How to Find Strength Through Pain
5 women share their stories of healing and stepping into a brighter future.
She was different. There was this energy that drew me in, an authentic joy that overflowed all around her, and a presence that everyone wanted to be close to.
Ever seen a woman like this? I have. And it wasn’t until I met this wonderful person that reality struck. I was so far off from being who I wanted to be. This was the energy and the presence I wanted to embody.
But how did she get there? And why wasn’t I there, yet?
It would be easy to assume this woman had a perfect life, an easy path to become so….magnetic and strong. But she didn’t, and the more we spoke, the more I learned how similar some of our experiences were, especially the hard ones.
After talking more, she revealed that she had been raped and experienced sexual assault more than once in her life. She shared this with me as though it didn’t control her, it didn’t shower over her every decision, nor define who she was. At this moment, I knew, I wanted to feel the same way.
This propelled me on a mission to learn from other women who have also found strength, despite, or even as a result of, painful events.
I submitted a query online asking to talk with women who had found a brighter light after sexual assault and harassment. What happened was beyond what I expected…a flood of incredible women stepped forward to share their stories, women who had endured so much pain, yet ultimately found incredible courage and have gone on to build beautiful lives.
While I couldn’t share them all, I did speak with 5 incredible women about their journey to healing from sexual assault and trauma. While everyone’s story is different, they each had a powerful lesson to share. In the hopes of helping others, here are five ways to heal and reconnect with the strength that lives inside of you.
1. Accept what happened.
Catherine Nguyen. Professional Photographer whose work has appeared in many lifestyle and home magazines, as well as, being the still photographer for the HGTV Show Love It or List It.
Her Story: Catherine was assaulted and left tied up and gagged in her apartment. She was able to mumble over speakerphone to call a friend who contacted 911. This happened just three days before her 22nd birthday. For years she lived in fear of the day her assailant would be released (only receiving an 11-year sentence), but after a second trial was brought to life due to DNA evidence with another victim, he was sentenced to life in prison.
“It was awful to relive the case, but it was the right thing to do for me and for the other person he had assaulted. He got a life sentence the second time around. I felt relief. I didn’t have to worry about him getting out again.”
As painful as this day, and the shadows of it that followed have been, Catherine has built a successful life with the grace of refining her craft.
There are gifts and talents within each of us, and it is often through them that we find the most healing, the most strength, and the most power. Find what you love most and allow it to be a beacon for your healing process.
The biggest step to healing: For Catherine, the first thing she did to begin healing was, “accepting that what happened to me was, in fact, sexual assault.” The commonality of questioning what happened is unprecedented. After assault, many people feel immense shame, guilt, and even denial of what occurred. Catherine found strength over the years through the aid of therapy.
“A large part of dealing with all of my emotions has been with the help of therapists. Talking about what happened, rather than hiding it, also helps. I realized that what happened to me was most definitely not my fault and that I should not feel ashamed that it happened.”
Her message: “Don’t be afraid to tell the truth. Don’t think that you “should be over it by now”. It’s ok that when the date of your assault comes around every year, you remember it. It’s ok to take time to take care of yourself.”
2. Find trust to share.
Alyssa Hoffman. CEO of Fearlyss Entertainment
Her Story: Life didn’t start easily for Alyssa. At the age of 7, she began to be abused by a family member into later years in life. At the age of 27, she left an abusive romantic relationship and began to find her way.
“I quit my Fortune 500 job, sold my possessions, moved on to a tour bus, and started managing a rock and roll band.”
The biggest step to healing: Sharing her story is where her recovery into strength began. On tour, Alyssa shared,
“there was nowhere for me to hide on a tour bus, living in a hallway with eight people, especially eight loving people. When my demons wanted to come out and play, I didn’t have to fight it alone. Being able to communicate with other human beings something that I had never spoken aloud was the first step in reclaiming who I was and not identifying with what had happened to me.”
So often people associate an event to their identity, what happens to you…becomes who you are. Whether it is sexual assault, physical violence, or trauma of any kind…the response tends to be…“you are a victim”. If that is the case, you may find yourself identifying as a victim in other areas of life. But that doesn’t have to be true.
When you begin to see this is a single event, a certain moment in your life…and not all of who you are, life expands. Instead of “being a victim” you become a powerful, strong, and beautiful person…which is what you have been all along. The band she manages wrote a song called “No More,” a direct response to the same incestual sexual abuse that she encountered. They sing it here.
Her message: “Right now, sexual abuse is normal, and talking about it is not. It’s my hope that we can create and cultivate an environment where conversations and healing are normal and the event is not.”
