I want to talk to you. We are going to talk about sexual assault. What? You don’t want to talk about sexual assault? I know, no one wants to talk about sexual assault. I don’t want to talk about sexual assault. Believe me, I understand. It is painful and ugly. It hurts. And, it is very real. More real and common than most of us could ever imagine. I know from experience that when you bring up the topic, it gets quiet fast. Things get awkward and uncomfortable. I wish we didn’t have to talk about it, but we do.
Recently a nurse I met shared with me a story about one of her patients. The older woman was in her eighties and was very sick. One day this patient shared with her about how she was sexually assaulted at a young age. As tears fell down her face, she told the nurse how she had never told a single person before. Why did she choose to tell her story to a complete stranger? I believe it was because she did not want to leave this world without someone hearing her story. That secret she carried around for so long was ready to come out. No one had ever given her permission to tell before. Some of those things used to have unwritten rules. I wish I could tell that beautiful woman how brave she is. Then I would give her a hug, and tell her how sorry I am that she had to go through so much pain. I am glad she finally got to tell her story.
I have a story to tell. We all have stories to tell. Even though I am focusing on sexual assault, this article can be applied to other situations. What is it that you have kept locked up inside? What secret have you kept hidden for so long? Secrets are like slivers that fester inside of you until they become infected and are naturally forced out. Your body is not meant to sustain and carry injuries for so long. They need to be given a chance to heal. Your story might be about something else. Maybe it’s about your drug or alcohol abuse, or about domestic abuse. Our stories are unique. And each of us has the right to tell, or not to tell. With that being said though, I encourage everyone to find one trusted person they can share with.
This past weekend I wrote an article. It was about vulnerability and the power in it. That article that I thought was for you – it was really for me. I needed to be reminded. I hate being vulnerable, but I vowed years ago to live authentically. I have learned it is the key to overcoming fear. I am so thankful for those who have taken their time to speak into my life and to empower me. I am also thankful that I have learned to reach out to others for help, and to be willing to hear difficult things. Be open to those around you that you can trust. Let them invest in your life. Be willing to be vulnerable. If you don’t have people in your life like that, I encourage you to find someone because it will make all the difference. To tell our stories, we need to come to that place where we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable. It is not easy.
My daughter through her choices has spoken into my life about the power of vulnerability. In the past couple of years, she has also taught me about strength and bravery. I appreciate that she chooses to live so open and authentically. Don’t get me wrong, she is not perfect. None of us are. You don’t have to be perfect to speak into the lives of others. You just have to be passionate. I am so proud of her that she chooses this in order to help others. A year ago she came out publicly about her sexual assault in order to help others. As her mother, I chose to support her decision. It may appear at times like it is an easy story for us to share because we often talk about it. I am here to tell you that it hasn’t been easy. It is hard when those who are supposed to love and support you, instead condemn you for telling your story. It is hard when you have to listen to people who encourage you to be quiet and to not tell your story. Oh, the shame that brings! They are uneducated and live in a world that still blames the victim. It is hard when those you have known for so long choose to ignore your situation and pretend that it never happened. I understand that, I really do. Maybe they don’t know what to say. And that is OK, but it doesn’t make it any easier. When you bravely tell your story, you choose to open yourself up to misunderstanding and criticism. And more often than not, you become your worst critic. You begin to wonder if people believe you want attention and sympathy. That is normal. None of us want to be misunderstood. At the same time, you begin to realize that more importantly, you now feel free. You no longer have to continue on and pretend that everything is alright. You don’t have to expense as much energy hiding, as you are in recovering. That is far more important and valuable.
I have been sitting on this article a long time, and wrestling with it. This morning in the car my daughter shared with me Lady Gaga’s new song ‘Til it Happens to You’ about sexual assault. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the song will go to help survivors of sexual assault. That song made me cry because it is so true. I shared it on social media. That opened the door for others to share with me their story. Since we have come out publicly we have had many people share with us their stories about sexual assault and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is overwhelming the number of people I know, that have a story of their own. I have had several people message me and thank me because it helped them to educate their daughters. This is what happens when we get the conversation going. Things begin to happen. Every one of those people has made our awful situation bearable. It has brought healing. So I am asking you to please tell your story. Stop the silence. You don’t have to come out publicly. Find one person you trust. Secrets grow in the dark. Telling breaks the power and hold it has over you. It breaks the fear and shame. Then you are able to begin to come to terms with things and begin to heal.
Why is it so important to tell? It is important because our brains are intricate and complicated in the way they work. Our brains hold on to things from the past as if they were happening today, especially in the case of trauma. You are walking around being triggered unknowingly. Your past is affecting your life in the present. Unresolved trauma I believe is a major factor in those that live with fear, anxiety and depression. When you open up and tell your story your wounds begin to heal. It may hurt like hell, but you will begin to experience healing. Some stories will take longer to tell and you may need to find a therapist to help in the process. As you begin to tell your story, you will begin to peel off layers one at a time. Sometimes healing takes time. In the end it is worth it. You my friend deserve to be healed. You deserve to be whole. Share your story. Find someone. Let them listen to you and love you. As we learn to tell our stories, we will make it easier for others to tell theirs. Your daughter, sister, brother, or friend will learn from you.
Come on, let’s talk about it.
Jody Rae Anderson
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