As odd as it may seem this post is about why I’m lucky in the circumstances of my attack. I know others aren’t as “fortunate” and I’ve found it important to find a silver lining in this as well as every other aspect in life. If we see ourselves as lucky for the positives it makes it easier not to wallow in the negatives that we’ve experienced. I think this has made me more resilient and reflective. The following may seem self-serving and indulgent but it’s a process of healing for me, as much as hoping that you can also find the positives in whatever your situation may be.
I wasn’t betrayed by someone close to me
My attacker was unknown to me prior to the night and luckily I’ll never have to see him ever again. I have trust issues with strangers at night in clubs because of it, but generally I wasn’t betrayed by someone who I’d placed a lot of trust in. It wasn’t a boyfriend, family member, teacher, mentor or anyone that I had implicit trust in. Because it was a one-off incident I didn’t have to live in terror that this person known to me would put me through that again and again. In these respects I consider myself very lucky. It made the healing process so much “easier” (it’s never easy). I had nightmares, anxiety, panic attacks and all other number of negative emotional effects. But I could trust everyone I had previously placed my trust in. My house was a safe place. My friends were a comfort to me. Work was a good distraction and I had lots of other physical activities such as bike riding and yoga to keep me active and healthy. I could get on with the job of healing without having to handle betrayal as well.
I was not a virgin or inexperienced sexually
Don’t get me wrong, what happened was not sex, it was assault. They aren’t the same. Luckily for me I could easily come to this conclusion because all my perceptions of sexual activity weren’t based on this one incident. I’d had boyfriends, I’d slept around and I had had fun, consensual sex for years before this happened. So I knew that these were separate things. In future consensual sexual encounters when my brain decided to go haywire, I was able to remind myself of all the good times I’ve had in the past. It would certainly have been harder for me if I hadn’t had these experiences so I consider myself lucky on this front.
I have great friends and a better understanding of what makes a great friend
Not all of my “friends” are friends anymore. It was a great way of realising what is important in a friend. Even those who didn’t know what happened proved their worth when my ways of socialising changed. I started drinking less and going out infrequently – almost not at all at nighttimes. But those who cared about me took me for who I was even when I changed. And those friends generally were let in on my “secret” eventually and proved their weight in gold. I have some amazing friends that I know I can rely on in any circumstance because of what happened to me.
On the flip side, one of my friends who was very close to me seemed to have no empathy at all once it boiled down to it. She was my housemate and because I was so worried that what happened to me could happen to her, I asked her to let me know that she was ok via a text message if she was going out drinking late at night and wasn’t home by a certain time. Even though she agreed, she didn’t, not even once. Sometimes she wouldn’t come home at all and wouldn’t tell me that she was fine. I realise I was being slightly paranoid but she didn’t respect, realise or empathise with any of what I was going through. In the end I had to make a mental decision to not take responsibility for her. It worked – I stopped being worried if she stayed out all night and I could only hope that she wasn’t as unlucky as me. As far as I know, she wasn’t. We aren’t friends now but not solely because of that – it was more an indicator than an actual friendship dealbreaker.
As I started healing and getting much better at dealing with what had happened to me, she got more and more addicted to drugs and alcohol to numb whatever it was that was eating at her mind. For at least 6 months she was pushing something deeper and deeper down in her only to become very sad, disaffected and inexpressive about any emotion except those that were negative. You could’ve easily thought that we were living with a 16 year old (she’s mid-twenties), and you may have excused this behaviour if it had been my way of dealing with what happened to me. But I’d gone in the other direction – I’d found positivity and how to better express my emotions. I wasn’t perfect but I was patching myself back together unlike her. Unfortunately the straw that broke the camel’s back of our friendship was betrayal over money – probably the thing that has come between friends for thousands and thousands of years. She decided to move out of the house very last minute. I believe that she was confused, her brain had been hollowed by drugs and she’d become jealous of the happiness that I’d found at that time, everything seemed to be going right for me. She told us when she moved out that it wasn’t her problem to cover rent for the next month. For me it was a very public showing of her true colours. I wasn’t surprised but my other housemates were, and they were particularly hurt at her lack of empathy considering we were friends living in this house together. I’d already slowly come to this conclusion over the preceding 6 months and realised that it wasn’t personal – she had issues that she was doing a very bad job at dealing with. I was mostly glad that this negative force in the house was soon leaving.
In a way, what happened to me opened my eyes to how people deal with their own issues and made me a more selective friend. I’m not friends with everyone. I’m friendly with everyone, don’t get me wrong, but I choose where to invest my time now. And I have amazingly close friendships as a result. Quality trumps quantity.
I found a great counsellor who understood how my thought process worked
I started seeing a male counsellor about two weeks after my attack. People might be surprised that I chose a male counsellor but I didn’t and don’t blame men in general for what happened to me. This isn’t isolated to men attacking women, and although that is much more common, it’s probably perceived as hugely higher percentages because it’s the version of assault that is more talked about and reported. I was really lucky with my counsellor – his method of therapy aligns very well with my thought processes. I only really needed to talk about the details of the assault on our first meeting – so he could understand what he was dealing with. Before we started talking about it though, he spent a good amount of time getting to know me, my background and my personality.
Our sessions focused on what my thoughts were doing and how I could change the linkages in my brain to associate certains thoughts with a new positive thought instead of the original thought process that went nowhere. He got me to understand how important reconnecting with my friends and family who were back at home was (I live overseas) even if I didn’t tell them what happened. He helped me make the skype phone calls to tell them what had happened to me (you can’t imagine how hard it is to start that conversation, and three times at that – once each with my two sisters and once with my parents). He helped me write a letter to the police when I was told once my case was closed and that “this was good news, because it was probably consensual”. He encouraged me to go to yoga regularly and write in my journal. He made me realise I didn’t need anyone else – boyfriend, friends or family to survive this because I had all the strength I needed inside of me. He was the one to tell me that “I was enough” and I didn’t need to be ashamed of what happened because it wasn’t my fault. He was an amazing influence and I was very lucky to have found such a perceptive and experienced counsellor. At certains times I would reject or disagree with his opinion but in hindsight I’ve come around to everything he was trying to tell me and I’m a better person because of his professional skills.
I found an insightful and intuitive yoga teacher
I went to his classes every time they were offered that didn’t clash with my work schedule. Several times a week (or at the very least, once a week) I would find myself in his class. I found yoga was a great way to rearrange my thoughts into a positive (or at least less negative) version and have mini-realisations in each class. Yoga isn’t about stretching for me, though that’s an added bonus, rather it’s about letting your mind wander but always bringing it back by the physical reality of the weird pose that you aren’t quite sure if you’re doing right, while also trying to focus on your breathing. There’s a lot going on as you move between the poses and focus on your inhales and exhales, but also, not actually that much, especially in a Yin or restorative class where you spend several minutes in one restful position. I did so much of my healing during or after these yoga classes. I’ve cried in classes, I’ve been to classes where I hated every minute, but in some way they all helped.
Connecting with individual yoga teachers, and their teaching style and personality, is as personal as your music choice so I suggest trying out different instructors until you find one that feels welcoming and supportive. This favourite teacher of mine was male, which in hindsight is a sign that I hadn’t lost trust in all men, just in strange men at nighttime. He was an intuitive, funny, positive, calming, experienced, wise and welcoming. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with a serious illness and stopped teaching about 8 months after I started going to his classes. It’s taken me a while to find suitable replacement instructors, to whom I don’t have quite the same connection, but I still find the benefits of yoga are huge when I have periods of anxiety or darkness.
There’s a silver lining in every event in our lives, even those that can be traumatic and potentially damaging.