Every so often I receive a message from a stranger asking if we can connect. They’re not looking to sell me their services or add me to their email list. They want to know if my life is livable — or more importantly, “how did I get to where I am?”
As a rape survivor-activist, my pain has been made public for spectacle, political warfare and cultural discourse. With it comes a certain layer of permeance, where people feel comfortable reaching out to me for comments or advice. My pain is a calling card for those who are desperate to navigate a life post violence and I try to respond to each appropriate request with care.
Often, the strangers who reach out to me are the family of survivors. Their loved ones — who were once brimming with hope and possibility — struggle to live in a world that has already violated them. These strangers ask me:
“Are you happy?”
“How long did it take to heal?”
“What do I do to support my loved one?”
I don’t have straightforward answers. But I often share my story of healing, trying to show the nuances of life after rape and how I reclaimed my story and pain to build a life that I can call my own.
2022 will be the 10 year mark of when I was raped by my classmate. I spent the last 10 years trying to piece my life back together and make sense out of the meaningless of violence. Along the way, I have found love, community and purpose, but the healing isn’t over and I don’t think it ever will be.
All I do know for sure, is that we don’t spend enough time sharing the stories of our healing. The journey after the trauma. The continued ugliness we must face after being dehumanized to the point of certain death. I have been more fortunate than most, having had access to quality healthcare and healing resources, a support network that provided me with a safe landing while I tried, over and over again, to make a life for myself. For the last 5 years, I have made a conscious effort to untangle myself from my work in survivorship, but the more I tried to separate myself from my past, the more I lost my connection to the world. Denying my pain was also denying my humanity.
Often I tell strangers that there is hope. The world is changing. Not fast enough, but in the last 10 years, I have seen the rise of survivor activism, the #MeToo movement, policy changes that support survivors and a culture of accountability and respect starting to emerge in more and more places.
And even more so, I took what nearly destroyed me –interpersonal and institutional violence — and used it as the pillars for my personal and professional life.
Some of these pillars I hope to explore further in later writing, but for now here are the core tenets of my journey thus far.
After I was raped by my classmate, I thought I would never trust another human being. But through the hard work of EMDR therapy and the kindness of a close few, I was able to trust people and even myself. My greatest source of joy is the healthy relationships in my life that I have now and I know what’s possible when we continuously strive for healthy, authentic relationships with one another. There’s nothing quite as powerful as a healthy relationship and I am encouraged by the great shift in our culture to focusing on cultivating healthy relationships — both personally and professionally.
After I was raped, my body did not belong to me. Instead, my body was a prisoner of the violence. Often disassociated, I had limited ability to comprehend what was needed of me and my body. It was only when I found the right language and trauma informed care did I reconnect with my physical form. Navigating healthcare post rape gave me the insight into the importance of bodily integrity– the right to self determination and autonomy over our own bodies. Bodily integrity is my North Star, guiding my work in healthcare and entertainment as I seek for everyone to be empowered when it comes to their own minds and bodies.
The survivor rights movement is a lesson in storytelling. Who’s telling the story? The victim or the victor? Often victims of sexual violence are nameless statistics, but that story changed the moment we came forward, using our voices to recenter the narrative on what happened to us. Storytelling was the vehicle we used to push for behavior, cultural and policy change. It continues to be the method I use for my work as I scale healing through entertainment.
Ultimately, when strangers connect with me and ask me about my life post rape, I don’t linger on the details of the violence or what it’s like being a part of the media circus. Rather I always come back to the journey of healing.
Each journey is unique. It will not be linear or easy, but it is possible. I’ve often wished there was a way we could inoculate ourselves against violence, but the truth is we can’t. We can however strengthen our healing abilities, supporting ourselves and loved ones as we wade through the pain and suffering. As this year begins, I re-dedicate myself to my own healing journey, knowing I cannot help others unless I remain committed to my own healing as well.