Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If It Worked, I'd Leave You Alone.

From the time you realized what had happened to you had, in fact, happened, I'd wager your first instinct has been to ignore it.

Call it what you like. Maybe it's denial.

But more likely, you have another word or phrase for it.

"Moving on."

"Putting it behind me."

"Not letting it affect me."

"Keeping it in the past."

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

It's common to want to move past bad things. Whether the "bad thing" is abuse or assault, or some other source of shame, you just want to forget it happened and return back to your normal life. There are several reasons why this seems to be the solution when faced with a situation like that.

1. When you're going through something terrible, the way you get through it is by focusing on "getting back to normal." Whatever is happening right now, there's that ray of hope that someday you will be able to separate from it and return to how you felt before. You want to feel happy and free again.

2. You feel like what happened can't be undone or fixed. So why focus on it? It seems like the better choice to just ignore it.

3. You've tried dealing with it before, and haven't gotten the results you hoped for. You may have even been hurt more than you ever have before, just from facing this one time. Therefore, you "got smart" and decided to never go there again.

Any of these reasons makes perfect sense to me. I can imagine easily making the same choices in any of those scenarios. But that brings me back to the title of this article:

If any of that worked, I'd leave you alone.

If you could erase it from your memory and have it never impact you again, then I'd be thrilled for you. If you really felt relief when you stopped allowing it to come to mind, then I'd shut my mouth

But that's the problem. While I'd love it if that happened, I've never seen it done successfully before. Ever.

Without fail, every time I've seen someone try to ignore a pain it just gets worse, not better. Inevitably, the hurt multiples.

And the bigger the hurt, the more painful it is when you ignore it.

I know it feels like denial is the solution.

I know it feels like you have to hold out and hold on. That if you don't, you might not make it.

You may even feel like if you open that door, that you won't be able to close it again. That if you face your pain, you won't be able to handle it, and you'll simply melt into a bottomless depth of misery.

This is a very real fear for many people. It is not manufactured, it is not exaggerated. It's terrifying to contemplate. Absolutely terrifying.

But it's a false fear. No matter how strong before, and how painful during, I have never encountered a client who honestly confronted their hurt in therapy and regretted doing so. Instead, most (if not all) of the people I've met have expressed their sense of relief at finally releasing the pain. They feel free again. They have hope.

It's not easy, and it can't be rushed. But I encourage you today to recognize that in dealing with your past, there is another possibility outside of shame and misery. There is the possibility of peace and healing.

I encourage you to ask yourself this, and ask yourself what it would take to get you there. What's holding yourself back from giving yourself healing?

You hold the key to setting yourself free from your pain. I know it's been a long, hard journey but there are people out there who want to help. Right now there is someone waiting to tell you about the services available to help you heal. There is someone there to help you whether:

  • It just happened to you or it was many years ago.
  • You are male or female.
  • You reported the incident or not.
  • You identify as gay or straight.
Whoever you are, you are not alone, and it CAN get better for you. Call this number:


for the National Sexual Assault Hotline or click here to go to the Online Hotline right now

Getting help works. Which is why I won't leave you alone about it. 

Let me know about your experience reaching out for help, or why you've been hesitating to do so, by commenting below.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How Do I Tell People What Happened To Me?

Has this ever happened to you? You're on a date with someone new, it's going well, and you're just about to order dessert when the thought crosses your mind.

"How will they react when they know what happened to me?"

Suddenly, it becomes like this big weight on your chest. Do I tell them now? Do I not tell them now? What if I tell them and they freak out? What if I don't tell them and they feel like I lied to them?

What a mess! At that point, it can feel like it's just easier to avoid the dating thing altogether. And it's not just dating that brings up this problem: it's meeting anyone new. Who do you tell? How much do you tell?

This inner conflict is caused in a large part by the worry over "doing the right thing." You worry what's fair to the other person.

But the question you're not asking yourself is, "What's fair to me?"

Though it might not feel that way at the time, that is an important question. In fact, it's the most important question. After all, no one is impacted more about telling your story than you. The person you tell will feel for you, naturally, but it didn't happen to them. It happened to you.

And that makes it your story to tell.

So here's what you do. Instead of worrying how other people will react, ask yourself how you feel about telling another person your story.

Will it help you grow in your relationship with that person?

Will it help you find out if they are someone you can trust to appropriately handle sensitive topics?

Will it be a good exercise for you to practice sharing something like this?


