To be kind to another human being, simply because you can, simply because you care, is perhaps the greatest act one person can do for another. You might believe too much has happened to you. You may feel like a lost cause. It may simply seem like too much to bear, too much for any one person to take on. The grief, the loss, the hurt, the terror – just as you resurface from the last dumping, gasping for breath, spluttering and coughing to get the water out of your lungs, your eyes red and stinging from the salt, the next wave is upon you. There is no time to get your bearings, no way to try and swim to less tumultuous territory, no opportunity to escape from that endless chain of waves breaking over you, burying you time after time in icy, salty, churning water. You’re right – it is too much for anyone to bear – alone. But, if you can find the determination, the strength – no matter how grim and futile it may seem, no matter how debilitated and fragile you might feel – to yell out, to wave your hands there is every chance that a lifesaver will appear on the scene. They may not be able to pull you out from those icy seas, but they can give you all sorts of assistance to help you keep your head above water. It won’t take away the chill, nor will it prevent you from having to tread water tirelessly, but it will mean you begin that gradual drift towards calmer seas.
To rely upon the kindness of others can seem like a hopeless, dangerous, impossible act of faith in the aftermath of rape. How could you ever look to another person for support after such an experience of savagery? Once you know what human beings are capable of, how could you take that risk? The ‘what ifs’ can seem insurmountable. You know how much damage people are capable of doing to each other, you know how brutal the consequences are. You cannot permit yourself to be exposed to anything that might run the risk of a repeat performance. How would you cope if you called out for help and received cruelty instead? Or worse, disinterest? It’s a perfectly logical response. Perhaps fortunately, though, life does not obey logic. A single act of kindness can change everything. It only takes one person, one relatively small act of support, one moment’s concern and attention, for that life ring to be thrown your way. To tell someone what has happened and for them to take the time to listen to your story, for them to put aside their own reactions and truly hear yours, for them to reach out and say, “I believe you” – this can be the line that reconnects you to the world that was. To be believed, to be heard, to be taken seriously, to receive considerate, caring concern in response to your words – each one of these represents another lifeline, another buoyant object for you to hold onto, another life ring that relieves just a little of the work that you must do to keep afloat.
I did not believe I could take the risk of telling someone close to me. I was afraid of being judged for ‘falling’ out of the boat, I was afraid of being left to swim on alone. I believed that the risk was too great. I thought that maybe I could manage to keep treading water, that maybe that was the better choice. I was wrong – on all counts. Redirecting your energy from staying afloat to calling out for help is a risk but there are calculated ways to manage that risk. While I wasn’t able, at first, to go to my family or friends, I did feel able to go to a professional. Many places in the world, there are now specialised lifesavers, people whose very job it is to give you the life rings you require to stay afloat. They listen. They find out what you need. They provide it wherever they can. They can direct you to life buoys you never knew existed, connect you to lines all around you that you’d never have seen for the waves if someone hadn’t taken the time to show them to you. When you let people help you, when you take that calculated risk of raising your hand to attract attention, not only do you help yourself, but you reenforce those lifesaving services, you reestablish a world in which people care for each other. You counteract directly the work of the rapist – and not just for your benefit, but that of everyone.
You cannot have too many lifelines. Considering how rough those seas are, how unpredictable, you cannot have too much support. Anything that minimises the amount of energy you use up staying afloat, anything that gives you buoyancy – take it. Whatever it is that permits you to regain a sense of control, a sense of strength, a sense of dignity amongst those turbulent waters, make use of it. What each lifeline gives you is an awareness of your strength, they assist you to identify how exactly it is that, despite what should have pushed you under, you are still there kicking and fighting and breathing. You did hang in there, you will hang in there and, somehow, sooner or later, by virtue of your own determination you’ll find yourself managing those seas with increased adeptness. The waves that used to pummel you, you’ll find yourself rising up over them, the undertow that used to drag you out to dark, deep waters, you’ll know how to swim out of its grip. No one can tell you how to do it, or do it for you, there is no lifesaver who’ll sweep in and whisk you off on a speed boat, but the strength and skill and confidence that you develop as you learn to negotiate those seas, no one can take those from you.