“I believe healing is a lifelong journey and the hardest part is starting.” Tarana Burke
Touch has been a source of terror, pleasure, and comfort. Consequently, I have always and continue to suppress (or struggle with) the anxiety that grows at the anticipation of an unfamiliar or familiar “touch”. I am never quite sure how my body will process the slightest engagement.
Individuals who have never experienced trauma can only offer theoretical prescriptives as to how to move past trauma. More specifically, when it comes to sexual trauma, the apparent social consensus echos; “You should just get over it.” Whether this solution comes from friends, family, and even our celebrated mental health professionals, the lack of sensitivity also echos the the underlying problems in our social interactions. The thing is, whether you are a dysfunctional or a well-adjusted victim, you discover “Getting Over It” is much more complicated than any outsider can imagine. The experience of sexual trauma is a permanent stain that victims eventually realize can not be washed away. No matter how hard you try to separate yourself from the event, there will be act or interaction that brings that horrible experience to the forefront, like a “touch”. Rather than running away, “coping” becomes the socially acceptable tool of choice.
It is my position that, cognitive dissonance as a scientific concept, best describes the act of “coping”. It requires navigating along a fine line of self judgement, guilt and the desire to be “normal”. Unfortunately, navigating this fine line inevitably thrusts the victim into a world full of conflicts and contradictions.
I want to be desired, however, I don’t, particularly because, I struggle with the work to dismiss the guilt I have unknowingly placed on my younger self for what happened to me. I long for that intimate touch, but I cringe at the possibility of what may occur. A difficult aspect of sexual trauma is the invisible landmines that are buried all over a victim’s physical and psychological being. Survivors are unaware of these “landmines” until they are triggered. These triggers can manifest themselves from the slightest touch, smell, sound or even a familiar story. I remember discovering my first landmine as a 19 year old after being grabbed inappropriately by a student I was tutoring. I immediately began punching my student as my survival instincts kicked in and the poor student did not stand a chance. It was at this time that that I realized that I needed to go to counseling.
Another aspect of these "landmines” is that even innocent or socially appropriate interactions can trigger a vivid memory of the traumatic event. To be clear, these memories often times are as intense as the actual experience with physiological reactions as if I was experiencing the trauma over and over again. For this and countless other reasons, it is important to have open dialogues with anyone you plan to be intimate with. Opening up was not something I was comfortable doing when I was younger. I completely avoided discussing my trauma out of fear of being considered crazy. However, the ability to be vulnerable with your significant other and knowing that the person you are involved with has the compassion and ability to assist in creating a safe space is crucial to developing a healthy intimate relationship. One of the most liberating conversations I had, was when I was able to tell my lover that I had a flashback during foreplay and I had difficulty processing it. Upon discussing the reason why I avoided him, we developed a space for our communication, understanding, and trust to grow.
Life after sexual assault is complicated and convoluted. Healing requires patience, and an open mind. This piece is the beginning of a series where I examine and share my experience to find a sense of peace and renewed self love. My hope is I can help bring light to those who are trying to heal and understanding to those who want to support someone in their healing.
Love and Light,