Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Survivors' Truth: Wearing the mask of normality

Published:Monday | January 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberly Goodall
(Not the real survivor)

Last week, Survivors' Truth, told the story of 24-year-old Renee Samuels* who has survived multiple abuse. This week, she shares her journey to self-discovery, and how abuse served as the catalyst for change for herself and others.

Renee returned to her community, coming face-to-face with her perpetrators and persecutors, along with her psychological and emotional burdens. There was only one question at the forefront of her mind, "Where do I go from here?"

Psychologist and chief executive officer of Training Dynamics and Consultants, Ainsley Deer, noted that victims like Renee are likely to experience both short and long-term psychological effects of rape.

One of the most common psychological consequences is self-blame. This is used as an avoidance-based coping tool. He highlighted Renee's statement "I didn't see any reason to fight. I started to believe that my purpose in life was to be used," as a prime example. While victims might use it to cope, it is more of a deterrent and stops the healing process.

Renee realised it was time to rid herself of the guilt and the self loathing that she had imposed on herself. The shame was not hers to bear, but those that took away her innocence and ravaged her dignity.

"They should be the ones who hide themselves. I will not allow the darkness to define me," she added.

The healing process for Renee has been anything but an easy road, but during her abusive relationship, she decided to stop waiting for a miracle and try and be a miracle for someone else.

"I had to regain my self-worth and self-compassion, and to do so I focused on my studies and going after the dreams and aspirations I had for myself," Renee expressed.

In September 2015, Renee went back to school with her degree being her biggest goal. Three months later, with her love for social work and her passion for helping others, Renee created an outreach program- a non profit initiative promoting literacy, education and youth development.

"I realised that education was the biggest empowerment not only me, but for our youths. Through this program, I saw the impact of my story and how much education helps me in the process of healing," she continued.

We-Change Jamaica is the silver lining in her clouds. While Renee has tried her best to get involved, to distract herself and get rid of the self blame, she was not free from the trauma of her ordeal. She has frequent anxiety attacks, but We-Change not only helps her to cope, but they have become a sisterhood of hope. It is her safe haven a place she can run to without blame or judgement. There she is just Renee Samuels*.

Deer explains that these types of efforts are therapeutic and will help Renee to cope with her skeletons, rather than hide them and have them present themselves in the future. He went on to share that though exposing her truth may put her in a vulnerable position, it will also provide healing. He encourages society to be more compassionate and to embrace the victims of abuse instead of devaluing their adversities.

While stories of abuse now floods the airwaves, Renee cannot help but feel empathy for the victims, re-traumatised even, feeling like the little girl she once was- scared, vulnerable and alone. While not completely healed she has a new outlook.

"I can't say that I have got "over" the incidents, but I can say that, with time, I have got better at dealing with the memories and the feelings that come with them. I've learnt to recognise my fears and face them because I had no choice. The scars that accompany abuse are permanent, and that was one of the first things I had to accept to get to the point I'm at today. Just like the physical scars, I later got in the abusive relationship, the psychological scars will always be there," Renee concluded.

kimberly.goodall@gleanerjm.com