Sexual Assault Awareness Project

safetyfundamentals-a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words-1-638

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I wholeheartedly agree.  Photography has the power to convey an emotion or experience in ways that words simply can’t no matter how many are written or said.

Part of healing trauma is finding a way to process the painful emotions in a way that breaks their hold on the mind and body.  One of the best ways to do this is by finding creative, non-linear ways of expressing the painful and frightening emotions that are quite often too painful (or buried too deeply) to access in a more direct way.  Music, poetry, painting, dance, photography, etc..these are all very common creative expressions that can prove to have powerful healing effects for victims.  For me, well, I’ve always been partial to photography…

Last winter, my therapist noticed I was stuck in my ability to move past the sexual assault I experience a couple years prior.  While I was beginning to understand what really happened to me, I just couldn’t shake the pain and despair of such seemingly senseless violence.  The injustice of everything I experienced, including being silenced and shamed by police and “friends”, brought confusion and pain that lingered in my body and haunted my every thought.

In a stroke of brilliance, my therapist suggested that I connect with Liz Gilani, a photographer, to create a photo story to externalize my emotional experience with the assault.  The purpose being to not only process and resolve the trauma for myself but to also bring purpose to the pain.

I participated in this project in order to heal, but I’ve decided to share it for many more reasons than that.  Sexual assault is an absolute epidemic that is overwhelmingly ignored, denied, or at best met with indifference by our society.  One in four women are victims of sexual assault and those numbers are even low due to a severe lack of reporting.  Women fear reporting for many reasons including fear of retribution, being re-traumatized, shame and blame from others, self-blame, lack of support, and the most heart-breaking…because they see stories like mine where the police simply don’t care and they know their own fruitless efforts will only cause them more pain and suffering.  Of all issues, sexual assault is one of the most prevalent, relevant, and yet oddly one of the most ignored by society.

This photo story is my way of bringing justice to a situation that never found justice. I want the friends and family of my fellow survivors to truly understand the emotional and spiritual damage that is done through sexual violence so they can show more compassion and support to those who have been victimized.  I want our culture to understand that this issue is not to be taken lightly and that instead of blaming and shaming victims, we need to start holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

More than anything, I want victims to know they aren’t alone.  I want them to know that God did not want their experience to happen anymore than they did, and that He is on their side.  If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual assault and you feel like they would benefit from this story, please feel free to share.

Many blessings,

Ruthie Grace

** Before clicking, please be aware that some of these photos are very graphic and could be a potential trigger for some victims of sexual assault. **

Photo Story

Advertisements

They Tell Themselves “She’s Strong”.

 

People are always telling me how strong I am…as though it’s a compliment or something.  But it isn’t…not for me.  Because I never feel strong, and being told I’m strong feels insulting when I am hands down the weakest person I know.  When my life’s story is that I have always been the unwanted, unloved, ignored, insulted, or abandoned one who never even had the guts or strength to breathe without apologizing for taking up someone else’s air.  The one so desperate for a friend that she’d jump at any measure of attention just because it felt like hope that I was worth something.  And that’s all I ever wanted from before I can remember – to just feel and be worth more than someone else’s beating post.  But I never was.  And nobody ever sees that. Why?  Because nobody thinks about the people they perceive as “strong”, even if those people are dying right in front of them.

The reality is I’m not strong, and never have been.  But nobody ever saw that and so I numbed the pain, shut everyone out, pursued abusive relationships, and sold my soul to the devil just because he offered a better looking lie than any reality I had ever known.  I lost myself and the capacity to handle life without completely tuning out or shutting down.  And now it takes every ounce of sanity and strength I have, every single day, just to pretend to be normal for long enough to keep people from asking too many questions.

Strong?  I have never been strong.  And I hate being told that I am because I can’t even hold myself together long enough to get through a day without thinking about how nice it would be to not wake up.  But nobody ever sees that because, quite frankly, they just don’t want to.  So they tell themselves, “she’s strong.”

