How I Rose from the Shame of Sexual Assault and PTSD

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Unity can mean life to a survivor.

I am a successful businesswoman, a mom of three great kids, daughter, sister, friend… and I am a sexual assault survivor with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It took me a long time to be able to say those words. The intense feelings of shame and guilt kept me from being able to speak them. These are two of the most common emotions felt amongst sexual assault survivors, and they are destructive. My shame and guilt stopped me from reaching out for support. I felt like I had to hide in fear that someone would find out. No one could possibly understand my pain. I was totally alone.

Until I wasn’t.

Until another survivor was brave enough to tell me her story. She understood, and that was a powerful moment. When my “Angel of Support” confided in me, it gave me the strength to start talking about my experience. A small glimmer of light had peeked through the darkness, and that light was hope. I finally understood that this didn’t define me and I could speak my truth without shame and fear.

While doing some research on the link between PTSD and sexual assault, I came across a story about how Lady Gaga invited a group of survivors to accompany her onto the stage at the Oscars for her performance of “Til It Happens to You,” a song about her sexual assault. Gaga tells the story of how this community of survivors impacted her and how they decided to make this a permanent movement by getting matching tattoos to signify unity: “I was really having a hard time getting ready for this performance… Then I went out there and met the survivors and I just started crying. One girl said, ‘I really want to get matching tattoos’ because she was trying to make me feel not alone. She was dead on… I ended up getting the tattoo because it was what they said to me that made me feel like the pain was lessening. My healing process has now begun because I’ve told somebody and I know I’m not alone.”

When I heard about Lady Gaga’s performance and about the tattoo, I knew I had to join this movement. I knew this was my chance to give back and be that “Angel of Support” for someone else. This tattoo is a show of unity and strength and I’m asking you to share this post because it might find the one person out there living in pain, shame and isolation. While I still fear that talking about this will affect my career, my friendships and how people view me, I am more fearful of what it will do if I don’t speak out. I am walking through my fear towards recovery. I will no longer let my abuser hold that power over me and I’m asking, will you walk through that fear with me? With community and hope, all things are possible, including healing.

woman with rose on fire tattoo for sexual assault survivors collage holding hands

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Images via Contributor and Dawn Wehman.

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