Mental Health · Personal · Recovery · Social Justice

An Open Letter from a Survivor

I try not to write about politics on this blog because I know that we all come from different backgrounds, viewpoints, and understandings of what it looks like to have a just and well-functioning society. However, this election has affected my health and so many others’, so I truly believe that I would not be doing my God-given job of writing about recovery if I were to ignore this topic, to pretend that Donald Trump isn’t our president-elect. I pray that you find this healing and informative, regardless of where on the political spectrum you reside.

Trigger warnings for rape and suicidal ideation apply.

To say that I’m shocked and saddened by the nation I now live in would be an understatement. At times, it feels like the grief could crush my chest and kill me in an instant.

I’m working through this grief. I’m part of a few different demographic groups who feel particularly threatened by the victory of Donald Trump, so I go through perhaps the entire spectrum of human emotions within a single day. One of the identities that I hold that makes this election outcome particularly difficult to swallow is survivor of sexual assault. Donald Trump has been accused by more than 10 women from ages 13 and up of sexual assault. And he is going to be our next president. Survivors around the nation and, truly, the world, grieve this and wonder how much more deeply rape culture will be engrained into the very fabric of our society because of this victory.

In 2013, when I created Illness to Wellness, I decided to, as my drawing at the top of this post says, let go of my secrets in order to help free others and myself from feeling alone – unseen and unheard. In 2015, I decided to write poetry or a piece of creative writing each day to chronicle my life and recovery. That summer, I was brutally raped. That deeply affected my soul, recovery, viewpoint of the world, and writings about my life. I chronicled the progress of my case as it went through the legal system and as I mourned the deep loss when they did not prosecute it because of how badly my detective had bungled it. As I healed, it came up less and less in my mind. During this election cycle, I was consistently triggered, and now, one of my worst nightmares is happening. We will have a rapist for president.

What does that say to survivors around the world?

I wrote this piece in April 2015 after I lost my case and God helped me to forgive my rapist and the broken legal system through which my detective cost me a chance at “justice.” It’s especially relevant to my life and many others’ right now. I ask you to read it – each and every excruciatingly painful and hopeful word – and to consider how to stand with the survivors in your life or how to take care of yourself in this difficult time if you are a survivor yourself. It’s called “Open Letter from a Survivor.” It’s written to other survivors, God, my rapist, the legal system and my detective, society, the ones that walked away in the aftermath, my loved ones, my future significant others, and myself.

Again, trigger warnings for rape and suicidal ideation apply.

To other survivors:
You are not alone. Not now, not ever. Crawl if you have to, but keep moving forward in the knowledge that you are supported, loved, believed, and not at fault for what happened to you. You are part of a siblinghood of people from all walks of life who know the type of pain you do. You will never walk this path alone, but your path is yours and no one else’s. Walk it in the ways that are most healing to you. There are more resources than you could ever imagine; find the ones that help make your heart sing again. Talk. Scream. Dance. Create. Write. Read. Commune. Speak up, whether in therapy or on a stage outside of your government’s office, demanding change. Do what you need to do. I will be here for you, no matter your choices. I will always be here for you.

To God:
While I know that someday in heaven, You will explain everything in Your perfect plan to me, I don’t know if I’ll ever completely understand why pain and hardship happen here on earth. I don’t know if I’ll ever completely understand why on Friday, July 25th, 2014, I was brutally raped at a party. You have given me hints here and there, showing me snippets of the things that I’ve been able to do and the empathic conversations that I’ve had since becoming a survivor, the deep-rooted fire and passion that now eternally resides in my soul for people who are abused, oppressed, and treated as lesser in any form. These are the types of things and levels of passion that only someone who has been in the trenches themselves can have. I know that You are forever turning this suffering around for me because I am one of Your beloved children. I know that You are even more heartbroken and infuriated by the mess that the world is than I could ever be because You see everything – every single moment that hatred is acted upon instead of love. You are desperately waiting for us to come back to You and ask how to make this world and ourselves better (and then actually go out and do it). I know that someday, there will be no more tears and no more pain. I excitedly await the day when the earth no longer has evil, rape, abuse, violence, oppression, tragedy, disaster, bigotry, hatred, ostracism, people who climb up by putting others down. I pray that I get to see it. But even more than that, I pray for Your people who are suffering. I pray that they know how closely You have wrapped them in Your arms, whether or not they know You personally; that You will never leave them nor forsake them. I pray that they find comfort in Your hand. I know I have. Thank You for the privilege of being Yours. Thank You for helping me forgive and begin my steps forward. Thank You for being the Rock upon which I began my ascent from rock bottom.

To my rapist:
If I ever had the desire to see your face again, I would tell you this: I forgive you. I don’t know if you deserve that forgiveness. I don’t know if you made an honest mistake and proceeded to lie to the detective because you didn’t want the whole rest of your life to be defined by 45 minutes at a party that went horrifically wrong. I don’t know if, in speaking up, I scared you enough to make sure you never do that again. But you got away with it and the average rapist has 6 victims. I wonder what number I was. I wonder how many will come after me. I pray for you daily because I am petrified about the people who have crossed your path or will in the future. I am terrified for the people who walk into a bedroom with you. I am scared about the state of your soul and who you are. I only talked to you a little bit that fateful night; you seemed nice, mature, charming. I pray that you really are that, that you made a single terrible mistake and will never come within a mile of repeating it. I’ll never know because I know better than to try to piece together the shards of that night even once more. I had to replay it constantly for a while in order to try to fight you through a system I thought I could trust, but thankfully, that movie has finally stopped playing each night in the cinema of my mind. I don’t know you and I never will, but you came damn close to wrecking my entire life. I sat on my couch, a few months later with two friends holding thin strands of my life together, sobbing and saying I didn’t know if anyone would miss me if I were gone, wondering aloud if it would be easier to numb the pain permanently. But they got me up. They got me up and I am still alive. I now am thriving, no longer a hollow shell of the woman I once was, but a new creation. You still affect my life in triggers that lurk throughout the world, but they’re getting less frequent and less loud, and God helped me forgive you. I pray that you deserve that forgiveness, that you earn it by never repeating what you did to me.

