Health

Healing Sexual Trauma is Possible

I, like many women (and people of other genders) am no stranger to sexual violence. When I look back on my life, there are many incidents, from seemingly minor to serious, in which my consent was violated in the sexual arena. Many of these incidents took place in romantic relationships. While it took me a long time to name those incidents for what they were: sexual assaults, I suffered as a result. Looking back, a lot of my intimacy issues stem from these traumatic experiences.

I am incredibly fortunate that prior to enduring the most painful sexual assault I’ve ever experienced I was able to learn Authentic Tantra and develop a strong Tibetan Tantric Buddhist practice. The meditations, movement practices, and, of course, the sexual practices, helped me shed layers of trauma from my mind, body, nervous system and energy system. I still recall clearly how different my body felt after enduring that final sexual assault at the hands of a client. The night before, I had made love with my partner and had felt intense bliss. After the assault, my entire body felt tense, and in pain. Emotionally, I was numb. It took a while for my full range of emotion to return. This was the beginning of what I think of as two years of walking through hell.

Even with my strong Tantric practice, I lost faith in the methods for a time. Even with the incredible grace and kindness I experienced from my community, I still faltered. I did not believe that I would ever feel better. I couldn’t sleep. My menstrual cycle, which had once been simple and nearly free of obvious symptoms, became so painful that for a week of every month I would be bedridden and vomiting from the pain. I used cannabis for the pain and started drinking heavily just to get some sort of relief from the constant tension and pain in my body. I was unable to keep up with my fitness routine, and I spent more time in front of the TV eating potato chips than I care to admit. I had gone from a woman in the best shape of her life, happily engaged to a wonderful man, to a chronically ill woman suffering agoraphobia, panic attacks, and crippling depression. During the first six months, I attempted to take my own life, unable to see another way out. My body had become hostile territory, a painful place to live. I wanted to escape the prison and death was the only way I could see.

I was extremely fortunate during those two years of intensive healing to be able to take the time I needed to heal. I was also extremely fortunate to be able to live in a sanctuary next to forests, walking trails, and away from the city that proved to be too much of a trigger for panic attacks. I was able to live with my Tantra teacher and mentor and her partner, and their friendship and support through this trying time was invaluable.

Re-learning the practice of meditation was like learning to walk again after a serious accident. I had gone from being able to meditate for extended periods of time, and rest in the feeling of bliss and relaxation, to being tense and stressed and unable to follow even ten breaths. At first, I barely attempted seated meditation because it would trigger such overpowering feelings of grief. On the meditation cushion, I had to reckon with all that I had lost, all that I was afraid I could never get back. Slowly, I persevered. I did the most basic meditations, trying to stay present with my feelings.

I knew that I could not continue to live in a body that was in so much pain, with a mind that was obscured by pain and fear and rage. I sought out many different healing modalities. Having the space to do this was invaluable. My partner was willing to take over most of the household expenses and helped me access therapy, for which I am grateful. I sought out acupuncture, which I credit for healing the chronic pain associated with my menstrual cycle. I sought out a shamanic practitioner for a soul retrieval, which I found so helpful that I sought out further training on doing journey work with a rattle or drum. During those painful years, I had many beautiful, powerful, even frightening visions during my practice of journeying. Although I will never let rapists off the hook by claiming that the experience of violation unlocked these gifts, I am grateful for my ability to go deep within to find peace after enduring such violence. Perhaps my healing would not have needed to go so deep if the wound had not been so intense.

One of the things I love most about the practice of Tantric Buddhism is how the practices can be used to alchemize pain into gold. Through the unraveling of this trauma, I was able to go very deep within in order to transform and heal it. I ended up healing not only that trauma, but others, deep traumas both genetic and pre-dating this lifetime.

Now, my faith in these methods is solid, as is my passion to share this healing modality with the world. There is no reason anyone who has suffered sexual trauma should remain in that painful, traumatized place. But healing does not happen alone. It is a community endeavour. I truly believe I would not have fully been able to alchemize my experiences if not for the loving, supportive community of which I am a part. I take great issue with the attitude that after sexual assault, there is no hope for healing. Certainly, the road is messy and non-linear, and it is on us all to create a culture in which survivors of sexual trauma (and all trauma, really) have the space to heal and thrive. I believe it is possible, if we work together.

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