For many, New Year’s is a time of parties, resolutions, and tacky sequined dresses. For me, it’s quite the opposite. This New Year’s day marks the 5 year anniversary of my sexual assault. While it has been the most devastating event of my life, it has also been the greatest catalyst for my growth. It would cheapen the pain to say I am grateful for it, but on some level I know that I wouldn’t have become my true self without it.
More difficult than the event itself is the aftermath. The reactions of those I loved, the unsolicited advice on how to deal with it, the repression, the depression, and the nights of too many drinks. And while ignoring my feelings was not a coping strategy I intended to choose, it was certainly the one my body and mind chose for me.
As many coaches, therapists, and self-help-junkies do, I focused on the lessons I learned, who I wanted to become, and the impact I wanted to have. And despite my transformational growth, one problem remained. I never felt anger. It was too painful. Feeling the anger meant that I would have to feel like a victim, I would have to relive the powerlessness of that night. And try as I might to tap into it, it remained locked in a vault deep inside me.
I’ve read and spoken to enough therapists and “spiritual mentors” to know that forgiveness is the key to healing. But the truth is that forgiveness means jack shit without truly feeling the emotions first. Because there is no getting “over” it, only “through” it. And in my journey thus far, there are seven truths that have helped me to heal:
1. Blame only gets you so far.
When it first happened, I spent some time questioning whether I was actually “raped.” It was too difficult to accept what had happened and I felt that it would be easier to blame myself or call it some sort of “misunderstanding.” The truth is that culpability doesn’t change a situation. No matter what happened to me or to him, it was my responsibility to take care of myself. And while I could have spent more time in the “I wish things were different” cycle, all it did was keep me stuck. And so I chose to be courageous. I chose to feel the feelings, ask for help, and stop silencing my voice. Because ultimately, courage isn’t a feeling, it’s a decision.
2. Forgive yourself.
More than forgiving the other person, the biggest shift in my life came from forgiving myself for what happened. Unconsciously, I held onto anger and guilt, further exacerbating the issue by attracting people and situations that would confirm my self-limiting beliefs. I found compassion for others, but never for myself. The moment I decided to give myself what I gave to others was the start of my journey to self-love, self-esteem, and self-respect. Forgiveness gives you the power to re-write your story. And self-forgiveness is just as important as forgiving others.
3. Everyone will give you advice. Most of it will suck.
Everyone who knows will try to help you. Despite their best intentions and desire to help, they will give you advice on how you should feel and deal. Unless they have gone through it, their advice will annoy the shit out of you. And while there may be times you want support and want to talk about it, don’t assume that your usual go-tos for answers are the right people. They love you, but they may injure you more. And honestly, I feel for them. It’s hard to feel powerless to help someone you care about when you can’t magically fix it. My advice: choose where to get support. Explain to your loved ones what you need. It took me a while to learn to say, “I’m going to share with you how I feel. I don’t want you to try to fix it. I just need you listen.” Sometimes we need to directly tell others how to meet our needs.
4. Ask For Help. Lots Of It.
Based on #3, I’m not advising you to keep it to yourself. Once you make the choice to get help from appropriate sources, get lots of it. DBT, CBT, EMDR, not to mention yoga, meditation, couples therapy, a spiritual mentor, and puppy cuddles. Loved some, hated others. I wanted to find the one modality that would fix everything. But much like the perfect chocolate chip cookie, it simply doesn’t exist. As I look back and fondly bitch about the methodologies and practitioners who claimed their way to be best, I realize that everything played a role in my growth. I learned positive communication & coping skills, emotional resilience, and more than anything, how to trust myself. Today, I see an AMAZING therapist, I exercise, I engage in creative outlets, I meditate, and I honor my intuition. Ultimately, even if only 10% of everything I do now is actually making a difference, it all adds up. Try everything that intuitively feels right, there’s more than one path to healing.
5. Self-love and self-care aren’t selfish.
When you’ve spent a long time feeling small, it can be hard to prioritize your needs. On a very deep level, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we don’t deserve it, that it’s wrong, or that it’s selfish to care for ourselves. It’s no wonder we have such a hard time choosing to love ourselves before we love others. Sexual assault shakes your sense of self to the very core. To heal yourself, prioritize your self-care. These actions may be uncomfortable, but that just means you’re doing the right thing. After all, in discomfort is where we grow. Choose to be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
6. Self-expression in any form is empowering.
Much of my growth came from honoring and cultivating my own voice. I began singing, I spoke up for myself, I started writing. I began expressing myself. More than that, I began owning it, listening to it, and loving it.
7. Growth isn’t linear.
Each year, I feel better. There are still moments when I feel like curling up in a ball. And in those moments, I get scared that I’m going to enter a serious Depression or that my growth wasn’t as large or legitimate as I had thought. But the truth is that growth isn’t linear. Feeling the full range of emotions is imperative to processing what happened. And the many layers of recovery offer greater opportunities for growth, self-awareness, and peace. Despite the temporary relief that Netflix and alcohol might offer, you need to feel it to heal it.
For me, New Year’s truly is a new beginning. An opportunity to let go of the past and take steps toward my future. Which is why I never make a resolution. Instead I set a yearly intention to let go of that which doesn’t serve me and prevents me from aligning with my highest self. And each year, another bit fades away and reveals who I’m meant to be, allowing me to step into my potential and live my true life’s purpose.
Sending you love, peace, and happiness for the new year!