PTSD: How to deal with sexual assault

December, 2019

This blog post is a significant one, and it has taken me a long time to gather the courage to write about it. As I embark on this journey, I'm not only sharing my experiences but also coaching myself through the healing process. One of the most crucial steps towards overcoming PTSD is acknowledging and talking about the trauma because it's a painful reality that cannot be ignored.

I'm writing this article because I know from personal experience that sometimes it's easier to read about what you are going through before you can gather the strength to talk to someone. Take your time. Remember, you are not alone. Shockingly, statistics show that one out of six women has experienced something similar. The sheer magnitude of these numbers leaves me speechless.

Losing control

In the initial phase after a traumatic event, it may be impossible to talk about it. You may try to push it away and avoid any thoughts associated with it. It's okay for a while because it means you are not yet ready to confront it. You're still in survival mode. However, there will come a day when you must face it head-on and free yourself from its grasp. You cannot run from it forever.

During this phase, you may experience flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and an aversion to socializing. Your social life may dwindle to zero. I, too, became a control freak, desperately trying to have complete control over everything, especially myself. Someone had taken all power away from me.

Every trauma is different

There are several typical stages of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But be assured, not everyone ends up with PTSD. If the following sounds familiar to you, you might deal with it:

  1. The physical impact.

    If you have endured a trauma involving physical abuse, injuries, or the aftermath of substances like date rape drugs, your body requires time to heal. The consequences of such abuse can leave lasting wounds. In cases where you have been drugged, the effects on your body can be severe and may be present for several days, depending on the substance involved.

  2. Realization.

    Realization often dawns through haunting flashbacks and nightmares. It took me about three days to fully comprehend what had happened. I tried to find clarity and help in blog posts and professional resources, and discovered that I had been drugged. I also realized the toll it had taken on my physical health, and the injuries inflicted during the assault. Unfortunately, by the time I recognized it, it was too late to trace the drugs in my body.

    Moreover, alerting the authorities in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language, and where toxic masculinity held significant power, didn't feel like a viable option. Many people ask if I regret that decision. Fortunately, the answer is no. I simply couldn't bear the additional burden at that point. Moving forward became my priority. While thoughts of capturing those responsible occasionally crossed my mind, I never had feelings of revenge or hatred towards them.

    I genuinely believe in Karma, and they will face the consequences of their actions. My only concern is that they might harm others in the future because it was clear that this wasn't their first time doing something like this. They knew exactly how to avoid any evidence. The more energy I waste on them instead of focusing on my own healing, the longer my recovery process will take. However, I must admit that the situation would have been entirely different if this had occurred in my home country.

  3. Escape and denial.

    During this phase, you may find yourself unwilling to accept or acknowledge what happened. You might even convince yourself, it wasn't as bad as it seems, or worse, deny its occurrence altogether. Let me assure you, burying and ignoring the truth isn't working at all. You may succeed in suppressing it temporarily, but eventually, it will erupt, find its way out in one way or another.

  4. Blaming yourself.

    I never truly understood how victims of trauma could blame themselves until I found myself in this situation. Thoughts like, "I shouldn't have been drinking," or "I should have been more cautious" continiously came into my mind.  I even felt guilty that I went out. However, it's essential to recognize that this self-blame is nothing but wrong.

    No one ever asks for or deserves such an ordeal. Most attackers strike when you least expect it, violating your sense of security. They rob you of so much, and in an attempt to regain control, survivors often internalize blame. If only it were your own fault, you could somehow manage it, control it, right? But, I'm sorry to say, it just doesn't work that way.

  5. Panic and paranoia.

    Anxiety becomes a constant companion, because someone robbed you of your safety. It may be a challenge to face the world outside, leading to a self-imposed isolation that shields you from potential threats. In my darkest times, it was my dogs who provided solace and security. They stood by me, guarding me fiercely, and offering comfort that no human could provide. My "therapy dogs" became my lifeline, and I don't think I wouldn't have been able to cope without them at that point.

  6. Isolation.

    Multiple factors contribute to the desire to withdraw from social interactions. First, the fear of exposing what happened weighs heavily. The thought of being judged by others, especially if you already blame yourself, feels unbearable. Usually, I wouldn't care about others' opinions, but this would have shattered me.

    Additionally, before the assault, I would often go out with friends, portraying an open and fun persona. I had to struggle with the thought: Did I somehow ask for this? Those thoughts send chills down my spine. How can anyone ask for something like this!

