What is Recovery?
In the eighth in this series, Emily shares her thoughts on the key elements for recovery
Welcome to part 8 in my series on ending rape culture. In the first of this series, I shared my dream to end rape culture within a generation, and in the second, I defined what I mean by rape culture. I then took a look at the little things, and invited you to start noticing those little things around you, the ones that help create a culture where women are demeaned, objectified, talked over, used, ignored, minimised and silenced. I invited you to start with a whisper, and become comfortable with questioning the existence of those little things and I asked you to become a survivor ally. I shared how you could be more than an ally, how you can be the friend your friend needs you to be when they tell you their story and last week I shared why negative behaviours can often be positive.
This week I want to share with you some of my thoughts about healing and recovery. What is recovery? And is it possible?
When we are raped, we are changed. But there are very different views as to what this change means and they are not helpful to the survivor. And to end rape culture we must create a society that is more conducive & understanding of survivors’ recovery, and treats survivors with compassion, not blame or judgement.
The most common view is that we will be forever broken. This is very obviously unhelpful to the survivor; how can we believe we can retrieve the fragments of our lives if it feels like the whole world believes this is an impossible dream?
An alternative view is that if we were just that little bit stronger, we could put it behind us, go back to what we were, ignore it, bounce back, actually be unchanged by it. This is also very unhelpful to the survivor as it means when we aren’t able to meet that standard we feel even weaker, more of a failure.
There needs to be an understanding that there can be a middle way. We can be strong at the same time as we feel weak. We can yield and bend to the pressures of life, yet still build a strong internal core. We can learn to feel without being pulled into the feeling.
The key to recover and healing is to feel empowered. We must first start with rejecting both the belief that we will be forever broken, and the belief that if we are hurting we are weak and a failure.
This step is not easy. We do feel broken, we do feel weak. It’s been proven that the most critical factor in supporting a survivor to heal is the strength of community – and so when the rest of society supports us to believe that we won’t always feel broken, we won’t always feel weak, then we will begin to heal more quickly.
The next step is to know that to embrace recovery is a choice, and that choices are power. During the attack, we were denied choice, we were denied autonomy even of our own bodies; to begin the journey towards recovery we need to be empowered to choose.
Choices don’t have to be big things. Choices can be about choosing to snooze, or to get out of bed. Choices can be about seeing the sun instead of the clouds. Choices are as simple as choosing to see the glass if half full instead of half empty. Because when we make the choices that empower us, and give us hope, we are choosing life. And when we choose life, we choose recovery.
When we do not have choices, we are at the effect side of the equation, we are being ‘done to’, we are still a victim, or we make ourselves one again. By exercising choices, however small, we show life that we are no longer victim, we show life that we’re willing to give it a go; we become a survivor. You can support us by giving us choices, never taking them away.
The idea that to be recovered is to live a life that’s untouchable is unhelpful. Like life, recovery is not a destination, it is a journey. I can call myself recovered because I have regained the three elements critical to living: my sanity, my sense of self, my connection to my body. But that doesn’t mean I’m living a life where I’m untouchable from the other hurts of life. It merely means I’ve chosen to be reconnected to life and to living.
Next week is Sexual Violence & Sexual Abuse Awareness week. I know from reading these pieces you’re already aware of the prevalence of both; I’ll be re-capping some of the key messages of the series so far.