You can help. Isn’t that the best title?
Today is the day Rebecca Street’s book got launched out into the world. It’s a guidebook for friends and family of survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
Whaoo… Congrats to her for being so bold, hopeful and ambitious. Rebecca is a survivor who is passionate about helping people. Not only does she care about other survivors but she cares for the people who love us as well. She felt there was a gap in the literature. What if people want to help survivors more and they just don’t know how. Here she explains why she wrote the book.
“The catalyst for You Can Help was a conversation I had with a close friend while still living in Los Angeles. My friend came to me one afternoon for guidance because she wanted to help someone dear to her recover from the ravages of sexual abuse. There was something redemptive in that exchange as I realized that I could transform the suffering from my own abuse into an instrument of healing. At the time, I found it surprising that there were no books addressing this need and realized then (and even more so now) that such a resource would help countless people and fill a big hole in the existing literature on sexual trauma.”
When I first heard about Rebecca’s book idea I doubted she would have many readers. I was pretty positive that the general public doesn’t give a crap about survivors at all.
I mean, many survivors of abuse and assault are hurt and betrayed by family, dates, teachers, coaches, priests and then betrayed again by communities that blame victims, protect abusers and minimize the impact.
That seems incompatible with caring a whole lot to me.
As Kathryn Harrison said on the Dear Sugar podcast about unspeakable family secrets:
“It became increasingly clear that the incest taboo is not quite as strong as the taboo against talking about it..”
Cheryl Strayed replied:
“That’s right. I always say that. I say that nothing that is so common is taboo. What is taboo is to talk about it. Honestly, people like you are breaking that taboo.”
And so people like Rebecca are trailblazers.
Still, I feared she would have trouble getting a soul to pick up a book about helping survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault when these topics when so many seem to find them deeply disturbing.
As if even saying these words is indelicate or impolite and worthy of scorn even though abusing children and adults seems less offensive, awkward or outrageous somehow.
It’s hard to stay sane repeatedly knowing perpetrators get a pass again and again for being sexually violent but it’s somehow wrong to have been victimized. Survivors rarely get justice and watch as the few who are charged, tried or CONVICTED get offensively light sentences while their judges and parents say dehumanizing comments. I’m sure you’ve heard others write about Brock Turner. I’ll link first to the letter the victim wrote and read in court. It’s her words I want more people to know.
The facts in this case continue to disturb because when THIS is what happens in one of the rare and miniscule times when
– there are witnesses or convictions
– where the statute of limitations or traumatic stress symptoms
-when fear or expense don’t discourage people coming from forward
the message is crystal clear that even if and when a survivor has a perfect” case that survivor’s life, experience and pain will likely be minimized and valued less than the person responsible for committing a crime.
How and why will people come forward and expect justice?
Brock Turner served less time than it took for a book about over two dozen survivors to get written and published. And he’ll probably get more respect and media attention for his swimming and academic resume than Street will for using her pain and past to fuel this project.
It’s a crazy culture we are in.
So a book for people who want to help survivors? It didn’t seem wise. I thought a real money maker book might be about how “You Can Help Survivors Shut Up” because I believed if she gave tips on how to get people to stop congregating and sharing online, or at least learn how to tune us out if that didn’t work, she could be a billionaire.
Still, I contributed thinking maybe we survivors could gobble up the words or other survivors sharing secrets and strategies about what helped. We could feed each other hope and show proof that we exist. I know I benefit whenever I read or hear about another survivor speaking in first person about our experiences.
Besides, I have been helped repeatedly. And the stigma, shame and silence don’t impact just those of us who survive, but also those who love us and for a long time. So, it’s good to remember, acknowledge and celebrate the supporters.
- There was Josh, in college, who hugged me and said: “People will be as good to you in the future as people were bad to you in the past.”
- There was Lynn who said, “Feeling bad about feeling bad won’t make you feel better.” The same Lynn who opened her heart up to me after I pierced it by shutting down when I felt too hard to love and bolted before I could be bolted on.