3. Look to the future.
Robyn Couch. A professional life coach who helps others discover opportunities for growth and inspiration to succeed.
Her Story: Robyn was assaulted while working in the military and when she raised awareness of the event to her commanding Officer she was called a “people pleaser and that there was something about me that suggested I was a soft target.”
By coming forward, this spurred her to push the Australian Defense Forces to create change on how women and men received treatment. Through this trauma, she was able to change the structure of the Australian Defense Force Academy.
While stepping forward and speaking up can be difficult, she was able to use this event to improve the structure of an organization and create a brighter future.
The biggest step to healing: Through allowing life to continue, Robyn found strength. She shared,
“becoming a mother was the biggest step. No longer were scars from that night what marked my body. I created life and a family out of love and strength.”
Her message: You are more than an event in your life. Robyn wished she had known that she was “not defined by any singular event in my life.” While it may feel as though a moment will impact you forever, it is how you view the future and move forward from it that defines you. She added, “you are powerful, and loving yourself gets easier in time.”
4. Build Community.
Katie Grimes. Sober Dating Coach specializing in helping women heal their hearts from trauma as well as sex and love addictions.
Her Story: Katie was a victim of brutal rape, that haunted her for years,
“Shame caused me to hunch my shoulders so far forward that my neck and back ached, blame caused me to be unable to get out of bed most days..as I would shut my eyes to go to bed at night, I’d replay the scenes of my rape again and again and again.”
The cycle of shame, guilt, and confusion led her on a path to recovery, where her experience transformed into a passion to coach other women to find love after trauma.
The biggest step to healing: Katie began to “attend free group meetings at a local rape crisis center. These 9 other women and the group leaders shared experience, strength, and hope that made me, week after week, realize that the shame and guilt I felt and my inability to work a full 8 hours was very common. That I could be patient with my mind and body because it was healing and I was not alone in my feelings.”
Trauma, especially that which creates shame and embarrassment, is a recipe for isolation. You want to hide this “dirty secret” from the world and so it gets buried in your pocket right next to a lint ball. In a society where there is already a loneliness epidemic unfolding, a connection is needed more than ever. Understanding that pain has a social aspect that can help shift the idea around revealing how we feel. While it may feel like this is something that only you can bare, recognize that you are not alone.
Her message: Find others on your healing journey for support, “finding others was instrumental in my healing…find a mentor, someone who has been through this and healed, it’s crucial for your emotional fitness that you don’t do this alone.”
5. Allow the feelings to be present.
Madison. Founder of PsychicHerbs & A Wellness Practicition
Her Story: Madison experienced sexual assault at a young age and into her young adulthood (19) when she was kidnapped and assaulted in Brooklyn. She has since become an activist for sex workers and survivors. But that isn’t all, she is a successful artist, clinical herbalist, and reiki practitioner who specializes in sexual wellness and mental health.
The biggest step to healing: Allowing herself the permission for “feeling what happened to me — letting it sink in. I still struggle to admit that what happened to me was real. We all deal with trauma differently. For me, I detach…it’s like it happened to another person. It’s extremely difficult but crucial to sit with the pain (in a safe space).”
Detachment and disassociation are common reactions to trauma and often arise in attempts to provide protection. While a “this didn’t affect me and I am fine” mentality may feel like the strong thing to do, for most, in time, it cascades over any healing and growth. Finding the strength within yourself to face the truth, to face the feelings, and the pain from an event is the hardest thing to do, and also the most rewarding if you let it in. Have grace for yourself and where you are in the healing process.
Her message: You are not alone.
“I wish I had known that sexual assault is common. I’m not alone. I’m not ruined. I don’t have to live misunderstood.”
Each of these women’s stories is unique and different, yet one commonality threads through their words — strength is built through pain.
The hardest moments of life have been some of the biggest opportunities to become the most powerful and strongest versions of themselves.
So often we look to the happy moments in life to know who we are, but it is through the darkest moments that our truth can be found.
Whether you have experienced sexual assault, harassment, or any form of trauma, know that it doesn’t have to hold you back; it doesn’t have to continue to seep pain into your life every day. Instead, allow sunlight to shine into your heart, allow laughter to fill you up, and allow your strength to spread all around you.
I hope the bold words of these courageous women have helped you, as they have helped me. The truth is, strength never leaves you, it is always there. It’s a matter of turning around to see it inside of yourself.
You are not a victim…You are strong.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we become stronger and more resilient.” -Steve Maraboli
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