Six years ago on New Year’s Eve a dear friend experienced a sexual assault. A year and a half later she started talking about it but stopped when it became too much, too overwhelming. Other symptoms took over, requiring attention and priority care. She pushed it away. One week ago she was triggered again and she doesn’t want to run away this time.
She has worked through other trauma, other painful experiences. She knows coping skills and grounding techniques. She feels ready. This time, she knows the only way out is through and she knows it’s time to talk about it. She knows it’s complicated and messy and confusing. She knows it’s wrapped up in grief, anger, preemptive attempts at forgiveness. This time, she knows that no matter what, what happened at that New Year’s party was Not Okay.
This time, for the first time, she used the words “sexual assault” because that is, in fact, what happened.
Here are some gentle reminders for my friend, as she turns her face toward that night:
- It doesn’t matter whether you were drunk or sober.
- It doesn’t matter whether you said “No,” repeatedly or wished you said something, anything at all.
- It doesn’t matter if he was your friend.
- It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember all the details.
- It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t physically violent.
- It doesn’t matter if you had said “Yes” a few days earlier.
- It doesn’t matter if other people “have it worse” or different.
- It doesn’t matter if you’ve had positive sexual experiences since then.
You’re starting to make the shift from your brain to your heart. Please know in your heart that intrusive, tactile memories point to trauma. Hyperventilation, insomnia, and cold detachment point to trauma. Please know that it really doesn’t matter what we call it– it was a violating experience that has trickled back in bits and pieces when other events happen. This is the definition of “trigger.” It has impacted you in a painful way and that’s enough. It’s not more or less than what it is. It is enough. You are enough.
It wasn’t your fault. I know it’s complicated and you’re making yourself sick trying to remember what you said and what he said and what exactly happened and whose hands were where and did you ever actually say the word “No” out loud? Was it that you didn’t say “Stop it” firmly enough?
You have the right to be confused, scared, angry, sad. You have the right to your emotions. It wasn’t okay.
And please know in your heart that you did the best you could to take care of yourself. At the New Year’s party in a house full of people, your choice to stay with him, stay quiet, not “make a scene” was the safest choice for you. Know that. Know it happened and it wasn’t your fault. And know it was not okay.