Dear Survivor . . . .
Things I would tell myself 5 years ago to the day since I was sexually assaulted.
(trigger warning: sexual assault, mention of suicide)
That’s how every survivor love-letter is supposed to start. But you don’t know you’re a survivor yet. For one thing, it’s still the morning after, and you’re not sure what you’ve just “survived.” I’m writing to you from exactly 5 years into the future. That’s right, in 5 years time you’ll still be here, still surviving. But, dear survivor, you’re going to need to be a victim first.
Yes, you are a victim. Remember that. Hold onto that. Every fibre of your being right now is trying to tell you this, and you need to believe your body and believe yourself, even when people around you don’t. Acknowledging you’re a victim doesn’t mean admitting defeat. It means admitting what happened to you was wrong. It demands that yourself and other people put the blame where it belongs — on the person that did this to you. To be a victim is to stand firm in your truth, and honour the pain you’re feeling. No more keeping it locked up, out of sight where no one can see.
You remember that moment from last night, don’t you? When you picked yourself up off the bathroom stall floor from where you were left, and walked to the mirror to wash yourself off. To wash him off. Just like you’ve always done, up until that point. Forever washing, stripping, cleaning, sweeping, wiping, hiding, smiling, laughing, crying, breathing it all away. A different someone, a different day, a different rock bottom. But this time a rock bottom you really hit. And you made a choice. This time you wouldn’t clean up the mess that other people had made. You left your underwear where it had been pulled down beneath your dress, turned away from the sink, and chose yourself.
Thank you for making that choice. 5 years down the line I am still so grateful that you did. I’ll be honest, it’s a choice you’re going to have to make more than once. And some days you won’t. But you need to keep on choosing yourself.
Today, and every day, make that choice — choose your truth.
Downplaying what happened won’t help. I know it might feel safer not to admit how bad it really was. I know it might seem easier to take the get-out clauses from the Devil’s advocates and disbelievers, to paint over in grey something you know to be black and white. You have a lot of questions right now, and while I don’t have all the answers, just know that whatever definitions you’re trying to make sense of in your head, the one that fits is rape.
I still struggle to say, or write, or even read the word “rape.” I know you do too. But what shouldn’t come as a surprise is how much language — words — are going to help. They’re going to bring clarity, and connection, and the closest thing to freedom you ever felt. Now more than ever, you need to speak up. It’s going to be messy. It’s going to feel embarrassing at times, and I wish I could tell you to be more careful with who you trust your trauma with, but you won’t. Speak. If you can’t speak to others, speak to yourself. Bleed it all out on paper in ink and paint. I won’t bother telling you to drink less or not to abuse your medication, because you probably still will. But don’t overdose again, or you might not survive another time. You were meant to become a survivor.
It’s 2016 where you are. In a few months time, a rapist is going to be President of the United States. By the beginning of 2017, a global social justice movement for survivors of sexual assault will dominate the media, with the hashtag #MeToo. You’re going to hear all manner of people talking about sexual assault. It’s ok to have control of over how much you want to be a part of — and apart from — all of that. You’d like to think you’re moving on, and you are, but you’re also still healing. “Moving on” and “still healing” can both be true at once. You’re going to be inspired by a girl called Daisy. You’re going to overshare on the internet, and then delete all your posts. You’re going to disgrace yourself at parties, and get into fights on nights out. But you’re also going to find the kindness of strangers amongst it all, and just like when you were younger going by the name “Ariel” to help solve other people’s problems online, Ariel is going to be reborn into someone that still helps other people but also, importantly, helps yourself.
There’s so many more things I could say, like be prepared he’s going to lie at the hearing. It sounds so obvious but you really haven’t considered that’s going to happen, and it will. So direct your compassion away from him and turn it inwards, towards yourself for once. You’re the one who’s going to need it most.
Don’t blame yourself for the things you couldn’t do. Forgive yourself for the things you wish you hadn’t done.
I hate to say it but just because you’ve been raped, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to keep on experiencing all the other shitty things life has in store. That boy is still going to break your heart (you know the one I mean). That friend is still going to turn their back on you (you don’t know the one I mean, but you’ll find out). It also doesn’t mean you’re not going to make mistakes. A few bridges will burn, but that’s ok because the ones worth keeping will stay. Be grateful to the friends that stick by you, but don’t ever accept less from the people close to you than the bare minimum of being believed. And know that just because you’ve been raped, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to keep on experiencing all the other wonderful things life has to offer as well.
Live and breathe your pain, feel your feelings like the tides. Sometimes “staying strong” is overrated. Stay yourself. Throughout it all, just stay yourself.