stop asking me if i need a hug

Featured Image: In the studio with K. O’Neill

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Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault allusion, PTSD mention

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I don’t know how to start this article and I’ve rewritten this sentence several times. I’ve been meaning to talk about this topic for a while now but wasn’t sure how to put it into words. It’s also a very sensitive topic to me and the standing 1 in 4 statistic. Sit down, pour yourself a cup of tea, and get cozy because today we’re going to talk about the painful, frustrating, glorious, terrifying, and empowering “way back”. 

As I’m sure you know, the conversation around sexual assault typically and unsurprisingly revolves around victim-blaming. You don’t need a citation at the end of that sentence; in fact, if you’re reading this right now, chances are you’ve experienced what I’m alluding to, or know someone directly who has. If you can’t think of anyone, think about what kind of supportive role you play for your friends — do they feel comfortable talking to you about sensitive things? The #MeToo movement was eye-opening because, for the first time, we were semi-empowered to speak out on behalf of what we’ve gone through, but even more so because of how many more women had shared the same pain I had than I’d even known. The movement itself was as empowering as it was devastating. 

As the resident non-expert on this topic, the first step to finding your way back to yourself is realizing that the emotions you feel or have felt are valid. Lending validity to your feelings and allowing yourself to feel whatever it is that you’ve tucked away under the guise of “pulling it together” — the simplest thing to say and the most exhausting thing to do.

Full disclosure, I absolutely abhor this idea that talking about a trauma makes you hysterical or “hung up” on the event. That’s quite literally the dumbest, most unconstructive, most gaslight-y thing I have ever heard. Talking about sexual assault doesn’t make me hysterical, crazy, or fragile, but it does make me angry. Frankly, in the wise words of musician Halsey, “I’m tired and angry, but somebody should be”. 

You’re not crazy for still feeling hurt by things that transpired months, years, or even decades earlier — even out of the realm of sexual assault. Please, however, be sure you’re not doing yourself a disservice by only talking or feeling; healing is a very active thing, have you created an environment for yourself conducive to your growth and healing? Is there more you could do to help yourself?

But back to the topic at hand — why is it that every time someone mentions an assault or is openly vocal from a stance of advocacy, we cast them into the pit of “crazy”, “jilted”, “needing attention”, or “bitter” that we often associate with women who speak out? I promise, talking about it doesn’t make you crazy, or I’m like really crazy. Though it doesn’t make you crazy it does, however, make our society that is accustomed to brushing these incidences under the rug despicably crazy. 

I take it back, crazy is the wrong word to use in that last sentence. Crazy is like when you’re blinded by emotion and can’t fathom logic (and even that’s not crazy, really). This brushing-under-the-rug is deliberate because God forbid society be a little “uncomfy” with the big reveal of how many sisters, wives, mothers, etc. have walked this very walk. When we stop allowing something to be socially acceptable, accountability must be dealt with, and we all know our society hasn’t been doing too hot with that for the last several hundred years. And frankly, that’s unacceptable but a topic for another day nonetheless.

The concept of sexuality post-assault is something that is different for every individual who has experienced trauma. My painting, “the way back”, was created as a tribute to all of the women who have experienced the same perpetual limbo: wanting to be sexy but ironically being afraid of being sexy. It’s the tightrope we walk, the fine line between dressing however we want to and drawing too much attention, trying hopelessly to avoid the general par-for-the-course harassment, stalking, etc. This piece is strong and sexy, two things I didn’t feel or was afraid to feel when I’d painted it. It stands as a reminder that we are not a memory of pain, nor are we broken things that will never be okay again. The response to trauma is individualistic, yes, and I’ve done the work to get to this point of reflection.

“the way back” by K. O’Neill

This piece was the last unchecked bracket in my personal healing — a testament to the strength of countless generations of women who have walked through the flames and survived, to those empowered by speaking out and to those empowered in silence. To all of those who have ever felt that their body wasn’t their own. And lastly, to whoever needs to hear it right now: your body is your own. Revel in that and treat it with patience and respect, whatever that means to you.

That’s how I found my way back, and I hope you do too.