Article by Rebecca Tarullo
I’m a 21 year old senior who is studying the odd combination of psychology and international relations. I plan to work with sexual assault survivors after my thousand years of grad school and hopefully become a licensed psychologist. But for now, I struggle with mental health issues myself.
It’s common after sexual assault to feel lost in your own body. To feel as if your body is no longer your own. It makes sense, after something was taken from you — security in your body, your self-esteem and much more. Maybe your assailant called you names and you now are forced to wear them because they latched onto your brain. This is my experience of how to shake them from yourself — a solvent for thoughts stuck like glue after sexual assault.
Reclaiming my body is hard. I say this because it’s something that will never go away and something I face every day. I have incredibly low self-esteem. Having faced eating disorders across the spectrum and a volatile upbringing due to divorced parents and an emotionally and verbally abusive step-father, I have never had high self-esteem. Instead, it tends to be closer to the ocean floor than the clouds in the sky. Being sexually assaulted twice only lowered my self-image. Having been told my entire life I was worthless and was nothing but an object was incredibly traumatizing — not even including the actual trauma of being raped.
Self-care has helped me move forward and has helped me to love myself. From basic things like personal health care to more extravagant things. I have started meditating in the morning to clear my head. Water noises sooth me when I’m anxious. However, self-care can be getting into the shower for the first time in two days, or washing my face after months of neglect. But, it also can be a cup of tea or yoga or wearing makeup or a nice outfit. Those things often feel self-indulgent. I don’t feel I’m good enough to wear that orange sweater or that skirt. And we often underestimate the healing power of a good pair of boots. Why do I deserve this cup of green tea? Why should I do yoga? I should just live in sweatshirts and underwear. These things run through my head and tell me I deserve nothing.
Reclaiming my body comes for me when I fight against those thoughts: I should wear this sweater because it is comfortable, and that tea is better than an alcoholic beverage. Taking care of myself has shown me I can take care of this body because it deserves better. No one deserves to be treated like I was and that doesn’t mean I have to do that to myself. But it’s easier said than done.
One big step I did to reclaim my body was get a tattoo. Some people may not agree with my decision, however, this was a big step for me. The pain of getting a tattoo was something the reminded me this is my body and only I have power over it. I got an inspirational quote by my favorite band which reminds me I am more than my trauma. And while I do not need to justify my decision to get a tattoo, this was something that meant a lot to me and really was a big step in my healing process.
Unfortunately, these are not cures for my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. I still have bad days and good days. I still see my rapists’ eyes and hear their words. I still struggle with partner intimacy and regularly avoid mentions of it. Therapy has been something that has helped immensely, especially in creating plans for these bad days when I feel like it is all going to end. Reclaiming my body will come in time…
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