The Spiritual Journey-- Surviving Violence
Sensitive Content: sexual violence, mental health
There’s no special way to say it: I was raped in spring of 2015 by a stranger who abducted me one night in NY a couple days before my college graduation. Say what? I know, I didn’t tell most of my friends and family, and at first, I was convinced that I was going to take the entire nightmare to the grave.
Numb. Angry. Ashamed. Anxious Af. They say hurt people hurt people, and I felt that after the attack, I was harmful to myself and others around me. I put unrealistic expectations on my support system, became judgmental and worst of all, began to think of my life as dirty and unworthy. Why would this be my destiny? Confusion, recklessness and isolation ensued.
The experience felt like my soul had run away from my body. My soul had lost its way. My soul could no longer trust my body or my own mind. The re-victimization I faced while pursuing a police report, the psychological damage that I felt was irreparable and the depression that followed cause me to avoid, wallow, pity, lie, sulk. I remember being seriously triggered by the innocent question “How you doing?” While internet resources helped, the knowledge that people of all genders and ages experience rape, in many cases repeatedly in life and in slavery, only put me deeper in the hole.
But I needed to feel apart of the Whole. I needed to feel whole. During my second sojourn to the Bay Area, I got the call to turn the poison into medicine. In an effort to break my own silence and tend to my mental health, I decided to organize a photoshoot for myself in late fall of 2015 called ‘The Spiritual Journey’. It was a step in me owning what had happened to me and declaring my spiritual resilience. It was a way to reintegrate my body and soul. I was exercising choice and a feeling of control, which for many survivors of sexual violence can be groundbreaking.
This photoset is my way of telling myself “I’m beautiful and worthy,” even in terror, sorrow, depletion...Even as a rape survivor…Especially as a survivor. It was when I deliberately opened my own heart without any invitation, that the universe got the message that I was ready to love myself, respect my experience and my healing process.
Completing this piece of the work has both brought up and opened up a lot for me. The elements of my spiritual journey can be seen as a jumping off point for anyone looking to unearth their experiences with violence and start to intentionally heal certain wounds. By no means is this guide a panacea for survivors of sexual violence, because no healing process is universal. That being said, no matter what you might be healing from, read with an open heart and absorb only what serves you. Below you’ll find seven pacts I made to put myself in a position to heal.
Whether you’re a stranger, friend, family or love, many of you have helped me be in this commitment to regenerate, and live with myself in the most trying moments. Thank you. A big hug goes out to my family, best friends, my partner, my soul tribe and the lovely photographer of the shoot, Shannon Stoia (@shnoggie) for seeing me through to this point. I will write more about this and continue to process and share as necessary. If you’re a survivor too, feel free to email me at email@example.com to talk about some plans I have for us (!!!) or just let me know what you think about the seven elements of my spiritual journey.
I. Hold the world as community
I want you to see both into and beyond yourself. That could be hard for someone who is hiding. Dare to re-tell your story, not as an instance that ripped you away from the world, but one that made you feel compassion for your community on a new level. You hold a lot of pain. You carry so much despair and rotten fruit that your back is almost broken. Your traumatic experiences will no longer preface every other interaction you have with the world. You will put down what is not yours and keep traveling.
Facing forward, remember what brought you to the dream of healing in a garden of abundance. With each gentle word and sacred bond, you start regaining trust with yourself. Do you hear the sweet songs that lead you to this place of forgiveness? You conjure up those love memories, those people, those chosen experiences, those miracles, and you once again feel gratitude. This is of extreme importance.
Many trick themselves into becoming bitter, closed, resentful. This is not the resolve you were made for. Yes, you do deserve sanctuary… but that is different than isolation. And though you will not be able to trust everyone in this world, you will be able to trust yourself again, and find that your power reaches many. The divine light provides you protection and the world is your community. Come out of hiding and embrace the world compassionately.
I am love. I look at the world with forgiveness, grace and wisdom emanating from my purpose. I reflect and honor my survival. I am the Phoenix that bursts into flame after ashes. I rise higher and more rapidly when I hold the world in my heart. With great tenderness, I make a place for myself in the embrace of Mother Earth. Here and now, I am deserving of care, innerstanding, compassion and life.
II. Listen Deeply
The tools you need to survive this come in many different forms. Listen to yourself, to your wounds, to the messages being presented on this path. Listen to it all, choose wisely what you believe to your core. There is a distinction between hearing the noise and listening to the call. You were crafted to make this decision, so trust yourself.
Listen to the deep silent lull and the joyous rupturing sound of a new chapter. Be connected to your experience so that you may absorb guidance from the universal messengers meant for you. When is the last time you gave your voice some room to scream, cry, bellow? Invalidate none of your feelings throughout this process.
Write yourself sweet love notes after listening to your heart, make portraits of the images that champion your resiliency or that simply document your battle. Reject none of your tears…If you have trouble opening up to others about your experience, first give yourself an open ear, a heart full of love and overstanding, and your stream of consciousness will flow. Your ocean will roar. Just listen.
In the stillness, I hear my unique tone cooing and crying. Deep within, the birth of my voice is taking place. It does not speak with correct pronunciation, it lingers in half breaths and sighs for a while before the full thought comes out: I Belong To Myself. I am not to blame. I am responsible for myself, I am in control. No response is needed for now. I let the sound vibrate. I am listening for love, worthiness, possibility and tenderness.
