Healing is rarely straightforward. You may find that you thought a certain issue was dealt with, only to find that it comes around at another time for further work. This doesn't mean you've failed in any way; it just means that you may have something more to learn, and that deeper levels of pain are presenting themselves for healing.
You may also have more work to do if the violence you experienced was severe, there were threats to your life, or you endured rape and other abuse for many years. Please know that healing is still possible for you.
There is no right or wrong way to feel, or to embrace healing. What I've presented below are suggestions only, and may not feel right for everybody. You deserve support as you heal. Please engage help if you think you need it. Sometimes, early assistance can help you avoid the onset of long term trauma. You had to go through your abuse alone - don't be alone anymore.
In healing, things can appear to get worse before they get better. But they will get better. However, if you feel overwhelmed by memories, flashbacks or depression, seek help immediately
Deep and intense sadness that somebody you loved and trusted could hurt you that way, or
perhaps grief for the loss of trust, or for the loss of the relationship.
Revival of shame and humiliation
Becoming obsessive about what happened
These may feel very distressing, but they're normal. Feelings and memories may be so intense when they come back, that you wonder if there's something wrong with you that it hurts so much now.
You may have been numb for a long time, or depression of feeling was dangerous because your partner retaliated.. But facing the feelings as you are ready and able to do so can help you heal. Please, get support from a counsellor or online/offline peer support group.
STILL BEATING YOURSELF UP FOR STAYING?
A dear friend of mine has said that one of the things she gives herself the hardest time about is the length of time she spent in the relationship. I'm inclined to agree with her that this is a hard one to overcome. You may have problems around thinking you "let" it happen. Women question whether they are masochists, stupid or insane. This may be helped along by secondary wounding experiences in which people suggest to you that staying in a violent relationship says something about your character. It actually says more about their ignorance of the dynamics of abusive relationships. And what makes me particularly furious about the "why didn't you just leave" thing is the callousness that underlies that piece of stupid judgment; sigh ...again: women in violent relationships are in even more danger as they're leaving. Even if that's not the case, nobody has any right to judge or blame you.
Trauma expert Aphrodite Matsakis writes about mythical psychological theories that blatantly blame people by suggesting that you can only be hurt if you allow yourself to be (1). You may have been exposed to statements like "nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent". This smug, pat little phrase, if I may be so bold, frankly annoys the shit out of me. This has no place in a discussion of abusive relationships. Decisions made from place of trauma are likely to be a result of a traumatized personality, not a negative personality. You did not "allow" yourself to be raped, you stayed, or returned to the relationship because of other powerful factors interplaying.
Also, if you are out of the relationship, remember that you did leave, and you survived. You might benefit from honouring that. If you are still in the relationship, it is for reasons other than that you are an imbecile who likes being hurt. Hopefully, as you heal you may come to consider that what you considered weaknesses were actually strengths that aided your survival. In fact, can I adopt you as one of my heroines?
NAMING PARTNER RAPE
Do you go out of your way to use words that "prettify" or soften your experiences? Diana Russell (2) correctly states that naming one's partner as a rapist, or the act/s perpetrated by him as rape, is fraught with difficulty for many reasons. The inability of women to use the word rape to describe their experiences is widespread. Women raped by partners may find it harder to name because of the sense that they might be exaggerating, or simply because it is just too sad, shameful or frightening to do so.
In my experience, 'downplaying' my experience seemed to lessen the impact for a time. Raquel Bergen (3) states that reluctance to name rape may come from factors such as a woman having traditional beliefs about marital duty. Also, women have, she says, different standards as to what is "normal" in their relationships - sometimes it is only after sexual assault becomes more overtly violent or deviant, that women may be able to name it..
Putting a word out tends to make an experience more "real". This is terrifying for women raped by partners, because naming may not bring immediate peace. For me, it was initially disruptive. If a woman still lives with, and very much loves, the partner who raped her, it is easy to understand how naming could be a very painful prospect - the implications can be terrifying. If she is no longer in the relationship, she may feel it raises questions around her intellect for not having been able to see it before, or returning to the relationship.
Yet hard as it is, many women do find naming rape ultimately empowering. it gives a name to the pain, and gives you the sense of a right to feel it. Something bad happened to you - it was rape. Healing becomes more possible when you have named the wound that needs the healing. If you can't yet use the words "rape" or "sexual assault" to describe your experiences, you might find it easier to write. However, you should never feel pressured to name a rape before she is ready. We do what we have to do to survive, and the inability or unwillingness to name the rape may have made the acts a little easier to detach from for a while.
STRATEGIES FOR HEALING AND EMPOWERMENT
Take control of you back As much as possible, you need to have the right to control over your life and decision-making processes restored as early as possible. It is really okay to tell somebody if their advice does not feel right for you. Some people may have a view of you as a victim who needs rescuing or directing. You are a whole woman, and while it's fine to seek assistance, being told what to do is invasive. It's healthy to make your own choices.
