First and foremost, I want you to know how incredible you are and how much I love and care about you.
Without a shadow of a doubt, I believe you when you say you’ve been harmed, and I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced violence. To say that you have faced injustice is an understatement; surviving sexual violence is a process full of heartbreak and grief, and can feel much more devastating than the word “unjust” connotes. And yet, it is deeply, deeply unjust that you have had this experience.
It is my sincere hope that if and when you decide to tell people in your life about your survivorship, that they believe you. It is common for survivors to face judgment, disbelief, and blaming from friends and family, which is often just as painful as the violence itself. Regardless, I will continue to believe you, always. Even if no one else does; even if you have days where you still don’t believe or trust yourself and your own experience. I promise to remind you that your experiences, memories, and feelings are real. I trust you.
Trauma can rob survivors of their ability to trust their own memories and feelings. When a person is assaulted or abused, their brain goes into “survival mode” and releases various neurotransmitters that allow for that person to survive the attack. Every person reacts differently to trauma, releasing their own blend of neurotransmitters. While this natural instinct is imperative for survival, it can be confusing for survivors who may have frozen up during their assault, which is a common reaction to this flood of neurotransmitters.
These trauma responses may cause you to feel emotions you have never felt before, which can be unnerving. It can be challenging to recall the details of the assault in any logical order, which can be frustrating. I know how foreign “trauma brain” can feel. You aren’t alone in navigating these new feelings; there is no “normal” way to experience trauma.
Although every experience is different, many survivors feel a sense of guilt over their assault. When something so unjust happens, it is normal to try to figure out a reason why it happened. We live in a rape culture that tells us that we, as survivors, did something wrong and that is why we were violated. It is nearly impossible not to internalize this myth to some degree.
However, I promise you that you don’t deserve any of this. You didn’t deserve to be assaulted, abused, coerced, harassed, or harmed in any way. You don’t deserve to be silenced or not taken seriously by a society that minimizes and condones experiences like yours. You don’t deserve to be doubted, or blamed for your experience as a survivor.None of this is your fault.
Let me say that again- None of this is your fault. Regardless of your story, someone chose to harm you, and that decision sits firmly on them. No matter how your healing unfolds, know that this is not your shame to carry.
I know that the impact of trauma can feel unbearable at times. It is likely that at some point you may feel rage, depression, numbness, agony, heartbreak, or grief over what has happened to you. While these emotions are unbelievably painful, they are also signs of progress. Whenever you feel these emotions, you are processing your survivorship. The only way out is through. You’ve got this.
While you never deserved to experience trauma, you do deserve so many wonderful things that life has to offer. You deserve happiness. You deserve to heal. You deserve safety. You deserve rest. You deserve care. You deserve justice in whichever way you conceive of it. You deserve love, support, and folks who will sit with you through the pain and the joy.
Throughout your healing journey, know that every success, no matter how small it may seem, is progress. Getting out of bed is a success. Listening to your body, and staying in bed, is a success. Treating yourself to a long, luxurious bath is a success. Picking up the phone and asking for help is a success. Taking a walk outside is a success. Every single step matters.
I promise to support you no matter which options you choose in your healing. At times, all of the options may feel overwhelming. It is okay to take your time; I will support you when you make your decisions. Whether you want to file a police report or not, I will support you. Whether you want medical attention, or not, I will support you. Whether you want to talk to a counselor or would rather talk to a friend, at home, in your pajamas, I will support you. Whether you want to identify publicly as a survivor the week you are assaulted, decades later, or never, I will support you. No matter what you decide, I believe that you know what is best for you. I am honored to be available as a resource for you as you navigate your needs.
Survivor, I want to say thank you. As a fellow survivor, I am with you. You are the reason I get out of bed every morning. Your courage and power drive me and I will always be grateful for that. I hear you. I see you. Thank you.
Your Local Rape Crisis Worker
This letter is part of a series by Kat Stuehrk, Northside Prevention Educator at Rape Victim Advocates, developed for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s 2017 Sexual Assault Awareness Month Theme, “Engaging New Voices”.