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Home Let’s Talk Older Blogs Blog: Detourist – Amy How to Play a Positive Role in Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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    • #8562

      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–h3″>I grew up believing that my entire life would be dedicated to the performing arts. Now, I’m also a survivor and “thriver” of sexual abuse, 27 surgeries, coma, organ failure, and the PTSD that comes from ten years of trauma — or what I now call my “beautiful detour.”</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”></p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>At 17, I was sexually abused by a voice coach who had become a mentor, a friend, my family. At 18, years old, a blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock. I was in a coma for six months, and after a total gastrectomy, I was unable to eat or drink a drop of water for six of the past ten years. After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconnected with the intestines I had left. To persevere through those tumultuous years took great inner and outer strength — strength I didn’t know I was capable of until I was tested.</p>

      <figure class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–figure gmail-graf–iframe”>
      <div class=”gmail-aspectRatioPlaceholder gmail-is-locked”> </div></figure>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>I learned that the human spirit feeds off of hope, and hope is fuel we can cultivate ourselves. Ultimately, I learned that with resourcefulness, creativity, and unwavering curiosity, we can transform any adversity into personal growth and a resilience that is uniquely ours.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Everything became possible once I was willing to intentionally wander from the life I planned and embrace this “detour” as an opportunity for discovery. This is not the life that I planned for myself — but does anyone’s life ever work out exactly how they plan it?</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>The Stifling Problem</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Sexual assault is a serious problem in our society, and one of the most important things we can do is know how to best support a survivor.</p>

      <figure class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–figure”></figure>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>You can be an active part of lowering this statistic by knowing what to say to someone who has been assaulted.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>Why is it hard for survivors to report an assault?</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>First, it’s best to understand why sexual assault is so infrequently reported. As asurvivor myself, I experienced each of these barriers:</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>· <em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>We don’t know how to speak it.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Survivors of sexual assault might not have the words or vocabulary to report that they’ve been violated. It took me years before I could even begin to articulate the turmoil that was rattling inside of me. It was terrifying for me to actually verbalize the fact that had been betrayed by someone I really trusted.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>We don’t know who to tell.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>It can be very difficult to find someone we feel comfortable enough sharing this with, especially if we haven’t fully processed it for ourselves.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>We’re scared we won’t be believed.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>We fear that when we finally do work up the courage to tell someone, we wont be taken seriously.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>The Dangers of Not Speaking</p>

      <figure class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–figure”></figure>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”> </p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Holding this secret in can slowly shift to victim blaming. We think, “If I hadn’t been there, or worn this outfit, or been with this person had done [insert here], I wouldn’t have been assaulted.”</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Yet, in reality, the only person that can actually prevent the rape is the rapist themselves. But for most of us, it’s easier or us to got through that mental checklist of things we “could have” prevented, because we can rationalize, “If I hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have spoken to this person.” It’s how we try to come to terms with what happened. What results is a damaging self-blame that we don’t deserve.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>Undeserved Shame</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>If a survivor of sexual assault is already saying these things to themselves, imagine how hard it is for them to actually speak out. When we keep this in, it turns to shame.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>The shame survivors feel is a tremendous barrier to reporting.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>How can you help someone overcome their barriers to reporting?</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Create a safe place for that reporting to happen, with an open heart. It took years for me to feel comfortable sharing my own story, but knowing how imperative this was for my own healing process inspires me to help others do the same.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>At a very vulnerable time, learn how to best support a survivor:</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>What to say to someone who tells you they have been assaulted:</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>I believe you.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>You are safe.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>I’m sorry this happened to you.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>I’m so glad you are telling me this.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>This is not your fault.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>· Whatever reaction you are having is normal. You are not going crazy.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Things will never be the same, but things will be better. (<em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>Be compassionately realistic.When these acts happen, they become part of us, and how we heal depends on the support systems we have.)</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>I am here to support you through this.</p>

      <figure class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–figure”></figure>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>Just as important is knowing what not to say:</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Why or how could someone do this to you?</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>Then they’ll start to wonder what they could have done to “make that happen.”</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>I understand.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>Even if you empathize, or are a survivor yourself, respect that you will never now what it is actually like for the survivor and their own individual experience.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>It could have been worse. You’re lucky that something more awful didn’t happen.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>If you hadn’t been ____, maybe this would not have happened.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>It’s not your fault, but, maybe you shouldn’t have___.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>You’re going to be fine.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>It’s not fine right now. People need to feel the pain and difficulty of their experience. It will get better, but they need to find safe ways to be whatever they are feeling right now.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Try not to get so worked up.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>A survivor has every right and reason to feel what they are feeling right now. Let them know that.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>Helping Break the Silence</p>

      <figure class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–figure”></figure>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Most importantly, listen to the survivor. Let them say however little or much as they need to. Follow up with them if you can. And know that you have have made a tremendous impact on someone’s recovery.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>So many gifts came out of this. I discovered painting in hospitals and flourished as a mixed media artist with solo art shows, merchandise and creativity workshops. I wrote a one-woman musical about my life, Gutless & Grateful, which I’ve performed in theatres across the country for three years and now take it to college campuses, conferences and support groups as a mental health awareness and sexual assault prevention program. After never having a boyfriend in my life, I tried online dating, got married, did a TEDx Talk about it, and then, when suddenly faced with divorce, I realized strength I never knew I had. And I finally started college…at 25 years old.</p>

      <figure class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–figure gmail-graf–iframe”>
      <div class=”gmail-aspectRatioPlaceholder gmail-is-locked”> </div></figure>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world. But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>But first…I had to learn how to speak it.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”></p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”>Everyone has a place in sexual assault prevention. According to RAINN, an average of 68% of assaults in the last five years were not reported. Together, we can help all survivors come forward to share their story and heal.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”> </p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>Amy works directly with survivors of <strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>sexual assault<strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”> and those healing from PTSD. Learn more about her college <strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>mental health program<strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”> and <strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>sexual assault prevention<strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”> initiative on her site, <strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”><strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”> All <strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”>artwork<strong class=”gmail-markup–strong gmail-markup–p-strong”> was created by Amy in her own healing process.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.</p>
      <p class=”gmail-graf gmail-graf–p”><em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”>Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer’s Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual. “Detourism” is the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, “My Beautiful Detour,”<em class=”gmail-markup–em gmail-markup–p-em”> available December 2017.</p>

    • #8598

      I really applaud you for sharing your story, and I have a tremendous amount of admiration for the immense amount of work you have done in order to support others who have gone through similar experiences. Your story is a very powerful one and it serves as a true inspiration of what it means to never give up, no matter what the struggle or heinous circumstance may be. I can somewhat relate to your story in the aspect of having to endure many years of trauma and not having found my voice until many, many years later, and I love to see others who can truly transform a life that was once full of turmoil. You are a role model!

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