What Does It Mean to Heal?

I think you may have noticed that the concept of the personal being political, if you will, is one that I have become a lot more interested in exploring lately.  Perhaps it has something to do with BFP’s rethinking walking series inspiring me (though of course I don’t claim we’re necessarily doing even remotely the same thing), but whatever it is, it seems to have connected with a lot of you, too.

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is the concept of sexual assault and the “healing” that comes afterward.

Healing is a loaded term to me.  This was really hit home when a few weeks back I was at a concert for Third Eye Blind, who was my favorite band as a teenager, and they played the song “Wounded,” which is written to a rape survivor.  I hadn’t heard it in years, but at about 15-16, I loved it.  But the minute the line “the bruises that you feel will heal” came out, I was filled with rage.  Don’t tell me, or anyone else, that they’re going to “heal,” fucker. (And this is totally putting aside for the purposes of this post several other major issues with the song.)

But I assure you, this post isn’t about bands from the 90s failing to do some 101 before writing a song; because I see the basic sentiment, if not as clumsily phrased, coming from fellow assault survivors wishing healing for others, or in literature from anti-violence organizations, talking about the healing process that follows an assault.

Now, I’m not trying to call anyone out here in particular.  In fact, I’m sure that if someone wanted to go through my archives, you might find me hoping that a survivor finds a way to heal.  I don’t know, but I wouldn’t doubt it.  So my point isn’t “what would possess anyone to say such a thing?”

But the question it raises is this: can we really say that survivors heal?  Do we heal?

I know that not all survivors suffer from some sort of post-traumatic stress.  I cannot speak to those experiences.  In fact, I cannot speak to a single experience that is not my own.  But I sure as hell know that almost 11 years later, I definitely don’t feel “healed.”  Better, certainly.  I don’t think about being raped every day, after all.  But I don’t know when I will.  I don’t know if and how it will happen.  Subconsciously, it also affects my relationships with regards to trust; I know this.

So healed?  Healed? No.  No, I am not fucking healed.  And while I wouldn’t begrudge finding out someday that I’m wrong, I’ve basically accepted that “healed” is something I’m never going to be.

In short, I am okay.  I have been okay for some time, and I will be okay.  But I will never be the way I was pre-rape, or “get over it.”  To go back to this “bruising” metaphor — you can’t see the bruises unless you look for them, and they don’t hurt in just general life.  But if you press on them, fuck yeah, there’s pain.

And yet, at some point, the idea of “healing” clearly was important to me.  When I loved the song referenced above, I hadn’t yet come to terms with the fact that I had been raped; I just knew that I had metaphorical bruises, and I wanted so badly for them to heal.  Was the concept that they would damaging in the long run?  Or was it in some way helpful?  I honestly don’t know.

Further, I think to myself, I have surgery scars.  They long ago closed, and have left my abdomen to never again look as it once did.  But still, we consider those scars healed.

Is that what healing really is?  Is it not being open and raw and constantly painful?  And if it is, are we really expecting too little?  I mean, there has to be an area in between saying that survivors of abuse are forever broken and untouchable, and saying that survivors are as they once were, right?

I don’t know the answers to most these questions, but I am interested in talking about them.

What does healing mean to you?  Do you think that you ever will heal?  Do you feel that you have healed?  If so, what does that look like?  Has the thought of healing been helpful to you (or the opposite)?  What do you think of when you hear about the healing process for survivors?  How do your personal experiences/identities that intersect with that of an abuse survivor (i.e. race, disability, gender identity, etc.) inform this understanding?  Is there a better word that we can use?  What do you think the word “healing” conveys to non-survivors about the experience?  What does it convey to you?

This thread is open to any and all survivors of any type of abuse (provided they follow the rest of the comment policy), whether it be rape, other sexual assault, childhood abuse, intimate partner violence, and so on.  Others are free to read along, but I ask that you respect the space and this request.

0 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Heal?

  1. amandaw

    People want you to “heal” so that you go “back to normal” and don’t bother them with all that stuff that makes them all squirmy and uncomfortable.

    I’m sure most people don’t consciously think that, but it is simply not arguable that this is a force in our collective response to trauma and abuse.

  2. Cheryl Trooskin-Zoller

    I agree (as usual!) with amandaw.

    I want to think that when we “heal” emotionally to the point where we’re scarred but no longer bleeding, that should be enough. But dammit, I got to that point a long time ago. I can’t pretend that I won’t always be changed from what I experienced. It’s not my responsibility to protect people from the reality: abuse happens (a lot), “normal” isn’t normal at all.

    I respond with upset to the idea of “healing” because too often, it feels like it’s code to make people feel better about not stopping the horrific abuse that goes on all around them. If we can “heal” from that and go back to normal like nothing ever happened, maybe they don’t have to feel so guilty about not doing enough to stop it from happening in the first place.

    And it’s not our responsibility to protect people from their guilt.

  3. Claire

    I’ve suffered sexual battery twice, once from a babysitter as a child, and once as an adult from an intimate partner… I’d say I had healed (or perhaps, escaped unscathed) from the childhood incident, but the incident with a (female) partner as a young adult continues to be an issue for me in my current romantic relationship (with a different partner.) Sometimes it feels like any sexual advance is threatening.

    I hope someday I’ll get over that… I’m tired of hurting my partner by recoiling in honest-to-goodness fear at her advances when I know damn-well that “no” is enough. I don’t like punishing her for my past, and I don’t like that I continue to victimize myself.

  4. JenniferRuth

    I’ve never understood this stuff about “healing” – what does it mean? That you won’t feel sad or angry about something anymore? That you will be the same person you were before it happened?
    Everything that happens to us changes who we are. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but the past is always going to be what it was. We can only move forward, right? Is that healing?
    There was a period of about 2 years when I was used sexually by teenage neighbours. I think it started when I was about 8. I’m not sure. I don’t really want to go into details. But it happened. Nothing is ever going to make it not have happened. So I just don’t think about it…much. I know it will always be there; under the surface or my skin and hurting me. But I can only think…whatever. Whatever, it happened, don’t think about it, don’t let it stop you living.
    So I think “Whatever”
    Is that healed?

    I don’t know. I don’t buy into this healing bullshit. We cope and we all find our own ways to deal.

  5. Watsonlady

    I was sexually assaulted twice at age 7. To this day, I have only told one person about it. I think there is a difference between healing in the sense that I don’t any longer fear the persons involved and would be able to confidently confront them, if I was given the chance. I think healing doesn’t mean a return to how you were, it is becoming the most complete you that you can be given what has happened.

    Then again, that is my definition. I think most of the world would prefer to believe all can be how it was before so they don’t have to be bothered with accepting the gravity of what things like this do to people for life.

  6. Anon

    Before my sexual assault I had a fairly high libido. Afterward, it was fairly high, but at the same time “not the same.” I choose abstinence for while (about a year) to give me some space from the emotional intimacies of sex. Now that I’m in a committed relationship, sometimes I feel scared. My boyfriend is larger than I am. He practice Judo from elementary until high school. He still retains much of his strength. Any time that I’ve asked him to stop, he does immediately and without criticism. Yet at the same time I can’t let go, and let him be in control of the next move to make.

