How long does it take to “get over” sexual trauma?
It’s an interesting question.
I have many friends who have been sexually assaulted and/or raped, and I think because I’m very open and honest about my experiences and how I’ve managed the resulting trauma, these friends feel comfortable talking to me about their experiences and trauma.
Without trying to sound too “good vibes only” — I’m genuinely honoured to be considered a safe space. I’m also aware of the need to sometimes protect myself from being re-traumatised by other people’s stories.
The question that I get asked the most often is “how long does this last?”
Full disclosure, I am not a therapist or a counsellor: I can only speak from my own experience.
The most helpful thing my first counsellor said to me right at the beginning of my therapy was that what had been done to me could not be undone. No amount of fury, pleading, fucking, drinking, bargaining was ever going to undo the fact that my then-boyfriend raped me.
She told me that this would always, always be a part of me, but that it was up to me how big a part I wanted it to be.
I stopped asking “why” and started asking “what’s next?”
What was next was 3 months of talk therapy, about 12 months of feeling better, trauma reappearing because even though I’d thought I was “better” or “fixed” I wasn’t, three months of psychosexual therapy, adjusting medication, obsessive research, learning to sleep…
And writing about all of it.
I am always open about my history with abuse. It’s not my secret to carry — I did nothing to be ashamed of, so I refuse to hide it. I learned that trying to keep it all secret was actually way more harmful than being honest about the truly shitty things that were done to me.
And in light of that honesty, I have to say that I don’t know how long the aftershocks of abuse and trauma stick around.
I’m 8 years on from my PTSD fuelled breakdown, and 13 years on from my first experience of rape*, and while I don’t think about it all day every day any more, I do still think about it.
It frames some of my decision making. It certainly plays a role in who I choose to have physical relationships with.
I can still get badly triggered. IWD and Sexual Assault Awareness Month were NOT good times for me this year. I genuinely could not listen to any more people claiming to be shocked by the statistics behind domestic violence and sexual assault. If you’re shocked, then you haven’t been paying attention.
But that’s another post entirely.
My answer to how long does this last is that it depends.
It depends on the medical help you receive (both in terms of medicinal treatments and psychological treatments). It depends on your support system. It depends on how much work you are willing or capable of putting into your recovery (and if you’re not currently capable of doing more than putting one foot in front of the other, that is more than okay).
There isn’t a timeline for recovery. And recovery can look different for everyone.
For me personally, it’s always with me. Some days it’s an enormous, awkward and heavy cardboard box that I struggle to carry on my own.
Some days it’s the smallest little paper envelope that sits in my back pocket and weighs so little I forget that it’s there.
For me, it’s never one hundred percent gone — but sometimes it’s so light that I don’t even have to think about how to carry it. I just do.
*and by rape I’m referring to forced penetration. I’m not referring to other forms of sexual assault or harassment that I and countless others have experienced. Those experiences are valid, and no one has to prove, reason or justify how they feel about it, to me or to anyone else.