How to share experiences to enhance understanding.
Sexual assault is a lingering thing. But it does not need to be a life defining or isolating part of your experience. It does not need to consume you in silence. Combating these negative emotions is where communities can help. Support structures provide us a safe space to take back our voice. A place where even if, with only a handful of others, we can feel empowered in knowing we can speak up and speak out about our experience.
There is something inherently isolating about sexual assault. It has the power to leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. It leaves you feel like no one else in the world can understand your pain because it is such a personal experience. Regardless of any level of experience another has with the subject, this type of trauma is one of the most personal and intimate. The isolation that this trauma breeds, however, is neither healthy nor healing. Feeling like you are alone facing the odds of the world is one of the most overwhelming things I know myself and many others experienced.
These feelings of isolation are why I know that for me, and when working with other survivors, I always recommend that it is of the utmost important to find a community of support. This community might vary depending on your personal context, the levels of trauma, and where you are in your recovery process. Everyone must individually choose how they define their community of support. Doing so should be an essential part of any process of healing.
When I talk about communities, what I particularly mean and recommend is finding a support group of others survivors: other people who have undergone this trauma, who understand even a fraction of your personal experience and who can talk with you on the very human level. Where everyone’s trauma is their own, other survivors have a basic understanding of what this trauma looks like. It is this ability to empathize that makes them such powerful allies in the healing journey.
I love my friends and family. I have greatly supportive people that surround me in my life. Where many of these individuals wanted to be there for me through my recovery, they lacked an understanding of how to help. There were times that they didn’t understand part of what I was experiencing and I had to explain my experience in deeper detail than I would have liked. There were other times where their responses, phrases, and sentiments that were meant to sound loving came across in different ways. There were times where they didn’t know how to respond and in turn, I didn’t know how to process the conversation with them.
These feelings of being separate from my peers all changed for me the first few times that I talked with survivors. All of a sudden, I found myself in conversations where my experience wasn’t scrutinized or probed. I wasn’t asked to explore thoughts I didn’t want to, and I didn’t have to over analyze. Instead, I was welcomed on my terms and with other individuals who were intimately familiar with my issues.
This lead to a profound feeling of respect. Not once did I feel like I was an outlier but instead I was part of something greater than myself. Where those that I loved and trusted with my experience intimately tried to make me feel comfortable, complete strangers had an entirely different method of comfort. Through our shared experiences, we were able to form communities, bonded by trauma but written with rules of respect that touched us all.
Finding a community of support can remove feelings of isolation and trauma. Taking the steps to surround yourself with other survivors can provide a great allowance in finding that extra support system that advances your path towards healing. The other part of finding a support system lie in determining where you will seek out this support. Thankfully, this is where the Internet can lend help. With the power of search engines and the growing amount of support emerging for survivors of sexual assault, there are likely to be people in your community that can locally help you. Even if not, there are other options. Sites such as 1 in 6 and The Joyful Heart Foundation can help connect you with support lines.
There is never any need for any survivor to feel lost, alone, or isolated when processing their experience. The key to both preventing and recovering from sexual assault lie in communities. Find one that supports you, knowing that you are not alone. There are people out there to help, people that have like experience and can provide support.
We are here to help.
Tim Mousseau is a storyteller who focuses on using his writing and speaking to reframe how communities approach the cultures they are creating. Tim is a member of the 1in6 Board of Directors. As a speaker for CAMPUSPEAK he talks with college campuses across America about sexual assault prevention, using his own story to connect with students when facing this issue. Tim received a Masters degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga, his research focused on curiosity and creativity. To connect with Tim, he can be reached on Twitter @TimMousseau