I had recently cast my eye over a few of Epione’s ‘See Me, Hear Me” blogs and I was really inspired. A close friend suggested this could be a way for me to do what I’ve always wanted to do: use my story to help others.
Usually, I would have said no way, but something felt right inside. I really believed this was something that I could do. It was also very serendipitous as I had attended an international event in 2019 held by Epione and had been left so inspired by the whole day. I also bumped into a fellow survivor who has inspired and given me more hope than she knows. I felt this could be the sign I was looking for to add another layer to my healing journey.
When I started writing the blog, I wasn’t prepared for the feelings that would resurface. My initial writing left me feeling triggered and panicked that I wasn’t as far along in my healing journey as I’d thought. Reading stories about trauma survivors has always given me hope that maybe one day I could be like that too. I would always look for ‘how they did it’, how did they heal from their trauma? I so desperately wanted an answer as to how I could do it too. Unfortunately, the reality is, there is no real answer and no quick fix. This is so frustrating to hear when you’re right in the middle of it, but I now see that it is so true. Healing from trauma is a unique journey to each individual survivor and, in actual fact, healing is one of the messiest and most painful experiences I’ve ever faced.
Sharing my story through this platform will be the first time many people in my life will be hearing about it. I have only let a few special people into my experience and I hope they will be proud that I’ve come this far. I’ve decided to do this not only to hopefully help someone else, but also for me too. My blog is not about how I have healed from trauma, it’s more about the journey I’m going through right now, the things that have worked for me and how you need to just keep going, no matter how hard it gets.
At age 21, I felt on top of the world, I don’t think I ever remembered being happier, everything in my life was going just right’. What was to unfold next would lead me into a world I could never have imagined, full of pain, fear, trauma, shame, guilt, disgust, self-loathing and so much more.
It was Burns Night 2003 and I was out celebrating my friend’s 21st birthday. I started to feel unwell so decided to go home. A friend said that she would come with me, but I insisted she didn’t. I have spent many years blaming myself for this one simple decision…. why did I leave alone, why didn’t I just let my friend come with me? If I had let her come, this horrific event would never have happened. It has taken me a long time to process that this was not the case and I was not the one to blame!
That night on my way home, I was gang-raped by two men and left for dead. I was subjected to four counts of rape in every part of my body that could be violated. I was stabbed, I was unconscious at times and literally felt broken inside and out. There are no words to describe the level of fear I felt – I thought I was going to die! It’s amazing where your mind goes whilst you are being raped and facing death. My mind drifted to who would find me, I didn’t want anyone to find my dead body, and how would my family cope. Then my fear that I was going to die, became a desperate wish that it would just happen, for then it would be over.
The rapists abused my body and also my mind which saw me spiral into nearly two decades of guilt and shame, self-loathing and self-destruction. I have since learned that nothing I did was the result of my rape – the rapists were the result of my rape. I was silenced and unable to find my voice because of their actions and threats which made me too scared to tell anyone. I went back to work on Monday as if nothing had happened. I had completely disassociated from what happened. Given the injuries I had sustained, this completely blows my mind as to how I was able to do this and has really shown me the power of the brain when facing and dealing with trauma. I was living in a silent hell that no one knew about.
I dipped in and out of counselling, but I never really acknowledged the magnitude of my trauma. In 2018 I decided to go back to counselling to finally face what happened. I struggled to find the words to speak about it. Counselling helped me to begin to unravel my past. My world was thrown into chaos in ways I hadn’t accounted for as I began to learn that the body remembers what your mind forgot!
I thought I was going insane when I started to experience Somatic Pain as my body remembered the pain it had experienced. Many of my memories have only returned in the last few years whilst doing this.
Practicing mindfulness has made a huge impact. I’ve always lived on high alert, worried about what was going to happen or reliving what had happened. Grounding techniques have helped when I get engulfed by my trauma. I’ve learned about practicing gratitude, coming from a place of love and not hate.
The men who raped me were continuing to live on in my head but it was only me that could stop them. I now know that I have the power to change this narrative and silence them once and for all, like they had done to me all those years ago. This was my time to find my voice and no longer listen to theirs. The guilt and shame were never mine to hold onto, it always belonged with them!
In 2020, I may have been given the greatest lesson/opportunity to take control of my healing. COVID gave me the greatest opportunity to take control of my healing as well as giving me the virus too. I was really unwell, finding it difficult to breathe, which triggered painful memories. I believed I was going to die – another painful memory I had not processed.
Fast forward and I feel like I’ve spent a year fighting for recovery – again! My diagnosis of long COVID has made me stop! I have been given the opportunity to reconnect with my 21-year-old self, the girl that I had blamed for what had happened.
One of the worst parts of the attack was that the two men stripped me of my identity. I have now learned that the core parts of me could never be taken away by them and these are the parts that have got me here today. I have fight, I have strength, I have resilience, I have determination. I may not always feel it, but I have bravery inside me that has kept me going the entire journey.
I can still be triggered by what happened – and I’m learning that that’s ok. The most important part about this is how I respond and get myself back on track. I know I’m healing now as I can talk about things I’ve never been able to in the past.
I have found words for memories I never knew I had. I can get triggered, but still, get back on track. I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone to try new things. I am now willing to learn about self-care and how to focus on what helps me feel better rather than focusing on what causes me pain. I am changing my thought patterns to take me into a better headspace.
Moving into 2021, I am determined to reclaim my body and take my power back. My trauma will always be part of my life, but it does not mean that I need to be defined by it. I have so much in my life to be appreciative of and the best revenge will be to live the best life I can.
Epione wants to personally thank Debbie for bravely speaking the unspeakable – finding her voice and taking her power back. It is so fitting that today is International Women’s Day 2021, and Debbie breaks her silence and speaks out to strengthen her own healing as well as challenge the shame, stigma, and silence surrounding sexual violence. She speaks to women survivors to let them know that recovery is always possible.
We believe that women and girls have the right to live a life free of inequality, stigma, and male perpetrated violence in every form. We believe that women and girls are stronger than they have historically been told. To women and girls of all ages: we see you – hear you and believe in you.
If you would like to collaborate with us and share how you have overcome trauma and how you have been recovering, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org – We look forward to hearing from and seeing you in 2021!