Dear Fellow Survivor of Sexual Violence:
There are so many things I want to tell you. Most are easier said than done. Please know that with everything I say, some things may work for you; others may not. You are the key to figuring out how to guide yourself through these unchartered waters. In time, you will learn what’s best for you. With that, I’m going to tell you what I wish someone had told me after I was raped.
- You may never fully heal. You’ll get to an amazing point in your life where the positives outweigh the negatives, but just know you’ll continue to heal.
- Healing takes time. I’ve had survivors reach out to me and say, “How do I get where you are?” Whether in my faith, in love, or in actual healing, I always say that it’s taken me 14 years to get to where I am – and I’m still healing.
- Triggers will come when you least expect them. Build a solid foundation for yourself. Know what your triggers are, and plan how you will handle them. This could include calling a trusted friend and talking, practicing yoga, or playing music. Only you’ll be able to figure what will help you through those triggers.
- Build a circle of trust. After experiencing any form of trauma, trust can be extremely difficult to gain, but whether friendships or intimate relationships, you’ll learn to trust again.
- Know that most people – even with the very best of intentions – may not understand what you’re going through. Through your whole experience, people will react in different ways to either you sharing your story with them or to how you’re handling your healing. Depending on the situation, you may need to evaluate if this person is helpful or toxic to your well-being. If someone in your life is harmful to you or to your healing, it may be best to remove them from your life.
- Reach out for help. Never be afraid to ask for help. Asking doesn’t make you weak or less of a person. Ask anyone. I’ve learned that most people are good. When I’ve asked for help in my healing, I was able to get what I needed.
- The human spirit is resilient, but you need to give it time. You may feel that your healing is taking too long, or wondering why you’re not “strong enough” to get through your triggers. This has nothing to do with your strength. Everything isn’t going to happen overnight.
- We all just want to be loved. After being violated in such a personal and profound way, it can be difficult to love someone else, let alone yourself. Love can come from anyone – friends, family, a significant other, etc. It may be difficult to build up love because with love comes trust. In time and with support, you can get there.
- Learn to love and forgive yourself. This is probably the toughest thing to do. We live in a society in which survivors of sexual violence are blamed, victimized, and re-traumatized. All of this makes it hard for survivors to love and forgive themselves, or even report or speak about what happened. When you get to a good place and truly learn to love and forgive yourself, then loving others can come more easily.
- You are believed. You are loved. You are valid. You are beautiful. You may feel alone right now, but I want you to know that I believe you and love you. I may not know you, but I do understand why you’re feeling this way. Just know that someone is thinking of you.
I wish I had all the right words to say. I wish I could take away all of your pain. I can’t … but help is available and good days will come again.
I send this with all of my love,
Kristine Irwin, MBA, a talent recruiting specialist in Pittsburgh Mercy’s Human Resources Department, is a wife, mother of two children, an entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, founder of Voices of Hope, and a survivor of sexual violence. Learn more at www.voices-of-hope.org.
Feature photo: Kristine and her husband, J.R., with their son, James, and daughter, Zella (Photo by Lovas Photography)
If you or someone you love is a survivor of sexual violence or other trauma, please know that help is available. For help in a crisis, contact Pittsburgh Action Again Rape (PAAR) at 1-866-363-7273 (1-866-END-RAPE) or contact resolve Crisis Network at 1-888-796-8226 (1-888-7-YOU-CAN), both of which are available 24/7. For services, contact Pittsburgh Mercy at 1-877-637-2924.
Disclaimer: This story does not constitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or recommendations of any kind. You should always seek the advice of your qualified health care professionals with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.