AS a survivor of sexual violence, I often feel the need to tell the people in my life about my past.
Initially, I believed it was for educational purposes, so that people would know how to better deal with me. So that people would understand my reactions to things and my “triggers” so to speak. In embodying the label survivor and speaking my truth, telling my story is my act of taking the power back from the offender. However, telling my story still opens me up to a lot of vulnerability. I open myself up to judgement and at times to blame and disbelief by those who I believed support me.
Recently, I came to a realization it is not the act of telling my story, but the manner in which I tell my story that matters. In the past, when telling my story I often provided the details. The details were provided to justify what happened to me. It was as if I was asking the listener for validation, because part of me will always blame myself. I know it is not my fault, yet I still find myself telling the story in a defensive way to justify what happened. Part of that is because of reactions to my story in the past, and part of that is due to my understanding of how societal norms are still to place blame on the victim. Today I am here to say that this is not necessary anymore!
While I will continue to speak my truth, it is on my own terms. Not everyone is privy to the details of my story. At times, not even loved ones. Good boundaries mean that I get to decide who to tell and how I am going to tell. Most times it is sufficient enough for me to simply say, “I am a survivor of sexual violence” and leave it at that. I do not need to tell people how to handle me, as if I am some sort of “handle with care” package. I am not a “handle with care” package any more or any less than any of us. We all have our stories and we are all worthy of dignity, consideration and respect. If I do not like something someone is doing to me or saying around me I will speak up. There needs not be a caveat as to why I did not like what was being done or said. Being human is enough.
Each time I tell my story, I am left feeling vulnerable and that vulnerability to me is also a sign of strength. It takes strength and courage to speak my truth. It is my choice when I want to speak and who I speak it to. Not everyone deserves my story. Not everyone will support me and that is OK. Sometimes those that fight against the story are the ones who need to hear it the most. Those whoneed to acknowledge their truth. So I will continue to tell my story on my own terms. I encourage you to do the same. Speak your truth when you are ready, to who you want to speak it to. Remember that we are here to validate and listen. Always.
SouyenneDathorne, Velika Lawrence and Rebecca Hayes
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By Rebecca Hayes, Ph.D.