Sexual trauma alters the fabric of reality. Regardless if the abuse was a violent assault by a stranger, or coerced by a family member or trusted friend, we are deeply changed. Yet we are also instinctually driven to integrate that which trauma splits asunder. For at the moment of violation, recovery already begins. Two evolutionary-driven reactions emerge — an archetypal drive to defend and an archetypal drive to heal. The journey of recovery involves recognizing which archetype you are living while also committing to regaining wholeness — if not trust in human goodness no matter the measure of cruelty endured.
Regardless of how overwhelming our suffering and humiliation, the drive to heal takes root in our psyches. Unconsciously, the potential for new growth is seeded within us. Naturally, we defend against being hurt again, which can cause us to lose sight of the archetypal drive to heal. Unfortunately, recovery isn’t linear or straightforward. The norm is to repeatedly feel lost and backtrack as we attempt to return to wholeness. In exhaustion, we sometimes prefer to forget or dissociate painful feelings and memories. Yet to stay stuck in the past is to settle for being partially alive. We must commit to nurturing our recovery, no matter how tired, lonely, angry, or depressed we feel.
Granted, it takes resilience and courage to continually engage in efforts to heal from sexual trauma. These are sometimes the very qualities we survivors feel we lack. Rather than try to be a heroine, we do better to keep the process simple. If we can commit to mindful self-acceptance, and treat ourselves with loving kindness, most of us eventually find the courage and resilience we need. We just have to give ourselves time, and acknowledge when we need support to keep the process of recovery going.
Despite that sexual trauma is never our fault, healing becomes our task. And by taking seriously the inherent value of our lives and what we can learn from suffering, not only do we have an opportunity to transform ourselves, we also have a chance to show the world how to transcend patriarchal hierarchies dependent on exploitation and subjugation. By the very nature of the process of recovery, most of us become experts at compassionate change and growth. (We certainly learn perseverance!) We also can become more empowered than we ever imagined. As Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby remarked, “There’s nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”
For most of us, silence has been integral to our survival or social acceptance. Yet more and more of us are seeking opportunities to step outside patriarchy’s shadow and create a world in which everyone can expect protection from sexual trauma. This expectation must be extended to include the right to pursue the archetypal drive to heal. This is not just a matter of every survivor deserving the opportunity to regain wholeness (which we all do). In the process of recovery, we also reconnect with intuitive, body-based wisdom, which not only becomes the wellspring of our own courage and resilience, but also the knowledge we need to connect with Earth and begin the long journey of healing the planet. For the rape of the planet and the rape of women and children are intertwined. When we learn to heal ourselves, we just may also learn how to heal Earth. As Thich Nhat Hanh observed, “The Earth will be safe when we feel safe within ourselves.” If there were ever a time in human history to commit to one’s recovery, it is now.
Activity to ponder: In Week 4 of Ambivalent Goddesses, the focus was on creating a vision board for your recovery. If you took part in that exercise and still have your vision board, take a look at it. What comes up for you? Have you made the changes you wanted? What changes do you now want to make?
Whether you did or did not do the vision board exercise, I encourage you to read Week 4, “Getting Your Unconscious on Board With Your Goals,” and make a new vision board. Make sure to include images or words specifically related to your desired outcome for your continued recovery efforts.
© 2018 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).