April is Child Abuse Prevention Month as well as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While a specific month has been set aside to raise awareness and educate, it is my goal to share stories, interviews & such on any day of any month. I reached out to a few of my close virtual friends and asked if they would mind sharing some of their experiences, stories and opinions regarding these topics. Today’s feature is from the creative, humorous and very strong Vanessa.
SLY: Who are you?
Vanessa: My name is Vanessa. I’m a jewelry designer and a loving mother to two adorable cats. I’m a daughter, a sister, a best friend. I’m also a survivor of sexual assault.
SLY: Does Sexual Assault Awareness month and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Month hold any significant meaning to you? If so, why?
Vanessa: Sexual Assault Awareness month holds significant meaning to me because I am a survivor of sexual assault. Where I live in Canada, our Sexual Assault Awareness Month is October, and every fall the local colleges and Universities hold a Take Back The Night march. A few years ago I attended my first TBTN march at a different college, and I felt so inspired and empowered. Our local University held their TBTN march a few weeks later and I brought my mother out to march with me.
SLY: What is your story?
Vanessa: When I was two weeks shy of my twelfth birthday, I was sexually assaulted at gun point, in a church by a youth group leader. Years later at the age of 19 I was sexually assaulted by a man I met in an online chatroom. This was before it was a publicized issue that there were predators online so I thought that it would be perfectly safe to meet him and hang out since we happened to live in the same city. When I went to press charges it ended up being my word against his and my case, like so many others, never made it to trial.
Vanessa: The youth group leader who assaulted me when I was almost 12 told me that I had a beautiful smile. That was something I could never get out of my head. I went to four sessions of counseling when I was 14 years old but decided that it wasn’t for me at the time because I wasn’t ready to deal with the issues dealing with the sexual assault. As a result of refusing to deal with what had happened to me, I struggled with abusive relationships, panic and anxiety attacks, low self esteem, self mutilation, and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I stopped taking care of myself, especially my teeth. As a result at the age of 25 I had to have 27 teeth removed, replacing them with complete upper and partial bottom dentures.
SLY: According to some statistics, very few people report abuse & assault crimes. Why do you think that is?
Vanessa: I think a lot of it has to do with fear and shame. Fear of judgment, fear of not being believed. I know for me personally, those two fears as well as the fear of the assailant holding true to his threats that he would kill me and my family if I ever reported it, kept me silent for a number of years until we moved out of province.
SLY: Do you think abusers, rapist, molesters, pedophiles and the likes can be reformed, healed or changed?
Vanessa: I wouldn’t say “NO WAY” but..it’s definitely a rare occurrence. Will I trust my children to be alone in the presence of someone who was charged with one of these crimes? Definitely not.
SLY: What do you want others to understand about those who have been victimized?
Vanessa: I would like for others to understand that what happened to us is not our fault and we are not to blame. It doesn’t matter what we were wearing, where we were hanging out, if we had a few drinks or did a few drugs – NOBODY asks to be assaulted. I would also like for others to understand healing takes lots of time and lots of patience, and that everyone heals at different rates and in their own ways. When we talk about our experiences we aren’t necessarily seeking answers or advice – sometimes we just want someone to listen..to hear us. If someone confides in you that they were assaulted or abused, please listen to them. Try not to judge, or give unsolicited advice. Unless you have gone through a similar situation, you cannot possibly know how you would react or what you would do in that situation. Above all, please understand that the healing process is going to take time and please, please, please be patient – I can’t tell you how hurtful it was when people would tell me that they wished that I would just get over it and move on already. Trust me, if I could just move on – I totally would.
SLY: Whats been the most difficult thing to deal with as it relates to what you’ve experienced?
