Author’s note: This article discusses sexual assault.
Ever since I became an activist who often speaks up for survivors of sexual assault, I thought I completely understood what sexual assault meant, how it looked, and how it often affected survivors. No matter what, though, I knew I would never completely understand. I knew that only those who experienced their situation could understand what they felt and how to process.
What happened to me a few days ago completely changed my view and perspective on sexual assault. Now more than ever, I see each experience as an individual experience. I realize that each person has a different situation, and each person deals with it in a different way. Most of all, though, I realized the whirlwind of emotions survivors feel.
For some reason, I started feeling extreme amounts of guilt. I felt like it was something I said, or something I did. I felt like I was overreacting. I hated myself so much that I didn’t want to be who I was. I didn’t want to radiate optimism, friendliness, or positive energy, because in my eyes, those were the exact traits that put me in this situation.
One night, I woke up having a panic attack. I walked into the living room, trying not to wake up my roommates. I collapsed on the ground in tears. I was sad. I was scared. I was confused. Worst of all, though, I didn’t know when or how I would stop feeling that way.
The next day, I decided that I needed to slowly but surely learn to process my experience. It’s okay that I didn’t know how to classify it at the time, because I didn’t need to label it. I just needed to know that each experience of assault and sexual assault is unique. And each experience requires time to heal, get help, and move forward.
Day by day, it started getting easier. I started getting full nights of sleep. I found the courage to be myself. I realized that it was okay to process this situation in my own way, and that it was okay to get help and reach out to those around me.
While writing this article, the memories came back to me. I’m still a little shaken up from the whole experience, but I now realize, that it is completely okay to feel that way. I’m sharing this because I think that if I had read an article like this before my experience, it would have really helped me. It’s important to know sexual assault looks different for everyone, and that each person copes in different ways. And no matter how you cope, it is okay. There is no right answer, and it is important to realize that.
Healing doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that takes time, and it’s important that you go at your own pace.
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