Societies have stigmas. These typically vary from country to country and are based on outliers that differ from what a society deems normal. An unusual physical attribute or a mental or physical disability is sometimes enough to generate harsh judgment and alienation from others.
In Morocco, being a known rape victim is so stigmatized that they are often forced to marry their rapists in order to avoid this label. Through marrying their rapists, victims escape this scarlet letter in favor of a typically short and abusive marriage. These victim-rapist nuptials don’t usually last long, and they usually end in divorce. In Moroccan society, being labeled “divorced” is much more acceptable than being labeled “raped.”
Rape is my scarlet letter, too. Although people cannot tell I’ve been raped through common interactions with me, I used to think they could. As I silently suffered through the aftermath of sexual assault, my friends and family could tell that something was wrong but didn’t know what. Although it always clouded my consciousness, it still took many years for me to speak about what happened. As a result, my healing process began, and I never would have guessed that one day, being raped would brand me as undesirable.
I was dating a guy for a while and felt that it was time to tell him about my past trauma. He responded with silence and eventually asked if I wanted to talk about it. He seemed put off by the whole thing and became distant. The next day he sent me a break-up email.
In my past, I tried to tell a few of my former boyfriends, even they didn’t want to hear or believe it. They invalidated me when I needed their support, but I already knew it wasn’t uncommon for society to blame the victim. After being raped, it became impossible to trust anybody. Opening up to the new guy was a huge step for me. I was devastated that he dumped me after I told him, but worse was the fact that I understood exactly where he was coming from.
After I was sexually assaulted, I didn’t want to be around me, either. When the scene of the crime is your body, it’s not exactly something you can get away from, although I tried. For years, I was stuck in a variety of addictions, trying to numb the pain and get away from memories that still send chills up my spine. Although I knew my addictions were slowly killing me, it was the only way I could get away from myself short of committing suicide. These feelings weren’t uncommon. According to RAINN, sexual assault victims are four times more likely to contemplate suicide, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
As relieving as the numbness was, it turned out to be equally painful and brought with it even more feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Eventually, my body started to give out on me, and I almost died. After weeks of not being able to get out of bed, I found myself lying there thinking, “You can choose to live or choose to die.” That night, I made a conscious choice to live.
What followed was a slow recovery as I began to break my long cycle of addiction. One day my father randomly mailed me an old baby picture of myself. I stared at the photo and began to feel bad for taking such awful care of myself; I would never take care of a loved one with such negligence and disdain. Through that picture, I realized that a huge key to moving on was to replace self-abuse with self-nurturing.
An Exercise for Replacing Self-Abuse with Self-Nurturing
1. Forgive yourself. Begrudging yourself for past disappointments will only keep you in the past. You must forgive yourself first before you can move forward.
2. Find a baby picture of yourself and carry it with you. It is time to nurture yourself in the way you would a child or family member in your care. A traumatic event can sometimes rob a person of the nurturing and self-love we all rightfully deserve. Step forward and treat yourself with compassion starting now.
3. Use your picture to remind you of your conscious decision to nurture yourself.When you feel weak or think about turning to harmful behaviors, pull out your picture. In questionable situations, think about your decisions in the context of how they will affect this “child.”
4. Make a list of harmful behaviors and habits that do not promote a positive lifestyle.Use this list as a tool to eliminate your bad habits. In order to evolve into a healthier you, it is helpful to avoid people who exert the behaviors written on your list.
You must learn to nurture yourself if you wish to leave unhealthy habits behind. I realized I would never have the life I truly wanted if I did not first improve my relationship with myself.
This post originally appeared on Gender Across Borders.