Your Physical Safety - Does the thought of a martial arts course or other self-defence course appeal to you? Click on the RAD pic - you might find it interesting. It is run by women, which is less triggering for survivors. And, importantly, women's self-defense or resistance to male violence is not all about physical strategies, but can also be about how we use our minds. An essential blog to visit is also The Best Defense - resistance to violence strategies for women run by Gaz Black, a friend of mine. I love his work, and if you'd like to see a conversation between Gaz and rape survivors, here is a link.
Setting Limits With People - If a partner has abused you, you might find that you have trouble with other people walking on you. Healing, and valuing yourself needs to translate into those areas too. You have the same rights to consideration and respect as anybody else. You might still feel terror around standing up for yourself because it was dangerous to do so with your partner. It helps to actively tell yourself how this situation today is different from then. It is very healing to actively take control of situations which are eroding your self-confidence.
Counselling -Counsellors have access to skills which can help you overturn some of the awful feelings and thoughts you might be experiencing. Trust your judgment too; you'll know if a certain counsellor is right for you or not. Please see this page on finding a counsellor. * It does not matter if you are still in the relationship or not; you should not be judged. If you are unsafe, a counsellor can help you empower yourself to get safe.
Breaking the Silence - Patricia Easteal writes 'We are only as sick as the secrets we keep'. So true -again, there are people you can tell of your rape/s and who will respond in way that will hopefully lead you to understand that the shame is not yours. To quote Dr Easteal again, telling is 'simple but not easy' (4) - amen to that - telling is hard, but freeing. If you really feel you cannot verbalize it just yet, could you try writing it? Moreover, the message board has a forum for telling, and it may be a useful way to begin - it will certainly be a way of telling that ensures that you are not rewounded for doing so.
Telling breaks any rules around speaking that the abuser may have imposed over you.
I remember being so intensely fearful of putting my experiences out, but ha - now I can't be shut up again for anything!
Read - There are good titles available on survivorship and trauma (go here for just a handful). They can help you identify, manage, and heal problematic issues. I've felt less crazy when I've read and discovered that I'm not alone, that what I feel is normal, and that there is help.
Music is wonderful if you like it. Songs that make you feel good as a woman are terrific. The beautiful Enya soothes my raw parts too.
Be good to yourself - Recognize that you've had a bad ordeal, and that you do deserve kind, gentle treatment. You might like to buy yourself a bath-fragrance, put a flower in your hair, eat pasta; things that affirm your self-hood. Do the things you enjoy doing. If you have only enough energy in a day to comb your hair and put on a t-shirt with a colour you like, do it. Your self-care is very important. Here is a page containing links to many excellent article about self-care after rape that you might like to read.
Come to realize that the rape does not define who you are. You are a person, not an incident. I scorn the likes of my dickhead ex for thinking he could define somebody like me. I am not what he did to me. Recognize that the rape was the result of forces inside him, and encouraged by forces outside him like rape culture. You did not cause them. Those forces existed long before he met you. It was not your fault. See this page for more on men who rape their partners.
Have fun -Watch a comedy that is so funny it threatens an embarrassing accident. Dance. Do what is fun and play for you.
Think about your inspirations. Many survivors of rape have been strengthened by Tori Amos.Not only is Tori a beautiful, powerful performer, but she founded RAINN, which has helped countless survivors of rape. I feel a sense of admiration, and strength when I reflect on the wonderful Tina Turner.
This woman experienced years of degradation, beatings and rape, and got out with $2 in her pocket and no self-esteem to speak of. But look at her! That pout, that strut, that grit and guts - listening to 'What You Get Is What You See' makes me dizzy with ecstasy. Remember the film, 'What's Love Got to do With It?' - the footage at the end where she throws her head back and smiles in such a beautiful, confident and sexy way? Would anybody screw with this lady now? Not if he knows what's good for him! We may not have famous names, and may not be able to sing a note.
But we are as brave, as talented and as worthy.
Know that your instincts are important - If you were raped by somebody you trusted, you may have experienced mild to intense bouts of wondering if you can ever trust your judgment again. If there was a time before the violence started, or before you were raped, that you sensed things were not quite right, you, like many women, could be giving yourself a rotten time because you didn't listen to any of those internal warnings. It may be true that even if you had, you would still have been raped. If you can see your way past condemning and blaming yourself, you might begin to see that such warnings could be a useful resource in the future.
IS HEALING EVER COMPLETE?
I don't know. I do know, though, that after a time, you might feel more philosophical. What happened isn't so painful or frightening any more. You might feel a rich sense of having a perspective that doesn't cause you to question your worth so much. You've made sense of it in ways that no longer damage you, and you know that you are a whole person despite being raped by somebody who loved you. You can recognize that you are not dirty, not to blame; it was about him. I have had long periods where I have not thought the assaults, unless I was confronted by it in some way. This does not mean you won't be triggered now and then, or that aspects of what you experienced won't crop up. They might feel pretty awful when they do. But the healing you've done will serve you at these times. You'll know when you've made advancements, and you can be proud of them.
The texture of your life will not feel so dominated by trauma, which leaves you free to appreciate the richness and beauty of life and being you.