April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S. and also marks the Rwandan Genocide Commemoration. Both are reasons to mourn and immediately bring up sadness for me, but I refuse to sit in the pain and grief for too long, because I know that my experience and story of recovery might help someone else.
Pain is part of life, but suffering is optional. Sometimes it is hard not to blame others for our problems but we can either walk through life like a victim of circumstance or we can take the experiences and use them as fuel for the fire of our new purpose.
This takes a team, it requires community support, and possibly mental health resources. Healing happens in supportive communities. When we build positive connections with others we start to trust again, and we can begin to see our light reflected in their eyes.
After I was raped in college, when I was studying abroad in Grenoble, France, I checked out emotionally. The anger that I already had bottled up inside me from a childhood of not feeling safe to express negative emotions, magnified and remained mostly internal for a long time. It burned my insides, it felt like hatred, and I did not know how to express it. Eventually I lost all senses, it was like my insides had died. Some people drink alcohol to numb out painful memories or bad days. I drank to try to feel something. It was not until I watched a documentary about the women in Rwanda experiencing rape as a crime during the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, that I truly remember feeling something since my own rape. Bam! The walls came down, the tears came out, and I could FEEL again! I did not even mind the feeling of pain because it felt so much better than nothing. It was then that I was born again, and that I had a newfound sense of purpose in my life.
I am not glad that I was raped at the age of 16, or again when I was 20, but thankfully I am in recovery and have found my inner power again. I am able to use my experiences to help other women in recovery, and to hopefully help prevent it from happening to others. Statistics show that 81% of women, and even 43% of men, have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. Though I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, there is a sense of comfort knowing that I am not alone. WE are not alone. Together, we can all strive to not only raise awareness and educate others about sexual violence and alcohol, but to create a community that is present during troubling times and respond accordingly. Our efforts to prevent sexual assault are vital, but the support of one another is of the essence.
Here is a list of resources for Sexual Violence Survivors and loved ones.
Learn more about Sara's journey of healing in Rwanda in her Ted Talk: It Takes a Village, How Community is the Antidote to Despair.