To the legal system, especially my detective:
You let me down. You let so many of us down. In the end, you hurt me more than my rapist ever could. You tried to make me think it was my fault; that I showed up at the sexual assault unit to brag about a late-night escapade. You have not even a partial clue of how problematic that is. I know who I am and I know what happened, but I know that you have convinced far more than one person that what happened to them was something that they asked for or even deserved. Your actions literally made me sick for months. I had anxiety so bad that I couldn’t crack open a book at school, depression so bad that I considered ending my life, and triggers so bad that I missed out on a good portion of the lighthearted joy that my classmates were luxuriating in. But in the end, God helped me to forgive you, too. God gave an advocate, lawyer, and victim’s specialist to me who helped me wade through bureaucratic bullshit and your terrible mistreatment of me and so many others. They reminded me that I deserved better at every step. They listened to me cry, curse, and question everything. They were there; you weren’t. I pray that you do a hell of a lot better for the next person who walks through the door. I will speak the truth because, if you wanted me to write more warmly about you, you should have behaved better. You should have done the very minimum your job requires without me having to pull your teeth and beg for attention and justice. But I forgave you, too, and I will fight to live in a world where trust in the legal system is warranted, and the nickname “justice system” is earned.

To society:
I could write an essay on rape culture and all of the reasons why it’s toxic, but I don’t want to make bile fill my mouth with bitterness. Look it up yourself. Educate yourself. The rates of false reporting are no higher than any other crime. There is no other crime that people assume you somehow “asked for.” Support survivors. We didn’t ask for this identity. We didn’t want it. We had it thrust upon us. We ask you to care about us. To make it so that the legal system is a place we can trust again. To not judge us when we decide not to go forward and press charges. To let us make our own decisions. To not ask us what we were wearing, if we were drinking, if we had indicated interest, if our sexual past lined us up for this. We will tell you everything we want you to know, and no more, and please do not tell our story without our permission. Please ask us instead what you can do for us. Please stand up for us when people victim-blame and doubt our stories. Please. Please. Please.

To the ones that walked away:
Thank you for the good times we did have along the way. To be fair, it was a difficult period to be a part of my life. But even more than it was difficult to be part of it, it was difficult to lead it, and your unexpected absence made it more so. However, in the end, I forgave you, too. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it looks a lot like self-destruction at points. You missed out on seeing me grow into a stronger woman. You really missed out. I used to think it was my loss, but it was yours. It always will be. You walked away from a friend who cared deeply about you and would have been there for you in a heartbeat, had it been you going through turmoil. I wish you the best.

To my loved ones:
I can never find quite the right words to express my gratitude and appreciation for you. I guess “thank you endlessly and infinitely” is as close as it’s going to get. I love you more than I could ever express in words. Thank you for sitting with me when I was in darkness, celebrating with me when I was in light, and repeating that cycle with me every time it happened. Thank you for your words of encouragement, love, acts of service, quality time, and everything else that you have given to me. Thank you for wanting to learn how to support me well, even when we have our communication missteps and you accidentally trigger me or say the wrong thing here and there. I appreciate you bringing laughter and joy back into my life when I wondered if I would ever fully feel it again. I just cannot tell you how important you have been to my healing and how grateful I am that you have chosen to walk alongside me in it. Thank you for cheering me on at all of the little milestones of healing. Thank you for making sure that I would never feel alone in this. Thank you. Just thank you.

To my future significant other(s):
I’m really excited to lean into your grasp and know with everything in my heart and mind that I won’t get hurt in your arms. I’m nervous, too, understandably. It’s hard to tell someone you love that once upon a time, someone hurt you badly and it’s affected your relationship with your body and sense of sexuality and identity (to name just a few things that it once had a chokehold on, but still affects to a lesser degree, even to this day). I don’t want to see the pain in your eyes as you reflect mine, but I must tell you. It is a part of my history that will always matter. God and I looked long and hard for you, though; we looked for someone who would be just the right one to walk besides me, and we picked you. I trust you. I believe in you. I’m excited to share intimate moments with you. I will wait patiently for you and I will be ready for you when you show up. I pray that you will take this adventure with me wholeheartedly and with an open mind to learn how to love a survivor best. I’m excited for you to come along, but in the meantime, I will heal as a single woman surrounded by countless loved ones and a strong professional support team; I will not be alone until then.

To myself, the survivor herself:
You are not just growing back; you are becoming a new creation. You are amazing. You are amazing on days where you reach milestones and blow your own expectations out of the water. You are amazing on days when your anxious thoughts could pile to the ceiling if you opened your skull. You are amazing, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You have come so far and you will continue to meet your goals because that’s who you are. What happened to you on Friday, July 25th, 2014, is one facet of you, but you are Emily Ferstandig Arnold, and you are so much more than what happened to you. You are who you chose to become after.

I’m healing. Not healed, but I’m on my way.

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