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Hope in the Next Part of the Story

By Ana Martinez, MSSA, LCSW - Bilingual Therapist | Terapeuta Bilingüe

This has been a challenging year, and at the heart of that challenge is the simple fact that this year is in no way what any of us expected it to be. We find ourselves feeling increasingly disconnected and uncertain because we have lost any sense of what we hoped this year would be. Shockingly, I find this to be a challenge that survivors of sexual violence might be uniquely adept at dealing with. You see, no one plans for sexual violence to be part of their story. No one is ever truly prepared for how it changes your sense of safety, your relationship to the world, to others and to yourself, and your perspective. And yet survivors adapt, they brace themselves for this challenge, and sometimes when they need support in their journey they look to us.

When survivors first come into therapy, they make themselves vulnerable in admitting that this is a part of their story. Accepting that new narrative can often look like anger at having their life changed without their consent, or like grief at the loss of the life they’d imagined. It can look like someone overcome with shame, blaming themselves for what happened or feeling overwhelmed by the fear and anxiety that seems to come from every cell in their body. And perhaps the scariest way it can look is like someone lacking any feeling, someone who has accepted trauma so fully that they have lost all hope that things might get better.

The healing journey in therapy often starts with a simple acknowledgement of the losses, a validation for the survivor that all these reactions are normal, and an offer to simply witness and be present to this experience. I invite survivors to try different tools and skills to help them regain control of their thoughts, their feelings, and their body. I support them in exploring what a new normal looks like for them and I collaborate with them as they challenge the ways the abuse has shaped their thoughts and how they view their story. This can look like a survivor reconnecting with a sense of joy from something they loved in childhood, or like someone feeling confident and empowered to set boundaries for the first time. It looks like a mom feeling like she can finally be fully present with her children or a spouse who shares that he finally feels safe showing affection again. It looks like hope.

The survivors I have the honor of working with know more than anyone else that there can be hope in the next part of the story. They are able to acknowledge and embrace the strength and power they have gained from a terrible experience, while also holding the complicated truth that it is not fair that they had to learn them this way. It is not so much that survivors reach some final point in healing where they are perfect and now feel fully capable of dealing with anything that may come their way. It is on the contrary their ability to embrace their imperfections and the uncertainty in their situations and still feel secure in knowing that they are still deserving of care and respect. In dark times, I am deeply humbled and inspired in the fact that I get to support survivors in this journey.

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