Sexual Assault + The Cycle of Healing: How I Reclaimed My Power + You Can Too
In a world where many feel powerless, reclaiming your power + healing may feel impossible. It can feel like an uphill battle during times when you aren’t sure of which way is up. Healing looks different for everyone, but at the core of everyone’s journey, it’s simply allowing yourself the opportunity to feel + finding your right way of doing it.
In a perfect world, no one would experience trauma or pain. Unfortunately, this world is not perfect + so as humans we must learn how to heal in a healthy + sustainable way.
Healing is crucial in one’s journey to grow + overcome past sufferings, + what I’ve found in my own healing journey, is that it takes a continuous effort. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not even something that happens within a given timeline (trust me, I’ve had to learn the hard way).
ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF
Before I get into what worked for me in my healing journey, I feel it’s important you have the context of why I am here. My name is Gina Caserta, I am a former member of CHAARG, + I recently wrote + published a book called “In Fifty Pages or More”. My book details the sexual assault that I experienced at the hands of a friend of nine years, when I was just a junior in college.
As someone who double majored in Criminology + Psychology, I thought that I would be the last person to ever find myself becoming a part of the very statistics that I studied. I always kept my eye out for “strangers” + took the preventative measures of sexual assault very seriously. Which is why it blindsided me, when my long-time friend (who served on the student conduct board of my university) completely violated my body, after we had gone out for drinks one night.
Because sexual assault is such a spontaneous crime, it’s sometimes hard to process what’s happening…until it’s already happened. I was horrified that someone that I considered to be close to, could do what he did to me.
My decision to move forward, stemmed from the knowledge that I was learning in school, + I was very fortunate enough to have access to the information that I did. But, in recognizing my specific position, I also understood just how many victims weren’t afforded that same luxury. Therefore, I find it to be important that I equip others with the knowledge that I was privy to, when I began to deal with all the emotion that came from such a traumatic experience.
My story is not “special” in any way, shape, or form, in fact, it’s all too common among assault survivors. But because it’s not regarded as “THE” story of sexual assault, my story, + many like mine, oftentimes go undiscussed in the mainstream media. As a result, this only furthers the thought that any negative experience + trauma that came with such a common occurrence, “doesn’t matter”.
I am sharing my story to spread awareness on the reality of sexual assault, because sometimes we can’t prevent something that we can’t foresee, + when we live in a society that tells us to speak up in a moment where we oftentimes freeze up, it’s important for people to understand that they’re not alone in their experience – no matter what level of severity it may have been.
A crime is still a crime, even if it may not seem like the “textbook definition” of it. With this, comes very real trauma + emotional pain that a victim is now tasked with the responsibility to heal from.
HEALING DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT
I used to think that “healing” meant addressing my issues as they came + moving forward immediately once I had done so. Although this may work to some degree, I’ve come to find that such a “linear” mindset can’t appropriately address all the issues that life has to offer. Considering that I’m still healing from something that happened to me four years ago, the cyclical nature is becoming more + more apparent with each new day.
It’s astounding how much your body can hold onto, despite your initial ability to “address + move forward.”
I’m not here to provide you with a “step-by-step” guide on how to heal, because honestly, that journey is unique only to you.
FIGHT FOR YOURSELF EVERYDAY
You can fight tooth + nail to argue with this mindset, but at the end of the day, something that may have significantly benefited me as I make my efforts to move forward, may prevent you from doing the same.
Fortunately, there are general strategies to cope with what seems like a never-ending cycle of addressing emotional wounds from the past.
#1] ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL YOUR TRUE, RAW EMOTIONS
I know this may sound like a “no-brainer”, but surprisingly this is easier said than done. Sitting down with yourself + creating the space needed to vent out your emotions can seem…well, overwhelming.
That’s because it requires you to be vulnerable with you. When someone is told to “suck it up”, “stop being a baby”, “you’re too sensitive”, “don’t let it affect you”, “get over it” throughout their childhood, it becomes habitual to suppress feelings when they arise because that’s what that they have been taught to do.
Speaking from personal experience, I have found that in doing so, it became increasingly difficult for me to pinpoint why I kept re-experiencing the same emotion over + over +…over again.
REMEMBER: FEELING IS FREEING
Although I initially felt as if suppressing my emotions let me do away with them, what I hadn’t realized was that by doing so, my emotions still came out whether I liked it or not. Emotions aren’t the “Boogie Man” that people love to make them out to be.
Emotions are a completely natural way of expression + an immense part of the human experience. By allowing yourself the space to express emotions, you also provide yourself the opportunity to release them.
