“An exciting and inspiring future awaits you beyond the noise in your mind, beyond the guilt, doubt, fear, shame, insecurity and heaviness of the past you carry around.”― Debbie Ford
Stephanie Harris, teacher and advocate for others – Life is a compilation of intricate parts from all of our life experiences. Of course, some of those experiences are good and sadly, some are not so good. Yet, we learn and grow from each one. I used to think I did something wrong that warranted some of my unfortunate life experiences and I was being punished. Today, I view it so much differently.
You may or may not recall, several weeks ago I shared a bit of my journey growing through an emotionally abusive relationship. A relationship that ended in sexual assault while I was unconscious (blog post: Fear of Being Alone was Greater than Fear of Staying.)
After this incident, I made a conscious choice NOT to report the incident to the authorities. A choice that was based mostly on my past experience witnessing the authorities victimizing the victim yet again, and not wanting to go through that experience. At the time, I was at peace with my decision and put it to rest or so I thought.
As with everything in life, I feel very blessed for all I have endured. Yes, you read that right – my trauma has blessed me in so many ways. Most importantly, it has allowed me to grow into this amazingly courageous woman who is on a mission to educate, advocate and change the lives of others through sharing my story. I have a voice and strength I have never known before and it feels amazing.
Today, I’d like to share a little bit more of my journey. This is a piece of my story not too many people are aware of because I’ve yet to share it… until now. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and May is Mental Health Awareness month, so it felt like an appropriate time to share.
When I speak in the community, sharing my story, I hear so many different comments about being so open regarding my journey and experience with domestic violence and sexual assault. The one huge misconception is that once the survivor leaves the relationship it’s done and over with, nothing else to do. I’m here to tell you, I am 8 years on the other side of leaving my abuser and I share my story openly, whether in front of one, 10, or 100 people, whenever I am given an opportunity. Who would have thought, having the strength and courage to speak so openly for so many years I would be faced with an ugly darkness the Fall of 2017, a darkness that was quite overwhelming and left me feeling quite helpless? I actually felt at war with my mind.
Out of the blue, I woke up one morning and my revolving thoughts kept leading me to end my life. Literally, I couldn’t stop them, no matter what I tried. Some of the thoughts that kept cycling nonstop through my mind were:
“I just want to die.”
“I need to leave this Earth.”
“Why am I still here?”
“There’s no hope.”
“No one would miss me if I was gone.”
“Just let go, it’s not worth living any longer.”
I kept looking at the scars on my wrist and telling myself, “See, you even messed that up? Why didn’t you finish the job?”
Needless to say, this was all quite alarming to me. Not to mention, the mental chitter-chatter scared me like never before. Only a couple of people in my life knew what I was experiencing at the time and also knew it was making me feel quite unsettled. I reached out to my medical practitioner and received a textbook answer for what “may” be happening. Then, because I was just beside myself with these thoughts happening 4-5 times a day. Something I had never experienced, I was quite scared…of myself, at this point. Being someone who is well-versed in random thoughts like this and adamant about getting the help I needed, I didn’t give up seeking answers.
One day, at work, I was so overwhelmed – I cried all the way home. As soon as I arrived home, I called the suicide hotline. Honestly not knowing where this call would lead, I just expressed what I was feeling and described what I was experiencing. The gal on the other end of the phone line was a godsend. I will never forget this moment for the rest of my life. She was so warm, welcoming, kind, non-judgmental and helped me feel safe. Just what I needed. Within minutes of our call, we learned together, what I was experiencing was “suppressed shame” from being raped while unconscious several years prior. In between a steady stream of tears, I felt such an overwhelming sense of relief. It was almost like I set down a 100lb. barbell that I had been carrying for weeks. This is the best way I can explain it. As we ended the call, I committed to getting in to see someone for talk therapy.
Working in healthcare at the time, I asked around at work for a referral to a Psychologist who specialized in trauma, specifically domestic violence and sexual assault. As soon as I received the referral, I contacted the office and scheduled a “consult call” so that I could determine a proper fit. This was a huge step for me because I had, in my opinion, outgrown working with a Psychotherapist, Psychologist, Counselor, or Social Worker. She claimed to be a specialist in domestic violence and sexual assault and although I was still a bit uncertain, I needed help. I took the chance with her and set-up an appointment.
After 6 weeks and several visits of working with her, I didn’t achieve any further relief. Everything she was doing with me were techniques I was already aware of, and just not providing me what I needed at this time of my life. Then, I found myself canceling my appointments because I just didn’t want to go, which led me to believe it was time to discontinue my sessions, which I did. Mind you, the thoughts were still happening – and happening just as frequently.
I have this never-ending, unexplainable, fire inside, that keeps me going on the constant search for clarity and healing. I reached out to my empowerment coaching school to have them assign a student coach. Once I received the coach’s information, she and I connected by phone within a week or so. During our first call she took me through so many levels of consciousness and emotions that once our call ended, I was exhausted from crying and overwhelmed with so much relief. That evening I slept so soundly, something I hadn’t done in quite some time. After that day, my excessive suicidal thoughts ended.
It was on this day I decided, being the visual person that I am, I’d like to place a meaningful tattoo over my attempted suicide scars on my left wrist that are a constant reminder of when I was in my teens hurting and feeling lost, carrying so many secrets. Mind you, I am not a tattoo kind of gal. After much contemplation, I came up with a tattoo that encompasses the semicolon and an open heart. A tattoo that felt quite meaningful for me.
Open heart, because this represents who I am; someone who has an open heart and is always open to making a difference and changing lives. I am an empath who feels to the deepest of depths.
The semicolon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is me and the sentence is my life. The semicolon is also a reminder of the many things I’ve faced and overcome in my life. The darkness I have faced and made it through. The tattoo is a reminder of my struggle, victory, and survival. I AM STILL HERE.
Also, on this day, I decided it was time to let go of the shame for my sexual assault while being unconscious AND not reporting it. I didn’t ask for it nor deserve it, but the longer I kept silent about it the shame I was feeling, unbeknownst to me, had been eating me alive from the inside out. Within a few months, I published my story in the book, Rebel Rising, under the chapter titled, “A Voice from Silence.” I committed to sharing my full truth, my full story, when speaking to communities. From that time forward, I would never carry shame surrounding what happened to me.
Believe in your walk without shame or fear.