Vanessa: The self-hatred. The shame. It’s manifested itself in many ways over the years..self-injury, an eating disorder, a handful of unhealthy relationships and crippling anxiety attacks. It’s all been difficult, but I would have to say the anxiety attacks were the most difficult to understand and deal with. I had some sort of control over everything else, but I couldn’t control the anxiety. I never knew when it was going to pop up, how bad it would be or how long it would last. I used to have anxiety attacks just at the thought of having an anxiety attack. They were sometimes so bad that I would be physically ill. When they first started, I had no idea what was going on – a sense of dread would come over me and I’d get the cold sweats. I’d start to feel nauseous, or scared. I seriously thought I was going insane. It’s taken many years of therapy and learning many different coping mechanisms, but I’m happy to say that it’s been more than 2 years since I’ve had a full blown anxiety attack.
SLY: How have you dealt with your own personal rage at the traumatic things that have happened to you?
Vanessa: Sadly, in the beginning, I used to harm myself, got involved in a couple of abusive relationships, eating disorders, etc. I was in therapy for a number of years and have since learned much healthier ways of coping with feelings of rage or intense anger – screaming into a pillow, beating a tree with a foam bat, and my personal favourite – having a good old fashioned crying fest!
SLY: What was an unexpected thing that aided in your growth and healing?
Vanessa: Jewelry making. At the times when my anxiety was at it’s worst, I began beading. I would spend hours sorting through hundred of tiny seed beads, counting them, separating them by colour and finally designing and stringing a necklace. Jewelry making allowed me to go into a zone..a beautiful zone where my brain would finally shut off, the thoughts would stop racing and I felt so at peace. It wasn’t very long before I had a nice inventory of handmade jewelry, and i began thinking about possibly turning my hobby into a business. When it came time to come up with a name it was easy – Fluttering Designs. My name means butterfly, and my anxiety literally made me feel like I was fluttering about. I opened an online Etsy shop shortly thereafter and was approached by small businesses who wanted to sell my jewelry on consignment, and my pieces were featured in a few local showcases and art exhibits. What’s interesting to me is that I can tell where I was in my healing just by looking at the different pieces. The multi-strand, seed bead necklaces? Those were when my anxiety was at it’s worst. The statement necklace with the chunkier beads and large pendant? That’s when my anxiety was almost non-existent. Jewelry making also aided in my healing as it lead me to a wonderful group of women, who were also sexual assault survivors and whom I consider to be some of my nearest and dearest friends. Their love, support and understanding helped me so much, and I doubt I would have ever had the honor of meeting any of them if it hadn’t been for my jewelry. It’s been a few years since I’ve many any jewelry, but I’m hoping to find the time to get back into it very soon!
SLY: What encouraging words do you have to offer for anyone who has ever been abused or assault?
Vanessa: What happened to you does not define who you are. You are a wonderful human being, who deserves love and kindness. Although at times it may feel that no one understands and you are all alone – you are never alone and you are not to blame. Be kind and patient with yourself – healing is a long and sometimes painful journey but you can and will make it to the other side.
SLY: What do you think is the most important thing the world needs to hear?
Vanessa: You are loved, you are important, you inspire. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others.
SLY: What brings you ultimate joy?
Vanessa: My cats, Thor & Odin and watching them love on each other. Spending time with my best friend. And of course, sleep. I love me some good sleep!
SLY: What’s your favorite quote?
Vanessa: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly” – Unknown
Vanessa, I don’t know where to begin. I love what you had to say about jewelry making. I feel so sad for the things that have happened to you but I also feel so incredibly proud by your healing journey. You are such a strong woman and I appreciate you sharing your story here!
If you would like to share any part of your story, be interviewed or featured on SheenaLaShay.com, just shoot me an email at SheenaLaShay [at] gmail [dot] com.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month & Child Abuse Prevention Month. Almost every day I wrote post regarding this particular issue and my personal experiences.
I create videos as a way to share my story. You can watch three related ones by clicking the titles below.
If you are a victim of abuse and assault and you would like to seek help or report your crime, please find all kinds of resources at RAINN. If you would like to share your story with me privately, be featured this month either publicly or anonymously or you just need an encouraging word, please shoot me an email at SheenaLaShay [at] Gmail [dot] com.
I write my heart out. You can read some of my musings by clicking the titles below.