to me that day. It proved that I said, “No” numerous times; it proved that I did what I had to do to Survive. As hard as this was to swallow, it did give me a little bit of peace. I was able to forgive myself. It made me open up to the women in the group, to care about them. It was amazing to actually be somewhere I could just be myself and know that I would not be judged, to actually be surrounded with people that knew the pain I felt. I had felt alone for so long.
As this course is coming to an end, I am confused with how I feel. I am happy that I was allowed this time to really look inside me and face some of my demons, but I am saddened to part ways with these women that I feel truly understand me. I still have a lot of work ahead of me. Am I fully healed? I do not think I will ever be, but understanding who I am makes it a little easier.
As you read this, I want you to know that this will be hard. I will not sugar-coat this process. Will you want to quit? Probably, but some of the hardest things in life have the greatest reward, and growing as a person is one of those rewards. Just remember, you are strong, you are courageous, you are worthy, you are loved, and YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!!!