    Healed? Physically. Spiritually I’ve gotten to an Ok place. Emotionally I handle. Sexually? Barely started.

  7. joytulip

    Sense memory is vicious.

    I was raped by my boyfriend when I was 15 (and a virgin). It affected my subsequent relationship behavior for a long time, but I eventually got to the point where I didn’t feel it was influencing me on a regular basis. I learned to accept that it was something that happened to me, part of my history, etc. Now I’m almost 30, and for a long time I’ve felt very distanced from the experience, what I would’ve considered “healed”.

    Until last week. I picked up my 10 month-old son from daycare and, like always, he smelled sort of like the caregiver. Only she must have changed her dryer sheets. My son smelled exactly like my rapist had. One inhalation and I felt the whole thing all over again. All evening, every time I picked him up, I held my breath. I clung desperately to rationality, fought back tears, made it through the night. For days after, I felt thoroughly asexual – no masturbation, no intimacy with my husband.

    I gradually worked my way up and through and I’m ok again. I function. I’m living my life pretty happily. But “healed”? Nope. Don’t think so.

  8. karak

    Healing is when I stop throwing up from the terrible rage that consumes me out of nowhere. Healing is when I finally accept the fact that I will never punish him for what he’s done, and I can live my life anyway. Healing is when I fuck or kiss or flirt or wear sexy clothes without thinking about him. Healing is when he stopped being a powerful monster and started being a disgusting loser.

    But that’s just me. When I say to someone I want them to heal, I just want them to want something for themselves. If they want to be angry, or sad, or forget about it or get over it, then that’s what I want for them. The right to want, to choose for yourself again is part of any healing process, I think.

  9. ChristinaM33

    For me, healing was when I stopped hurting myself and began being able to speak of the various rapes/assaults I had suffered without shame. I’ll never be who I was and no one will ever know what I might have been had these things not happened to me but it is what it is.

  10. tylik

    I don’t know if the wounding metaphor is one I’d choose.

    I was sexually abused as a child. Honestly, I can’t pretend that I entirely know the details – there are bits I remember, bits I’ve pieced together from my medical record and so on, but I’ve accepted that there is a lot I don’t know and probably won’t ever. There were other various icky bits in the family as I got older (for instance, after my parents divorced, there was a period where when I stayed with my dad he wouldn’t give me blankets if I didn’t sleep with him, and I wouldn’t, so I spent nights on the couch curled up under an afghan and would wake up crying because my muscles would get cold and cramp – this was when I was in my early teens.)

    And I was raped shortly after my eighteenth birthday. That was half my life ago.

    Are these wounds? That seems like such a simplistic description. (Especially the part that focuses on my victimhood. Pfeh.) They’re things that happened. Not necessarily the worst things that happened to me, or the ones that affected me the most. I really don’t like a lot of the ways that these things get described, because “scarred for life” sounds only a small step away from “a fate worse than death” or being “ruined”, and I’m really no good at being a fragile flower of womanhood.

    Maybe the wounding metaphor works for some. Healing isn’t a bad one, sometimes, to describe a process for some people, I guess. But there are so many assumptions built in. I mean, being unwounded is always supposed to be better, right? And yet when I look at many of the people I know who have had more sheltered lives, I have to appreciate what I’ve gained from mine. So many things don’t scare me, because really, I’ve seen a lot worse. So many hard things seem a lot more possible, because rather than running into a new, frightening despair it’s more like “Oh, here again. Well, back in hell, so it’s time to keep going.”

    I like my life.

  11. Anna

    I always drew the comparison between scar tissue, too. I don’t think there’s any ‘getting over’ it. Some of the times I was raped didn’t affect me at all, hardly. I mean, I can think of two distinct occasions I’ve woken up at a party with someone on top of me (when I was fourteen) and more recently an occasion where I came out of my ketamine’d up state to find someone fucking me despite the fact I had explicitly stated that no sexual action was to take place when I was sober. But.. the ‘important’ rapes, the violent ones that I was concious for the duration.. I don’t know, there’s no getting over it. Just managing to live with it. I’ve healed a lot – no flashbacks these days, minimal hassle to the rest of my life past having a bit of a cry when I realised I’d need to go into single-sex accommodation when I start uni this year because I’d be too scared otherwise, freaking out when people touch me without asking.. managable things. things I can deal with. it’s enough for me.. and on the plus side getting out of bed in the morning is an acheivement, so I always feel vaguely proud of myself for coping.

  12. Rosie

    I like the word JenniferRuth uses: cope. I’ve never liked the metaphor of injury and healing. I don’t like to think of myself as wounded or damaged. Nevertheless, being sexually assaulted has definitely had an impact on my life, and on my sex life in particular. My life is different than it would have been, but I do not want to think of it as damaged or deficient. It’s the only life I have. So I cope with the changes. Sometimes I cope better than other times. Sometimes I can talk about it and sometimes I can’t. Coping is, for me, a much better descriptor of the process than healing.

  13. OuyangDan

    People want you to “heal” so that you go “back to normal” and don’t bother them with all that stuff that makes them all squirmy and uncomfortable

    That is pretty much what I feel.

    It has taken a long time for me to even be able to admit to myself how angry I am at being so viciously abused for long. Long after the physical injuries stop bleeding, and even now that people believe me that I was being beaten I don’t feel healed. I feel ready to move on from it. I might as well have, b/c for my mother, who beat me instead of dealing w/ her own issues, it is like it never happened…

    Except that now and then if she goes out drinking and has a little more than she should she tends to call me, crying, and profusely apologizing, as if she suddenly remembers everything that happened. It makes it hard for me to think about anything else, and it usually means that I spend days dwelling on the way it used to be…almost 15 years after I made it all stop. It becomes a balance for me, to not be bitter and make her feel worse b/c it only makes me feel worse. For me, healing has meant coping w/ it enough to stuff it away and not allow it to hurt anyone. It meant finding a way to get past it enough to make sure that I don’t repeat it w/ my daughter. My mother and I will never be mother and daughter again, but I try to work on being friends…that much helps.

    I think healing means doing whatever you have to be able to live, and not be paralyzed by the fear. Now that I see myself having typed that…I don’t think I am all that healed.

  14. CMarie

    I am survivor.
    I am also a clinical psychology student, working on my doctorate. My dissertation focuses on survivors and and developing a tool to help in the process – whatever you want to call it – after an assault.

    I use the term “healing” because, to me (and I have never found myself upset by the term), it implies the same as one may take it when they’ve suffered a more physically-grounded trauma. Here, I’ll use an analogy: suppose I obtain a large gash on my knee (the assault). There’s bleeding and nastiness and the risk of infection; I go through the steps to solve the immediate problems and dangers as soon as possible. I go to the hospital to get stitched up and fixed the best that I can. The gash itself heals, but the skin and muscles and tendons are all altered permanently. The skin closes up and I can still move my knee eventually. I have started to heal — I’m in the process.

    The scar never goes away. The knee is always going to be a little creaky. I’m probably not going to be able to run like I might have previously.

    I have healed, but it doesn’t go away; I can ignore it most of the time, but some circumstances remind me of the pain and the injury….and the scar will always be there, this new part of me.

