the strength he gave me | how to heal from rape/assault

I like being able to take a bad experience and extract at least one good thing out of it. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I like writing, because you can take all the good that you’ve learned and become, and use it for something good, so that it instead of suffering and doing nothing, there is suffering and doing something. 

I was freakishly unlucky getting raped just two days before the guy I was in love with broke it off. It was an awfully inconvenient mix of two things that broke my heart and left me more disoriented than I have ever been. It’s probably one of the more awful things I’ve experienced and I took a lot of notes and I learned a lot. Out of the hundred notes I have on my phone and my computer, I finally made this article. Three months of writing and it's finally done.

I wanted to make something which hopefully can help someone else in their lostness and wanted something I searched for at the time but couldn’t find. Because whatever traumatic situation we find ourselves in, we need room to come to terms with what happened and room to heal, so that we can come out of the situation a changed person, like a 2.0, a whole lot better. 

I only have myself and my own experience as a reference and I know that we all come with different backgrounds and abilities to handle certain situations. As my sister so beautifully said: I can't walk for anyone else than myself. But what I can do, is tell you how I walked. So here it is. Apply whatever you like. Hopefully your heart will feel at least a little lighter and more whole after reading this <3
 

Allow yourself to get professional guidance from people who’ve dealt with traumatic experiences before

Your friends are gold, but not enough. Go check your physical and mental health and make sure you find a good psychologist, midwife or doctor. To say that assault and abuse screws with your mind and have you question everything would be an understatement. They’ll tell you if you’re trippin or not, and it’ll probably save your life.
 

It doesn’t have to be violent to count as rape or sexual assault

It doesn’t even have to be violent to count as rape and I guess that’s where a lot of people get confused. If you decline consent and it is violated, perhaps you were not even in a position to give consent to begin with — no matter if it’s violated by someone you don’t know, a friend, or a boyfriend, and no matter what you’ve worn or done leading up to the moment of consent, it is considered sexual assault.
Showing no once is enough. No doesn’t mean “maybe I’ll change my mind if you keep pushing.” A coerced consent isn’t a real consent. 
Unluckily, some people rely on the misconception that sexual assault is a misunderstanding, a drunken mistake or miscommunication. But both men and women understand social cues that someone doesn’t want to have sex, including nonverbal indications. Our bodies & brains are made to recognize these social cues so if someone keeps on pushing to get what they want after being rejected in a situation like that, they are most definitely not in their right mind. A no isn’t playing hard to get, it’s a call for something to not begin or continue. And if you have people around you trying to normalize and excuse such behaviour, my friend, run toward the opposite direction or buy them a one way ticket out of the country and make us all a favor. If you ever hear someone speaking that way about such thing, recognize that the “lighthearted spin” actually has real implications on how we treat each other on this planet and that it’s actually really cruel. 
 

Freezing most definitely doesn’t equal consent

The body's response to a situation it considers a threat is either fight, flight or freeze. It’s pure biology. And sometimes our bodies responds with freeze. Sometimes, the body’s way of handling a situation it recognizes as dangerous is just following through. Just letting it happen. And that doesn’t make it any more okay. People respond to coercion for a whole lot of reasons and it can be everything from concern about emotional repercussions to fear of violence. 
 

It's not your job to make someone understand that they did you wrong

I was still in shock when I made an effort to meet him up, two times, so that I could explain to him how he had hurt me. So that if he realized the damage he had done, he could say I’m sorry and we could go on with life. This was before the reality of the situation had hit me fully and know that I actually knew the guy before this happened. The fact that we had mutual friends was a big reason why I wanted to at least come to a point where I would not feel like running and hiding if I would see him. But both times I asked for us to meet, he swerved. Instead, he insulted me; laughed it all off; told me to stop lying and to keep my mouth shut, and that was when I realized what kind of person I was actually dealing with. From my side, it was a well intended attempt to make an awful situation a little better, but now in retrospective, I wouldn’t really recommend anyone doing what I did, especially not alone. I mean, you’re dealing with a person who really didn’t care much about you to begin with. It really isn’t your job to make this person understand that they have done you wrong. They took something from you, whether that be your dignity, reputation, virginity, faith or trust. A piece of you. They broke something that didn’t deserve to be broken. Take all that energy, love and goodness of yours and concentrate it on healing and feeling like yourself again instead of trying to make this person admit to something that they might never admit to.
 