Internal Battles Wage

fork-in-the-road1

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both.

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could,

To where it bent in the undergrowth.”

~ Robert Frost


No one else can pave the road on which I’m meant to walk.  And though I’ve always known this to be true, it seems a lesson in need of continual re-learning.  Where the idea came from that someone else would make a way for me, I’m not really sure.  But it somehow always creeps into my realm of expectation.  Or perhaps just desire…

Growing up, I was daily fed the message that I am stupid and incapable of making good decisions and to say that I internalized the message would be an understatement.  Despite the stubborn willfulness and fierce need for independence that seems so inherent to my nature, I also spent my entire life in the type of environment where personal will and independent thought were punishable by verbal and emotional death.  I can’t tell you how many times a simple question, meant to try and understand the chaotic world around me, was returned with an assault so heavy I would have begged for physical beatings instead.  The very thought of self-will was annihilated at a very young age, wholly replaced by fears and insecurities about my capacity, or even right, to make decisions for myself.   I learned almost immediately that I had no right to make decisions at all, especially for myself, and that doing so would bring nothing but years of pain and regret.  Though it has been six years since cutting cords with that environment, those messages effectively wove their way through every fiber of my being, making life as an adult difficult to say the least.

From many books I’ve read on the subject, my difficulty in decision making is a sad but common side-effect of growing up with narcissistic parents.  It’s like an ongoing trauma-response from the emotional and psychological assaults of my youth, infinitely compounded by the power differential inherent in the parent-child relationship as well as the tenderness and vulnerability of the age at which they came. Now I find myself at 30 years old, with all the expectations that come with the age, and completely paralyzed each time I am asked to make a decision.  My instinctual reaction is fight-or-flight, knowing that the slightest mis-step will result in a torture I will never survive.  Yet I cannot escape, as I am trapped on the other side by a determined need for honesty and truthfulness.  So what happens then?  Paralysis.  Depending on the magnitude of the situation, it may take me days or even months to work through the fear-response enough to make an honest, non-fear-based response or decision, but by that time it usually no longer matters.

What’s more difficult than decisions are the responses I frequently get from people who assume motives behind my actions without even knowing me or speaking to me about it at all.  I often get passed off as flaky, uncaring, disinterested, or snobby simply because I’m momentarily incapable of speaking my mind, instantly organizing my millions of thoughts into words, or forming a decision in the moment it is asked of me.  I tend to see things in a variety of ways, with multiple meanings and outworkings, and from many different perspectives all at once.  When asked a direct question, I usually have to ask a few clarifying questions in return before I can know where to direct my thoughts at all.  To even form an opinion requires that I have all the facts and information up front; otherwise, I’m stuck and have nowhere to go.  Apparently, some people think I’m supposed to know everything without knowing anything at all.  (Talk about frustrating).  The truth is,  I often don’t know what I think about something until I’ve taken a long time to consider all the different options, given I have all the facts.  I certainly don’t know how I feel until I think and perhaps walk through multiple variations of the thing, and then think on that even more.  Come to think of it, it’s  a miracle to have a solid feeling or desire at all.  One that isn’t motivated by panic, fear, or trauma anyways.

How anyone assumes they know what I think is entirely beyond me, considering I almost never have enough information to think anything at all.  However, I’m learning that many people in my life have disliked this quality.  Many lose interest about three words in to an answer I may have, and don’t give a care about what I say once they realize I’m thinking my way through things instead of shouting out an immediate position.  It used to hurt me tremendously and make me feel as though there was something inherently wrong with me, but now I’m learning to value the quality.   Most people I meet throw their unthoughtful feelings around as indisputable fact; and though I try never to laugh at anyone to their face, that is usually the response I most desire to give.  I’ve learned it’s much better just to walk away.

Anyways, I do hope I will live long enough to see the day where I no longer fear decisions and speaking my true thoughts.  But until then, I’ll just keep working…and writing…through the internal battles that continual to wage.