III. Healing Takes Time
Healing, like all good recipes and spells, takes a good bit of time. I need you to know the reverence of this project, this life long commitment. Whether you’ve succeeded an inch or tremendously, you won’t celebrate like you do with other accomplishments. You will see the utility of grace in this time, because healing is not a symmetrical, linear, or well-established process where recognition is awarded publicly.
Sometimes you will wake up and feel like you’ve gone backwards, other days you might feel like - poof- you’re fixed. Both thoughts come from ego and not reality. You are of earth, not plastic. You move in seasons, storms and serendipity. Believe that you are well on your way and humble yourself to know that your end goal is not translatable in all languages.
This process is uniquely your own, there is no blueprint for how you choose to make peace with your past. You could do things like write, record, create or organize for the world to see, and still the result will be yours alone to name. This possibility to be intentional with your mental health is yours to claim. The person most deserving of your patience now, is you.
I am worthy of this process. I am patient with my soul mending. Just as the trees lose leaves in the winter and regenerate them in the spring, I am most magical while befriending time. I am unafraid of the present moment because I am no longer facing backwards. I know that my healing process will take time and intention. My commitment to it allows me to emerge a more compassionate individual.
IV. Loyalty to Self
You have spent so much time looking around. Looking for short cuts, looking for validation, looking for your rescue squad. Now the only place left to examine is within. You weren't always scared to take a step inside. Loyalty begins as a seed planted for oneself, by oneself.
Self-sabotage only got you so far. Seeing yourself as a joke only got you so far. Somewhere at a clearing, you notice there is another way, there is a new logic. Look out for yourself when you feel vulnerable. Cheer for yourself when covering new ground and stumbling. Be patient with yourself when you wander into old patterns. Makes these promises to yourself and abandon your ego's invention of perfection.
Now you are exercising your right to say “no” and respecting your choice to operate based on your desires. Build accountability with yourself by hopping off the carousel of impressing others, and strap into the driver's seat of your life. Being loyal to yourself means loving every part of you, and never downplaying or running away from what you have to work on and what you deserve to develop. Both solitude and relationships become easier when you have loyalty with yourself.
I trust me with myself. I am loyal to my wildest dreams. I am responsible for making them happen. To be one with myself, is to show up authentically in relationship with others. I am no longer running from any commitment I’ve yet to make with myself. I am no longer making excuses to neglect my relationship with myself. I step into the vulnerability of loving myself enough to stay in union with my honest feelings, wants and needs.
V. Bring your light
Who extinguished what? Be careful how you speak to yourself. Never fear that someone has stolen your light. Never fear that life has taken all you have left. Each of us possess something eternal, it can be expressed through all forms of love. Yes, I’m speaking of the torch that burns 1,000 leagues under the sea. To underestimate your power, your talents, your purpose is to bury yourself alive.
So bring it. Don’t deny the world your perspective, your gifts, your vision. This light is often up for questioning in the throes of insecurity. Have you begun to adopt the identity of poser, fraud, imposter or worthless? Have you begun to hide your light in an effort to disappear? It is not yet your time to exit stage left. You do not have to push your way to the front to matter. You get to be right where you are, and light up a room or the face of a stranger, or a candle in prayer.
Fire doesn't ask if it's allowed to keep burning. Emitting what you have to offer is an act of power, humility and courage. It is enough. You are capable of facing your fears to conceive your destiny. Your destiny did not disappear. You will make it happen. Your light will lead the way.
I am a creative and intuitive being. I have gifts to offer the world. I must protect my light and my belief that it is there. It is visible to everyone around me if I want. My light is my guide on this journey through life. When I’m lost, I ask myself what makes me glow, what makes me happy, and my choosing is that much easier. When I bring my light, I show up as clear, humble, focused and loving.
VI. Self Preservation
You were worth the showdown that never happened. Worth the broken glass and the disruption. You were worth rescuing. Who knows what got in the way of you getting your protection, but you need to know that you were worth the good, long, bloody fight.
And we see that everyday is a new battle. So suit up and post up because this time you get to fight for yourself. You emerge as the protagonist of this drama. Your life has more value and purpose than you’re sometimes able to identify. So protect yourself, against self hate, against evil, against manipulation. Watch your back and do so unapologetically. You have a lot to lose and so does the world if it loses you.
Escaping. Breaking Shit. Talking Shit. Taking shit. Excessive Purchasing. Obsessing.. Those are some things that we do to cope, get by or even get through. But we weren’t meant to simply survive. What can we do to change a pattern of reactions to life? We learn sustainability with ourselves. What can you do to prevent your own burnout, what can you practice in order to stay present with your experience? In this life, we must stay on our toes and seek refuge accordingly. Self preservation is about actively defending your right to chose, to love and to experience freedom.
I am my protector. My energy is divinely guided. I am diligent in the practices that serve me. I indulge in my well being. I preserve my vibrations. I choose my surroundings wisely and I ask for help when it matters most. I am my protector because I experience the value of my life.
VII. Just be me
How simple. That you are enough just as you are. How beautiful. That you do not have to go and become some celebrity or some aficionado for your story to matter and to live a full life. How peaceful. That you contribute to this world in a way that no one else can.
There is gratitude in my eyes and love on my lips. I am enough. I am worthy. I am happy to be me.