A trauma is probably the worst time to realize whether or not someone's got your back, but it will be pretty clear who's to stay and who's to go

One week after, I remember saying that if this would have gotten me pregnant or if this screws with my relationships, I’d ruin the guy. I was mentally prepared to completely ruin his life. But eventually, when the latter had actually become a reality, all I could feel was sadness, and so I kind of left it at that. Because I realized, not only was this a product of the shit he dragged me into, but it was also the choice of the people who meant a lot to me to do what they did.

Hearing things like “You know, you guys should really talk because he’s got a whole other view of what really happened.” “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but you two are the only ones who know what really happened.” “If it would have been serious, you wouldn’t have been able to talk about this right now.” from people you’ve confided in, only adds to the hurt and confusion, because that implies disbelief and distrust.

If you're a friend of someone who opens up and being brave enough to tell you about such a heartbreaking happening, just don’t ever dishonor them like that. They might not be as lucky as I am and another might be, having other people in their lives putting out the fires you might be starting. Our tongues truly hold the power and life of death and lot of times we do and say things that are well intended but can still cause huge damage in another person's life.

And if you’re the one having friends questioning you and your honesty when you've been assaulted or abused, what you should do is question their status as friends, because whether they are good people or not, the most important foundation of any relationship - trust and respect - is clearly missing. And then, all you can really do is say thank you for the good times, wave them goodbye and show the ones who actually proved themselves worthy of your love how much they mean to you.
And hey, you actually never know who’s got your back behind the scenes. You have no idea who stood up for you when you weren’t there. Think about that:) You deserve friends that’ll protect your name when you’re not around to defend it. Perhaps you have more people caring for you than you know of.
 

You don’t have to stay quiet about it, tell your friends about what you’re going through

You’ll probably meet a lot of people who will tell you not to talk about it. But hey, don’t stay quiet. First of all, it’s really good for you to vent because holding it in will only push toward PTSD. Second of all, the people around you need to know so that they can back you if needed. 
Tell your friends about you being afraid. Tell them what to do if they see him/her and you’re there, so that if you freeze, they can kindly walk you some place else. So that if you experience a panic attack - they will understand. So that if you puke or cry, they know why. The person who cause you all this hurt might not even be a physical threat, but verbal manipulation is real and mental terror equally so. Meeting this person might trigger your acute stress response and your friends need to know about it so they can back you up. In any case, whether it’s about telling them about what happened or what’s going on with you, remember they’re not mind readers so you actually need to tell them. You don’t need them to be mind readers. Just confide in them, and if they are real, they will definitely do everything they can to be there for you.
 

Don’t let people tell you how you should feel or how your body should deal

You really can't compare the way you feel about the situation with how other people have experienced and dealt with abuse and assault. That will only leave you not respecting your own process and truth.
One week you might be super happy. Three weeks later you might be crying yourself to sleep every night. I didn’t cry much the first few weeks. It took me a month until my emotions fully caught up on me. And I was usually good during the days too which made it somewhat easy for me to appear pretty normal, but two months in I was actually crying a lot during the days too, and meeting people I knew began feeling really hard.
The body has it’s own way of reacting and doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. Hence, no one can ever tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel and deal with a trauma. My friend actually taught me this one. 
 

Try to remember good stuff you did before this happened

Keep life as normal as possible. You were (hopefully) eating properly, working out, making time meeting up with family friends, getting massage, playing soccer, drinking Chai Lattes and having Netflix marathons. Keep doing these things. Do yourself a favor and do healthy things for yourself, it’ll help you get back to feeling yourself again quicker.
 

Try your best not to avoid life & places

It’s one thing cleaning out your real life friends list because they’ve proven to be tacky friends (again, this is not to say they are necessarily bad people), and another one to start avoiding places, streets and activities because you’re reminded of what happened to you. A good way to prevent PTSD is to revisit the place where the assault took place. By doing that, you’re actually telling your nervous system that although something awful happened to you here last time, the place itself isn’t something that your body should register as a threat. Of course, if that place actually equal putting yourself in threatful or dangerous situation again, don’t do it. But if not, ask your friend to hold your hand when you walk through that neighborhood, or tell your friends to keep their eyes on you when you’re out dancing - risking seeing him or her. Don’t allow this person to stop your from enjoying activities that you enjoyed before he or she screwed things up. Keep living life as normal as possible, and expect to get better:) 
 

In crisis, know it’s totally okay to be dependent on your people

All your energy and thoughts will be full force concentrated on healing & making sense of things. So know that it’s totally okay to find strength, help and love in others to then build yourself back up.


