Secondary Survivor: A Personal Journey of Advocacy & Embodiment – Guest Post by Lara Veon

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Secondary Survivor: A Personal Journey of Advocacy & Embodiment – Guest Post by Lara Veon

Secondary Survivor

Sexual assault advocacy in our society is changing a little each day. While the steps forward are much smaller than we’d like, more police departments, hospitals and courtrooms are trauma-informed than ever before. There are organizations like The Breathe Network helping educate survivors about trauma and holistic healing and providing greater access to healers around the country. While it is unfortunate that entities like the NFL continue to remain silent about players who have been accused of rape and our Congress continues to delay funding to catch rapists and test backlogged rape kits – our mainstream media has begun to explore topics like “rape culture” and “consent”. This movement forward, however incremental, is exciting nonetheless.

Even with this progress, however, the lifetime impact on those who live with, love and support survivors of sexual violence is too often left out of the collective conversation. I know this truth intimately because I was 10 years old when my mother was raped by an intruder in our home. My brother and I were away that night, and even now almost 30 years later – after decades of my own healing, as well as years of providing therapy for sexual assault survivors – the 10 year old in me still wonders if we could have stopped it had we been there. I still hear the whispers of why and what if. As winter and the anniversary of the event near, I always feel a bit helpless and heartbroken, yearning in some deep part of me beyond language and understanding for the time before her assault – even though the memories are vague and exist only in shadows and echoes of innocence and joy.

My mother is a fierce survivor, and she is one of the most resilient women I know. Before sharing this story, I asked how she would feel if I talked about my experience living as the daughter of a survivor. With grace, she encouraged me to speak out, stating that if only one person felt less pain as a result, it would be worth the sacrifice of her privacy. I am grateful to her for sharing her truth and for her sheer determination to create something strong and beautiful from the shattered pieces of her destruction. It was real destruction that she endured – not just of her body, but also her family, her home and the deepest part of her spirit. Make no mistake about it, rape destroys. But, from under the rubble we can scratch ourselves to the surface and begin anew. With help, the scars heal and we can begin to rewrite our stories and rebuild our lives. I say “we” because when someone you love is a survivor, you become a survivor, too.

Shortly after my mother’s assault, I started experiencing anxiety, fear, hyper-vigilance with a heightened startle response and dissociation that manifested primarily as depersonalization of emotions. I literally began to doubt what love was and lost my ability to express it to my family members. While I longed to be held and nurtured, I remember being uncomfortable if anyone actually touched me in any way. I didn’t accept hugs because touch didn’t feel safe. As a therapist, I know now I was experiencing symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder, but then I was simply a little girl in pain with no words to describe the confusion of abruptly arriving in a world where someone could hurt another the way my mom had been hurt in our home. I was powerless to change what had happened, and with each tear my mom shed, I felt more and more untethered.

Even in the midst of her own hell, my mother found help for me. I saw a therapist; I played sports; I wrote poems. My family loved me unwaveringly – giving me the resources, space and distance I needed to feel safe again. I started to feel better, to be able to say “I love you” again and with the resiliency of a child I moved on. It wasn’t until I began my yoga practice at age 33 that I realized that while I had moved on, what remained was a pervasive disconnection between my mind, body, and spirit rooted in the violence my mom had experienced so many years before. Through holistic healing, the past five years have been a deep, oftentimes painful and exquisitely transformative road to embodiment.

Advocacy for access to healing must include all survivors – those who have had the traumatic experience and those who love and support them. FAQ’s and How You Can Help handouts are brilliant and necessary, but they are simply not enough. As we evolve in the advocacy movement, we must continue to widen the scope of services to include the ”secondary survivors” experiencing trauma vicariously. We must recognize that while survivors of sexual violence are fighting their way through the rubble of destruction, their loved ones are often holding an immense load supporting them while also experiencing the complexity of their own confusion, grief, loss of control, discomfort, guilt and deep sorrow. Trauma does not exist in isolation, and neither should healing.

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“Secondary Survivor: A Personal Journey of Advocacy and Embodiment” was written by Lara Veon, LPC, RYT. Lara Veon is a body-inclusive psychotherapist in private practice in Chicago, IL. She holds a Masters Degree in Community Counseling from Loyola University Chicago and a Masters Degree in Teaching from Webster University. She is also a Registered Yoga Teacher. Lara believes strongly that the integration of mind, body, and spirit in a therapeutic context provides profound opportunities for healing from trauma. As such, in her practice she incorporates traditional psychotherapy with body-centered approaches such as yoga, mindfulness, meditation, imagery, expressive arts, Becoming Safely Embodied skills and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Learn more about her practice by visiting her practitioner page here

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