Your Right To Write
Your Right to Write: Surviving Rape/Sexual Trauma
When you hear the word “journal,” you think of a personal book in which you record all of your thoughts and desires whenever you need an outlet for them. It is a safe space, and one which you share only with yourself. For the purpose of recovery from sexual abuse or rape, you can take the concept of journal writing one step further. To do so, use this journal to write about the things that make you feel unsafe or scared. By writing these thoughts down, you are gaining control of them. Eventually, you can advance to sharing the journal with another person to aid you both in the process of developing a language to describe your feelings and help them help you. Read this article to discover how to first unleash your inner feelings and ways to help yourself, and then how to become comfortable sharing these writings with your partner.
Please note, the journal that you are about to record your thoughts in is markedly different than what a traditional journal is. We are referring to journal as a place to track specific types of information. The goal of this journal is to help you become aware of your experience of how you have been coping with the trauma of rape/sexual abuse. One advantage of making this journal separate from traditional journals is that many people find it easier to share with their partners- thought some opt never to share it.
Once you find a comfortable book (or word document style) to write in, it is important that you find a way to keep this journal safe from prying eyes until you are ready to share your feelings. If you are constantly afraid someone will find your journal and read it, you will not be able to truly release your feelings without monitoring them for content. The most important aspect of a journal is honesty. Find a lock, a special box, a password for a document, or some other way to keep the information secure until you decide to share it.
Next is the question of what to write in this journal. There is no preconceived requirements for what you can write- it is up to you to decide what aspect of your sexual life or emotional feelings need to be worked through and recorded (either for yourself or to help your partner). If you are having trouble beginning, we recommend the following assignment:
- If you have problems expressing feelings of unease or unhappiness about your sex life, use the journal as a recording of all of your feelings and frustrations in a list.
- If you have trouble touching yourself or letting others touch you, record your progress and suggestions of what helps you feel comfortable.
- If certain things make you freeze- for example, when someone wraps their legs around you, making you feel trapped- write them down. If you have reoccurring images of your abuser or of a certain act, describe the image completely.
Writing your emotions (or typing them) does not alleviate the problems, but it does give you a way to look at them more objectively. You can use your journal entries to find trends in your actions or those of your partner, to discover what makes you happy and what makes you freeze, and track your progress. For example, if you read the article “Reclaiming Your Sexuality: Masturbation,” you can use your journal to record your progress with touching yourself and feeling comfortable with your body. You can write down trouble spots on your body or spots that make you feel good.
Your journal can also be a safe space to write positive words of encouragement for yourself. If you manage to touch yourself in a previously untouchable place, write yourself a verbal high-five. If you are in your first relationship after the experience, praise yourself for your courage at trying again after what happened. If you already plan on sharing the journal with a partner, you can write positive things about them that you wish you could express but can’t.
Your Right To Write
This introduces the next, more advanced decision: to share or not share your journal with your partner. If you are having trouble expressing your feel
ings, telling your partner when images are playing in your head, or explaining what touch makes you feel uncomfortable or numb, this journal is the perfect way to fix the breakdown in communication. However, you have to make sure you are ready to advance to the next stage. A good clue is when you have perfected the art of silent communication but still have a lot of secret thoughts you want to communicate- for example, if when you squeeze the other person’s shoulder and they stop you wish you could actually speak the words in your head. If the idea of someone reading your thoughts makes you feel uncomfortable but you still wish you could let them, there are a few things you can do to make you and your partner more comfortable:
- Be clear in the journal when something applies to your partner, for example labeling the writing with “James.” This will draw attention to the parts you want your partner to focus on, so he or she does not feel overwhelmed reading a huge bundle of writings.
- Separate the sections you feel comfortable letting your partner read. If you typed the document you can copy and paste the passages into a separate document, and if you hand wrote them you can photo copy only the parts you want or type them up.
- Decide whether you want to be there when he or she reads the journal. If you want to be there, make sure you are there for questions your partner may have but do not distract him or her with excuses. If you do not want to be there, make sure you prepare your partner and then let him or her ask questions after reading it.
- Read the passages you want him or her to read out loud. This is only for people who feel incredibly comfortable sharing the intimate information with their partner, and think reading it out loud will help them with their verbal communication skills. Make sure to check with your partner if you choose this option, since he or she may not feel comfortable with it.
Offer your partner some suggestions about the type of feedback you are looking for. Maybe you just want to be help. Maybe you want the partner to hold you while you cry, or talk to you, or have an intellectual conversation with you.
Although the journal seems like a daunting task now, once you grow accustomed to it the writing process will become much easier. Not only will it give you an outlet, but it can be the bridge of communication between you and your partner. If you feel uncomfortable sharing your feelings with a partner, or you need to look for trends of your sexual behavior, list your likes and dislikes, or document the positive steps you’ve taken, pick up a piece of paper and give it a try.
By writing about these feelings, they become less frightening; you can now name them. Once you name them you can categorize them, and find a less harmful place for them. You can re-read the journal in different emotional states- happy, sad, angry- and see if your reaction is different. Your mode can completely impact your thoughts, and the morning after an incident you may find the same feelings silly. By recognizing these reactions they become less scary; perception is everything.
After you have found a way to deal with your emotions without the book or are successfully communicating with your partner, there are many things you can do with it. Some people find it helpful to find a safe place for the journal, keeping it tucked away in the back of a closet or under a bed. Others find it fun and meaningful to burn the journal at the end. Whatever works for you. Try the bath exercise to build positive experiences of sensual and sexual touch again.