- There was my aunt who I took my first steps to as a baby, who wrote to The Boston Globe to try to get advice for how to help a survivor. She actually would have loved the hell out of this book because her helplessness gave her heartache and cankers. She too was impacted by my trauma and bought me book after book after book and listened to me time after time after time.
- There were lovers who held me when I couldn’t be intimate, when I was too frightened and with whom I could begin to consider feeling safe again in my own skin and feelings with.
- There was Beth who let me detail my struggles with parenting and dating. Understanding healthy intimacy and attachment as it relates not only to adoption but to trauma and love and successful relationships with my child, lover, friends and family is endlessly tricky terrain for me still. I welcome and need a lot of help with a lot of my life.
When Rebecca put a call out through the RAINN (the Rape and Incest National Network) speaker bureau I responded.
She was particularly interested in asking what helped most during recovery and in life, day to day, after abuse and assault. It’s a great question – one not enough of us ask.
I don’t think enough about what’s going well? Or why things aren’t worse. Maybe I should ask myself more what is restorative, soothing and necessary for me and others?
Maybe I should stop to celebrate that I can function and dwell on why? Who and what helps most changes depending on my ages, stages and issues.
- Am I dealing with intimacy and love and sex or with post-traumatic stress symptoms like nightmare hangovers?
- Am I struggling with parenting or feeling like I will never “pass” for normal?
- Am I feeling guilty I can’t be more or less (fill in the blank word)?
One thing remains constant. Support saves my ass every time!
The more, earlier and better support I get through any crisis or relapse or struggle – the better I am.
And I don’t just mean professional support or therapy but also eating well, sleeping and putting down all toxic crap. I mean that strange concept of supporting myself.
This might seem obvious to some but I always thought support was like the medicine you keep at home in case the nuclear plant in your neighborhood has a meltdown -something to be saved for emergency use and not tampered with if and until conditions are dire.
When in fact, it turns out, support need not be stockpiled like food rations during war.
Bounty is bountiful and support can be that. I had no idea of this for much of my life. Which is why, I must confess, I was not totally sold on the concept of this book.
When I look back on the part I wrote for this book, I can feel how tentative I was to share my story with Rebecca.
Do we all start telling in syllables and sound bites and with caution? I did. I tried to stay upbeat and cheery and didn’t want to seem bitter or wounded because that might seem negative as though there is a positive way to be abused, assaulted and traumatized.
But there were so few survivor voices out in the world it seemed risky to be direct and angry or pained.
Luckily, I know one thing I didn’t even a few years ago.
We are freakin everywhere. There are so many of us. We aren’t alone.
My writing is near the end in the chapter about having been abused by more than one person. It’s more in detail than I usually do (mentioned in next chapter for those who avoid this stuff).
My step-sister and step-father molested me and my step-brother injured bugs, animals and took pleasure in hurting many of us, in various ways, who shared the same house.
Today, I talk less about my abusers and what they did because that is their story not mine. Recovery, writing, healing, mothering and activism are about me and who I am and it’s what I write about most.
For so long I carried shame in silence for decades and felt something about me caused and attracted violence and seemed allergic to healing or peace.
By sharing my experiences, truthfully and honestly, I feel more and more relief and less shame about what was done to me.
I wish the same for you.
I can’t wait to dive into the stories of the other contributors too. I freakin love survivor-led projects, initiatives and books!
If you are a survivor, and want to share in the comments who or what helped you most or what you wished and ached for in the after math of your own abuse, assault and recovery, please do. It might feel good to remember and may benefit others too.
For those who love survivors, which is everyone whether you know it or not, this is a book you need. We survivors need and value you! We appreciate your love and perspective and your loyalty. You deserve no less. If we in crisis or too much pain to express how much you mean it doesn’t mean you don’t matter. It probably means we’re protecting you from our pain or feeling that we are a pain to you.
Let’s keep taking care of ourselves and each other. Let’s not forget the way healing happens best is when children and adults are not abused and assaulted. That helps most.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.