What it Looks Like for a Sexual Assault Survivor to Come Out the Other Side

Gillian Sisley

It’s taken me 7 years to find this true sense of peace.

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

I’ve been reading “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller, the survivor of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner’s media-frenzied sexual assault, and as I reach the end of the book I am struck by some significant parallels between Chanel’s journey and the journey of our Fearless community here.

I wanted to share these parallels for a sense of hope, and comfort.

Chanel speaks in her memoir of how after her victim impact statement went viral on BuzzFeed, she started receiving outpouring support in the form of emails, letters, postcards, and gifts in the mail, grocery bags full of them every single week for many months from fellow survivors.

One of the most impressive things about this was that she was seeing a glimpse of what her life could be like 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the road. Fellow survivors shared with her how despite their trauma they had still managed to live fulfilled lives, with families, passionate careers, and true joy in life.

That got me thinking about my own recovery journey. In recent months, I have taken more of an ‘experienced survivor’ role in terms of healing.

I am now the person standing on the other side of the gaping drop letting the survivor on the other end know that it does get better.

It’s taking me until now to actually realize how monumental a shift positioning is for me in my life. Several years ago, I was the survivor who felt like she was drowning, and was so crushed by the weight of my trauma that I was barely holding the broken fragments of my life together.

Now, I am speaking with survivors in the early stages of their healing and regularly reassuring them that it does get better. It will get better. They still have a long, beautiful, and fulfilling life to live.

Not too long ago, I didn’t believe those words myself.

And now I’m the person preaching them.

I can’t tell you exactly when the shift will happen, but it eventually will.

I think that’s one of the beautiful realities of this too — there was no lightning that came down and struck me, no jolts through my body, no sign from the heavens.

Consistent, intentional, and patient work day by day on my healing and self-guided therapy are the things that got me to this point now.

The other day, I was sitting across from my husband at the dinner table, trying to explain to him how pivotal a moment I’d had earlier that afternoon.

It was dark and dreary outside, something that actually had been quite a trigger for me in the past. This sort of gloomy day would see me sink deeply into my grief, as it felt like a reflection of the dark, gloominess inside myself. A big part me was certain I was going to have a bad day.

I thought that, but then a small voice in my head said,

“Today is going to be a good day, because you feel safe here. You feel entirely safe here.”

I don’t know where that thought came from, but I started to immediately cry. At that moment, I was sitting in the same chair that I had been in on the day of one of my worst episodes of paranoia. On a day when my then-fiance came back from his morning jog to find me curled up in a ball, with all the curtains closed, terrified and convinced that my rapist was going to break into the house and finish what he started.

But now, I was sitting in that same chair and for the first time feeling completely and fully safe in my own home.

Even now as I write this, I’m sitting in the dark, alone in my living room. My husband has already gone to bed. Nights like this used to be a massive triggering for me, but instead, I’m looking out the window onto my quiet suburban street and I see peacefulness. I see safety. I see beauty in the night, rather than numerous potential threats that could be lurking in the shadows, ready to jump out and harm me at any moment.

I have been waiting 7 years to find this sense of peace and healing.

And somehow, it just f*cking snuck up on me out of nowhere.

Drowning in the torment of my grief over the years, you may get to some exceptionally dark places.

I’ve never had direct suicidal thoughts, but I certainly have had thoughts of,

“How long am I going to feel this way?”
“I don’t think I can do this for the rest of my life.”
“Is this ever going to end? If this feeling never ends, what am I supposed to do?”
“I’m already too exhausted to take this on every single day, how am I supposed to do this for the the next 5–6 decades of my existence?”

If given a certain circumstance or appropriate amount of time leaving my trauma untreated, I could see how those desperate feelings of suffocating grief could absolutely develop into feelings of believing my life was not worth living.

I’ve been told before by my readers and writers in the Fearless community that this community saved their lives. I don’t take those words to be exaggerations of any kind. I can believe them fully, because this exact same reality applies to me.

Writing about my trauma and building the Fearless She Wrote community with

Jessica Lovejoy and Maggie Lupin played fundamental and integral parts in treating my trauma and facilitating my successful self-guided therapy. Without this online community, I don’t know where I’d still be.

I can guarantee you though that I wouldn’t be in as healing and peaceful a place as I am now.

It’s hard to imagine myself saying such a thing — peaceful. Healing. Despite the fact that these are pretty words, I don’t want them to indicate that I am fully fixed in any way.

There’s no way to ever be fully fixed again after another person is taking it upon themselves to violate you in the most heinous way possible.

I’m never going to be fully okay. But then again, as a lot of survivors can attest to as well, the goal isn’t to be fully okay ever again. They’re simply no way for us to be fully okay ever again.