    In my perception, healing isn’t “getting over it,” or “getting back to normal.” Healing means moving from the assault consuming every moment of my life to integrating it into who I am: neither ignoring it nor wallowing in it.

    **Please note, I’m doing my best to be succinct and thorough, and I will be happy to re-clarify if I’ve done a poor job of that.

  15. Incendiary Blues

    When I felt “healed” was when I realized that it was ok that I was never going to be the person I was going to be before.

    I think it’s just a process, and there is no end to it, but I’ve come to terms with this as part of who I am and I no longer mourn the loss of a person who will never exist. I’ve learned to be comfortable with myself, and my boundaries. I’ve learned not to be ashamed of the fact that I can’t do all of the things that other people do, and I don’t have to want to. If I don’t want to see that movie or go to this party, there isn’t anything wrong with that, or anything I need to “overcome” or “get over.” I’ve learned to stop beating myself up because I’m not “healed.”

    I think when people talk about healing or being healed–especially non-survivors to survivors–what they mean is being the way they think everyone else is.

    To be honest, I started to really feel better after I started speaking to people who were activists for the rights of people with disabilities. I realized that I was striving to be “normal” when that’s simply a fantasy. I function the best way I know how, based on my personal experiences, abilities, and limitations, and I’m ok with that. I stopped trying to push myself too far too fast, and things just came naturally. I live my life in a way that works for me, and I’m happy, and I finally feel safe most of the time. And when I don’t, I’m ok with that.

  16. Cara Post author

    Hi everyone,

    I was out for most of the day and just got back to read all of your comments. I don’t have a lot to add at the moment, but just wanted to say that I appreciate you all choosing to share, and it has been incredibly interesting and thought-provoking to read such a diverse and varied set of opinions and experiences thus far.

  17. Kat

    I’m sitting back, listening and learning for this post, but I wanted to ask (Cara or whoever would like to) about the term “Closure.”

    We hear that term a lot, often in conjunction with “healing.” It seems to me to be very simplistic and almost patronizing–that some event (an arrest or a funeral or something) will act like magical stitches that will make everything the way it was.

    Or else it’s used to mean what AmandaW said in the first comment, and is designed for the comfort of others, not the one directly affected….

    This is what it’s seemed like to me (someone who has not suffered any serious trauma), but I would love to know how others feel. It’s a bit of a pet peeve word….

    1. Cara Post author

      For me, I don’t think there is such a thing as closure. I don’t think it exists. The last thing in the entire world that I would ever want is some kind of confrontation. An arrest I see as unlikely, but it would make me pleased that he might possibly be held accountable for something. But I doubt it would bring me closure. His death? I’ll just be straight up honest and say that I wish for it often — and I’ll be even more honest and say that while on a purely logical level I can see that as “wrong,” I don’t feel the least bit of guilt about it. Would that bring closure? No, it would bring relief, I think. And an end to the fear I often feel that he’s out there and I might run into him, or that he might try to hurt me again.

      But again, I don’t think “closure” is the right word for any of that at all. I think there is such a thing as closure for some situations — might even exist for some rape victims. But not with regards to rape for me personally. “Closure” in this context sounds like a very Dr. Phil kind of word to me. Just . . . meaningless and therapist-y.

  18. Jen

    I had a really resistant, rebellious, visceral reaction to the word “healing” for a long time. Same with the word “survivor.” Not because the words are in themselves flawed or inappropriate for the situation; in some ways, they’re exactly right. I absolutely loathed people who told me I’d heal, or who urged me to “make that jump from victim to survivor.” As if it were that cut and dry. As if it would mean anything to me — every person, well-intentioned or dismissive or otherwise, who told me I “could heal” told me as much for their own comfort level. Me, raw and painful and wounded, wasn’t something they wanted to deal with. And I tried to be that Ideal Survivor, taking something awful to turn it into something good, saying “yeah, it was awful, but I’m better now,” and so on. But I wasn’t that. Because it wasn’t something I came to on my own.

    Which brings me to what I think “healing” means, and doesn’t mean. It’s not a prescription. There is no set path. No two survivors will find their way to their destination in the same way, nor should they.
    “Healing” is, and has to be, something you figure out and feel out on your own. “Healing” is whatever path you take to get to the joy that your life should be, that would’ve been so much easier to get to without this assault on your person. It is there, for everyone. This I know. And the way to it needs to involve your truth, even the meanest, coldest, hardest truths you have in you. This I know, as well.

    Which isn’t to say I’m there. I’m certainly, absolutely, not. Especially now that I’m starting the process all over again with abuser #4. But on my good days, on my insightful days, I do see it in my future. And if I can see it even in mine, I can see the potential for everyone else, too.

    “Healed,” though, may not happen. Healing is a long process, and it doesn’t always have an end. “Healed” implies that you’re done healing. And that idea, on my good, insightful days, just seems absurd.

    And lastly, I wanted to echo something Watsonlady said upthread:
    “I think healing doesn’t mean a return to how you were, it is becoming the most complete you that you can be given what has happened.”

  19. Emma

    I think healing, is feeling like your former self, before something had happened.

    My definition of heal means that I think I will ‘heal’ but I may never be quite the same again. So yes, I feel like I have ‘healed.’

    The thought of ‘healing’ has definitely helped, when I was feeling really low, the thought of it always not being like that helped me heaps.

    There is probably a better word, though what, I don’t really know.

    I agrre with what you say here
    “I have been okay for some time, and I will be okay. But I will never be the way I was pre-rape, or ‘get over it.’ ”

    In the dictionary, healing means:
    A process in which an organism’s health is restored.

    So maybe it isn’t the right term.. but I hope you see my point.

  20. Anon (for this one)

    Maybe it’s different for child abuse.

    Healing, healed, survivor…these aren’t even words I understand in the context of the abuse. They imply that there was a point when I was well, they imply a moment of damage that changed who I was rather than damage being part of who I am.

    I’ve thought about it…who would I be without the panic and the guilt? The question barely makes sense to me because I can’t imagine a life without these things.

    Coping I understand. I manage the fear. I try not to let it overwhelm me. I try not to control everything (ha! controlling fear…good times). I manage the guilt. I try not to narcissistically think that everything is my fault.

    I remind myself that I don’t have to go back there, that I’m not that powerless person anymore, that it wasn’t my fault.

    But sometimes I do wonder what it would feel like to wake up one morning and feel free.

    Would that make me healed? I don’t even know.

  21. CMarie

    I want to take a moment to thank everyone for sharing how the word “healing” affects her negatively. Because, in my own survivor experience, I found the word/thought empowering, I suppose I never considered that it would feel hurtful and wrong to others. I want to say thank you for exploring why many of you do not like the term, so: thank you.

  22. eloriane

    For me, it’s a little awkward, trying to think about “healing.” Generally there is nothing more heartbreaking than allowing myself to consider the possibility that I’ll be happy again someday.

    I’m kind of fucked-up, in some ways, in a lot of ways, which still prevent me from, say, going to college like I want to. I meant to write about it for BADD, but, uh, my particular flavour of fucked-up involves eight million different kinds of Trust Issues which makes talking about it hard. I am just a big cuddly ball of Trust Issues, tied up with a pretty ribbon of More Trust Issues. And part of that stems from my assaults.

