Have you ever asked that question? Most survivors do. Whether you ask the question in a counseling session, of a fellow survivor, or simply to yourself, it’s probably on your mind.
Unless the abuse or assault started from your earliest memories (which can happen) you probably remember a time before. It can take on a mythical quality. That time before the assault, when you were free from this pain.
Rape is an aggressive word. So is assault. Accurately so, for they are physically aggressive acts. But they are also emotionally aggressive too. An assault takes things away from you on a personal level.
The time before becomes the time you were whole. The time after becomes the time you were broken. Robbed.
“He took everything from me!” I’ve heard survivors say. And I know to them it is quite true. But I caution them, and all of you, to avoid thinking of it in such closed terms.
Can you ever get over this? The simple answer is no.
But the true answer is you can transcend this circumstance and take back the control that was taken from you.
I think we focus on the wrong thing when we say that we need to get “over” sexual assault. What most survivors, in my experience at least, really mean by that statement is that they want to get free of it. And that is something I wholeheartedly believe in.
How does someone get free of a history of assault? I cannot give a comprehensive, universal answer to that question, but I can tell you what components I commonly see in someone who is free of their abusive past.
They know who they are outside of the assault. They are not defined by it. They have their own goals, their own identity, untainted by the abuse. (Yes, it is possible to have that in the future if you’re not there now. Hang in there.)
They have a firm grasp of their “story.” They can recount the assault to safe people and not experience flashbacks. They have stripped from their story false guilt and blame and placed the wrongdoing squarely on the perpetrator’s shoulders, where it belongs.
They have found a way to grow from it. Please don’t misunderstand me in thinking I expect anyone to EVER be grateful for the assault. If you are, I applaud the courage in that, but I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with always wishing you hadn’t gone through it. BUT survivors who have gotten free have reclaimed SOMETHING about their assault or abuse that is theirs. They became sexual assault advocates. They wrote a book. They created art. They protected someone else. They didn’t get to choose what happened to them, but they chose what came out of it.
They have boundaries. They don’t allow unsafe people into their lives, and they don’t let anyone walk all over them. They challenge themselves, but don’t push beyond their limits. They take care of themselves on a regular basis. They do not do anything sexually they do not want to, and they do not have sex out of the idea that they owe someone sex.
When someone asks me in counseling, “How can I get over this” these are the goals I keep in mind for them. In my time working with survivors, these factors go along with survivors feeling free.
So when you ask me, survivor, whether you can ever get over it, you know my answer.
Freedom is possible. Your old self is gone. But your new self is waiting.
Don’t give up. It’s possible.
Please share with us how you’ve known you were healed from an aspect of your assault, or what goals you have for yourself to know when you’re free. We’d love to support you.