“To victims of sexual assault or any trauma, tell your story. Only then will you find someone who had similar experiences, with whom you can connect and move forward…”

I have come to understand that I like to read about other people’s journeys from trauma (of any kind) towards some amount of healing or acceptance. Recommendations requested and welcome.

The first such book I read was The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood [link], which was comforting at a time when nothing could comfort. Now I offer it to anybody coping with child loss. The second survivor story I bought but did not start reading for almost two years, (because it seemed too popular and I thought it was about praying) – then I saw the movie on the TV and finally picked the book. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert –  still surprises me with the impact it has on me (and on atleast one other mother who loves the book as much) – I am reading it for the second time, reading it slowly, savouring every word. The comfort this book brings is specially unexpected because the book is not about child loss, I was surprised that divorce and heartbreak could hurt this much. How the book ends or the story doesn’t matter – what I love is reading about Elizabeth Gilbert’s experiences as she struggles to find some moments of peace. This struggle to help herself was (is) immensely relatable.

Then a friend recommended Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, and now I have just finished reading and am still feeling overwhelmed with the Girl in the Woods: A Memoir by Aspen Matis.

Aspen Matis is a rape survivor. She decides to hike the same Pacific Crest Trail that the Cheryl Strayed does (in Wild: From Lost to Found).

Each of these books has been an eye opener. I have come to see that loss and trauma affects many of us in nearly the same way. No matter what causes it, atleast for a while, the trauma changes the way the survivors view life and everything else.

Aspen Matis felt nobody ‘gets’ what she was going through, including her mother, “I hated her consistent need to know the list of different foods I’d eaten that day. I remembered how she’d asked me if I’d had a good dinner in the same phone call when I’d told her I’d been raped.”

For a long time after the rape, she doesn’t know what she wants… because what she wanted was not possible. The book made me want to reach out to her, to hug her nineteen year old self and to thank her for her courage in sharing her experience. I was saddened but still thankful to be reading how she felt. When have we ever heard a rape survivor’s side of the story? Such first person accounts should be shared.

I had not thought of what a sexual assault could do to every part of the survivor’s life. Consider what it could do to her self confidence: Did she really ask for it? Could she have prevented it? Did she experience rape or was it not really rape? Was she capable of taking care of herself? Could/should she trust men ever again? Was she safe from further assaults? Would she ever be able to have a normal relationship? All her relationships change forever, including her relationship with herself. Then there was the humiliation, the ‘shame’, the anger and the helplessness. I strongly recommend the book for anybody who would like to understand what a sexual assault can do to a victim. Also, what lack of clarity about one’s rights can do. Why having a voice and knowing one’s rights is more empowering than all the safety alarms and pepper sprays in the world. And how terrifyingly disempowering lack of confidence is. I loved the author’s honesty.

In a society like ours that does not even acknowledge that rape is ‘sex without consent’ – this book could be a beginning. Do read and share.

But why was this book healing for me? It made me see I was not the only one coping with what I couldn’t change. AND it made me want to go for a long, long hike.

And I agree with her when she says, “To victims of sexual assault or any trauma, tell your story. Only then will you find someone who had similar experiences, with whom you can connect and move forward...” [from here – What Girl in the Woods Author Aspen Matis Found on the Trail to Independence:]

“It was OK for her to say ‘no’ after saying ‘yes’? Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean a blanket sanction to any sexual activity.”

In our hearts forever.

An email: Satyamev Jayate touched a deep wound. After almost 30 years I broke the silence.

Books I am reading.

Why I liked ‘Rabbit Hole’.

A Hiker’s Guide to Healing – Aspen Matis

When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her. —ADRIENNE RICH

14 thoughts on ““To victims of sexual assault or any trauma, tell your story. Only then will you find someone who had similar experiences, with whom you can connect and move forward…”

  1. Silence is not always golden. Cry your heart out and speak your story. Publish it and let it out into the world. Even a sentence might inspire someone somewhere. Real life stories inform other humans of what can be possible in this world. If we can do that after a robbery, a murder, a car theft, identity theft, fraud etc then why not about rape, molestation, sodomy or other sexual offences?

    If one is hung up about ‘izzat’ then there is shame in our culture for having been robbed too. Why didn’t you use better locks/use a bank locker for valuables/leave the house for so long/inform newspaper delivery to stop for some days blah blah. It’s unfortunately a malaise amongst humans and it becomes grotesque when repeated after a sexual crime and/or murder or worse.

    Thank your IHM for sharing this link in Related Posts –http://www.salon.com/2015/09/05/they_implied_that_i_had_hallucinated_a_rape_aspen_matis_on_campus_sexual_assault_her_new_memoir_girl_in_the_woods_and_hiking_the_pacific_crest_trail/

    Aspen Matis puts it simply as it is — “And in our culture, often we want to feel that we’re safe, and we want to think that this couldn’t possibly happen to us, so when it happens to someone else, we try to look for a reason why they brought it on themselves. It creates the illusion of safety: “This will never happen to me because I’m better than them.” You want to convince yourself that you’re safe in the world and your body. It’s a dangerous defense mechanism that prevents you from facing the reality of statistics, and it blocks you from compassion, as well, when you make the victim the “other” instead of admitting that they could be you and you could be them and you’re both human and they did nothing wrong and yet bad things happened. It’s a scary, scary fact to face.”

