Experiencing Grief As A Sexual Abuse Survivor
Today I wonder does anyone really want to know how someone is? The truth? When my boss asked me how are you doing today? and my robotic reply good.
I look at some of my inspirations – Maya Angelou, Nicole Braddock Bromley, Laura Davis – and I only ever hear them talk about overcoming past challenges. I hear them flippantly mention how things can still be tough. But their words never carry weight to me. Maybe being in the spotlight makes people hide. Maybe people helping others don’t want to appear as needing help too. I don’t know what inner battles those ladies are fighting, but I always feel robbed when those in the spotlight present themselves as 100% recovered. For me, sexual trauma isn’t so simple. Recovery isn’t either a complete healing or a complete loss. Instead, it is triumphant moments and wallowing moments. The difference is in being equipped to overcome and to feel sad when you need to.
I promise to not hide the bad. I need to include the good and the messy because that’s what it’s like to live with sexual trauma. But it’s also what it’s like to live free. Without the messy, the amazing wouldn’t feel so, well incredible. So I will share with you what I call my Dark Day and White Funerals.
Dark Day is a term I use when I know I am feeling not myself or emotionally drained. It’s when I want to turn off all of the lights in the apartment, lay on the couch (or in bed), cocoon myself in a big fluffy comforter, and eat bad food. I don’t want to be around people. I don’t want to do anything at all. I just want to be comfy.
White Funeral is a term I use when I need to mourn. While to many grief is something associated with an experience of losing a loved one and with death, you experience loss as a sexual trauma survivor as well. Loss of identity, loss of innocence, loss of people once dear, loss of ‘normalcy.” If I don’t have White Funeral days where I mourn over the consequences sexual trauma has on my past, my present, and my future then my emotional health will suffer. I went through the stages of grief:
1. Denial, my immediate response to remembering my abuse. I couldn’t acknowledge it had happened. 2. Anger, my response after it became more and more difficult to stay in denial. I was angry that it even happened and the situation I was in, angry that it was people who I thought were on my side, and even a little angry (misplaced) at myself.
3. Bargaining, my reaction to the flood of emotional trauma I then experienced. I attempted to minimize everything because I thought it could make me feel better and whole again.
4. Depression, as my reality settled I started to fully feel my emotions. Things became more real. I felt hopeless, shameful, guilty, gross.
5. Acceptance, I realized I could be unquiet. I can live free post-trauma and build a network of support to help me navigate life with PTSD. I was able to replace the lies with a foundation of truth that I am not alone, I am loved, and I have hope.
If I’m honest, I cycle through those stages still. It looks a little different because I don’t deny my experiences of sexual trauma, but I do get angry and try to minimize my emotions or bottle them up and then have Dark Days or White Funerals, and then I am able to continue life post-trauma. Sometimes the process is quick, all within a couple of hours or days, and sometimes I have an entire week or even months before I feel free again. And I don’t always experience every stage or skip over some stages. With PTSD, it’s easy to revisit the Depression stage, that’s why I allow myself Dark Days and White Funeral Days to just feel so I can remain free. White represents the safety and goodness, while funeral still incorporates the grief that comes parallel with it when someone has experienced sexual trauma.
We were quiet on the car ride home. I turned on the radio and found a station playing “Hey Jude.” It was true, I didn’t want to make it bad. I wanted to take the sad song and make it better. It’s just that I didn’t know how.
Lately I have been in a funk. I’ve had some Dark Days. My coping strategy for PTSD was to become a people-pleaser and perfectionist. I dove myself into academics and work. It was the pressure of responsibility that kept me never giving up and always integrated in society.
But this time it’s different.
I have struggled to get out of bed and to work. It feels like a burden. It’s been rough for me to get up in the morning. There’s this cloud of dark smog filtering in my system and I feel closed off from the world. The visual I have of myself is:
I am in a black and gray photo. Set in an asylum room. I’m frozen in the middle on a metal chair, knees bent, mouth nuzzled in my folded arms pulling my legs close. Marble floors. No windows. No doors. Alone. Stuck.
I have felt that my PTSD has interfered with my life before (mostly with relationships) but this week it has carried real, raw weight. Last night I had a serious conversation with my husband that I may not be able to hold a full-time job for the first time in my life. It was hard to admit to myself and to him. I may need a part-time job or a different shift or to figure out a way to work from home. Because I have been tired, so tired. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m just not sure. I do know that I will get past this, that this isn’t the end of my story.
This weekend I plan on getting back into the swing of life. To spend time in Worship, go working out and have personal training. I’m going to go on a date with my husband to a book store, have some good food, rent a movie and play a game of Supernatural Clue. All of these have two things in common: action and passion. I LOVE Zumba, books, board games, and my husband. In pursuing the things I love, I will also find peace and happiness. While today I don’t feel like taking action, my conscious attempts to plug into my passions will start my process back to feeling myself again because action and passion lead to self-care.
p.s. writing these blog posts also brings me more peace. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to start a journal.