#1) Believe deep down it is not your fault, no matter what the actions were leading up to the rape, you need to know and accept there is nothing that justifies rape and you didn’t do anything to deserve it! Everyone I talk to feels guilty or ashamed in one form or another, but what you don’t understand is the person that is deserving of the guilt and shame is the person that chose to do the rape, NOT YOU! The rape was not about anything you did, it is about the attacker needing control and they are responsible for their actions NOT YOU!!!
#2) You need to try and do your best to deal with your feelings as they arise. I’ve learned that in order to feel like a survivor you face them head on. You have two options, deal with them head on or run from them. The problem is when you run, your demons become your shadow and you can never outrun your shadow, so it is best to try and deal with your emotions head on instead of trying to outrun something you can’t.
#3) The one thing I learned the hard way was that none of my loved ones reacted they way I thought they would, so I immediately was more concerned with their thoughts and actions than my own healing process. I see this almost every time when counseling a survivor. The first thing I hear is, “What is my family (often spouse/partner) going to think?” or “how are they going to react?” My typical response is, “I know you are worried about their reactions BUT aren’t you more worried about your well being for you and your family?” Before you expend your energy on controlling someone else’s feelings (when ultimately you can’t) you should take that energy to heal yourself. Because you truly need to believe that you did nothing to lead up to the rape and know in your heart it wasn’t your fault. When YOU realize it doesn’t matter what you were wearing, where you were at or what you were doing, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks! The bottom line is you have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of anyone else!
#4) Surround yourself with the people who support you and distance yourself (at least temporarily) from those who don’t.
#5) Find the positive in something everyday and focus on it no matter how small or stupid it is. A lot of days you will have to dig deep to find it, even if it is splurging on a dessert or watching your favorite TV show, but you must find something positive everyday to keep you going. This will also help train your brain that you can block out the negative.
#6) Remember that you can’t change the past so stop focusing on it with – shoulda, coulda, woulda – because it doesn’t matter since the past can’t be changed. If you are focusing on something you wished you would have done differently or beating yourself up with something you did, then you do not believe it wasn’t your fault, step #1. YOU MUST BELIEVE THAT IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT and until you do you have a long struggle in your recovery. Remember NOTHING JUSTIFIES RAPE!
#7) Focus on what you DO have control of and that is your future. The day I stopped letting my assaulter control my life is the day I realized I could be dead. At that moment (about 9 months later) even though I knew my assaulter took something from me, I realized he did not take my life and I wasn’t about to give him another day of MY life! He doesn’t deserve it, not one more minute! I felt this huge relief that I sat down and cried for hours. From that day on I stopped worrying about my past and what anyone else thought and focused on appreciating the life I had left. Now I’m not saying I skipped off into the sunset, but that was the day I stopped feeling sorry for myself (those emotions are allowed – for a while) and picked myself up and took a step forward instead of backwards.
#8) DO NOT turn to drugs and alcohol to mask the pain, once again you MUST FEEL IN ORDER TO HEAL. Alcohol and/or drugs are only a temporary fix and does absolutely nothing to solve the problem other than to push it deeper. You must deal with it and the more you feel and release, the more room you have to heal.
#9) DON’T rely on anyone else to heal you. You will heal as much as you put the work into it. Hopefully you will have support, but you need to know while it is OK to accept help from others, only you can heal yourself. Healing yourself through some type of professional counseling, whether group, individual or anonymously. A lot of cities offer free counseling or support groups through their local crisis centers. There are your some church groups or if you health insurance (make sure mental health is covered under your plan) use that. Some employers have EAP (employee assistance programs) that are completely anonymous even to your employer and usually offer a couple free visits. Go to rainn.org to find the closest counselor to you. There are so many resources, just make the commitment to start helping yourself and you’ll find a way!
#10) While the above suggestions are more long term, I would like to make some suggestions for baby steps that can help “right now”. My most successful suggestion is to right down your feelings at the end of the day (good or bad) whatever they are just as a release. This is good for survivors or immediate family members trying to cope as well. It is up to you whether or not you keep it, it is just a way for you to get your honest and true emotions out and not keep them deep inside you, which only fester. Warms baths are great before bed along with a good book to take me away, if even for 30 minutes. I always try to keep a book in purse, dvd at home or cd in car that I love and makes me feel good that I can immediately turn to to brighten my mood. And if you don’t have a pet, get one! Pets are amazing and offer true unconditional love BUT make sure you have the time to love and nurture your pet and you will get nothing less back!
#11) Think about taking a self defense class. After being raped your sense of security is shot and an excellent way to start to get it back is taking a self defense class. It is very empowering and a good confidence builder.
#12) Try yoga (if you don’t alreaady), it is truly amazing how it makes you feel calm and can just release the stress and anxiety. Never tried it until after my rape and I still have the same at home beginner dvds I’ve used for years, but I love them and I truly feel empowered, strong and relaxed when I’m done. They say you can heal your body through your breathing and I believe it. Tell me you don’t feel a little better after you take a few big deep breaths. Well, when you are doing yoga, not only is your body trying to align and release your stress you are holding in your body, but you are really breathing the whole time and getting oxygen to your entire body, which is not only a calming affect but helps the tightness in your muscles to release. So trust me just try it a few times, you don’t have to do it perfect (which is why I do it at my house) but I always feel better afterwards, never fails.