I want you to know that this is not easy work.
This work of healing – of becoming more whole, of tuning in to your wild heart, of touching the soft vulnerable centre of your soul, of stepping into your authenticity and courage and wisdom – it is not easy work.
There are some who will try to tell you it is easy. They’ll tell you that you can have big breakthroughs and a-ha moments that will chase away the demons that haunt you. They’ll show you the mountaintop and promise that you can get there and stay there if only you take the right path.
Those people are mostly trying to sell you something. They’re taking advantage of your longing for wholeness to sell you a magic pill that will make you feel better for a few weeks (just long enough to rave about how amazing their magic is) before you finally have the slow and painful realization that the healing work is far from done and you’ve found yourself back in a deep valley.
When you’re down there, they’ll probably try to shame you, telling you that you’re not doing it right, or that you haven’t stuck with it long enough, or that you need to come back for some other more expensive magic pills because obviously your longing is trickier than they at first thought – but THIS TIME they will surely offer you the cure.
Do not believe those people.
Do not believe the magic they try to sell you. Do not believe the shame they try to heap on you. Do not believe the mirage they will show you of an easy life on the mountaintop.
Believe this – you need to put in the hard work, and even when you do and you succeed for a time – even when you have a few moments to sit on that mountaintop and enjoy the view – there will be more hard work to do, and you’ll need to traverse yet another valley. This is a life time commitment and the sooner you embrace that truth, the sooner you will begin to feel the lightening of the burden it places on your shoulders.
I thought I was healed. I thought I had put my rape behind me – that all of the ugliness had been transformed and it had reconfigured itself into a teaching tool and a story I could rely on to help me connect with other hurting people. I thought I was free to go back into that memory – that I had excavated all of the pain and made it a safe place to sit again. I’d done so many good things to aid my healing process – talked to the right people, wrote endlessly in my journal, and even wrote and produced a play about the experience.
I was lying to myself. I wasn’t fully healed. Deep down I knew it would come back again and that there were valleys yet to come that would still hold the echo of that story.
That’s why I’d resisted reading the book Lucky for so many years. I knew that the story of the author’s brutal rape would send me back into layers of memories that scar tissue had sealed over but that had never fully healed.
Finally this week, I picked up the book. The rape scene starts on the very first page, and from the very first sentence, I was simultaneously right there with her in that park facing her rapist and back in my own bedroom facing my own rapist. Her words brought my memories tumbling back – the all-consuming fear, the pain of the rapist’s hands around my throat, the blade held above my head, the willingness to do ugly things for the faint hope that he would spare me worse things, the revulsion as I said the words he wanted to hear, the commitment to meet him the next day under the bridge – all of it rushed back into my consciousness.
Not surprisingly, I had a nightmare that first night. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the rapist came back to me in my dreams.
And then the next day, I kept on reading. I had to. I couldn’t leave the author so badly damaged and afraid of the world. I needed to read on – to know that her story shifted into healing. I needed to believe that wholeness can happen again, even when you’ve been irrevocably changed. I read all the way to the end of the afterward, wanting to know that she had survived and knew how to love herself again.
While I anticipated that the story of the rape would affect me, I didn’t anticipate how much the story of the rape’s aftermath would bring back the echoes of my own story. Though I didn’t have to go through the agony of a trial (because my rapist was never caught), where the defense lawyer does everything in his power to discredit the victim (and makes her feel victimized all over again), I did have to deal with having my pubic hairs clipped at the hospital, telling the story repeatedly to police officers who felt it their duty to shame me for leaving my window open on an oppressively hot night, paging through mug shots and doubting my own memories, and having the story change the very core of my identity.
Especially in the case of rape, the victim almost always becomes a pariah of sorts, and though I didn’t face it as much as some, I knew that I was now “different” in the eyes of my friends. Many were supportive and gracious, but most had no idea what to say and some said entirely the wrong things, shaming me for the open window, the neighbourhood I chose to live in, etc., etc. Others chose to avoid me all together for fear of saying the wrong thing. The rapist took some of my friendships away, along with my virginity.
Even more than the rape memories, that’s the hurt that came tumbling over me as I read the book late into the night. The rejection, the self-loathing, the anger, the aching to be loved, the fear of intimacy, the longing for just the right people who could receive the story without flinching. As much as I know that I have found a great deal of healing, there are still echoes of hurt reverberating in my heart.
This is how I know that there are no magic pills. There are no magic pills because twenty-six years after someone rapes you, twenty-six years after you’ve done some of the most intense healing and growth work you can imagine, twenty-six years after you’ve committed to loving yourself in the best way you know how, you can still feel the rapist mocking you from the shadows of your mind, reminding you of just how much he took from you.
I tell you this story not to illicit pity. I simply want you to know that you are not alone and you are not a failure if the same stories of rejection and hurt and fear keep coming back again and again and again.
Instead of your pity, I want your courage. I want you to be honest with yourself. I want you to stand up to the liars who try to shame you. I want your commitment to continuing this journey. I want you to know that you can be resilient. I want you to stay on the labyrinthian path and dare to work your way toward centre even though sometimes the path takes you all the way out to the painful outer edge again.
I am doing the work that I need to do to excavate these stories even further and I ask that you do the same with your stories. Because the healing comes only when we commit to the hard task of staying with the pain.