    Actually, I hate to consider how much of it might be from my assaults, because despite having been in therapy for over a year now, I’ve only mentioned them twice. Have I been wasting my time, trying to just address the other things that sprung up around them? None of them were really “real” assaults, but they definitely left me with very raw memories. I think the non-sexual harm done to me by my peers might be equally relevant, though. Years of quiet bullying, the way girls do it, without evidence but with incredible pain– yeah, that fucked me up, too.

    And I guess I’m “healing” in the sense that particular memories rarely plague me any more, but even coping still seems so hopelessly out of reach. I tend to think of my main problems being depression and social anxiety-bordering-on-paranoia, but they began about the time that the assaults and the bullying began, and a lot of my unhelpful habits are direct responses to the assault– my guiding principle is, “It’s the ones you trust who hurt you, so don’t trust anyone.” It’s not helpful but I’ve learned it too deeply to let go.

    So I’ve healed in some ways, I’ve got the scar tissue, the numbness of distance. But I think I healed like a broken bone that wasn’t set– it’s all crooked and useless and the only way to fix it is to re-break the bone and try again properly this time. But I was in such a hurry to seem normal again, to “heal” the way society wants us to heal (“stop making us feel uncomfortable with your pain!”) that I just tried to carry on like nothing was wrong and that wasn’t the right way to do it, and now it’s been a decade and I’m too scared to start over.

    It’s funny, though, that I started this post wanting to say that “healing” isn’t a helpful metaphor, and that we should chuck it, except that actually it’s been very useful to me just now. I’ve never been able to articulate the problem with my response before. So I think it’s a good metaphor, but possibly very bad advice coming from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. The societal response of “just go back to who you were before like nothing changed, already! Heal!!” definitely needs to go, but among survivors and possibly their therapists, using the metaphor to describe the ways that the long-ago pain still has effects can be useful. The difference is that the way I use it, “healing” means “stopping the bleeding” whereas the way society uses it it often means “totally undoing the pain.”

    As a side note, I’m going to be talking about this with my therapist tomorrow, and I think we might finally get somewhere. The only advice she had previously was possibly writing a letter to one of my abusers– the one who probably did it by accident– to get some “closure,” but that wasn’t something I wanted to do. “Closure,” like the “get over it already” kind of “healing,” isn’t something that makes sense with my experiences. I just want to be able to do things again.

  23. juju

    I have a long history of sexual violence, beginning in my earliest years. I agree with Anon, the abuse has molded me. It is similar to my experience of being a member of racially marginalized minority communities. And the other ‘isms that I face compound the struggle, it is like living in a state of seige. I am better today then I was a few years ago, but I doubt I will ever honestly be able to claim true sexual health.

  24. juju

    Giving birth, and breastfeeding in particular, has been a healing experience for me. I am able to see my body in a new and positive way; I can feed my baby. And in other ways, mothering in general is healing. The desire to raise a strong and emotionally healthy daughter is a big motivation.

  25. POAndrea

    I don’t believe there is just ONE word that describes the varieties of positive response that survivors can have to whatever type of abuse we have experienced. Healing is, for me, the most accurate. Some injuries heal with no indication that a person has ever been hurt, but some take years to reach a point where function, limited or otherwise, is possible again. I hurt my knee several years ago, and while it is much better now, I know that it will never be as strong as it was before. I wrap it when I go to work, and I wear a brace when I play lacrosse. But I still work, and I still play. It isn’t as easy (but then, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, so that might be part of it….) TO be sure, it has taken me MUCH MUCH longer to heal from my rape, but I think I’m there. I am so fortunate I can do all the things I want to do (physically, mentally, sexually), even if those things sometimes are harder, require more effort, and may not be quite as gracefully executed. But I’m doing them. Physical therapy is a BITCH, but I still do it whenever I feel weakness or unusual pain. I occasionally encounter sights, sounds, smells–joytulip is right about sense memory–and it reminds me that I need to work a little on my mind and spirit too. This is what my healing is; it is what I also wish for others. No matter what it looks like or what degree of function returns, I just hope that other men and women are better at the end than when they started.

    1. Cara Post author

      I know, Renee. But, if you don’t mind me responding to your comment, I think that’s a part of it though and a part of my issue with the idea of healing. I’m fucking angry, too. If/when I think about it, I’m absolutely furious. And a part of “healing” seems to be “letting the anger go” — at least as healing is popularly represented — and I don’t know if I ever will let that anger go. A big part of me doesn’t even want to let it go, if that makes sense.

  26. Jen

    As far as anger goes…. no no no no no. At least, in my world, healing doesn’t mean letting go of the anger. Anger is an absolutely appropriate and justified response, and in almost every case, an essential part of what healing should include. It’s sad, and a little infuriating, that I even need to say “anger is an appropriate and justified response.”

    And I know that, for me, anger doesn’t come easily. Matter of fact, it’s not something I’ve felt about this for…8 years? Or so? And yet still, even though that’s a huge emotional numb point for me, it infuriates me to feel as though people don’t want me to feel it. And it angers me even more to see that other people feel like their anger is being stifled, or that there are those trying to stifle it. (Funny how I can bring out anger over the stifling of angry emotional responses, and yet I can’t bring it out as a direct response to what happened. Huh.)

  27. Jen

    Just realized that first sentence makes me sound like I’m saying “no” to anger. Obvi, I’m not. The “no” was in response to the idea that healing means letting go of or, worse, dismissing anger. Note to self: proofread before you hit submit, so as not to look like a jackass.

  28. Lisa A.

    In my perception, healing isn’t “getting over it,” or “getting back to normal.”

    Healing means moving from the assault consuming every moment of my life to integrating it into who I am: neither ignoring it nor wallowing in it.

    Honestly, I’m not comfortable with the word “wallowing”. IMO, that word implies that there’s an expiration date on pain, a point past which you aren’t supposed to allow yourself to fully experience it. And like Cara, I find “healing” to be a loaded term. To me, it’s code for “stop playing victim and get on with it.” Or, “stop talking about your pain because it makes me uncomfortable”. It means there will be some kind of ending, and I’ve lived long enough to know it’s never going to end. Granted, there are definitely days that are better than others, some are even really good. But I’ve lived with abuse for so many years that I don’t believe that there is any medication or therapy that will make the pain a part of my past.

    For me, the abuse can’t be healed anymore than I can be transformed into a skinny, 5’9″, natural red-head. It’s less like a physical wound than it is like altering one’s genetic code in a way that can’t be undone.It has changed the fundamental makeup of who I am. My life is never going to be all about joy. I’m too damaged. I do hope to get to the point where I can negotiate around the pain and get though the day. Maybe more. Maybe some level of happiness. I don’t know because I’m not there yet, though I hope I will be one day.

    I have made a decision, though, that I will no longer let others tell me whether or not I’m dealing with this the “right” way. If “wallowing” in pain is what I need to do to get through, that’s what I’m going to do. I didn’t survive this long to let anyone, even the most well-meaning of people, take away my power again by dictating how I should be dealing with my feelings. If that alienates some because they see me as self-pitying, so be it. I will say this, though: right now, accepting the person I’ve become and letting go of the concept of “healing” has given me a lot more freedom and relief than I had while trying to live up to other people’s expectations of how I should feel about my experiences.

