Dear Americans who have been raped, sexually abused, assaulted, oppressed, or sexually harassed,
Recently Trump was in the news threatening journalists with prison rape and hinting he would run again for office, and I was transported back to when we had a sexual predator in the highest office of the land. I’m wondering if this has affected you in the same way. I know the four years of Trump’s presidency were difficult. I know this, because I’m a survivor, too. Following his outburst, I’ve spent the past week feeling low. That kind of low you feel when you wish to be freed of a family secret. That kind of low you have when a central person in your life has sexually harassed or molested you. That kind of low you experience when the man elected president bragged about sexual assault. You were reminded of your assaults every day of his presidency by the way he interacted with and talked about women.
You know what it’s like when your experience of assault takes away your feelings of worth, well-being or wholeness. I know this, too. It has taken my entire adult life to love myself again, but just this week, for “no apparent reason,” I began experiencing that same self-doubt. I understand what it’s like to be rejected by relatives for telling the truth about my molestation by a man they all loved. I know what it’s like to be shut down and quieted about my truth. The result, both before and after spilling the beans, is a continuous picking yourself off the floor and telling yourself you are worthy.
Fellow survivor, you have been there too; that picking ourselves up off the floor can be a daily ritual for some of us. So what do we do if Trump runs for office again? There are many people who believe the lies he has been telling, who support him. This, too, may be traumatizing for you. It certainly is for me. It brings back trying to tell relatives about my grandfather who molested me. As you’ve ascertained, it’s not just Trump who has been denying the true experiences of women or committing horrendous acts against them. Trump’s rhetoric over the past five years has given millions of people permission to assault, rape, sexually harass, or deny these things are happening.
So what do we do now, friends? How do we respond? How do we regain our foothold after experiencing four years of Trump as survivors ourselves? We do it one day at a time, just as we have always done. And we do it together.
Below are a few pieces of advice from one survivor, me, to aid us in our recovery:
1) Be patient with yourself. Yes, Trump’s presidency was a setback for us survivors. We felt his tentacles reaching out through various forms of media and into our lives. But we are survivors and we have survived him before. Give yourself credit for doing this. Then, turn off the television, screen, or other virtual door for the moment and take a deep breath. You have permission to turn off the noise and take care of yourself. You are strong for doing this.
2) Create a network of support. I have found that reaching out to people who can remind me I am indeed good enough, that I am not discarded goods but instead an accomplished, intelligent woman, has made a world of difference. Find those rare gems in your life and don’t be afraid to call them when you are feeling vulnerable. When we claim and tell our story to those willing to bear witness to it, the event loses power and we gain strength.
3) Visit a counselor when you are low. When I was experiencing Trump’s exhausting, persistent blathering in my life, I realized I had to find help to deal with him. I looked up the top trauma specialist at the nearest university and emailed her. I told her my story with sexual violence, how Trump’s presidency was affecting me, and asked if she would take me on as a patient. She did. She has been a wonderful support and given me tools to help me survive the ordeal.
4) Take a day off when you need to. Taking a day off and binge-watching The Good Place, or something light and not too serious, has done wonders for my mental health. If you can, reserve a few hours to nurture yourself with your favorite snack and some mindless escape.
5) Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as your own best friend. I know this can be difficult, especially when you have been given messages by our president, family, social media, and rape culture that you are the villain, not the person who raped or molested you. But be that person, that friend, who talks you down from despair. You are worthy and just by surviving your ordeal, you are making the world better. Give yourself permission to experience the pain assault causes even though the world wants you to downplay it so they won’t become upset. Look at that pain, work through it rather than ignore it. You have the right to claim this event in your life and feel the deep repercussions. Remember, it’s often by going through the pain that we are able to heal.
I love you. Let’s move forward together. We’ve got this!