Save + write down good things your friends tell you

Going through a trauma is a physiological freak game. Savour all good things your friends tell you to help get your thoughts on the right track when needed:) 
 

On being confused

I don’t know but, before this happened I was thinking that it would be way less confusing. You know, things being pretty obvious. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been this confused my whole life, and never questioned myself as hard either. 
We’re wired so that we take what people tell us into consideration. And if we hear one thing enough times, we begin considering that as a truth whether it truly is or not. 
So if you’ve been assaulted and what you get in response is doubt, hushing and being told you’re lying, the only natural thing is that you start questioning yourself and perhaps even feeling really guilty. I mean, there are two options: either you being a liar or someone you trusted avoiding the truth, and the latter is not something we’d like to think about people, especially not those who mean a lot to us, right? 
Several times I was so affected by all the disbelief that I got to the point where I was thinking, maybe I was making all of this up after all?My friend Yulya gave me the most legit response to that:

"The truth is supposed to set you free. It will be uncomfortable, but it will set you free. And you saying that you wanted it is not setting yourself free right? You know what happened."

This is why it’s good to not be quiet about it. It’s good to hear more than one voice, especially if that one voice is the one who cause you all this hurt. 
 

Your body will probably act super weird, and that’s pretty normal

Trauma does that. Body meaning brain included. Your body will act super weird and sometimes you will not have a single say in the matter. 

When my emotions finally caught up on me, I was so exhausted, I remember crying for the most random things. Two months post trauma I remember having a total breakdown for feeling thirsty. Yes, thirsty. I was crying all the way from the bedroom to the kitchen to get that glass of water. 

Except feeling like I was under constant threat & being somewhat paranoid thinking whatever person would appear when walking to or from home would be him, a good while I also didn’t recognize my own thoughts. I was on my way home one day and it was pretty dark outside. A group of people were on the other side of the road and one of them, a man with this huge white dog, crossed the road toward my side. I’m usually never afraid of walking by myself when it's dark outside, neither am I afraid of dogs, but at that moment, I was completely convinced that this was someone who had been paid to kill me. I wasn't even panicking. I was just like, okay well, this is where my life ends. Bye.
I also remember one day after having had a nice convo with a girl at the gym, I was left thinking “She probably said all of that to get me to trust her, because really she’s just out to get me. We would end up hanging out and then, at some point, she’d kill me."

The person who hurt you doesn't even have to be an actual threat anymore for your mind to make up such things. That's your body in chaos trying to find ways to protect you from something awful to happen again. These are completely normal reactions to an abnormal situation and as you get better they will disappear.

You’re also more prone to welcome destructive behaviour, even if your intention isn’t to make yourself feel worse. It could be forcing yourself to puke, refusing to eat, drinking waaaay too much alcohol, begin smoking, overdosing on your meds to get high or taking actual illegal drugs. 

That’s why I mentioned the importance of keeping your friends and your psychologist/doctor/midwife updated about what is going on in your life and your head. If you’re still in the acute PTSD phase of your way to recovery, you really can't trust yourself to make the most reasonable decisions. And that’s okay:) You really don’t have to be alone in this and just as you would step up your support game for a friend who would need it, I’m sure your loved ones would do the same for you, and the professionals, they know how to help you because they’ve dealt with situations like these before.
 

What to answer when someone asks how you are

Depending on where you’re at in relation to the trauma, chances are an “I’m good” feels like the biggest lie ever told. So, how about an "I’m alive” or "Hanging in there.”
"Getting better.” "I’m not feeling good at all but I’m going to be."
To me, it was a milestone finally being able to answer the question “How are you?” with an “I’m actually feeling a lot better.” 
And believe me, the “I’m actually really great!” will come too. 
 

