Don't Be Silenced: Q & A
When asked to share his take on suffering and adversity, the Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu said, " Deep down, we grow in kindness when our kindness is tested."
When I wrote about my encounter with sexual assault and the experiences I've faced since I became aware of it, I knew that it would be difficult for many to read. I had held off on any of the information regarding my personal experience because I knew it would spark many conversations and questions. Subsequently, God kept encouraging me to share it. I decided that I would rather be afraid of upsetting people than refusing to do what God has called me to do.
After publishing that post, our email and my phone began buzzing with questions and statements about it. Some people reached out sharing their gratitude for the fact that this story was shared and some inquired to know more.
Since I've never done a Q & A before, I decided that some of these questions may be ones that others have. Due to the sensitivity of the topic we're speaking on, I will not be sharing the names or information of the sources. Now that we've got that squared away, here we go:
Q: You've faced assault, how do you respond to affection in relationships afterward?
A: I wished I could say that I respond very well and that it's almost as if I've become a 'normal' person (whatever that means) in intimate situations with my significant other or my loved ones, but that's untrue. When situations feel unsafe to me or when I do not want hugs or kisses, and someone wants that, I make it known that I'm not here for it at the moment. Typically guys do feel rejected, but those are the people that don't understand me because to feel rejected in the circumstance that isn't about my perception of another, but my awareness of how comfortable I am is egotistical. I make sure that my partner knows where I am on the spectrum when it comes to my emotional and physical state.
The best thing you can do is to be as mindful as possible and to communicate no matter how difficult it may seem. We are stronger than we seem. (didn’t Winnie the Pooh say that?)Though I'm a big hugger when you meet me so, please ask for hugs!
Q: How long do you believe it'll take you to heal?
A: Any person who tells you that there is a specific time length on healing from assault is a fabricator. Grief, love, and pain take people time, and everyone processes things differently. I think of it this way:
Some people are 2016 surface pros, others are 2018 iPad pros, and I am learning which processor I am. I could be a 2019 iPhone 11 or a 2002 iMac. I have to just let my files process and see how everything works out.
Q: What's your advice to any person who's been abused?
A: Well, I'm not one to give advice to people because I mess up all the time and when I grow, I go back to amend my beliefs since I experiencing something new. Aside from please seek a professional as soon as you can, if I had to tell another survivor anything, I guess I would speak to them like I'm talking to them:
"It hurts, doesn't it? Are you confused, upset, terrified, numb, or all of the above? You're hurting, right? I can see it, and you know what this happening to you, all these feelings are sane. You're not crazy and darling, nothing is wrong with you. It's going to take you some time to understand all of this, and that's also alright. Don't rush anything but little by little, you'll begin to release yourself from the initial pain. As you do that you'll learn that you're not worthless and every part of who you are is valuable. You are beautiful, and though you may not feel it, it's like being alive, you just are. No, you're not a damaged person; however, you're about to be a dope source of strength. Nothing has been taken away from you, you've just gained a new way to become a stronger human. You may not know who to talk to about this, and I'll let you in a secret that's not really a secret: you've got all of us. You've got a family of people who've faced this matter and want to stand with you as you fight through this. I'm rooting for you!"
Q: Have you been able to forgive, and how did you do it?
I had to sit back and think about this because I didn't know if my answer would be yes or no. I don't know if I could truthfully say yes and just leave it there. The best way to answer this question for me is through the words of the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams:
"Many people think of suffering as a problem.[...] Actually, it is an opportunity destiny has given to you. In spite of difficulties and suffering, you can remain firm and maintain your composure." Dalai Lama (p.146)
"Joy, it seemed, was a strange alchemy of mind over matter. The path to joy, like with sadness, did not lead away from suffering and adversity but through it." - Desmond Tutu (p.150)
"So how did he do it? I asked. "I mean, why do you think he was able to see this suffering as ennobling rather than embittering?" (Douglas Abrams, p. 153)
"He didn't see it. It happened." (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, p. 153)
"I could hear a gasp in the room at this extraordinary statement, that the greatest danger for this man had been the risk of losing his compassion, losing his heart, losing his humanity." ( Douglas Abrams, p. 156)
"[...]the depth of our suffering can also result in the height of our joy." (Dalai Lama, 157)
- The Book of Joy
To sum it up, whenever I think about this whole situation, I realize that though I may not know why God allowed it to happen, I do know that there is a purpose to it. I trust that though this was meant to hurt me and destroy who I am like Scripture says about the enemy, God will continue to use it for his glory. If you sit in tragedy, pain, hurt, and negativity, you will become the reflection on it. It is when you look deeper for the meaning of the pain that you're able to overcome.
