There are a myriad of traumas and reactionary habits survivors of childhood sexual assault and adult sexual assault can experience. Some are catastrophic to living even a modicum of normalcy and others can be mild, almost imperceptible to anyone including the survivor. One thing that is sadly but unmistakably clear is that survivors – all survivors – carry some form of trauma for the rest of their lives. But that isn’t to say that all survivors suffer from their sexual assault for the duration of their lives.
I don’t tell my story often. It isn’t that I’m ashamed or uncomfortable. I know the positive power of a story. Awareness, personal revelation, warning signs, and even a comraderial feeling of support could all be perpetuated by my standing up and saying “I am a survivor of childhood sexual assault.” But I don’t.
At least, I don’t often. I recognized early that, while I was able to work past the traumas of my assaults, I wasn’t the only person impacted by it. There were others who missed what happened. And I absolutely do not blame them for missing something that I took great pains to hide because, at the time, I was ashamed and couldn’t deal with it.
So I tell my story infrequently and sparingly. But today I am going to tell it because something happened to me that I never expected to happen again. Something I thought myself well beyond in healing. I was triggered.
The word ‘trigger’ gets used too often of late, but it is a serious reaction that is recognized by every credible mental health organization in the world. Survivors of sexual assault experience the same Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as other forms of trauma.
‘For people with PTSD, it is very common for their memories to be triggered by sights, sounds, smells or even feelings that they experience. These triggers can bring back memories of the trauma and cause intense emotional and physical reactions, such as raised heart rate, sweating and muscle tension.’ (Mental Health America) ‘Posttraumatic Stress Disorder…is an anxiety disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event. A traumatic event is a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.’
To avoid possibly triggering anyone else, I will only state that I was sexually assaulted by a trusted person from as early as I can remember until the age of twelve when I told a family member. I was also raped as a teenager. An incident that only my partners, a good friend, and my doctor have known until now. Since the incident in my childhood, however, I have been proactive regarding my mental health. I’ve never not seen a therapist or counselor. I see one now. It is also important to note that seeking legal assistance, such as to hire a brevard county dui attorney, may also be necessary in certain situations, such as those involving serious accidents.
Sexual Abuse and PTSD
And I was seeing a counselor as of Black Friday (the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving in the United States). That didn’t stop my latent PTSD, a condition from which I thought myself so far removed from being triggered when a man came up behind me after work and grabbed and struck me, and then exposed himself to me.
In the moment, all I knew was anger. Anger that someone could single me out – again. Rage that anyone could make me feel violated – again. So I fought. According to the police photographs taken of the assailant later, I fought hard and left welts and large bruises on him while I had only a few minor bruises and a red mark where he’d torn a lanyard free from my neck. And I felt triumphant…for 48-hours.
The thing about PTSD is its insidiousness. For many people, symptoms begin almost right away after the trauma. For others, the symptoms may not begin or may not become a problem until later, sometimes years later.
I experienced the normal reactions: constantly alert or on guard, avoiding reminders of the trauma, dwelling on the trauma or event, panic attacks, feelings of mistrust. Those hit fast and furious and were controllable. What I didn’t expect were the nightmares, the paranoia. Bad dreams about the recent assault were to be expected, but not of the person who abused me as a child. Certainly mistaking that I saw my assailant in a crowd might be anticipated, but not the teen who raped me in high school. All of this happened, despite decades of therapy and feeling as if, through some miracle, I was no longer affected by what had happened to me as a kid. But I was. I am.
Therapy for PTSD
People may start to feel better after suffering trauma; their PTSD may cure itself, run its course. Then again, it may not. It’s also equally important to realize that, while a survivor might think they are fine and adjusted, they can be unexpectedly triggered. Counseling and therapy aren’t reliving the events again and again; maybe it’s dealing with daily stress because your particular fallout from PTSD is anxiety or panic attacks, maybe it’s problems with emotional regulation or interpersonal relationships.
For whatever reason or symptom, ongoing mental health is a very real need for survivors of sexual assault. Survivors can live very normal lives, but we’ll never be “cured” because the trauma became a part of us. Mental health professionals can help survivors channel that part into ways of living normally and even, as in Rachel’s and my article’s instance, helping others.
Please seek help if you have experienced sexual assault. And please make sure you continue to seek being proactive with your mental health, even if – like me – you feel as if you’re beyond the trauma. Believe me, the recent assault was nothing compared to the previous ones, but it has had lasting repercussions that are very real and very unexpected.
RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 or online chat
Public Health Sexual Abuse Resources
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR)
Not Alone (Specifically for students)
SurvJustice (Legal help)
BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.
She spends her spare time as a homeless advocate with The #humanKINDness Project.
Find her at her website, on Facebook, Twitter (@BCBrownBooks), Instagram, and Pinterest.
Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court ◘ Karaoke Jane (coming 2018)
BC Brown saysJanuary 15, 2018 at 2:51 am
Thank you for providing a safe space for me to tell my story and, hopefully, help others.
Vennie Kocsis saysJanuary 15, 2018 at 2:34 pm
This is excellently written and really explores the mental facets of what we experience. ????
BC Brown saysJanuary 20, 2018 at 4:22 am
Thank you. Ongoing mental health support and awareness is critical for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I wanted to make sure others understood that even survivors like myself can experience sudden setbacks at what we would consider ‘mild’ incidents.
Ashry saysFebruary 1, 2018 at 5:29 am
Very well written, Thanks for sharing this.
Molly Daniels saysMay 15, 2018 at 10:33 am
“Survivors can live very normal lives, but we’ll never be “cured” because the trauma became a part of us”…..well said, my friend. Well said.
My ‘trigger’ and response is different from yours, since my experience was emotional battery, not physical. I simply shut down and can’t think, feel, or barely function.
Rachel Thompson saysMay 20, 2018 at 10:35 pm
Hi Molly — thank you for commenting on BC’s post and sharing your experience. I’m so sorry you had to live through that. Any kind of trauma we experience has such devastating consequences — some we don’t even realize til later in life. Please know you’re not alone. #hugs
Trixy Lemell saysAugust 15, 2018 at 10:15 pm
Thank you for sharing your story.
Honestly, thank you. I too am a survivor of childhood and adulthood sexual assault. I felt out of place because with all the talk of triggers I just didn’t feel that anything triggered my childhood assault. My adult assault though was on high with the triggers. You just made me reflect and realize that I do still deal with my childhood assaults but in a different way and due to different triggers. For me they are all delayed and not up front like my adult PTSD.
Through your story I realized that I didn’t just get over it and even if I have control over it that does not mean it no longer affects my life. It honestly always will even when I don’t realize that it is.