Since I began this journey of writing and sharing my story, I have met many wonderful survivors online. They are a huge support network for me and I am grateful for every one of them. The other day, one posted that people she cared about kept telling her that she just “needed to get over it”. Many of the other survivors spoke up and said that they, too, had received this kind of comment.
I am not sure what people are thinking when they make this kind of statement to a victim of rape and trauma. They may truly be coming from a place of caring, and simply are expressing their desire to see you feeling better. But more likely, it comes from a complete lack of understanding of how this event can penetrate you to the core. It goes down deep in your soul. It’s not a physical injury that can heal in a matter of weeks or months.
I told this woman that I felt recovery from rape was much like the grief we feel when someone we deeply love passes away. A part of you is missing, and you cannot put a time frame on the healing process. People can empathize with that because they have most likely been through it before. No caring person would say, “Oh, get over your husband’s death. Move on.” People would understand why, even years later, you would still feel the loss.
But, thankfully, not everyone has experienced the loss of rape. It IS a loss. It’s part of you being taken away. For some of us, it was our virginity that was stolen. For others, particularly victims of childhood sexual abuse, it was an entire childhood that was lost. For all of us, it was our ability to trust that was lost. For most, it was our ability to feel safe…in our city, in our home, in our own skin.
If you have a friend or family member who you are supporting through the devastating event of rape, please keep this in mind and be sensitive in what words you choose. Healing is a lifelong process. There will be unexpected flashbacks, even many years after the event. Simple things may trigger your friend and they may not be able to give you a “good” reason for their reactions. Be supportive and just be there. Allow them to heal, and to grieve, at their own pace.
If you are a survivor, don’t rush yourself. Know that this will take time. It is a minute-by-minute process. But it does get better. And you are not alone.