Healing, Telling My Story, Trauma

Healing Comes at Its Own Perfect Pace: Believing in My Own Power Took a Few Years

Content Warning: Assault Triggers

It takes a long time for trauma survivors to process through the original event or events – as well as deal with what happened after, during the fallout period. I still discover at least monthly how I feel about “another something” related to the sexual assault I experienced in 2018.

Healing is peeling back the layers of the trauma gradually and carefully, as we are able and ready, to deal with the next thing underneath. We can’t deal with the buried layers – or maybe even know those layers exist — until we’ve processed what’s above. It’s almost like we don’t have the needed prescription glasses to see them. But then we put the right glasses on, and we can finally see what’s been in front of us all along.

Some of the things I’ve figured out probably feel very obvious to those around me, but they don’t feel obvious to me (until they do). Until I reach the relevant layer, I simply can’t take those “obvious things” in yet. I’m not able to SEE them.

***

In the days and weeks after the original trauma, during which I was attacked by and fought a sexual predator on the floor of a bookstore, I received many thoughtful and generous gifts and gestures from family and friends.

Four of the many things that meant a lot to me right after were:

  • a simple two-inch flat rock with the word “PEACE” carved into it;
  • offers to go with me to places that I needed or wanted to go (grocery shopping, out for a coffee) because I had such extreme hypervigilance that I had trouble going places by myself – even a walk around the block – for months;
  • an offer to come over and do food prep for me (cutting veggies into containers for cooking later) because one of my hands was injured, and I couldn’t use it; and
  • the brave friend who came over every night for a week and cleaned and rebandaged my wounds because I couldn’t bear to look at them.

I carried that Peace rock everywhere with me for a long time, and eventually – when I was ready to let it go – sent it to two people very close to me who lost a child later that year. The little rock had helped me so much that I thought it had good mojo and might help them, too.  Even that early in my healing, it felt good to give away something that was important to me, something that was a part of my experience and healing.

I also received other physical gifts and lots of cards and notes, which I still have.

Several of the gifts were related to my fight or power in the attack, including the art print in the center of this illustration.

Those particular gifts, including this piece of art? I could hardly look at them at the time.

I couldn’t relate to what they represented. I couldn’t deal with the emotions they brought up and couldn’t identify AT ALL with how people saw this event from the outside.

Many people seemed to react to the part of the trauma that I — a 51-year-old woman — fought off a rapist.

But me? All I felt like I did was survive. And I was very confused about the whole thing, and I felt all of a sudden completely unsafe in the world and powerless.

Also, some of the details of the attack didn’t seem to record in my brain, and so still to this day I don’t know exactly what I did, and what he did.

And why he stopped.

I know I rolled and pushed, screamed, got in one good kick to his groin, and eventually grabbed the knife he was using to threaten me. My brain zeroed in on only what was critical. So all I could see was white static, the lower half of his body, my shoes, and – eventually — a knife floating in the air in front of me, not seemingly attached to anything. I don’t know what he did with his arms and upper half of his body because I couldn’t see them; they were erased from my field of vision. It’s only because of my injuries and certain triggers that I have had hypotheses.

I saw my hand reach out in front of me into the white void and for some reason grab the large, silver blade seemingly in dream-like fascination. And get this: I didn’t feel a thing, and so I thought: “This guy is trying to rape me with a fake knife.” And I felt a surge of anger, grabbed harder and pushed it away from me.

Is that what made him finally stop? I have no idea. But the next thing I remember is him standing by the door, looking down at something, and then he turned to run out of the store. I was on my feet by then (I don’t remember standing) and had so much adrenaline coursing through me (hence my not being able to feel pain). I picked up a nearby library stool and chucked it at him as hard as I could. It hit him and bounced off, and immediately I was terrified he would come at me again for doing that. But he continued out the door.

My physical therapist at the time, who was a martial artist and also tought self-defense, claimed that he stopped because I wasn’t giving him what he wanted. Was it that, or did something click on (or off) in his sick brain, and he realized what he was doing? Was it because I grabbed the knife, and he was freaked out by that, by the blood? Was it something else?

I had and have no idea. And at the time I couldn’t take any ownership in him stopping.

I look back at this event now and recognize that I did actively do those things. But at the time, I just felt so victimized and weak and scared. All I felt I did was survive. My body simply seemed to take over for me, and I became an observer. I didn’t feel strong or powerful. I felt confused and frightened and terrorized.

So I took those gifts that highlighted my power and my courage and put them away because I couldn’t deal with them.

The art print stayed safely between cardboard high on a shelf. And gradually I forgot about it.

***

And then I began to heal, and I began to process and figure things out.

And in my EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) trauma-therapy sessions, I was able finally to start saying, “I kicked him in the balls” instead of “My foot kicked him in the balls.” And “I grabbed the knife” instead of “My hand grabbed the knife.”

In the replays of the event in my head, I stopped just watching my body take action and fight from above, and I became the person doing the actions. And I began to take ownership for what I was able to do and to be so grateful for the strength and resilience of my body and the miracles of my brain that had calculated I could or should take him on.

I had begun to “integrate” the event – an important part of the trauma-healing process.

I finally began to come into my own power. And I saw that “just surviving” IS powerful.

A year ago, I was cleaning a high shelf, and I found that print – a Wonder Woman type figure fighting on a backdrop of a vintage dictionary page. It was from a very special person in my life, and it was perfect.

I saw this art through new lenses – the right “glasses” – and I simply loved her.

And I loved the “me” whom I can now see in her. Powerful. Confident. Beautiful.

I kept her by my desk and eventually ordered a mat and frame for her. Those materials and the art remained in a pile in my office for the first several months of this year as I was distracted by the news of my Lynch Syndrome diagnosis, and ensuing surgeries, procedures, recoveries and worries.

But finally, last month, I framed her. And she now hangs proudly on the wall over a little shrine I’ve developed and created for myself over the years, containing bits and pieces of my recovery that remind me how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished.

And “She” became … Me.

***

Everything happens in its own time.

And in our own perfect order of healing.