    Nevertheless, I still find myself plagued by doubts at times. Could I have done something to avoid the attack? Maybe, maybe not. But that's not the point. No one, absolutely no one, has the right to do such a heinous act upon another human being.

    Additionally, the fear of another attack and the loss of control left me paralysed. Everywhere I've seen potential threats, and the anxiety attacks that accompanied leaving my house were suffocating. The only place where I truly felt safe was within my comforting home, surrounded by my loyal dogs.

    And then there was denial - a temptation to retreat into a bubble where I could pretend the assault had never occurred. I tried to bury it, to shut it out, hoping by ignoring it, I could make it vanish.

    Fortunately, as a trained Life Coach, I know the tools to reflect on and acknowledge my emotions and the challenging circumstances I found myself in. Through years of struggle, I came to realize the crucial importance of taking action to change my situation.

    In this challenging journey, I found solace in the presence of a trusted friend — my Coach and dear friend. She had endured comparable experiences, knowing exactly what I had to go through. While no one can guide you through such a deeply personal ordeal, she provided unwavering support. She stood by my side, offering a listening ear, a comforting presence, and gentle encouragement. Because healing from trauma is a unique and individual process, guidance takes on a different form—providing unwavering support through the necessary phases of processing and healing.

    These phases are vital. Each person with trauma must go through them in their own pace. Only through this journey of processing and healing you can achieve true growth and recovery.

  7. Reaching out for help.
    In this phase, you hopefully start to reach out for help and talk to people close to you or someone completely unknown. I was scared to open up, but I know it's an essential step toward healing and processing. To say it out loud made it real. It was a hard time because I started to remember a lot more, the nightmares worsened, and I became so tired and helpless. How could this happen to me? Why did this happen to me? Those questions are pointless. It happened. Now you need to survive.

    On the other hand, it comforted me to talk. I didn't have to go through it by myself anymore, and no one judged me at all - the opposite. Everyone told me it's perfectly normal to blame yourself, but they hope I don't do that. I was reading a lot about the topic to understand it better. There is a certain power in naming your experiences and gaining a deeper understanding of them. For some, this act of recognition provides a sense of control and helps manage the weight of the trauma.

  8. The victim role.

    It's during this phase that you may find yourself trapped in the victim role. I dislike the word "victim" because it paints the image of a powerless and helpless person. To be called a victim feels passive, and while you cannot alter what happened, you hold the reins to your life. You alone have the power to determine how you navigate through those stormy waters. Don't fight what you cannot change; fight for your future, stand up for your happiness, claim back your life. Don't let them win.

  9. The long-term effects.

    Dealing with the long-term effects of trauma is an extensive and ongoing process that may never truly "end." Initially, I wondered how survivors could ever learn to live with their experiences. However, those who had walked this path before me reassured me that with time, you'll be able to overcome it. I can already testify that the monster within me no longer dominates every moment. Through dedicated effort and self-reflection, it gets easier. Nevertheless, the impact of such a traumatic event cannot be understated. It alters your life in ways you never thought possible. But amidst the pain, I even found positive changes due to this incident.

    For instance, I stopped drinking at all for a while. The fear of losing control again was overpowering, and the mere sensation of being tipsy scared me. Although I never struggled with addiction, it felt like a journey towards sobriety. It was the habitual aspect of drinking that I had to confront. One prime example is the concept of rewarding oneself with a drink after a tough day or the standard glass of wine during a lunch with friends. Over the years, this drinking culture had become normality.

    I needed to be aware of my surroundings, which led to an extreme need for control. I turned into a control freak, acknowledging that this extreme reaction was neither healthy nor sustainable. In small steps, I cautiously reintroduced an occasional glass of wine until the fear dissipated. But I never went back to drink until I'm drunk. Recently, during a lunch with a friend, she apologized for "being boring" by only drinking water. It struck me: Why is not drinking alcohol boring? In reality, I find the ramblings of intoxicated individuals in bars tiresome, with repetitive topics and self-absorption. That particular lunch turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had in a long time.

    Over the past year, I realized how much alcohol had influenced my life, not necessarily in a negative way. However, I believe that had it not been a factor, I may not have engaged in intimate encounters with 90% of the people I did. My preferences regarding friends would have been different, and I wouldn't have tolerated as much nonsense and drama. I can now witness these changes taking shape, and I like them. Nevertheless, one aspect that still requires significant work is cultivating close relationships. Even thinking about intimacy remains a distant possibility. I continue to avoid bars, not entirely because of the incident but also because I find most people there unbearable. I've had to construct an entirely new framework for my social life. Despite missing the carefree nights out with my old circle of friends, I welcome the new quality of my relationships.

