SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: A personal story of sexual violence


We want to thank Pioneer readers for the awesome feedback from our last commentary, “It’s their story to tell.” I can tell you that the feedback received was very encouraging and uplifting. It helps us continue the important work to reduce stigma on sexual violence.

Today I will be building off the topic of “my story” to help give real-life perspectives. Please know this is my perspective only, and others experience trauma in different ways. To start off we should provide you with the definition of trauma, which is “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, natural disaster immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches and nausea.”

This list of trauma-like experiences and symptoms is not an all exclusive list, but more of the commonly seen and reported. Victims and survivors of sexual violence may not always identify what happened to them as traumatic, but days to years down the road some longer term effects may be notable.

In my earlier adult years, I looked back at my teenage years and thought to myself I was just a typical teenager acting out. Some acting out was typical, but the extent of my acting out was not. At first, I didn’t identify as a victim or that something traumatic had happened to me. I really began to use drugs heavily in my early teens, along with alcohol to the point it was daily if not hourly. Now looking back I was masking the trauma by using those substances.

By masking my trauma, it only allowed me to endure that trauma for years to come. I found myself being very promiscuous, breaking significant house rules, and my parents not wanting to punish me harshly because they were afraid I would run away. I kept to myself a lot, not talking to anyone. But some days I was very social. I was always very hypervigilant when out in public, looking around me. I wouldn’t allow people to walk behind me so I would step to the side and let them pass. I left my high school and went to another school where I got kicked out for fighting. I ended up in an awesome alternative school and back to my regular high school to finish my senior year. Yes, my parents attempted to get me help shortly after I had reported, but I wasn’t ready, nor do I think I had a very good counselor.


Furthermore, I was having trouble in my marriage. I have serious trust issues, and as much as I could attempt to explain this away, I knew I needed answers. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I had an official diagnosis of all my crazy behaviors. My therapist said, “You fit and fill the criteria for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

To be honest, I had no real concept of what PTSD is or where it came from until it was explained. PTSD in the easiest terms can be defined as a “reaction to fear, feeling of loss of control, and vulnerability that one experiences following an unexpected and shocking event.”

I don’t want to give the mental health definition, because PTSD is so complex. Sadly, even to this day I hear, “You never served in a war. You can’t have PTSD.” Some common signs of PTSD are intrusive re-experiencing thoughts or memories about the event, avoidance of events, places or people that are reminders, constant changes in mood, and increased arousal and reactivity. Again, this isn’t an all exclusive list and each person is different.

Now look back to my paragraph about my behaviors. I match 90% of those signs. Other common mental health disorders that go along with sexual violence are depression, anxiety and poly-substance abuse. Not only do I have PTSD, but I have all the above. Yes, I have been sober for many years, but if I allowed the addiction could come back easily.

I wanted to share this with you all to know that sexual violence is traumatizing. Some cases not as much and some cases significantly. Some experience this right away and some experience it years down the road. We are functions in our new normal and my new normal includes helping victims and survivors thrive in their new normal.

Kori Nelson is Development/Volunteer Coordinator (Lead Advocate) for Support Within Reach.

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