7 Tips For Dating A Survivor of Sexual Abuse or Assault

couple in bed holding each other tenderly

As a sexual abuse survivor, dating terrifies me. Abuse taught me that a relationship meant losing all of my agency and performing sexual acts I didn’t want to — “no” wasn’t an option. Subsequent relationships have been mixed at best, from the partner who got mad when I froze during sex, to the dates when I could barely squeak out what my job title is because I was so petrified.

Survivors like me are not rare, especially considering the statistics. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, including both male and female victims. This means at some point in your dating life, odds are you will encounter a survivor.

“If we’re going to be dating, and if we’re going to be dating a lot, we’re going to run into someone who probably is a sexual assault survivor,” says Cynthia Stocker, a licensed clinical social worker with more than 30 years of experience. “It’s really pretty common.”

Dating as a survivor often brings out traumatic memories, sensations, and emotions because of past experiences. When a current partner is empathetic, educated, and understanding, however, that can make dating easier to manage for both parties.

With that in mind, here are seven tips for dating a survivor. Continue reading 7 Tips For Dating A Survivor of Sexual Abuse or Assault

The History of Inhumane Mental Health Treatments

lobotomy brain diagram

Mental health treatment today is no walk in the park — from insurance companies denying coverage, to a lasting stigma, to the fact that the many of the most severely mentally ill among us to their own devices on the streets or relegated to prison. It’s an understatement to say that there is work left to be done. Yet, the inhumane history of mental health treatment reminds us how far we have already come.

Asylums

While terrifying mental health remedies can be traced back to prehistoric times, it’s the dawn of the asylum era in the mid-1700s that marks a period of some of the most inhumane mental health treatments. This is when asylums themselves became notorious warehouses for the mentally ill.

“The purpose of the earliest mental institutions was neither treatment nor cure, but rather the enforced segregation of inmates from society,” writes Jeffrey A. Lieberman in Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry. “The mentally ill were considered social deviants or moral misfits suffering divine punishment for some inexcusable transgression.” Continue reading The History of Inhumane Mental Health Treatments

The Stories PTSD Tells Me

woman on floor next to shower white towel

This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others.

Images flash back through my mind.

I am locked in a dark office in the corner of another locked room during a free class period of the high school day. I’m balanced precariously on the edge of a desk with my legs wrapped around his body, the bulge in his pants gyrating in the crook between my legs. My mind wanders and eventually lands on my aching muscles, my trembling arms and legs. They’re not going to hold much longer.

He is standing fully clothed, his usual beat-up brown loafers planted on the floor. I smell his Cheer-washed dress shirt and Dial soap-scrubbed skin. His Docker’s are hemmed a couple inches too short. He is 43. I am 17. Those loafers rise and fall off the floor with every thrust of his crotch into me, the friction of fabric on fabric a barely noticeable sensation. All my attention focuses on my awkward position on this desk — my muscles ache and burn in protest.

He grinds away, oblivious in ecstasy, his face turned upwards, making those moaning sounds. Finally, my body overrides my mental willpower to stay upright and my muscles collapse. I start to fall off the desk, headed toward the floor, before he catches me and props me back on the desk.

Other memories follow. Continue reading The Stories PTSD Tells Me

The History of PTSD

soldier holding another in his arms

June is PTSD Awareness Month. To participate in raising awareness and challenging the stigma of mental illness, we are publishing several pieces that show what it means to live with PTSD.

Soldier’s heart. Shell shock. Combat exhaustion. Traumatic neurosis. Gross stress disorder. Combat fatigue. Rape trauma syndrome. Post Vietnam syndrome. It’s gone by many names, but post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been cataloged for thousands of years. In fact, descriptions of PTSD can be traced to ancient texts such as The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Soldiers from nearly every war, accident victims, and survivors of natural disasters, rape, and child abuse have exhibited the classic signs of PTSD, including reliving the event, avoidance, negative beliefs, and hyperarousal.

To best tell PTSD’s story, World Wars I and II — and particularly the Vietnam War and Women’s Movement in the 1970s — best capture the evolution of the diagnosis, treatment, and popular perception of what is now code 309.81 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: PTSD. Continue reading The History of PTSD

It’s Time To Retire These Self-Harm Alternatives

red marker cap off

I started self-injuring when I was 17-years-old, the result of not knowing how to manage the overwhelming emotions accompanying years of sexual abuse by a teacher. Self-injury became my way of expressing extreme feelings of fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness, shame, and a complete loss of control. Over time, self-injury became the only way I knew how to deal with emotions, and I didn’t know what else to do.

When I decided I wanted to stop self-harming, the only information I could find advised me to color on my arms with markers, snap a rubber band on my wrist or hold an ice cube. If I was angry, the suggestions were to “get it out” by punching pillows, ripping magazines or throwing ice against a wall.

Well, in short, drawing on my arms with red marker only increased my desire to see real blood and holding ice cubes didn’t hurt enough. At the end of the day, all I wanted to do was cut or burn for real. And I still felt overwhelmed.

It turns out I’m not alone in this experience, and these popular substitute self-injury alternatives are partly to blame. Continue reading It’s Time To Retire These Self-Harm Alternatives