Trauma affects each person differently. If you're reading this and have recently experienced something similar, please note that you may not necessarily encounter every stage I have described. Numerous factors determine whether and how severely PTSD manifests. Each individual and circumstance are unique. But no matter what, it is a trauma, and you should know that you're not alone. 

Recommendation for women encountering sexual assault

Based on my own personal journey and the countless conversations I've had with courageous women who have faced similar situations, I want to offer you some valuable insights on how you can regain control and pave the way for a normal and joy-filled life once again:

  • First and foremost, I urge you to reach out and talk to someone, as soon as you feel ready. Opening up about your experiences is an essential step to healing. It may feel daunting at first, but sharing your story with a trusted person can provide immense relief and support.
  • Allow the full spectrum of emotions you're experiencing. Allow yourself to feel and process each emotion that arises, whether it's anger, fear, sadness, or confusion. By acknowledging these feelings, you are taking a proactive step towards understanding and ultimately healing.
  • Don't withdraw from social life completely. I encourage you to resist that urge. Surround yourself with understanding and compassionate individuals who can provide a safe space for you to express yourself authentically. Maintaining connections with others can be a powerful source of strength and healing.
  • Seeking professional help is crucial for your healing process. Consider reaching out to a qualified therapist or counselor who specializes in trauma recovery. They possess the expertise and tools to guide you through the healing process, offering invaluable support and guidance along the way. It won't take away your pain right away, but it can ease it.
  • As you progress in your healing, selectively share your experiences with those within your close circle whom you trust. By opening up to them, you provide an opportunity for them to better understand what you're going through, and they can offer the support and empathy you need. Together, you can build a network of understanding and love.
  • Lastly, resist the temptation to bury your experiences deep within you. It's essential to confront and acknowledge what has happened. By facing your trauma head-on, you take an active stance in your own healing. Embrace the strength within you to confront the pain, for it's through this courageous act that true healing can begin.

Remember, you are not alone on this journey. There's a community of survivors who have faced similar challenges and emerged stronger. By following these steps and embracing the support available to you, you have the chance to embark on a path towards reclaiming your life and finding the happiness and peace you deserve.

I had to learn to go upright again

Recently, while walking my beloved dogs, I couldn't help but notice my own body language. I realized I was nearly crouching as I walked, sending an unmistakable message to the world: "Go away." It was a subconscious defense mechanism I had developed over time. However, now I am acutely aware of how I present myself to the outside world. It's not about bein attractive for anyone else; it's about feeling attractive and confident in my own skin.

I’m proud that I finally found the courage to write about my experience, with the hope I can offer solace and support to other women who may find themselves in similar situations.

It has taken me an entire year to reach this point. My Coach, a constant source of encouragement, gently kicked me several times to put my thoughts into words — raw, direct and unfiltered. I made several attempts, only to stop after filling just half a page. At times, I even found myself deleting it entirely, as if erasing the words could somehow erase the pain.

Today, as I launch this article, it feels like I have taken one of the final steps toward my own healing. It's a momentous milestone that fills me with a deep sense of satisfaction and empowerment.

If you have any questions or simply want to contact me, please don't hesitate to reach out. I work as a voluntary Life Coach, trained as a co-Active Life Coach, dedicated to supporting women who have experienced similar challenges. Together, we can navigate the path towards healing, growth, and reclaiming the lives we deserve.

Be strong. Stay strong. I know, it's DAMN hard! But you're not alone.

Did you enjoy reading this blog post? Do you want to have compelling and engaging articles for your website or perhaps embark on the exciting journey of starting a blog, attracting more customers or reaching out with what you do? Are you seeking to expand your reach by localizing your website into German or transforming your German blog into English to captivate a wider audience? Maybe you have incredible book ideas that you long to bring to life, but the thought of writing it yourself feels daunting. You're in Luck! I'm here to help.

As a professional writer and skilled translator bilingual in English and German, I pour love and passion into every word I craft. I bring ideas to life, infuse them with vibrancy, and ensure they resonate with your target audience.

If you're curious to learn more about my work and how I can assist you in achieving your goals, look no further. Simply click here to explore further and contact me. Together, let's create something extraordinary!