  29. Annette

    I am so glad to see this discussion here. I’ve been trying to talk about how conflicted I have always felt about concepts like “healed”, or “survivor”, and what these terms imply for years and no one seems to want to dare to go there in a conversation.

    “Healed” is a difficult concept in my context (but as I can see, I am not alone with that). The first time someone mentioned to me that they could help me heal was in the context of a conversation where my identity as a lesbian woman was connected to the sexual abuse, to turning away from men as a response. As such, a “healed me” for that someone would have meant denying or losing a crucial part of who I am and was a very threatening idea. This first encounter with the concept of healing from sexual trauma made it very clear to me that it is a concept that is much more useful and much more important to those around us. It very obviously is a fact of life that as humans, we need to tell others that they can heal, that they can overcome and survive anything, because it is too overwhelming and scary to face life thinking that maybe some things can’t be overcome, put in the past, healed.

    And because it seems to be not about me but about making others feel more comfortable in their lives, I don’t connect to it on a personal level. For me, learning to live after trauma is about acknowledging my responses to it as valid responses, and that includes acknowledging that it is OK to have bad days, bad weeks, bad months even long after it happened just as much as it includes working on adapting responses over time if I feel stuck with them or they are no longer working for me. There is no end point to this. And it sucks to realize that, that there is no end point. But it’s exactly what I would like those around us to finally see and acknowledge, too.

    I dare my friends to sit with me when I am having a bad moment, rather than to push me aside by talking about “healing” so that they can feel less scared and freaked out about living in this world. I refuse to have others make me feel bad for not being “healed” yet. And I would love to see many more conversations like this one to expose how commonly accepted concepts and terminology in the discourse about sexualized violence and trauma often are not overly helpful to us (and I firmly believe that this “us” includes those of us who have experienced sexual trauma as well as those who haven’t).

  30. little light

    “Healing, healed, survivor…these aren’t even words I understand in the context of the abuse. They imply that there was a point when I was well, they imply a moment of damage that changed who I was rather than damage being part of who I am.”

    Yeah. I…I guess I remember being a person who had not yet been raped. I have a distinct period in my life where I was not a rape survivor, before I was 20 or so, because it happened more or less right after I came out as trans. There’s no time as an adult woman without that reality, so it’s hard to separate it out from what’s just being older, what’s just being in transition instead of closeted, what’s just…I don’t know.
    But there was never a time in my life before I was an abused child, not really–if there was, I can’t trust my memories of it, I don’t know. It’s just woven into my fabric, at this point. I don’t know what it would be like not to be an abuse survivor. I don’t know what it would be like not to have my worldview and reactions shaped by abuse being a fundamental part of my framework, any more than I’ve ever existed outside an oppressive society. I try to imagine what my life would look like without it and I just don’t know where to start. I don’t know how you “heal” from that, I guess, without being a different person. Maybe it means looking it in the eye and telling it your life is your goddamn own, now, and you won’t pretend or lie or otherwise hide from the truth and hide it for others. For me, it’s about asserting my personhood, daily, which is very hard. That “healing” is intimately braided in with the process of transition, for me–affirming selfhood, affirming self-trust and self-love and self-worth, refusing to believe anyone who wants to wreck those things. It’s hour-to-hour work, still. It may always be.

    For me, I guess, with rape and sexual assault and partner abuse and parental abuse, the healing thing is really about rawness, about feeling it every day, because I was forced not to feel these things or acknowledge them as real or trust myself that they were true. I was forced into preternatural toughness and getting past everything and fighting on, always always. So sitting with it and talking about it and letting it be real daily–feeling it raw and bloody–is part of my ability to believe and trust myself, to claim truth as truth. It’s about insisting that I’m real and not whatever they wanted to make me into, any of them.
    It’s about learning that while scars are not actually stronger than unwounded flesh, there’s something sacred to them and the memories bound into them, and that not being okay is an important part of being okay. It’s like–telling the truth, to myself and others–it’s the Big Lesson, that vulnerability is the real strength. Pulling open my ribcage and showing myself, totally open and unsafe, insisting on being vulnerable, has shown me more and different strength than I ever was told I could have. It lets me be part of things.

    Maybe that’s healing. Maybe it’s more simple, and just about not flinching any more from innocuous things, not panicking because my partner is in a position someone else was once, not getting triggered. I could do without the triggers. I could do with these things still being rule but not ever being allowed to derail a day or a kiss again. There’s not really a guidebook, is there?

  31. juju

    I have felt a lot of pressure to “heal”, meaning to move on and be normal, but that’s never going to happen. For me, healing is about just being able to function in my daily life, being able to do in spite of my many fears. To be able to sometimes experience my husband’s touch without recoiling in emotional trauma, to be touched and not experience body memory, to not have a flashback every time.

    I admire those of you who have your anger. I have never felt anger, and certainly not rage, for me, there has always and only been this sort of numbness.

  32. charlotte

    I read every single comment to this post, and am so grateful that the issue of “healing” is being discussed, and by so many people. I started a blog a few months ago on this very subject, and have invited the “survivor public”, for want of a better term, to submit pieces of writing on the subject “what is it like, this living with the consequences of abuse?” What is a day in your life? I encourage everyone here to go to charlotteannestuartsblog.blogspot.com to submit a piece of writing.

    As a rape survivor, I sometimes go back and forth between the terms “victim” and “survivor”. Sometimes I use the one, other times the other. I think victim is the more accurate, but survivor is the term society wants us to use, because people aren’t comfortable with knowing their actions have permanent consequences. Most people cringe at the use of the term “victim”, because they want to think we all have the power to transform evil into good, weakness into strength, helplessness into personal power. And so they want us to use the term “survivor”, meaning we have taken our victimhood and turned it around, from something that demonstrated our vulnerability and helplessness into something over which we have control.

    But then what happens when we don’t feel in control, when we don’t feel healed, when the consequences continue to reverberate through every aspect of our lives? It’s then our fault. We, the victims, are not taking that step out into the light, we are not taking the control that is right there at our fingertips, if we’d only reach out for it. And thus we are responsible for the ways in which abuse continues to affect our lives. Very convenient. First society blames us for being attacked. Then it blames us for not getting over it. Sweet.

    And then there are times I use the term “survivor”, perhaps because I, too, have trouble seeing myself as a victim. I am a product of my society, and so I want to see forward movement, overcoming obstacles, conquering. I want to be the hero in my own story.

    “Victim” implies we continue to feel wounded; “survivor” implies we feel healed or in the process of healing. Is there no in-between? No term that gets at the complex reality?

  33. Maritzia

    I’ve tried to go through and read all of the responses here, but it’s hard, because I hurt for each and everyone here. Healing is a long hard process. I think for anyone who has never suffered some kind of abuse trauma, they can’t understand what it is we feel and what it is that we fight against every day.

    Healing will never mean that we are as we once were (or for those of us with childhood trauma, what we never really were). Our experiences, especially our traumas, are defining forces in our lives. We will carry those experiences with us all our lives and they will continue to have an impact on us all of our lives.

