by Joanna Fanuko

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) left me feeling naked, raw, and unsafe. I still struggle with the flashbacks, the nightmares, and the paranoia of worrying that another trauma is just around the corner, lurking in the shadows. It has made it difficult to fully commit to a relationship, and I often find myself choosing losers who hurt me just as badly, emotionally and physically, as I was hurt by my sexual assault. I am often left feeling weak.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And I am gradually finding my strength again, in spite of the many men who have brought me down and made me feel weak. Loving myself doesn’t have to feel like a chore anymore. Self-love can be embraced and nurtured. And soon it will feel comfortable to feel good about myself again. It starts from within and spreads outward.

Strengthening the Mind

As I come further along in my recovery from mental illness, I notice a shift in my brain back to feeling and truly believing that life is good, was good, and will continue to be good. My optimism is believable by myself now, no longer exclusively shared with others to bring brightness to their days. I allow the brightness to shine inward and remind my mind that it is good to feel good, healthy to experience happiness, and strong to say no to the things I do not wish to do.

Strength of mind has to be relearned, retraining my brain slowly to cope with whatever else comes my way. Optimism does not have to be perfection. It is a way to handle whatever life throws my way. There are still bad days, yes. But I have the strength of mind to tell myself it will pass. And I am learning not to attach to the anger, resentment, and sadness. I can let it go, out of love for myself and my mental well-being, and no longer suffer attached the negativity.

Strengthening the Body

My body is now my temple. When a woman’s body has been used for sickening and demanding abuse, without her knowing or consent or against her will, a piece of what we used to know about loving our safe body dies. The safety is gone. It is physically yucky and it feels like your body will never be beautiful again. We harbor the nasty way we were treated on our shoulders, making us feel like our bodies are for men’s abuse only, a simple throw-away tissue that can be squeezed, sneezed on, and tossed into the rubbish bin.

Finding strength in my body again has taken countless years to regain. It is a slow process, and I have been deliberate about waiting until I felt ready to start taking care of my body the way that I used to pre-trauma. My values in looking good are for me only. I refuse to put that power in a man’s grasp again. I run for me. I practice yoga for me. I build upper body strength for me. And I look in the mirror and finally like what I see. Do it for you and find love for yourself again — the most valuable love there is.

Strengthening the Spirit

My soul must be replenished and nourished by the spiritual guidance that I choose to believe in. Being hurt physically and emotionally so many times snatched away my soul and my belief in God. I have searched the heavens and sometimes hells to find faith in myself. It all started with prayer.

A wise woman told me to go back to church and pray for my sexual perpetrators. At first, I laughed at the idea and thought, “You have got to be kidding me!” After mulling it over for a few weeks, I tried praying at night before bed. And I gave it a shot. One prayer, asking God to guide the men who harmed me toward the lighted path of goodness and away from their paths of misery had a surreal effect on me. I was enlightened and continued to pray.

Now I pray for myself, and the ones I love, and for the grace of the enemies who have hurt me. It is not about forgiveness, and it is not about forgetting. I see it as God’s gift of acceptance. So whatever God you may believe in, bring the strength of the spirit back into your life just for you. So that you may feel peace and no longer suffer through the deeply seeded hatred in your heart. That is how I found strength when I was made to feel weak.

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