This post was written by A.S., a survivor who has called BARCC’s hotline and come to BARCC for individual and group counseling. *Content note: personal story of healing from sexual violence.
I woke up one morning years ago knowing that something profound had happened and couldn’t be reversed. I remember calling my mom and crying the kind of tears that make your whole body hurt.
Sometime that afternoon, I was finally able to believe that what happened was real: I had been raped. I’d been frantically making excuses all morning to try to explain away what happened, hoping I wasn’t remembering things properly, wishing I could do something to make it not true. I realized I couldn’t do that any longer.
When I woke up the following morning, I remembered learning about BARCC at resident assistant training during college. I went to BARCC’s website, found the hotline number, and called. The woman I spoke to had a kind, soothing voice. She assured me that this wasn’t my fault, and that I was very brave for calling. She explained to me what my immediate options were, and a few other ways BARCC could help me. Part of me felt relieved, but most of me felt overwhelmed and unable to imagine actually going to BARCC’s office. It took me two months to work up the courage to call BARCC again.
The second time I called, I spoke to another calm, reassuring voice. We scheduled an appointment for the following week, and for the first time in two sleep-deprived months, I felt like I was doing something for myself.
I began individual counseling at BARCC. My counselor, who I truly believe is my guardian angel, helped me understand that it was ok for me to cry. And that it took strength and courage to be vulnerable. Internalizing this was important because, for a long time, I felt guilty whenever I experienced any joy or happiness. I felt like being happy would somehow invalidate it or make it my fault. Session by session, working with my counselor, I felt myself changing and relearning how to treat myself with love and respect.
That’s what BARCC’s incredible counselors do: without you fully realizing how it’s happening, they somehow help you heal. They help you understand why you’re feeling everything you’re feeling, so that it doesn’t scare you or make you feel crazy, and it starts to hurt less and less every day.
BARCC’s group therapy was also instrumental in my healing. At the time, I couldn’t have comprehended what an impact these sessions would have on my life. I didn’t realize just how alone I’d felt until I was sitting around all of these amazing, strong women.
I had talked to my family and close friends about what happened, but I’d never spoken to anyone else who’d been assaulted. There was something very comforting and validating about being able to share a thought or an emotion and see seven other heads nodding before I even finished my sentence. These group sessions taught me deep breathing exercises for when I felt triggered or really anxious.
And these sessions taught me how to be open again. In trying to protect myself, I didn’t realize how closed off I’d become until I started sharing more and more each session.
I felt like I’d found seven sisters in the women sitting around me. I think we all did: on our last day, no one wanted to leave the room.
In addition to BARCC, a local running group was a place of healing for me. Running has always been an important part of my life, and it played a big role in my healing process. It was like another form of therapy. It gave me time for myself, an outlet to focus on building up my physical and emotional strength.
As I got stronger each week, I felt my self-confidence growing. And I decided to sign up for my first marathon. The running club and the marathon changed my life. The marathon gave me a big goal to work toward, and the running club gave me a group of people who found marathon training fun.
At this point, I felt ready to start giving back to BARCC in some way, so I decided to fundraise for them as part of running the marathon. I didn’t know how people would react to me raising money for a rape crisis center. To my surprise, I was met with an overwhelming amount of support. This support from family, friends and colleagues, as well as BARCC, helped me push through a challenging training schedule and a very hilly race.
Right before race day, a friend of mine told me to dedicate each of the last five miles of the marathon to someone or something I really cared about, to help me push through to the end.
I loved that idea. And I ended up really needing it, given how I was feeling at mile 21. I hit the infamous “wall,” when the body decides it’s had enough and muscles you didn’t even know you have start hurting. Since it was my first marathon, I didn’t know if I’d react to hitting the wall by slowing down or pushing harder.
My last few miles were my fastest.
I dedicated mile 26 to BARCC. BARCC taught me how to love myself and treat myself with respect again, and made me expect that of others, too.
I thought about how lucky I was to have the love and support of family, friends, and BARCC.
I felt so strong, liberated, and triumphant knowing that even though something terrible happened to me, it will not define me. What will define me is how I picked myself back up and how I continue to help others. My healing journey has been a marathon of a different kind. And sharing my story is another leg of that race.
I know I will think back on sharing my story many times in the future when I need to draw on something for strength, most likely when I’m at mile 26 of my next marathon.
Every survivor deserves the critical services I received to help me heal.
BARCC offers free and confidential services to survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones. Learn more about our services or call our 24-hour hotline at 800-841-8371.