For me, I realized that abuse was an opportunity for me to strengthen my joy and faith in the Lord. God helped me by asking me to try to put myself in the shoes of people who abuse, assault, harass, commit violence, and are complicit to sexual violence and harrasment of any kind. It wasn't easy because I had to learned to be compassionate and show loving-kindness to those who were connected to a pain that was sensitive to me and that I'd never wish upon anyone.
Over time, I began realizing that the more I prayed and thought kindly of others despite whatever history I shared with them, the more peace and joy seeped into my soul. When it comes to abuse and hurt, you can lose your soul to the level of pain you harbor. When you exercise love and willingly give it to others no matter how much pain you are in, when you gently remove your initial attachment to any form of pain, you begin to take back your power. That power is joy, and your humanity needs it.
No matter what happens in life, you always have a choice, and your decisions are evident in your words, thoughts, and actions. Each word, each decision, gets you closer to either becoming a bitter person or a more loving human; it's all in the choices you make. I decided to see others the way God saw them and not with my human eyes.
Q: Do you ever experience flashbacks, and how do you cope with it?
A: I believe that we all experience flashbacks. It's like that Black Mirror episode where they could purposefully rewind and view their memory. Instead, in real life, you don't choose to, it just happens. It's similar to what I stated above. You have a choice.
I was blessed that my memory of the initial incident isn't accessible. Anything that ties into the assault like when my mom told me, when the guy kissed me, when I was touched at the bar, and even my ex's comments, I have a choice to change how I perceive my experience. I could either harbor resentment or thank God everyone involved for the experience and allowing it to make me a dope woman; my actions, words, and perspective dictate which narrative I wanted to bring into fruition.
When I think of any of these incidents, I think to myself, "Wow, how amazing is that God allowed me to face these different forms of pain? I would've never understood the level of pain and struggle my brothers and sisters who face this go through if I couldn't relate. God has used this to bring me closer to the many people who have suffered misconduct and violence. And not only that but how difficult it is when others play the comparison game amid the pain.
I'm blessed that I got to be able to witness this, and now I feel much closer to each person because we all feel pain and we all struggle to share for fear of rejection and judgment due to all the hurt we feel. Now that I've faced both by sharing and have come out with more joy than I knew was possible, I know that there are more joy and love in me to give to my brothers and sisters as they face all sorts of hurt and pain life gives them."
Q: How have you used your battle against abuse to help others?
A: Similar to mental health, self-love, and faith, I believe that you can use everything you face to bring more awareness to issues. There are many organizations out there, and if there isn't one for your specific obstacle, in a world where social media is a power of ours as a race, you can always create your own organization.
You can always create a Facebook group, do IG lives, or even set up a 5k to raise awareness and safe spaces to have discussions and support those who face different struggles in life. There are many organizations I love. Please go back to the initial post and see the various organizations I love pouring into. You may find some out there I didn't know about before.
Q: How can someone who's never been a part of sexual violence understand and help?
I think in the hearts of people, many want to do good and assist those who've faced misconduct.
I recommend to search your heart and understand why you want to help. If it's anything outside of genuinely want to be available for others, then you'll cause more damage than you intend. Let your reason come from a place of generosity and loving-kindness. It must be unconditional, and this goes for everything in life. If your purpose is for selfish reasons, you'll cause more hurt.
I also recommend getting educated in this matter. RAINN, No More, NNEDV, and other organizations have well-researched statistics that give us a better understanding of the possibilities and results of sexual violence. Make sure to listen to survivors when they with you and if you can't, reach out to others who can and ask for their assistance. With any person whos faced pain and hurt, you have to learn to respect them in a way that requires self-control and discipline, which means watch what you say and how you react in all situations.
Anything relating to abuse requires sensitivity, patience, compassion, and kindness. You always know yourself best, so if you cannot give any of the attributes I stated, be honest. If these are attributes, you have, then please go ahead and speak with a counselor on how you can best assist in this matter.
Concluding, though there were more, I believe that these were the best answers I could give at the moment for these thought-provoking questions. I'm not a counselor, therapist, or professional in these matters. All my answers are based on my personal experience. Please do seek an expert relating to any of these questions and answers I gave. As always, please respect our policies and terms:
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Until next time...
Abrams, Douglas. “Suffering and Adversity: Passing Through Difficulties .” The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness n a Changing World, by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, Avery, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2016, pp. 145–157.