CW: mentions of domestic and sexual violence
It was 2010. My best friend had just assaulted me. I didn’t understand what had happened and why he wouldn’t stop no matter how many times I had said no and pushed him away.
It was a deep betrayal and a traumatic event that affected me deeply.
Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance
I cowered in the driveway between the vehicles, crying. My mind scrambled to understand, but regardless of the reason behind his choices…
This is my reality now.
I repeated that phrase over and over for days until it sunk in. Each new horror that had befallen me over the following 7 years, I would say it again.
At first, I said it through tears. After a few years of enduring multiple traumas and losses, I said it mostly in weary resignation. It was my way of forcing myself to radically accept my new reality. I was a survivor of sexual violence at the hands of three different men I had trusted (all in the span of 18 months). I was no longer a happily married woman, as my husband had left me. I lost my job, etc. etc. etc. My identity and home and future had been taken from me.
Create Something Better
Over the past four years I have rebuilt my life into something even better than before. I have a kind partner and safe home in Portland. I work for a company based in Paris and Cambridge and spend half the year abroad. I make more than I spend because I still pet sit for lodging when abroad, enabling me to save money and do really cool things. I no longer live paycheck to paycheck. I have plans for my future and investments for my retirement.
I will never again have to rebuild my life from nothing, as I built a stable foundation on my own.
Then last week something very interesting happened. I said:
This is my reality now!
It was the first time I had said it for something wonderful.
Living the Dream
As I was kayaking in the canals of Copenhagen, my guide asked me if I was there on holiday, and I said, “Sort of….” Then I explained that I had come to Denmark for a few days because I had never been and have been wanting to visit Hamlet’s Castle in Helsingør for 25 years (which I did). Then I was going to Zürich for a few days to visit a friend I had met while pet sitting 5 years ago, and then I was off on a business trip. Part of it would be working in the Paris office and part of it in a two-day retreat at the Château d’Ecoublay (pictured) in the French countryside.
I was going to Paris on a business trip.
This is my reality now!
I got to work in the Paris office all this week with my international colleagues in a job that I’m not only good at, but I also love! Tomorrow I head back to a family and friends in Portland who love me, believe me, and support me.
In July, I’m headed back to the UK for three months to tap dance at Drury Lane Tap, ride horseback through Hyde Park every week, and see brilliant musicals in the West End, as well as work with my colleagues in Cambridge.
This is my awesome reality now!
For those of you still in the early days after surviving a traumatic event, know that there are better days ahead. You can also rebuild your life into something better, and the first step in doing so is radical acceptance.
This is your reality now….but it won’t always be.
Once you accept the horrors that you’ve endured and your current state of grief, you can begin to heal and rebuild your life. Whether it was assault, abuse, or loss—or even if you’re living with a mental illness—the first step is acceptance.
Do not run from it because it will catch up to you and be worse than before. It’s excruciating, I know. I’ve been there — for many years. But take it from me that the pain is not bottomless, no matter how much it feels like it is.
Dive into it. Cry. Wail. Scream into pillows…or punch them. Accept you’re in agony in that moment and face it head on. It will pass more quickly if you do. When it does, get up and go about your day until the next wave comes, and it will soon enough. Then, repeat.
There is no such thing as too much support during this time. Turn to friends and professionals. If you can’t afford therapy, call RAINN (even if you can afford therapy, call them between sessions). There are free women services in nearly every city, so seek them out.
I know it can feel like no one believes you or they just dismiss your pain/experience because it’s too uncomfortable for them, but I believe you. Other survivors will believe you, and there is an entire community of us out there. Please reach out.
May you find peace.