Suvivor’s Shame & Radical Self-Compassion

Growing from your abuse is this messy, confusing journey. I consider myself a recovering survivor, but I think there’s this assumption that my abuse was yesterday; it was 2 years ago. And sometimes I feel embarrassed that I’m still healing, and still learning how to trust others.

For my personal journey, I’ve noticed that the more I heal (or learn to cope with being a survivor) the more shame I feel for being abused in the first place. Immediately following the abuse, I understood that what happened to me was wrong. Nobody deserves rape, physical violence, fatphobic comments, etc. But the more I began to talk about being a victim of those actions, the more people questioned, How could you let this happen?

Many people see this powerful, assured woman and are confused; How did she let someone rape her? How did she let herself be abused? Or worse, they see me as a weak, stupid little girl and think, I know exactly how a bitch like this let herself be abused. 

I feel ashamed of being a survivor. I know it wasn’t my fault, I know I didn’t deserve it – but we live in a world where our past defines how people treat us. It’s not uncommon for someone to throw in your face that you were abused or hurt, and imply that your abuser’s actions towards you mean you’re incapable of intelligence, freedom, or value.

Being a Black, radical feminist sex worker should make me feel more empowered in my identity as a survivor, but it makes me more embarrassed. I know all this theory, all this practice, all these systems of oppression; how could I fail at not protecting myself? Am I a bad feminist for being abused?

Sometimes I wonder, is my advocacy to erase what happened to me? Like, maybe if I advocate for women to center themselves, it will get rid of my past as a survivor? Maybe if I embody Strong, Powerful, Black Girl enough, people will forget I was weak at one point? It is exhausting to be in this never-ending, self-imposed journey of convincing others that your abuse is a part of your story, but it’s not who you are.

It took me a long time to find a space to even freely discuss what happened to me; the financial abuse, the rape, the emotional violence. It was something, I knew, I could only tell another survivor; only they would get it. Only we could share our shame at being hurt.

Shame makes me feel like I have to hide parts of myself from others. I…avoid talking about the intimate details of my abuse to most people. I share enough to make people feel like I’m opening up, but I really just want to disappear, conceal distressing information, and hide from others. 

I hear the way others talk about victims of abuse and I wonder, If they didn’t like me, would they talk about me this way, too? Something I experienced when my abuser’s identity became widely known was how folks who didn’t like me personally (maybe we had a disagreement, maybe we just didn’t mesh) were so at peace with me being abused. I realized how much we are complacent, or even malicious when someone we don’t like personally is harmed in violent ways. I am always in fear that if I don’t appease people, that they will suddenly believe the things my abuser did to me were okay.

How do we heal this shame? Why is it here? It is this invisible, heavy burden that rears its ugly head every time something disparaging is said about a survivor because we are all one. Our stories are different, but our shame is the same. When you talk about one of us, you talk about all of us; and while that is an empowering way to create community, it is a lifetime of consistent triggers and realizations that people don’t really care about you.

I am trying to be compassionate with myself – to remind myself that I am valuable even if something horrible happened to me. My value is not contingent upon me avoiding abuse.

As I enter into the anniversary of the public outing of my abuser, I struggle to extend myself the grace I deserve and see myself as my future, and not my past. I look towards my friends to hold me accountable for not remaining in perpetual victimhood, and noticing patterns of abuse in my other relationships to create a future where my past cannot exist. I lean on them, and the rest of my support group, to see me as more than a victim and push me to grow in ways I can’t yet fathom. Radical love is something I give for others, but I starting to see it’s something I need to give myself.

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