Will it set you back in your journey?

Are you unprepared to handle a negative reaction?

Are you still working on relinquishing your own negative feelings about the story?

If you answered affirmatively to any of the last few questions, you may wish to talk to your therapist or a trusted friend before sharing. It's an emotionally charged story, and there's nothing wrong with taking time to prepare yourself.

But, if you feel like you are prepared to claim your story and all possible negative and positive reactions, and this is a person you believe you can trust, then you might be ready. If so, you can use the reaction you get to your story to help you continue your healing process.

If they blame or judge, you can remind yourself that they didn't experience it, so they don't have the right to weigh in on it.

If they say, "I'm so sorry," you can remind them that while you appreciate their concern, you don't need anyone to feel sorry for you. You're a survivor, and you are strong.

If they say, "wow, that happened to me too," then you've opened up the door for them to share their story with someone who gets it and will support them...you!

Bottom line? The only person who has the right to share your story is you. And there's more than one right way to do it.

If you have shared your story before, what let you know you were ready to do so? If not, what healing level would you like to reach before you share your story with others?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Should Have Reported

I should have reported. 

I wish I'd told someone. 

Sound familiar? Two, four, even ten or more years down the line, I hear survivors express their regret over not reporting their assault to the police or at least telling someone it was happening. 

I understand that. By the time I meet most survivors, they have had some distance from the assault or abuse. With adulthood, or with time, they see that what was done was not their fault and they feel the desire to protect others from what happened to them. It seems that once they reach a place where they've acknowledged what happened and started the healing process, they want to see the perpetrator be held accountable for his or her crime. 

It's wonderful when survivors feel ready to confront their perpetrators, one way or another, though it's not always a necessary step in healing. What can be dangerous, though, is the guilt that survivors can take on at this time.

Some survivors blame themselves for not prosecuting sooner. They feel angry that they've spent years "allowing" the perpetrator to roam free, hurting other girls or boys. It hurts because they've suffered and the perpetrator did not. Or, maybe, the statute of limitations has expired and they can't report the crime now, but could have earlier. 

That's a heavy burden to carry. With one regret - the wish that you had pursued charges against your attacker earlier - you take on the responsibility for other survivors he/she has hurt, the responsibility to punish your perpetrator, and a possible life-altering opportunity that was not taken. 

No wonder I see so many survivors beating themselves up over not reporting. I would, too, if I carried all that responsibility around with me. But it's a responsibility that isn't yours to carry. 

You are a different person now than you were then. Time and experience gave you a perspective on your situation now that you couldn't have possibly had before. You can't expect yourself to know something then that you only discovered now. 

It is common for survivors to go through a period of shock and denial when the assault or abuse first happens. How can a person who is struggling to even admit something happened possibly be able to report it right then? Give yourself a break. There is no instruction manual for this. 

Perpetrators create situations that make it extremely difficult for someone to report. The whole point of their crime is that they want to do it and continue doing it. Therefore, they make sure their target has a lot to drink. Or, they tell a small child that they will hurt his or her parents if they tell anyone. They seek out people that society is prejudiced against. The deck is stacked against you. That's what these predators count on.

No matter what, you are not responsible for the perpetrator's other crimes. Whether the perpetrator assaulted someone else before, after or during his/her assault of you does not make you in any way at fault for those crimes. Period. Which leads into...

It's not your job to punish the perpetrator. You can choose to report. But you cannot take on the burden of punishing the person who did this to you - no matter how much they deserve it.  Why? Because your job is taking care of you. Nothing else. It's wonderful if you want to crusade for other survivors, write a victim impact statement for court, complete a rape kit and tell the police about what happened to you. But what matters the most is that you heal. If you can do that and report the crime, then in many cases that's the best option.

But not all. Ultimately, whatever you have to do to heal, as long as it doesn't hurt you or others, is OKAY. Because...

Who is to say but YOU whether or not reporting is the right choice for you? Is it always the right choice to report? Honestly, I don't know. If we had a perfect judicial system, maybe...but we don't. For some it may impede their healing to report and all that goes along with that. For other survivors, the only way to heal is to report, whatever the outcome. The important thing is to realize that it's an individual choice, and to not judge anyone (including yourself) for those choices. 

Have you ever felt guilty over not reporting/not telling about your assault? How did you deal with it?

If you need more help sorting through these and other questions, check out the Survivor Is A Verb Bookstore