    For me, healing was more of accepting those facts. That a lot of who I am has to do with the trauma I experienced growing up. It’s accepting that if those years of abuse had never happened that I would be a completely different person, and you know what? I like the person I’ve become. I don’t want to be someone different. So if by some bit of magic I was able to go back and change the abuse, I don’t think I’d do it.

    I was about 30 when I had that epiphany. That was when I truly started to heal from my abuse. It was also when I started to really forgive my parents for what was done for me. More than anything else, letting go of the anger that constantly rode with me, just under the skin, was what helped save my sanity.

    However, as much as I’ve healed, as much as I’ve let the anger go, it doesn’t mean I don’t still have effects from the abuse. I still have PTSD. I still have moments when I will go into full blown panic mode without really knowing what triggered it. I still have issues with trust. Those things will never entirely be gone from my psyche. I’ve learned to deal with it, to cope as one commenter said. At 47, after years and years of dealing with my issues, I think I’m about as healed as I’m ever going to get. I was telling my husband one day (who also was a victim of childhood abuse) that it’s like being an alcoholic. It’s always there. We will always have to deal with it. So we can’t worry about how we’re going to deal next year, next week, or even tommorrow. We deal right here, right now, in this present moment, and let the future take care of itself. One Day at a Time. I’ve found a lot of those AA slogans very helpful in my own recovery from abuse. One Day at a Time, Live and Let Live, Fake it till You Make It. They may sound cliche, but they work in the long run.

    I will light a candle tonight for each of you on your own journey, that you find your own path through what life has dealt you. My way may not be your way. We each have to find our own way through. Talking together like this, though. That’s a good step forward for all of us.

  34. traveltothesky

    I recently wrote a post about this (I linked to your Acting Out post, btw) that can be found here: http://myvulvodynia.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/srs-bzns/

    I am not at all healed. I mean, in the most basic of ways, I am still in physical pain. Though nobody really knows what causes vulvodynia or vestibulitis, the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that my history of abuse has played some part in it.

    The pelvic pain issues that I’ve developed make me feel like I’m being attacked *all the time*. If I’m triggered by something, I’ll have a pain flare or spasm. If I want to have consensual sex, I can’t because it hurts too badly. It’s like the people that assaulted me are doing it over and over. And it affects my sexual partners too–they have to deal with me being in pain or being triggered by something that seems harmless.

    I really don’t think I can “heal” (whatever that means) until the pelvic pain is gone. Because I HATE it so much that my attackers still have power over me. I know it’s illogical to think so, but really, I can’t use my body how I see fit–shit, I can’t even ride a bike or wear cute underwear–at least in part because of what they did to me, and that, to me, feels like I’m constantly under attack. But how am I supposed to fix the pelvic pain if the emotional scars are still there? They are so linked that I feel like I’m at a standstill.

  35. CMarie

    I don’t believe in “being healed” from assault…I believe in “healing.” Just like one never stops growing as a person, healing (to me) requires the concept of an ongoing process that never ends, there’s no fix, and there’s final point to reach…just continual work.

    I feel like I am well on my path of healing, AND I still find times where I’m completely overwhelmed by emotion surrounding my assault.

    For me, I think it’s organizing to have this idea that I’m moving forward.

    I also want to comment that I find myself under a lot of pressure to NOT talk about my assault, under nearly any circumstances. I think because I avoid talking about it and have kept a lot of the pain to myself – especially in the earlier times following the assault – I encountered few people telling me to “get over it, already,” so perhaps that’s part of why “healing” for me is more empowering than enraging.

  36. juju


    This is meant in no way as a challenge to what you have been able to achieve in your own healing process, and I hope I am not saying anything that you would consider unduly incendiary, or just plain out of line.

    The expectation of forgiveness really irritates me, and I have had people tell me that I some forgive heinous crimes done to me, even just shortly after the fact, because well it is just the right thing to do, and is supposedly freeing or some such. I think this serves those that have done me harm more than it serves me. I don’t believe in forgiveness, at least not around issues that have had such a profoundly negative impact on my life. And if I had the power, I would go back and have those things never have happened to me. Yes, I would be a different person, a happier, healthier, more loving and trusting person. And I wish I could get angry, as anger is the appropriate response to someone doing you harm. Angry, like MLK’s righteous indignation, can lead to positive action.

  37. Jenee

    Cara, thank you so much for addressing the issue of anger. I’m generally a very positive person: I like most people and am almost incapable of holding a grudge. Except when it comes to my rapists. One, in particular. I have this intense, burning hatred of him. I wish him endless harm. I want to tell his new wife that he’s a rapist. I would like to believe that my desire is focused more on trying to protect her from harm, but, to be honest, it’s more about feeling that he doesn’t deserve to have happiness, especially when it comes to intimate relationships. And this frightens and confuses me. I have never, ever had any feelings even remotely like this directed at anyone before.

    Like you mentioned, while I can logically see that these desires are morally wrong, I don’t actually experience the feeling of guilt for having them. It was just such a relief to see that someone else feels the same way. Now I don’t feel like such a freak.

    I guess it’s just weird to have emotions that so starkly contradict the entirety of how I interact with others and how I feel individuals should deal with each other.

    I don’t know how much I could say that I’ve healed. I think about it nearly every day, often more than once. It seems like almost anything can trigger thoughts of him. I am, however, able to “move on” in that I have a wonderful relationship with my current boyfriend that is healthy, positive, and satisfying in just about every way (that is, mentally, emotionally, sexually), with virtually no detectable carryover from issues raised from my rape.

    Anyway, sorry for the rambles. I don’t think this is very coherent. I just wanted to let you know how much it meant to me to see that my anger isn’t a freak thing… that I’m not alone.

  38. nan

    The word “wallowing” completely put me off. Also, I don’t see how “healing” has anything to do with integrating the experience in one’s life. It isn’t time or any process which is going to make that happen; speaking for myself, whether or not I want it, abuse is an integral part of a my life. It affects how I deal with people and situations. It sure as hell isn’t something that I can detach myself from. And when I saw the comment, it read as though “integration” meant “develop a view of what happened which will then enable you to behave in a way others find supposedly constructive and acceptable”.
    As for “wallowing”, if I’m in pain, then I am in pain. And noone has the right to tell me that I shouldn’t be in pain, that I should get over it, that I am insisting on playing the victim or that I’m “wallowing”. I’ve had the word used and it is insulting.
    (I’m sorry if I’ve somehow misread the comment; it made me so angry that I didn’t read it carefully.)

  39. little light

    Maritzia: So if by some bit of magic I was able to go back and change the abuse, I don’t think I’d do it.

    I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, trying to imagine growing up without abuse, what family and self and career and all would have looked like, how I would have turned out without all that hurt and shame and twisting-up in my way. And I just…can’t. I can’t recognize myself in that woman. It’s like…I kind of imagine going back? And protecting that child, or giving that child radically different circumstances so the abuse doesn’t happen and she gets to grow up without it holding her back, and how successful and bold and ready she must be be my age. But she has to be someone else–I can imagine her being a completely different person, and feeling like it’s a positive thing that she gets to have that life, but she’s unrecognizable as me. I can’t imagine being her. I can only imagine trying to provide that for someone else–it’s been my whole life, and I just cannot wrap my brain around being me and not having that wrapped into the foundations.

