Since experiencing sexual violence several years ago, my life has moved forward from various angles. With therapy, I’ve been going back and forth between the third stage of PTSD recovery, “reintegration,” and the fourth stage, “recovery,” as taught by my counselor. It seems that I can now be considered to have reached the stage of “recovery.”
Today, I’d like to write about the moment when my partner helped me reclaim my identity amid those days.
My partner participated in a sexual violence prevention program of the U.S. military.
He volunteered to engage to understand better and properly what happened to me and my emotions.
During one of the lectures, he learned about the emotions and confrontations that victims experience after an incident. They discussed the concept known as “second rape,” where victims are hurt by the words of unrelated people after the incident, and so-called “secondary trauma,” where exposure to similar incidents triggers stress, leading to symptoms like vomiting and hives. Additionally, he learned about the conflict victims face regarding their identities.
Upon learning all this, he said to me: “You wanted me to see you not as a ‘survivor’ but as ‘you,’ an individual without the label of ‘survivor,’ right? Since we met after the incident, I didn’t know the ‘you’ before the incident. I wasn’t just seeing you as a ‘survivor,’ but maybe I included that perception of you. And you were aware of how I was seeing you. I imagine that since the incident, the images of ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ have been following you, and you’ve felt as if they were controlling everything about you. But you didn’t want to be saved as a survivor; you wanted people to see you as who you are, who has positively changed a lot since before the incident. I finally understand why you recommended the book, Know My Name: A Memoir. Everything you wanted to convey is encapsulated in that title. I've finally got it now.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much for understanding.”
He continued, as I sobbed beside him. It was a bit of a unique analogy, but I found it easy to understand, so let me share it with you here.
“It's like in the movie, Spirited Away by Studio Ghibli, where Chihiro tells Haku, ‘You were the river spirit!’ Haku gets overjoyed. Haku’s happy because he wanted Chihiro, and no one else, to know his true identity. Now that I truly understand you, is that how you feel, joyful like Haku?”
You were afraid of being seen by others as a ‘survivor’ and having that define your entire existence. But you feel like it doesn’t matter anymore if you’re a survivor or not, a victim or not, and instead, you want people to recognize the ‘new you’ who has overcome countless fears and sadness?”
“That’s right. The few friends who knew me before the incident and have been with me since the most painful time after the incident have always seen me just as I am, with genuine empathy. It wasn’t that you didn’t understand, but that I thought it was inevitable that you’d see me that way because we met after the incident. I was giving up not only on you but on others as well. But thank you for learning like this and coming to me, jumping through the time when you didn’t know me.”
I think this story is relatable not only to victims of sexual violence but also to people who experienced abuse, terrible accidents, or natural disasters. For those who don’t have such experiences, it might be hard to understand. I don’t dare tell people to refer to my story, but when he said those words to me, I felt that this is how real “empathy” is.
I hope this kind of empathy spreads gradually through each person’s experience. It’d be wonderful if everyone all over the world could find their identity and live with their perspective, rather than only victims or survivors of some tragedy recognizing it through PTSD.
Written by Kiana
Translated by Kyoko Itagaki
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphics by Satomi Shikano