I didn’t tell anyone when I was sexually assaulted because of what he said to me straight after it happened. He said “Don’t scream rape”. I remember these words so vividly and they played out in my head for years.
I eventually started talking about it to a couple of people, and it was only when I saw him again and completely freaked out that I realised how much it affected me. Fortunately, when I saw him again, I was with a couple of people who I had told what happened, so when they saw me nearly collapse they realised what was wrong. From then on, I would very rarely talk about it, and it would only be with a very select few people, the people who were closest to me. Even then, it was a huge deal for me to talk about it and I would just say “I was raped”. There were no details. I would answer questions if they asked but that was it. I tried to keep myself ‘separate’ from what had happened.
I’ve also had a few past relationships which were not good. At the time I knew they weren’t right, but I didn’t know the extent of how bad they were while I was in the relationships. I now realise it was family violence, which unfortunately, too many people experience. Some of the things I experienced included: having an ex break into my parents’ house at 4am, my phone bill (back in the day) being stolen, being chased by my ex with a baseball bat, I got followed to Melbourne (when I lived in the country) when I was going away for a girls weekend, my boyfriend was jealous of my mum, I wasn’t allowed to have male friends, I was questioned why I needed female friends when I had a boyfriend, my phone company was called to see who I had been calling and he called them, and unfortunately the list goes on.
While I am not grateful for these experiences, I am grateful for what they taught me, and who I have become as a result of these incidents. I’m an extremely strong, independent person, I’m resilient, I’m empathetic, I want to help people, I’m knowledgeable, I’m compassionate and I’m still able to love with all my heart. I have also learnt a number of additional things about trauma that I thought I would share with you.
1. You don’t just ‘get over it’ and ‘time’ doesn’t heal it.
We’ve all hear the sayings “just get over it” and “time heals all wounds”. That’s how I tried to live my life.
My way of ‘getting over’ every negative thing that happened to me was to block it, pretend that I didn’t feel anything. My life consisted of living an extremely extroverted, ‘happy’ life for 6 months, constantly keeping myself busy and wearing myself out, then I would crash from exhaustion which lead to deep depression for a couple of weeks. These times were normal for me. I knew when they were coming, so I would just keep to myself, think about suicide, and know that eventually it would pass.
What I didn’t realise until recently, is that life was so lonely. I never allowed myself to have deep conversations, I never let anyone in on the excruciating pain and the darkness I felt (especially in the 2 weeks), and the pain never went away. I knew I needed help, but the psychologists I had seen were useless. That might sound harsh, but it’s the truth. They weren’t for me, they didn’t challenge me, they weren’t addressing my problems and they focused on surface level feelings.
It was only when I went to see ‘my’ psychologist that I realised someone could actually help me. For the first time, I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I let my guard down and I allowed myself to really FEEL. It was horrendous (if I’m honest), but it was the best thing I did, because it opened my eyes to a whole new world that I hadn’t allowed myself to see.
The biggest breakthrough I had, which never would have been possible without her… I remember telling her this and feeling like such an idiot for allowing myself to live a life with such misery for so long. I told her “For the first time since I was 15, I reached a state of burnout where I was rundown, worn out, and tired, but I didn’t think about killing myself”. That’s when I knew I had allowed myself to heal.
2. Everything happens to us for a reason
While it can seem unjust, unfair and completely fucked at the time, I personally believe that everything does happen for a reason. If I hadn’t have experienced what I did, if I hadn’t have had the hard times, if I hadn’t have been hurt, I would not be the person I am today. I can guarantee you if I didn’t experience trauma and adversity, I wouldn’t want to help people in the way I do. I certainly wouldn’t feel the need to share my story, because it wouldn’t benefit anybody.
My experiences have led me to find my passion. They’ve allowed me to see that coaching and speaking is exactly what I was called to do. Let me tell you, there is no greater feeling than knowing you are doing exactly what you are meant to be doing.
3. If talking about it helps one person and raises awareness, then it’s worth the pain.
As I said earlier, I really struggled talking about my experiences. I didn’t want to open up, and when I did it was painful. It was kind of like I was opening up a little safe I had locked away, talk about it and then close the door on the safe as quickly as I could. For 15 years I had this hidden secret, filled with negative emotions ruling my body. How awful is that...
Now that I’ve accepted my past as part of me, not something that defines me, I am able to talk about it, and the way I look at it is, “If I can help one person, show them that they aren’t alone and there is support available, then talking about it is worth it”. I can talk to a room full of 200 people, if I notice one person in that room listening to what I’m saying and it having an impact on them, I don’t care if the other 199 aren’t listening.
And a little bonus, the more I talk about my past, the less it controls me and less painful it becomes.
4. Not everyone will be ready to talk about tough topics
For a long time I didn’t want to talk about my past, which isn’t the case anymore and I realise that talking about my past, helped me accept what happened. It was my way of healing, and it was ugly and beautiful at the same time. In saying this, not everyone will be ready to talk, so if someone tells you a little snippet about something they’ve experienced, but don’t want to elaborate, don’t push them. They need to do it in their own time, in their own way and when they are ready.