The goal is instead to find closure of some sort.

Not a closure that happens one day and then everything’s fine. But a slow, patient, excruciating type of closure that heals by slipping a needle in and out of the skin to close up hundreds upon hundreds of wounds without any sedation.

The type of closure that offers us more peaceful moments in our life compared to the anxiety-ridden, panic-infused, and painfully desperate moments that trauma routinely causes.

At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to regain some semblance of a higher quality of life than what we have now.

The quality of life that facilitates experiencing joy again, smiling and laughing with our friends, and being able to hold ourselves together enough so that all of our fractured pieces don’t spill out onto the floor every single night.

These aren’t big asks. In fact, they’re very small and reasonable ones!

But I think that’s a part of the trauma inflicted by sexual assault that so many people don’t understand. The violation itself was horrible, yes, of course. But that violation wasn’t just restricted to that one moment it happened.

The violation seeps into the roots of who we are, into our veins and into our bloodstream, and it will continue to accompany us every day of our lives.

The biggest thing that we lost from that trauma was not our virtue, or sanctity, or purity… it was our ability to experience the small joys in life. The truly small and pure joys of life are robbed from us for years and decades because they are entirely overshadowed by our trauma and sense of violation.

This robbing of joy is not just restricted to our future romantic relationships. It restricts our ability to enjoy our careers, focus on school, invest in relationships, be pleased with the person who’s looking back at us in the mirror, and every other little facet of life that we experience.

Our perpetrators steal so much more than just our bodily autonomy when they rape us — they steal our joy for life as well. And that’s the truly tragic reality of a crime such as sexual assault.

Final word.

The Fearless community is over 15,000 strong at this point.

I know that a majority of our writers and readership are survivors. Survivors of sexual assault, survivors of domestic violence, survivors of abuse, and survivors of trauma.

We are a bold, strong and courageous community of brave survivors who not only survived our traumatic incidents, but have survived every day since.

That said, we are also a community experiencing exceptional pain, hardship, and feelings so intense that it can feel like we are suffocating under the wake of them.

Both of these realities, the courageous and the hurting, the brave and the pain, the fearless and the suffocating… all of these realities exist at the same time in their glorious and tragic truth.

I know there are readers out there who are asking themselves the same questions I asked above. They are wondering if this pain is going to last forever, how the hell they’re ever supposed to move on from this, and if the torment will ever cease.

I am here, as a broken yet shining example, of the fact that things CAN get better.

I’m not promising it won’t be difficult. It’s going to be unimaginably tough. It’s going to take a f*ckton of work.

But you and I both know that that work will be worth it.

Because you and I both know that you are clawing at the walls of the pit you find yourself in, desperate to get a footing on a jutted-out rock and start climbing out.

Because you and I both know that you will do whatever it takes to reclaim the quality of life and joy that was robbed from you.

There will be days when you’re too exhausted to climb, and you need to know that that’s okay. There will be days when all you want to do is curl up under your duvet and stay in bed, because it feels like the only safe place left in the world. That’s okay too.

But what I can promise is that there will also be days when you’re up for the climb. There will be days when you’re willing to do the work. There will be days when you fight, and reopen those wounds, just so that the new scar tissue can grow over and reseal stronger than ever.

I know it’s hard. I know there are days that surviving to the next feels unimaginable or impossible. On those days I asked you, no, I beg you:

Please stay.

Your life has only just begun. There is a world of joy and adventure and fulfillment waiting for you, because you deserve it and it is rightfully yours.

Getting to that life as possible. It will take a lot of patience, and tearful days, and painful processing, but with every day the wounds will heal up stitch by stitch, until one day you will find yourself struck by the normality of the moment you’re living in.

A moment that is free of torment, free of that crippling weight of grief, and free of the demons that have haunted you for so long.

If you are willing to give yourself the time, that moment will come for you.

I am an example of that. I know others who are an example of that. Hundreds upon thousands upon millions of survivors just like you are an example of that.

You are not alone in this fight. We are here with you, we are in this with you, and you will not be overlooked or left behind ever again.

Because that’s what the Fearless She Wrote community is about. We are in this together, and we will no longer be silenced.

That is my promise to you. This community is on a journey of healing and recovering together.

Walk with us, join us, and lean on us. We will be there to get one another through the darkest days and the sleepless nights.

Because as many of us know, all it takes is one kind word from a fellow survivor and the statement, “I believe you, and I’m here for you" to change everything in our lives forever.

I believe you.

I am here for you.

You’re not in this alone anymore.

And I love you.

Please stay.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call your national Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://www.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, and just need to talk to someone who will listen, please consider calling your national Survivor Hotline:

Sources of help for survivors


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Online solopreneur. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about womanhood, social justice, writing & entrepreneurship.


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