  40. Anon (for this one)

    Anger – Anger is my biggest problem. That more than almost anything is the way in which the abuse affects my day-to-day life. I can get angry if someone else is hurt but I just can’t get angry about my own hurt. It drives my poor husband insane.

    Changing it: Little light, you described my feelings exactly. So much of who I am is because of the pain and fear and guilt. Being driven, focused, careful, and (to some extent) considerate…these are things I like about myself. Would I still have these characteristics if it weren’t for the abuse? Would I still have the relationships in my life that bring me joy?

    What gets me is when my parents say that it was “good for me”. That it made me “tougher”. That they take some sort of perverse pride in what happened and consider it a success since I’m not curled into a fetal position every day. My “success” is vindication…proof that what happened “wasn’t that bad”. Sometimes it feels like healing would be letting them win…which is just probably the sickest thing I’ve ever thought.

  41. abby jean

    this was a very interesting post, with lots of interesting responses. in honesty, i haven’t been able to read through all of them because just thinking of how many of us have these scars is something of a trigger for me.

    a few years after my rape, after ignoring it desperately in hopes that it would go away and not have happened, i found myself writing an obituary. for the girl i had been before the rape. the girl who was now dead. other above have mentioned whether it’s possible to return to how you were before – it’s pretty clear from that writing that i never considered that an option.

    in my mind, healing from something like this is more parallel to trying to rebuild new orleans after katrina. it will never be the city it was before. structures and history have been irreparably damaged and cannot be replaced. but new things can be built. a new city can exist, and thrive. and it will surely be different than if katrina never happened, and it may take a long time before it’s as vibrant as it was before. but the marks will always be there, and the memory of the disaster will always remain.

    last year, i reached the point where i had lived more of my life post-rape than i had pre-rape. that somehow made a difference to me – i’d survived some significant portion of the rebuilding period, or something. but i do still think of that girl, and her innocence, and deeply mourn losing her.

  42. Lisa A.


    I realized in my earlier comment that I didn’t thank you for putting up this post. There aren’t a lot of places online or off that I (and I imagine many others) feel safe enough to speak this honestly about our experiences with abuse and how the expectations of the people around us affect us.

    Ironically, despite my earlier railing about the concept of healing, I found that putting that down in words yesterday has made me feel like I’ve gotten a little bit of poison out of my system.

    So, I just want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for providing a place to do that.


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  44. Jen

    @Anon (for this one):

    This, that you said: Sometimes it feels like healing would be letting them win…which is just probably the sickest thing I’ve ever thought.

    …if it’s sick, then consider me sick, as well.
    but i don’t think it’s sick to rebel against healing because it’s been forced on you by people who just want you to get over it. i think that’s a perfectly natural response. and honestly? i don’t think that you and i are really that rare.

  45. Marissa

    I wanted to thank you, Cara, for bringing up this topic. It has recently been an issue that has come up for me and it has been so helpful to read everyone’s individual experiences. Pretty much my partner brought up that he felt it might be a problem for me that I am not completely over my trauma and that I can be triggered so easily. It was pretty much said with the idea of “why haven’t you healed already? Work at this harder.” Basically I became very angry and refused to just go and work on “fixing myself” further so it is more convenient for another person. I HAVE worked on it. EVERY DAY is working on it. And, as many have said, it will never completely go away. In other words I very much agree that the term “healing” can be very problematic and very disempowering.

    In a sense though, the term holds, at least for me. I would prefer another term however. I used to spend every living moment in a state of extreme debilitating anger, mixed with fear, and PTSD – nightmares about my abuser (one of them) every night and waking up in a complete panic, fearing every moment I’d run in to him, constant fear he would find me. Now, however, starting at least 10 years after the fact, the constant fear and anger have subsided. I live my live with my pulse at more of an even keel. I am still angry and fear does still come up. I don’t believe the triggering will ever fully end. I am not at all sexually “healed.” Being touched in a normal sense one day could send me into a state of complete panic and anger. I still have the nightmares, but maybe once every several weeks, not every single time I closed my eyes. I can make it through the day, that is pretty much the most significant difference. But I TRULY resent someone suggesting I have not worked hard enough or healed fully enough… (But really, even if I hadn’t reached this point, it would STILL be awful to have another person tell you to work harder or heal further.)

  46. Maritzia

    Juju – I have no expectation of anyone else forgiving. For me, it was necessary in order to move forward. I needed to see the way in which my parents themselves were damaged, to understand that they acted out of their own abuse, to understand at least somewhat their own abuse of me. One of the main reasons I chose not to have children was because I recognized the possibility in myself of passing on my abuse to my kids.

    So, no, I have no expectation of anyone else forgiving their abuser. It was just a necessary step for me. And, I have to add, one that did not necessarily take away all of my anger. I still have times when I get really mad about what happened, usually when I remember something new, or learn to look at something a different way. And then I have to work through the issues again.

  47. AileenWuornos

    Healing for me will be knowing those cunts are dead and rotting.

    Healing for me is spitting at those fuckers every time I see them on the street (it happens WAY too fucking often.)

    Healing for me is pointing at them and saying “THAT’S the cunt who RAPED ME”

    Healing for me will be when I can finally get through a day without the desire to cut or starve myself, or without desire to binge and purge.

    Healing for me will be knowing that I am on the other side of the world to my rapists and that I can never see them again.

    Healing for me will be the rejection of apologies I know will never come.

    Healing for me will be the day I can finally give myself a sexual identity instead of “Confused” or “Alone”

    Healing for me is the fact I am no longer on my medication and I can make it through most days without panic attacks.

    Healing for me will be when I can look in the mirror and honestly love who I see again ( I know I did once )

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  49. S-S

    Healing, for me, is an extended conversation between me and my body, my memories, my mind and it’s fear, my environment (including the community) and my rapist and childhood abuser each, in absentia. The conversation is ongoing, and won’t be finished until I die. Sometimes it’s an argument, sometimes it’s a discussion that leads to discovery, sometimes it brings up uncomfortable topics and things we’d forgotten about. Sometimes it’s a silence since one or both of us don’t want to talk to each other right then. Even the silences are conversations- they say, “This hurts,” or “I don’t have the words to say what I mean,” or sometimes, “You need to talk to me differently.”

    When others say I will “heal,” I look at it as an attempt to direct my conversation and tell me how to talk, or to direct the ends of my conversation. It’s intrusive, and it’s useless, because my mind and body, et all, have heard it and reacted. Who likes it when others butt in on their conversations? No one. They shouldn’t do it to others, even if it isn’t a conversation as they understand it. They shouldn’t assume the conversation ends as far as their understanding goes, either. Their intentions are good, and I do think intentions count for something, but their efforts are counterproductive.

    This is a conversation I need to have with myself, and figure out for myself. If I need help translating or figuring out the right words, I’ll ask others’ help. For the most part, though, I’d appreciate a respectful attention to the parts I choose to share.

