Do You Ever 'Move On' From A Sexual Assault? I Asked A Trauma Specialist
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Please be advised: The following story discusses sexual assault and trauma (without specific description). Some content may be unsettling for some readers.
If a person experienced sexual trauma a long time ago, can it still be affecting them today?
Yes. Trauma has no time schedule. It is possible to suppress any type of trauma for any amount of time, just as well as there may be times when triggers come up that you never experienced beforehand.
There is no time frame for healing. As for things that may manifest in daily life, it can be across the board. There is no one way that it can manifest in any person. But a few things that may come up are interactions with individuals. You may be more cautious around certain types of people as well as interaction styles. The proximity of individuals to you—having people walk too close to you or touching you in a surprising matter—can be very scary and triggering. Victims may [partake] in different substances that can numb them so they do not have to deal with the traumas, such as drugs, alcohol, and/or sex.
One might experience triggers through their life that may vary. I always note that a trigger does not look one way. A trigger can be anything that appears within your five senses. One may also dissociate without even noticing that they are doing it.
Is it possible to "move on" from a sexual assault? At some point does it just stop being painful?
That is an interesting question. I would say there is no magic pill that you can take to heal all of your trauma. If you are a trauma survivor, you will always be a trauma survivor. You may be able to maneuver through life in a way that feels safe, seen, and supported. But I would never tell a survivor, Let's work for you to move on from all of this. I would say, Let's work to get you to a place where you feel safe in your body.
I do believe that you can stop being in constant pain and navigate these past traumas in a way that is not always triggering and scary.
What does "healing" mean? What does it look like or feel like?
Healing looks different for every person and comes in different times and/or in waves. When I think about healing as a survivor, I think about certain interactions being better. I think about being able to use one's voice. I think about understanding ways that receiving touch may feel good and knowing when it does not. When I think about healing for a survivor, I think about one being able to withhold their own autonomy. Healing may look like asking to be seen and heard. Healing may look like being able to be sexual again and/or in ways that you may have been scared of.
Again, there is no one way healing looks. When talking about healing, I never want to create such a list that a survivor does not see themselves, so that they never feel like there is a measuring system for what healing looks like.
What are some self-care practices that you see as essential for survivors?
Self-care is so healing and magical. I think it is something that we often overlook because we are in a world that is always on the go. I think the best self-care techniques that we can do for ourselves often do not cost any money. One of my favorite self-care techniques is to disconnect from social media. Social media is so busy, instant, and can be retriggering. Allow yourself time to turn your phone off for a while and just spend some time with yourself and/or people whom you love and who love you in return.
Another thing I recommend to survivors is to actually listen to your body. Your body will tell you when you need to rest and when you need to eat. When these feelings come up, address them then. Do not put them off. You are allowed to take care of your temple.
Lastly, go outside! I know it's really hard to do, but spend some time in nature. There is so much healing spending time with trees, plants, and near water. Allow some of those natural vitamins from the sun and some fresh air to enter your lungs.
Those are just a few things that you can do to help you to make it throughout the day. It would be great if you can set aside at least, at least 30 minutes a day just for yourself and some self-care.
You recently created and launched a healing kit for survivors through The KinkKit. Can you tell us about it?
This is one of the most magical projects I have worked on to date. I am really excited about this Healing box. What people do not talk about is the way that partners inherit the aftermath of trauma, too. They may also be dealing with their own traumas. This is why the healing journey must include both partners, to build a strong foundation of empathy and support. This KinkKit is designed to help both parties learn how to support each other intimately, both inside and outside of the bedroom. The Art of Healing kit is not meant to be a replacement for traditional therapy but instead includes experiences, activities, and items to help partners reclaim sexual agency and confidence together, as physical and emotional intimacy can still be triggering even years after trauma, and it is so important for both partners to be together in this journey.
In one episode of Trauma Queen, you mention the idea that it's OK to smile while talking about what you've been through. What do you mean by that?
Often people look at survivors as sad and broken. I think that is disgusting and harmful. I myself am a survivor. Are my world and life supposed to stop after being assaulted? No, it is not, and it shouldn't for anyone else. Laughter is healing, for all of us. Feeling happiness within our full bodies is really important. Survivors are not broken individuals. I actually think they are extremely strong and magical.
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