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  2. Thanks for admitting, IHM, that you like to dwell on suffering and negativity. Our life is a reflection of our thoughts.

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    • I need daily inspiration, which comes from regular reminders (through such books) that there are others who have walked the path before (or after) me. Their struggles and their coping is very relatable – and their success gives me hope (As in, if they can, maybe I can too.). We each must find what works for us and keeps us going. Hope this helps you understand that this is not dwelling on negativity but finding ways and means to walk though unavoidable pain.

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    • The entire post is about books written on overcoming suffering and negativity, not about dwelling on it. Our life is a reflection of our thoughts. Well said now apply it on yourself too.

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    • Oh really. Empathy is about dwelling on negativity. It must be nice in your life, all sunshine and rainbows, where people who are ‘negative’ should just snap out of it and not make you see any of the ugliness.
      Life is not so one sided. There is depth and nuance. There is happiness and unhappiness. Having one does not make the other untrue.

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      • Amongst other things, sharing one’s ‘negative’ experiences let’s other people going through the same/similar negative experience know they are not alone. Not sharing can lead to isolation and lack of much needed support. Communication and sharing helps many of us understand what we are coping with – this is also why Support groups are also found immensely helpful.

        Do you think denying something painful/negative is more helpful than sharing it?

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        • Thanks IHM. I wanted to write a about support groups as well. I also wanted to add this:

          Every individual’s process of overcoming adversities is different. I know someone who took 7-8 years to get over a long distance romantic relationship that had lasted 2.5 years. To others it may have seemed like they were dwelling over it, not doing enough to help themselves etc. But perhaps she needed that amount of time to heal. Perhaps she needed to spend more time with those emotions (dwelling over it) in order to deal with it “positively” (i.e. leading to the positive outcome of recovery). No matter how different our journeys are, I am hopeful that after such negative events, we can eventually reach a point of self growth and have a better understanding of things, with some support from others and some from within.

          Also, I think the interpretation of ‘dwelling over it’ is very subjective. One can’t declare that feeling sad about something for x duration is okay but feeling sad about it for 2x or 3x duration is not. That’s because its different for different people and also different for the same person in different life circumstances/stages.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I agree Ami. ‘Dwelling on it’ is infact an important part of healing for many of us.

          Dwelling on a trauma is required for analysing, understanding, coming to terms with and accepting what can’t be changed.

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  3. I saw the movie version of Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’ starring Reese Witherspoon in a surprisingly raw role. Not sure if the book goes into this aspect in detail, but the thing that stayed in my mind was that pain internalized after a trauma can be very intense (in Cheryl’s case – the loss of a mother – the one who gave some semblance of family and hope and cheer to Cheryl and her brother’s life despite an extremely abusive husband/father). Like in Cheryl’s case, instead of making the pain bearer seek help and healing through conventional ways (prayer, counseling, friendships, love) it can trigger dangerous and reckless abandon because nothing else is more painful that the present. It seemed like she knowingly put herself in harm’s way (promiscuity with strangers, undertaking a very difficult hike on the PCT by herself, taking help from a seemingly suspicious guy on the trail despite not having an initial good feeling about it) to anesthesize herself from the throbbing core of pain.
    I think it helped me see a different pespective of a pain bearer.

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  4. I have read Cheryl Strayed book and loved it. Not for its writing, but for her being so honest with her trauma and what she went through. And also for the fact that she turned to nature to heal herself. Being a hiker myself, I could totally relate to the pain and calm one feels when out in the woods. I will try and get my hands on Matis’ memoir as well. Doing what helps, when it comes to dealing with trauma is crucial. For some, talking and sharing the experience will help, for some drawing the internal energies to deal with it helps. Important thing to note is in a judgmental society like ours, giving support to people to share (or not share) is crucial, without questioning their need to share or to keep quiet.

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  5. Hi there IHM- Have you read ‘My Feudal Lord’ by Tehmina Durrani. Very Inspiring true story of a domestic violence survivor whose sister was first abused as a child by her husband then had an affair with her him as an adult. Her own family shunned her for decades after she wrote the book. I love the matter of fact tone of the book, she tells is as it happened, including things that she did which are hard to not judge negatively.

    Wild is the book currently waiting on my bedside to be picked. Aspen has written for NY times, I loved both her articles. Will try and get the book as well.

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    • Yes G.K I have read ‘My Feudal Lord’ by Tehmina Durrani – a long time ago though. Made me see how much domestic abuse victims go through and are still not able to leave, despite… or because of the humiliation and the absolute breaking of spirit? The indignities, the emotional abuse and the violence are the parts I still remember. I was also troubled by his cruelty towards animals. It was shocking then that her sister’s affair seemed to trouble her – I imagined nothing would matter, they had no relationship, what was there to lose, I felt.

      Aspen Matis too is very honest and this honesty is what is an eye opener for others – and can make us empathise I think. Do share what you think if you read the book.

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