Monitor your eating, sleeping & general health

This was very important to me because I lost a lot of weight in a short matter of time and falling asleep before 4am became somewhat of a luxury. Awareness is in your favor. Don’t put so much thought in it just monitor your health and it will be easier for you to understand things and also easier to stop certain kind of behaviour before it becomes a habit. If you didn’t eat today, write it down. If you OD’d on something, write it down, and tell someone about it. If you drank excessively this weekend, write it down. If your period is lated due to stress, write it down. If you started smoking, write it down. If you’re getting paranoid or it feels like you should be better by now but aren’t, write it down. And write your thoughts down while you’re at it, they are really good keeping track of too.

Four apps that were actually really useful to me were:

Clue (Period tracker)

Sleep Better (monitors your sleep)

Human (activity tracker)

Lifesum (your eating & workout habits)

...and all of them are actually free:)
 

Make yourself encouraging reminders

I added reminders to my phone so that they appeared a certain time every day as a recordatario. In the built in iPhone app “Reminders" you can add a reminder but instead of adding a task - write yourself some soothing words, and set the reminder to remind you every day at a preferred hour.
Mine were  “Todo va a estar bien, mi amor” every day at 7pm and “For the battle is not yours, but God’s” at 9pm. I actually still have them. They’ve done me good.
 

If you want to get better you will get better

Maybe just not as quickly as you wish or thought it would. Trauma isn’t something that you get through quickly especially since it’s not only one happening, but lots of happenings stemming from one situation. One of the reasons why a traumatic event is so shocking is that it undermine our sense that life is fair, that we are not always in charge and that we are secure. 
And you might fear being pregnant or being sick. Maybe you’re being harassed by the one who raped/assaulted you. Maybe you’re not being believed in. Maybe bad childhood memories are brought forward and maybe memories of other traumas have come alive. And also there’s the heartbreak of not getting a sincere “I’m sorry for what I did to you". That’s a whole lot of things for one single person to bear. Many thoughts and processes your body goes through are very unfamiliar. So, no wonder it’ll take time to heal, right? 
I cried to my psychologist that I was so afraid this would break me in such way that I would end up being a bad friend, girlfriend and mother, hurting people because of my own hurt. And for a long time I felt like I wasn't getting any better at all. But I did:) After three months I was finally beginning to feel myself again, and although things were definitely not the same as before, I found that healing & becoming the 2.0 version of myself was actually really realistic. 
As long as you take baby steps forward, things will get better. 

 

Don’t worry, this doesn’t label you in any way

It’s something that happened to you, not part of who you are. The only thing this has anything to do with you as a person is what you make yourself to be after this. 

Having experienced something like this doesn’t make you a damaged person. For real. All my best friends have all gone through some - excuse my french - heavy ass shit (we’re talking drugs, abuse and assault) and come out more stable, successful and good hearted than a lot of people I know that have gone though way less than they have. Of course, this is something you shouldn't have had to go through to begin with, but you having experienced this actually leaves you with a lot of insight, wisdom and heart you might not have had before. Use the thing that the enemy used to hurt you, to form yourself to be the best version of you you’ve ever been.
 

And…at last, friend quote time! 

You know what they say. The wrong love makes you wonder where God is. The right love makes you feel him everywhere. I’m still in awe of the people I have in my life and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to show them how much good they’ve done to me. That being said, here’s a couple of things that my friends said to me that I saved because they were too good not to. Hopefully, these things will be as comforting for you to read as they were for me:)

“You can’t stop the feelings. Just let them come, that’s the only way to make them pass.” - Bella

“Those panic attacks are your body crying for help. You’re not crazy, don’t drive yourself crazy for this, just heal. ” - Eunice

"You know, sometimes you should think, ‘Think about all the hard things I’ve been through and all the negative shit I’ve seen, haven’t God helped me overcome that?’ You will overcome this too.
Three things that have helped me when I’ve been hurt:
1. Write my pain down
2. Pray for the person
3. Forgive
Not necessarily in that order, but you get it. When you pray for a person who’ve hurt you, God can change your way of viewing that person. Then it gets easier to move on. And forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to hang out with that person or keep him close to you. It only means that you’re letting go of the pain and not allowing him to make you angry or bitter.” - Joyce

 

Man, I feel like I could write a whole book about this, but I feel like I have to stop here. I truly hope that at least something speaks to you. It’s a broken world, but there’s a lot of goodness too and that’s what we gotta hold on to:)

Thanks fam for being legit, for being angry when I couldn't and for saving me in all that lostness. And big ups to God too, for the strength He gave me through them.