A Rape Survivor on How to be There for a Rape Survivor

Worth Living Ambassador Marlee Liss

Marlee is a yoga instructor, social work student, and author. Teaching internationally, including a 2018 retreat in France, she makes it her mission to fuse her passion and provide yoga classes that facilitate empowerment, body positivity, and self-love. Pursuing her degree at Ryerson University, she is currently working at NEDIC (National Eating Disorder Information Centre). This November, she will be publishing her book ‘Rehumanize & other Medicine Words’, which speaks to sexual assault, mental health, reclamation and so much more.

A Rape Survivor on How to be There for a Rape Survivor

After experiencing sexual violence last year, my focus shifted further away from friends and family and closer towards myself in dealing with my own healing and impact. This is normal and sensible and it should be the whole story, but it’s only part of it really. I had a lot of trouble Receiving and many of my friends had a lot of trouble Giving. I am not discounting the actions of those who stood by me, held me up, moved with me through immense darkness without ever letting go- I will never discount the voices of those that showed me love when I needed proof of it most. Thank you to each of you.

But, I am tired of making silver linings for those who have trouble giving. For those who say things like, “I didn’t say anything to you because I didn’t know what to say” or “I’ve never been through this, so I don’t know how to be there for you”. I am telling you now and I want this to be truly heard: you don’t have to experience the cause of the pain, you just have to know pain itself in order to be there for someone – in other words, you just have to be human. The most validating responses I received were people responding naturally, from the heart or the gut: a nurse saying, “This guy is fu**ed, rape is a monster”. One friend saying, “I know I get awkward in serious situations, but I love you and I will learn to be here for you”. Another friend catching my tears and simply saying, “I am so moved by your emotion right now”.

You just have to hold space. Truly, that is all.

Because those who distance or avoid out of discomfort or ‘lack of supporting skills’ (Let’s remember that friends and therapists serve different roles), this is the result of your fear-driven action: When a scared and extraordinarily brave survivor of sexual assault decides to speak up and your response is discomfort or preoccupation with your own stress in how to respond – that survivor gets the message that they’ve become a burden, they’ve become too much, they should stop speaking up and making people uncomfortable. They stay silent and isolate and are now forced to deal with the loss of a friend alongside all of the grief that comes with trauma. Survivors staying silent has been the rule since day one, so when it is the exception, please take the responsibility to rise to the occasion – to applaud this person’s bravery and simply be there for them. Hold. Space. You don’t have to heal them or fix them because you won’t. Healing that wound is a life time of work but the people around us must be there to soften the pain as we move through that struggle.

You must let the pain of our violation speak louder than your own discomfort. Please know that I am not placing blame on you. I don’t think these people who avoid are incompetent or rude or insensitive. Our society has engrained in us discomfort with emotion. Most of us have been asked to swallow our feelings for fear of appearing weak and taught to wait until we are alone in our rooms to cry. Our culture has wrapped every emotion in shame, so that when a feeling comes – it floods and overwhelms rather than simply surfaces. We panic as a ball in our throat forms and the people around us panic as they see something other than neutrality enter the room. So of course, most of us isolate and drown in our struggle, of course battles with mental health have become an epidemic.

So, from a rape survivor who is vulnerable and courageous enough (in this moment) to speak up, please let these words be a takeaway: There is no ‘right’ way to respond, just simply be there With us. Hold our hands, catch our tears, ask us if we would like touch for comfort. Listen to us wholeheartedly and let your eyes speak louder than the ‘how can I respond?’ dialogue in your mind. Get angry alongside us, get sad alongside us, be moved by our emotions. Feel into our pain so deeply that you begin to realize how collective this trauma is, how in some way, an injustice done to your sisters and brothers is also an injustice done to you. Do not ask us to carry this burden alone, the grief of one is the grief of all. And if we are brave enough to be with each other, rather than obsessing over fixing each other, it will be impossible for us to continue hurting one another. It will be impossible for us to ignore the urgency of our world’s problems. Eventually, it will become impossible for us to be anything other than awakened world-changers on a mission to restore peacekeeping wisdom and connective love.

Please visit my website at http://www.marleeliss.com

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