Queeries: when will the pain of my sexual assault end?
Our Fagony Aunt advises a survivor on feeling through pain, and how to tend to it.
23 Jun 2022
Welcome to Queeries, Aisha Mirza’s advice column at gal-dem. You can follow more of Aisha’s writings and work on Substack here.
Content warning: this article contains mention of sexual assault.
I was sexually assaulted nearly three years ago by an ex-partner. I never received a meaningful apology or acknowledgement for what happened and was actually kind of demonised. Sometimes I think that hurts more than the fact it happened in the first place – does that even make sense? I am also a survivor of childhood sexual assault, and experiencing it again, from within a queer of colour community that I had sought out for safety, joy and understanding, sent me into what I can only describe as a trauma-spiral that impacts my mental health and sex life to this day.
Time has of course passed, and I have since met and married (!) the love of my life, my friends are wonderful, like, life is gooood. But I still suffer. Having to continue sharing community with this person to some degree causes triggers that can leave me paralysed with pain, fear, anger, hopelessness and dissociative ruminating thoughts. I know they say time is a healer, but when will enough time pass? I need this to be over now.
Hello there oiseaux cassé,
How I wish I had what it takes to wipe those worries away. The truth is, you don’t deserve to carry them one day longer, but the truth is also that you will. I personally have never been able to accept the cruel reality that the pain borne from violence remains ours. How can it be? Where is the justice in that? To suffer once, twice, and then (what can feel like) forever? You won’t suffer forever but why should you suffer at all? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. It’s not fair.
Pain makes a home inside you. It makes a home inside the pain that already made a home inside you. It belongs to you, to me, to everyone in pain, and quite frankly it outstays its bloody welcome. Sexual assualt is profoundly painful. Due to patriarchy et al, there is nowhere near enough space made in the world to hold or even acknowledge the pain of sexual assault, carried by so, so many, and which is the root of so, so much societal distress.
The lack of acknowledgement of this societal failure makes the pain living in your body throb harder. It has nowhere to safely go. This lack of acknowledgement makes it too easy for those who perpetuate sexual assault to deny, become defensive, turn you into the monster. Human society as we know it was literally built to protect those who take from others regardless of the cost. You’re not to blame, it’s not on you, but you feel it in you, I get it. I do.
“An apology means someone is able to reflect on their actions, feel remorse, and wants to move towards repair. An apology is a vulnerable act”
An apology is validation that it happened and that it wasn’t your fault. An apology means someone is able to reflect on their actions, feel remorse, and wants to move towards repair. An apology is a vulnerable act. It gives the person receiving the apology the gift of being able to approach the situation with compassion and the kind of openness the pain inside the body needs to be able to move around, express itself and eventually leave. Of course it makes sense that part of your agony lives in the meanness and absence of apology you have experienced. Shit’s ROUGH.
This pain, it’s yours. And while neither the people who hurt you nor the world at large are equipped with the care or intelligence to offer you what you feel you might need to help you ease out of this raw place, the good news is, you don’t fucking need them. The good news is, the fruit trees are ripe with abundance for you! Sometimes, many times, you will not be able to reach the fruit, but it is there, getting riper, getting ready to plop into your open palms when you’re ready to receive it. We can’t rush this shit. We want to, and honestly in an age where we can turn our lights off using our phones we should be able to fast track healing with the same ease imo, but we just can’t. We can take the best goddamn care of ourselves that we can though. So we will.
“You know that your pain does not define you, but it is there, and it will be tended to for as long as it needs”
You have already shown what good care you can take of yourself. Survivors of childhood sexual assault are the strongest people in the universe. You have survived that, you are continuing to survive it, you have moved forward into a life of multiple beauty – one where you are vulnerable, introspective and married, bitch! That’s literally so hot of you. You know that your pain does not define you, but it is there, and it will be tended to for as long as it needs! What do you enjoy? Which sounds and scents are uplifting for you? When do you feel safe? Hold this information close. Write a list and keep it somewhere easy to access on the hard days. (Does anyone actually ever write lists of these things? I know I would benefit from some kind of visual map of the things that make me feel better — baths, dancehall, orange blossom. I’ll make one if you will).
I am so, so, so sorry that your trauma has been awakened in such a brutal way. It is not fair. You do not deserve it. It makes so much sense that your body is shocked, hurt and confused by this betrayal of trust in an environment that you sought out for safety. Too many times your trust has been betrayed; the innocent trust of a child, the hopeful trust of queer love. It makes so much sense that this assault has elicited world-collapsing feelings within you. My hope for you is that you find ways to hold yourself and allow yourself to be held through your triggers as they arise.
Well actually, my real hope for you is that you are never triggered again, but we know too well that’s not how QTIBPOC community works. Honestly, we were optimistic or naive or foolish or something to have thought we could ever create spaces of safety based on our identity markers while remaining part of this global economic system. The safe spaces, to safe(r) spaces, to unsafe spaces pipeline must be grieved! You can block everyone, shift your focus, make your circles tighter, but you cannot eradicate being triggered. What you can do is try your best to soothe your nervous system when that feeling arises, to whisper to it reminders that this does not define you, to continue to cultivate safety for yourself, to remember that even though it may feel like it when you’re deep in the depths of trigger-town, these feelings will not kill you. I repeat, sometimes being triggered feels like dying, but it will not kill you. With this knowledge, allow yourself to feel it — let it flow through you. It will pass.
“Everything is a moment, everything is temporary, you’ve been here before and survived, life is short, life is long and the world is big”
It helps me to remember that everything is a moment. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the non-descript stuff – all moments. Everything is a moment, everything is temporary, you’ve been here before and survived, life is short, life is long and the world is big. Surviving sexual assault can make the world feel small, especially when you are in proximity to the person who assaulted you, or people who support them, or remind you of them. At times, it will feel like the only things that exist are you and the legacy of what they did to you as it appears in your body and life. There is more, even when you can’t feel it or remember that. There are places of expansive peace and you can always close your eyes and visit. There’s a big big world.
When people hurt you, they also teach you. There’s a lesson in everything. And sometimes we don’t wanna go to school, and that’s fair enough. And then other times, we’re feeling curious, and one day when you think of what happened to you, it might be with curiosity, not pain, and one day it might even be with gratitude for who you’ve become, or maybe it won’t, it doesn’t matter. The point is, things are shifting constantly, and you have every right to feel frustrated, desperate even. But time will do what it’s meant to do, I promise. Take it day by day, cherish the easier, softer moments, convene with people who understand, validate, believe you and make you laugh. Nurture and spoil yourself. Let yourself crumble. Love always, over and over again. You will get through this. You are already through this. Remember, the body might keep the score, but it remembers joy too.
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