Photo by Jean Gerber on Unsplash
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and as part of our awareness activities throughout the month of April, we’d like to highlight a few survivor stories for you.
Today, Janie shares her personal story of healing after sexual trauma. We are honored that she has shared her experience with us, and now… you.
Sexual trauma. I can tell you what it is. I can tell you what does. I can tell you I don’t know if I’ll ever feel fully recovered… but I do feel better. A whole lot better, as a matter of fact.
I’ve been in therapy over six years and I still have secrets that the “boogieman” hiding in the deepest corners of my brain hasn’t shone me. My sexual trauma began at 12 with a “boyfriend” who glommed onto me for four years during the 1970s. This set the tone for every male relationship that followed, up to and including a 14 year marriage ending in 2003.
Early on I learned to keep secrets, because I was forcibly and threatened to do so. I’d also learned it was easier to comply with the men in my life, since fighting back made my circumstances so much worse. And I learned what it was like to feel guilt and shame.
The mask I’d learned to put on every day became my new normal; it became a deeply ingrained habit. It wasn’t until 2013 when visiting a cousin, who happens to be a social worker that I allowed a tiny inkling of my past tumble out of my lips. My hand instantly covered my mouth. I couldn’t unsay those words. I remember feeling scared. But it was this moment that changed my life.
My cousin told me to get my rear-end into therapy. So I did. I’d always lived life with a smile on my face so no one knew. Knew what? Hell, I didn’t even know what I knew! I’d remember things in brief glimpses, flashbacks, nightmares, and what I call daymares. But it was never enough to form a clear picture of anything. This, I learned, is called dissociation. It’s our brain’s built in survival tool.
I went through several different therapists to find the one that jived with me. But I did indeed find her. Lynne. What a treasure she is. I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. The depression diagnosis I’d had some years earlier, in the late 1990s, which never left.
It was sometimes difficult to continue with weekly therapy appointments. During the first two years, I felt like all I did in therapy was blab on about BS things in life. So many times I’d think, “What’s the point?” When I told Lynne, she was (and has always been) quick with helping/making me see what that point is. This is part of the process. Lynne has kept me on track and has my back.
Over the months the mask started to lift. I learned a lot about myself. One evening, while strolling through my mind, I came upon a cardboard box crammed up inside the attic space of my brain in the deepest, darkest, spider webbiest corner. It was haphazardly wrapped over and over with black duck tape… like it was done by a crazy person. Instantly, I knew what it was. That was the boogieman box. And I didn’t dare open it.
Early 2015, the boogieman found its way out, flooded me with some memories I wasn’t ready to see. Thankfully, I’d previously set up a support network, friends and family who were (and still are) there for me. And I had Lynne. Together, they helped me through some very dark says.
In 2017, I started also seeing Rochelle, a counselor at Blue Water Safe Horizons, and together we opened the boogieman box during session. This time, I was in control of the circumstances. Not what the boogieman had to show me, but when to close the box, which gave me a sense of empowerment over that boogieman. I’m not gonna lie, it still hurt like hell. And was extremely difficult to see.
I attended a weekly support group for sexual trauma at Blue Water Safe Horizons. I’d never thought a support group would help. Why would I want to listen to other people’s horrible circumstances when I have my own to contend with? But oh man, did it help. We don’t talk about our pasts unless we want to. And when one of us does open up, we’re all there to rally behind each other. What we do talk about in group is empowerment, learning about ourselves, and who we are. Who we want to be without our traumatic pasts. Our group has been invaluable.
The boogieman still jumps out at random times to show me scary things. It takes time and work to process the information in between visits, but I’m managing. He still intimidates me, but I’m still here to talk about it, which gets easier every time.
Its taken persistence, keeping therapy appointments, and a whole lot of work. And again, I’m not gonna lie, going through this process has been scary and very difficult… but well worth it. I have my support network in place and my own personal secret weapons. Their names are Lynne and Rochelle.
I’m learning how to stand on my own two feet again. I’m working on how to be who I really am without the mask. It’s beautiful. And to quote an Elton John song from 1985, “I’m still standing.”
If you are a survivor and wish to learn more about our individual and group counseling services, please call 1-810-989-5246. Blue Water Safe Horizons’ counseling services are offered free of charge.