So most of you know I was a rape victim advocate in hospital ERs for almost ten years. That's a long time to be an advocate. There's a high level of burn-out with advocates who are essentially alone in ERs, serving on the front lines for people who have just had something horrible happen to them.
One of the things that we talked a lot about during that time was vicarious trauma. Basically, this is when the stories that you hear impact you deeply and you experience trauma yourself as a result. I think all of us experience this in one way or another during every day living. You hear things or people tell you things and it hits you very hard. With rape victim advocates, what makes this more difficult is that there's no distancing yourself from these victims. You don't just hear one story, you hear stories over and over again. With people who work with trauma victims every day, this is particularly grueling.
My friend Ally works with torture survivors. She has for almost twenty years. This is incredible to me because I can only imagine the amount of vicarious trauma she must have experienced. Ally doesn't watch sad movies. When I asked her about it once, she said, "It's just too much. I can't have all those feelings after work as well." Ally would also be the first to talk about how amazing the people that she works with are, how positive and resilient. I wish everyone could know Ally. She's amazing and formidable.
When I attended the survivor's testimonial writing workshop, it was pretty intense. Two days of survivor stories. Lots of vicarious trauma. And part of why I wrote TRAINWRECK was to be able to put those feelings somewhere.
But I didn't realize that writing this book would open another door. In telling this story and in being very outspoken about the issue of sexual assault, I have had so many people talk to me about their own stories. So many people coming forward with their truths. This is such a huge act of bravery and I feel so absolutely blessed to be the recipient of these gifts. I know how hard it is to tell your story and the fact that people are willing to tell me either publicly or privately their experiences makes me realize how glad I am that I wrote this book. Because if nothing else, this book was meant to open the door to people telling the truth about sexual assault. To let other people know that this can and does happen. To create change about how we discuss this issue. That there's really no such thing as a "good" rape victim.
There's a very good reason for rape shield laws. Survivors should be protected from having to tell their stories publicly. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be allowed to tell them in their own words if they want to. When we don't give people the chance to tell their truth, we silence them. We distance ourselves from the issue and make it about "them" instead of about "us."
You should read this post by Steph Campbell. It is all the reasons that I wrote this book.
And yes, this unexpected outpouring of people's stories has affected me. Parts of my heart crack open every time someone tells me what horrible thing happened to them. And yes, I'm not watching a lot of sad movies lately. I cry more than I have in a long time. I have to work very hard on self-care. But these stories are also incredibly healing. This choir of voices inside me makes me feel like we're getting closer to things getting better. That maybe by speaking out, we're inching closer to people reporting rape more, we're inching closer to changing the way that the media talks about this issue, we're inching closer to this not being a thing that happens to other people or just one person's problem.
So I'm grateful for every story I hear. I'm grateful people trust me with them. I'm grateful that people who have never spoken up before are now doing so. I hope that my book can continue that dialogue. At the very least, I hope my book makes people realize they aren't alone.