Almost always when I share my story—when I talk of rape, heroin and pain; when they see me smiling, open, alive and unashamed—they find a way, a time, a quiet moment and with big, hurt eyes full of tears they reach for me, whispering, “your story is my story”.
The unbroken do not know the courage and vulnerability it has taken to utter those words out loud.
The unbroken have no idea how the heart races when we hear someone say the R word in public.
A millisecond of being taken back there—reminded, a flash so fast it’s been and gone before the eye can blink, but our brains know.
Followed by the self-checking; do they know? Is it about me? How do I feel? Will I cry, rage, shall I speak, shall I shut them up? Shall I say ME… I… THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED TO ME!?
But we never do; we never speak up, rage, cry, scream. We stay silent in our shame. The unbroken do not know about this silent part of our identity; the dark hidden secret that lurks under the skin making choices, keeping us separate—detached and alert.
I stand there looking into her eyes as she looks to me, desperate for answers, a solution, a way through.
How do I help her?
What can I say?
What can I give her to take the pain away?
I want to reach inside her and rip the misery out, wrap her in my arms—smother the torment that defines every sweet and beautiful plane of her pleading face.
Every single time, I frantically search my mental library of tools. I scan through everything I have done over the years to get me from there to here: each action, choice, book, course, workshop, moment—they seem so minuscule and pathetic against her bottomless well of suffering.
I tell her shame hates sunlight, but I know that she can’t see this yet because the sun can hardly get in to do its cleansing work. So I say, “keep talking, keep telling, keep asking” because that will let the sunlight in.
God, I hurt for her.
I have been her. I have been her. I am her.
I am her after the hurt has gone. I am her having told my story over and over again—the shame cast off and the end written by me—not them.
Rape is so tightly entwined with shame and blame. If I had been beaten—if two guys had punched me black and blue, I would have hurt and cried and worn the scars for the rest of my life. And, I would also have been surrounded immediately by unconditional, non-judgemental support and empathy.
There would have been no silence, nor pity. No doubt; no need for me to justify or explain whether I was drunk or short skirted.
If I had been beaten black and blue, my actions leading up to the event would have been completely irrelevant. No sin I could have committed would have justified, in anyone’s eyes, the need to beat me. Not so with rape. Depending on what went on prior to the hideous cowardly act, judgement will be passed—deserving or innocent.
It is this judgement that kills us a thousand times and then a thousand more.
Young girls (and boys) hear rape on the news used to control and degrade. They see trials, women vilified and humiliated, men walking free, victims treated like vixens—and they learn, as the years roll by, that rape is something to be ashamed of.
I’ve made a decision for my sisters and me. I am going to keep saying it—not in hushed tones or with my head bowed, nor rushing in to quickly explain my circumstances so that it’s clear I was not to blame.
I was raped, she was raped. Women are raped and sexually violated by their friends, their dates, their brothers, their fathers, their bosses, their boyfriends and their priests; by men born of a world that, through jokes and billboards, magazines and sports heroes, teaches “hey lads, quietly, just between you and me—it’s OK.”
So what can I say to her, how can I help?
I can tell her that this simple act of telling me, is everything. That shame hates sunlight and it is shame that is stealing her life. Shame for something she did not ask for, that had nothing to do with her at all.
Beautiful woman, there is a way through.
You must celebrate your broken bits; own your life, the shit and the champagne.
It’s YOUR life, your tattoos, the road map that is you. All that you have been and all that you will be, is the sum of all your experiences. You cannot cut away like discarded flesh the bits you don’t like, any more than you can cut away a broken limb. You can heal it though.
This violent act and all those of self-harm that followed, don’t need to define you. Yes they will forever be a part of you, yet you get to choose what the legacy will be: one of ruin, collapse and slipping away—or of courage, wisdom, empathy and inspiration.
Take your life back. Retell this story that has been forced upon you; are you really going to give the rest of your life over to the perpetrators? To these imbeciles who slither and slime around the world, taking what will never be given to them freely?
The rape is not what is killing you now, that rape is gone and it’s over; it is the story you keep telling yourself that is keeping you small and afraid. Reach out to that part of you that you loathe, those memories you wish you could erase; now look at them in the cold hard light of day, bring them close, hold that vulnerable, precious, damaged part of you to your heart. Feel the hurt, the fear, the powerlessness—it’s yours; it is your beautiful humanness.
Look at those moments, hours or years, not cloaked in shame, trying to justify or explain. Cry, scream, wail, smash things if you have to and then rise from the ruin, loving the strong and mighty woman you are. The woman who is standing, who carried on, who, through surviving the worst, knows who she is and that she has much to do.
DO NOT EVER tell yourself a victim story again; look to the heavens and see painted in the sky, yourself the warrior, beautiful, battle worn, steady and fierce.
You have given me a gift with your brave question; I now know what I must do. I will be the lighthouse: I can give hope, telling my story, loving ALL of myself—standing tall.
So sweet sister with your big wide eyes, today you get to choose—who will you be?
Will you be the victim for the rest of your life? I think not.
You are wonderful, you are whole, you are love and you are enough.