Survivors are often told they’re resilient, or strong. I hate this. On the surface it seems an innocuous comment doesn’t it? Complimentary even. It’s not. It minimises our experiences and it silences us. It feels so disrespectful to the survivors I knew who took their own lives, and to the many others I know who struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Does this mean that they’re not strong or resilient enough? Of course not. There are many factors at play when it comes to ‘recovery.’ In my case, if it wasn’t for the peer support and therapist; people who crossed my path at the right moment in time, I wouldn’t be here today. It boils down to luck.
In the past, I was often told, “you must be stronger, otherwise you’re just letting him win.” Nowadays I’m told “ you’re so resilient, just look at what you’re doing. You’ve taken control back.” It’s hard to know how to respond. It makes me feel misunderstood. The reality for me – and others may identify with this – is that I have had moments where I’ve had to access great inner strength to get over the next hurdle but I’m not consistently strong. At times I feel incredibly weak, and an important part of recovery for me has been to acknowledge that and give it a name: It is the lifelong consequence of CSA. I consider the trauma of sexual abuse left me injured. Survivors are statistically more likely to develop chronic, long term health conditions. My body certainly kept the score; I live with health conditions that make it difficult to get out of bed some days. I get tired really quickly because my breathing is restricted. I feel exhausted, often. I can easily sleep for 12 hours a night if I’m able to.
I would describe it like running a marathon with a broken leg. I might still achieve great things like running the marathon but I do so in great pain and with a lot more effort than if I was not hurt in the first place.Purnima Govindarajulu – The Flying Child Project
In many ways I feel I’m less resilient than others and I believe this is because of what happened to me. Right now, life is much easier than it was but I don’t have a sense of inner peace. Maybe it will come along one day, but in the meantime, I work with what I’ve got and recognise how far I’ve come.
Just because we survived abuse doesn’t mean we have some sort of super strength. Abuse injured my soul too. There are times when I feel the world is very dark. I fear for my children. For humanity. I overthink, I get anxious, I often wish I had a thicker skin and that things didn’t cut as deeply as they do.
Thoughts frequently overwhelm me. Because of my history of being misunderstood in the psychiatric system, I choose not to view these as depressive states (although I would if they persisted). I view it as a normal consequence of extreme trauma. In many ways, survivors need to take things very gently at times. There is a fragility that needs protecting and nurturing. Softness, care, empathy and kindness is our healing balm and we need it in buckets! There is a lot of healing to do.
Healing from CSA is not a competition of strength or a perceived battle of wills between me and the man who abused me. I am not victorious, I was a victim of a crime. I will not allow others to use my activism as an example of how strong I am, and make themselves feel better about the gravity of what happened to me. Whoever I become, whatever I achieve will never undo the damage.
Whilst we may be able to find a way to manage it, CSA, and its repercussions on the rest of the survivor’s life are unforgivable and irreversible.