    Oh, and I’m a stutterer, too. Maybe that’s why I have this perspective.

  50. verity

    I guess I find the concept of “healing” from sexual assault a little ableist. It’s not like coming back from a sprained ankle. The abuse I survived changed me, the me I am at my core. I don’t think that the “me” I am now (the “me” I am growing into) is the best me I could have become after the assault. I’m not less, even if I have been damaged. I’m just different.

    I have PTSD, bipolar disorder, and fibromyalgia. I don’t get a break from these, ever. I am angry at the people who emotionally abused me and the person who sexually assaulted and raped me, but I can’t imagine that they crushed some potential person into whom I’d have flowered. The “me” with PTSD/bipolar/fibro is the only me that there is. I’m not going to get better from any of these things. But I live with them. I survive. I’ll never be healed or cured. But I endure, and I endure with happiness, joy, and as much grace as I can muster.

  51. azalais

    @verity: change bipolar disorder to depression and adhd, both of which I had long before the assault, and I could have written the same thing. We are who we are. We’ve changed. I like the person I am now. I would prefer not to have these memories and experiences, but I can’t say that I would like the person I am in some alternate universe better. There’s just me. This is who I am. This is what I do. Some days I think about it and some I don’t. I get triggered a lot less than I used to. But you know, I’m happy with me. I’m happy with my intelligence and my perceptiveness and my wisdom and my perspective. I could be jealous of people who haven’t had some of the experiences I’ve had. But there are a lot of advantages I have, so what’s the point? I’d rather have adhd, depression, copd, post-viral and ptsd and everything else and have my mind and my emotions than be someone else, who also does not have all of my positive traits.

  52. stephanie

    I still have a lot of anger. For the abuse/neglect I went through as a child, and the assaults that I experienced as a teenager. I don’t want to continue carrying this anger around, because it makes me feel like they still have control over my life. They’re still pulling the strings.

    I can’t accept the fact that I can’t “heal” from this, because it’s too overwhelming for me. I can’t accept that I will always feel like this; that I will always have panic attacks. The day that I accept this, is not a day I’m looking forward to. I’ve had PTSD since I was 5 years old. I don’t want to still be dealing with it like this when im 55.

    But sometimes, the pain is just so much that I can’t deal with it. And I feel like “healing/healed” is the cheese at the end of the maze, and I keep hitting dead ends. I don’t know who I was before the abuse, so I can’t ask to go back. I like who I am now. But I don’t want Who I Am to always be the girl who can’t be touched, who can’t get close.

    I don’t know how to make it better.

  53. innana88

    It’s been nine years since I left the relationship in which I was sexually abused. I’ve had a lot of therapy. I’ve abused alcohol and prescription meds. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder. I’ve contemplated suicide.

    I will never again be the person that I was before I was raped by my boyfriend many times over the course of two years. I will never again not have flashbacks or five-alarm triggers that hit me from out-of-nowhere and knock me out-of-commission for several days.

    Because it has been so long, I’ve come to accept this. I’ve learned how to function when I get hit with it. I’ve learned that the crash post-trigger that sends me into the depths of despair will pass if I just sleep it off. I’ve had enough positive sexual experiences since that time that I know that while I’ll never be the same, I’m not damaged.

    Someone else said roughly that healing is integrating the experience into who you are today. I won’t speak for any other survivors out there. I had a lot of support through this whole experience that I know a lot of other survivors do not have. My family, friends, the faculty at my college, my therapist have all had my back the whole way through this. Because of this, I had a safe place to heal. I had a safe place to transform my fears and pain into power.

    I’m currently writing my MA thesis on my own experiences in a sexually violent relationship. This is what I needed to do to heal. I needed to tell my story. Tell why I was able to be so strong (loads of support) so my thesis isn’t read as a “well, she got over it, why can’t the rest of you?” type of memoir. Tell the story to bring attention to the issue so that medical professionals don’t tell someone who comes to them for help and tries to say that she “hates sex and is afraid of it” that this is “just something you have to get over”. So that other people in sexually abusive relationships can find someone else who went through what they are going through, see it for what it is, and get help before the extent of the trauma is as debilitating as it has been for me.

    Healing for me is transforming my pain into power to help others. I have to make what happened to me meaningful.

  54. Anna

    I don’t know if I’ve healed. The rape that fucked me up the most, the one where I was on ketamine and ecstacy.. I took ketamine again the other night, and with the friend that left me in the middle of the city centre the first time I took it. We went out and chatted shit and danced, and it was good; but I could see myself being far more hesitant than she was with people, inwardly berating her for laughing and talking to people she didn’t know because I was quietly convinced it would end badly for us both. Walking back to hers, too, I was afraid; and it’s certainly not a nice area of town. But.. I went out there and I did it and I had fun. And I think that is probably as close as I am going to get.

  55. James Landrith

    Cara, I’ve wondered about healing too. I’m trying, but I don’t see it as a destination I’ll find and then be all better forever again. Am I better now than I was a year ago when the memories came back? Yes. Am I healed? Nope.

    I have good days, where I don’t see her or feel her or sense her. Then, I have days like I did yesterday when I wanted to scream, cry, put my fist through a wall and curl up in a ball all in one afternoon.

    While things are improving, the end result is that I was still raped and that has deeply transformed me in ways you can see and in ways you cannot. Your analogy with the surgery scars was perfect.

    I’m guessing those days will eventually be fewer and farther between. Do they ever go away????

  56. Hypatia

    While there’s no statement in the world, however well-intentioned, that doesn’t run the risk of upsetting or insulting its hearer, I have always found it safer, regarding my own experience and that of others, to wish for peace and equilibrium rather than healing.

  57. Prudence

    The first step to healing is to allow yourself to be broken. This required a vulnerability which just doesn’t seem to be possible for quite a lot of rape victims. It seemed easier to me to box it all away tightly pretty much as soon as it happened, to try to find a way of thinking of it as “bad sex” rather than rape and to therefore take the blame on myself as a bad choice and indeed as a promiscuous act. Personally this then led me to follow on in that promiscuous vein, which I’ve now seen with hindsight to have been an attempt at a healing process. A terribly misguided healing process and one which I’m not sure worked. It’s difficult to say if you don’t have any form of comparison. Basically I see now that I tried to repeat the situation time and time again through one night stands, I suppose trying to get some control back by behaving more assertively in a repeat situation. But my question looking back was whether I’d just made myself a victim over and over in one form or another. Come and visit my blog to hear about my rape experience and about my thoughts on this particular method of healing.

    Ultimately though I think the most effective thing I’ve done has been in the last few months, when I’ve found so many people with similar (and quite often more serious) rape stories, in response to me telling my own story, which has led me to appreciate that it’s ok to be broken, rather than to strive to be mended. Everyone has baggage and it’s important to accept and recognise your baggage and get used to how to carry it in the easiest way. I suppose the analogy of healing in a physical sense is a good illustration: some medical problems can be completely cured if the situation causing the symptoms is removed; other medical conditions have to be endured and managed if the cause of the illness will always be present. Sex will always be present, unless we become nuns.

    (sorry for the mini-essay here – I can talk for hours about these things!)

  58. Pingback: three rivers fog » What does it mean to heal?

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