Exponent II Classics: From Victim to Survivor
On September 24, 1984, I walked into Anne Giel’s counseling office. It had not been an easy ride up the elevator to the third floor. My stomach had nothing in it, my appetite having been impaired. Whatever force was holding me up I expected to let loose at any second. Two and a half years of history were behind this decision to get help. Many of the times before that were black. I locked back to walls, rooms, and long periods of gray. There had been almost no pure joy in my experiences. I was held back by a victimization that had taken a hold of my strength, my faith, and at one point, my desire to live.
For nine months of my life, I had been involved in a community group led by a man who sexually molested teenaged girls. I was one of them. The details of what he did are now contained in a police report. As a result of that difficult ride in the elevator, I no longer have to keep them in my mind.
Anne Giel’s office held an adequate amount of light. It overlooked an alley so that the sunlight was blocked by the building next door. I sat in a chair next to my mother asking myself if it were too late to go back down the elevator and run. I had nowhere to run, but running had become instinctive ever since I was molested. I had run from the parental suggestions to see a counselor. I had run from every remembrance of that man’s words, his face, and his actions. I had run from the nightmares and from any situation where I might have to be alone with a male. I had run at all costs. After spending so much time avoiding any remembrance of the incidents, they finally pushed themselves through my refusals to get help. This time, I had to acknowledge them. This time, in that office, I sat still.
Suppressing the urge to ignore statements directed to my feelings, I began to respond to Anne.
“How do you feel, S? She asked.
“Like I want to leave.”
“It would be nice to leave, wouldn’t it, and forget this.”
“But I really won’t forget, right?”
I gave into talking. I rationalized that if by now I wasn’t able to bury the terror that I relived every day, I wouldn’t be able to do so alone.
Anne asked questions of me for an hour. I began to leave her office and had no intention of ever seeing her again. “S, I’d like it if you would come back at the same time next week,” she said with a soft smile. I couldn’t understand why she’d want to see me again. I was almost intolerant of her questions. I didn’t answer over half of them, and I wasn’t at all friendly.
I rode back down the elevator with her business card noting the next appointment crumpled in my hand. I expected the pain in my stomach to last me the rest of my life. I cried for hours.
I contracted to attend two sessions. After the second session, a strange feeling came over me. Relief. I felt relief. I was not carrying my burden alone. All of a sudden, someone with professional training was making it all understandable.
After realizing that Anne was a good person and that she did indeed care about me, I began to trust her. I had the idea that because she was a counselor, she was paid to care. I thought if I were to ever have real help it would have to be from a friend. I didn’t really trust her for the first ten sessions, a trust that I needed to have in order to progress. It took me a long time to dig out what was underneath my attitude and to trust her. I had gone from innocent, loving, and secure to feeling guilty, shamed, and angry—even hateful and skeptical. I was unsure of everyone around me. I tested Anne for a long time. I wanted to be sure that I could trust without being hurt.
I had to crack my shell from the inside. This cannot be done from the outside. I understood after many weeks that Anne’s function as a counselor was not to solve my problems but to lead me to my own solutions—not to take control away but to empower me to take it on my own—so I would achieve the reward of recovery for myself. It wasn’t until I gave up the dream of being rescued and faced that it was within me to change from victim to survivor that I began to truly change.
Anne helped me. It takes a counselor who has dedication and insight to help a person recover from sexual assault. Anne specializes in that, which is why my parents encouraged me to see her.
I feel I have a message now. I want to encourage survivors of sexual assault to seek help. Education in the form of counseling is gradual. It is emotionally cleansing. I could ask my counselor any question I wanted, and I had time enough with someone who had the knowledge to understand, to explain and to learn how I was similar to and different from other survivors. It can be especially important for one who is victimized to know she is not alone. It’s good to hear a counselor say, “Many kids who’ve been molested feel these things.” Because of their expertise, counselors can answer questions and can help lead survivors to find their own solutions.
I had been too confused and too overburdened to handle the problem alone. I’m so grateful that I sought counseling. Today, I am free from nightmares and low self-esteem and from what I thought was unbearable pain and guilt. In addition, counseling gave me more insight about myself and about life than just the experience of the sexual assault. Through counseling, I learned empathy, problem-solving, and patients that I am able to apply to all parts of my life.
Spence W. Kimball has told us that Heavenly Father loves us, but it is usually through another person that He meets our needs. We only need to give Him the chance to do that by seeking a source of help.