Taking the time to feel your true emotions can help you to avoid uncontrollable outbursts. You’re the one determining when + where they can be released safely + on your own terms.
#2] HOLD GRACE + KINDNESS FOR YOURSELF
We all have the ability to forgive others, but what I’ve found to be the most difficult part of my healing journey thus far, has been showing myself that same forgiveness.
Hyper-fixating on what has happened in the past is a normal response to a painful situation. Its a creature of habit to continuously try to go back + re-imagine what could have possibly gone wrong, to see what should’ve been done differently. This mentality, however, propels you into a phase of self-blaming.
This not only furthers your suffering, but sometimes comes with unwarranted reason. By placing a spotlight only on our actions, we neglect to consider the severity of others + ignore the idea that someone else should’ve “done better”.
HINDSIGHT WILL ALWAYS BE 20/20
Situations can sometimes be so spontaneous, that you don’t even know what’s happening, until it’s already happened. What’s even worse, is that you had no control over the outcome to begin with. This is a part of life + human interaction, which is frankly why it sucks sometimes… but as inevitable + bad as it may seem, the last thing you need is to become hyper-critical over your own actions.
When you step out of your own head, + look at the situation logically, oftentimes you’ll find it easier to recognize the faults in others. This can help free yourself from the idea that you were the only one who’d done wrong.
To do this, forgiveness is key. Forgiveness acknowledges the fact that something on your end may have gone wrong, but through recognizing that, it frees up the headspace to address the bigger elephant in the room…what is it that they’ve done wrong + is it something that can be forgiven? In providing yourself the grace to do so, you’d be surprised with the answers you may find for yourself, in your effort to move forward.
#3] INDULGE IN HOBBIES + ACTIVITIES THAT BRING YOU JOY
Going through something that brings you pain + suffering is no small feat. As you make the needed effort to combat ruminating thoughts + feelings, it’s good to also allow yourself the opportunity to do what you find brings you joy.
This may be as simple as taking the time to do a night-time skin care routine, surrounding yourself with nature, painting, making videos, going on walks, cooking, baking, biking, getting your nails done, building something, reading, etc.
Your joy is unique to you, + unfortunately during our darkest times, it’s usually one of the first things we tend to steer clear of.
YOU DESERVE TO ENJOY YOURSELF
Whether it’s because we don’t feel like we deserve to enjoy our own time, or because we don’t think we have the energy to find joy in our cherished activities, withholding ourselves altogether from the things that bring us the most joy, tend to further a negative spiral with seemingly no end.
Even though some may see indulging in enjoyable activities as a way of ignoring emotions, I have seen that only sitting in your emotions is equally unhealthy, if not more. I stress the importance of finding a balance between one’s emotional experience + their enjoyed hobbies, because it provides an essential outlet of stress.
IT’S NOT EASY OR SIMPLE – BUT IT’S WORTH IT
By no means is healing a simple journey, + as I speak from a personal level, I’ve found that my own journey with healing has been a process of trial + error. With that in mind, finding what is needed for your mental health + well-being is essential, + does take time + patience.
Without sounding cliché (but also fully using a cliché to do so) you are the captain of your own ship, which lands you the sole responsibility on how to navigate the waters. Without a compass, you can be completely lost, but sometimes, it also takes being lost to end up right where you need to be.
HEAL FOR YOURSELF
There is no 12-step program that works across the board for everyone, + I don’t utilize my experience to exemplify “THE” way to heal. Honestly, it took me years in following other people’s way of healing, to realize that I’m not them. As much as I would like to think that their guidance would help me, I was chasing an unattainable goal, + it kept me from feeling like I was making forward movement in my journey.
Healing is about finding what works for you + your lifestyle. Like anything else in life, practice makes perfect, + as you continue to practice the art of healing from past sufferings, you learn to ride the waves of grief as opposed to getting swept up with it.
PEOPLE ARE HERE TO HELP YOU
No matter how you decide to navigate your own personal journey, it’s always reassuring to know that there’s always people available to help you when you need it most. What’s even better, is that these people are a part of confidential services who are here to support YOU + there are a LOT of them! Given the number of resources available, it can feel overwhelming to track down the right place for you, + the National Sexual Assault Hotline recognizes this. That’s why they provide a 24-hour call service that can get you connected with the right resources local to your area. If you are interested in finding out more, please visit the National Sexual Assault Hotline, or contact their hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to find the proper services near you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
If you’re interested in learning more about my book + how I have navigated my healing process, check out my website or follow me on Instagram. There, I post daily content related to a variety of topics related to the discussion of Sexual Assault + the myths associated with it in 2023.