I’ve now been in therapy for four years. I talk about four years a lot. It’s an important number in my life. After I was raped in 2011, I suffered in silence for just under four years. It happened at college in Chicago by a fellow student on the third weekend of my freshman year. I tried to get justice, but after months of meetings and hearings, my rapist never had any consequences. I experienced four years of dark depression, overwhelming anxiety, self-blame, self-harm and self-hatred.
It’s hard to believe that I have been in recovery for about as long as I suffered. In the spring of 2015, after years of desperately wanting and trying to find help, I started to see my therapist. We’ll call her Kelly. In honor of these four years, here are four lessons I learned along the way.
1. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Keep Trying
You don’t like every person you meet. You’ve had teachers you liked and ones that you couldn’t stand. People are people and therapists are people too. The first therapist I saw was pushy and intense. Not for me! The second one used language that blamed me for my rape. Why are you even a therapist? Third one? We just didn’t “click.” It happens!
The fourth one was Kelly and from the start she was different. She was kind and really listened. She gained my trust and helped me re-learn how to trust people. I know how overwhelming and even scary it can be to seek help. If an appointment does not go well, it can feel defeating. There are so many therapists out there, and it might take a little extra time to find the right person who can help you thrive.
2. Once You Start, Give It Time!
When I started therapy, I thought I would be “cured” by the time I graduated from college. In reality, it has been a slow process, and that’s okay. Therapy felt like a burden at first. It felt like work to motivate myself to go. I had never processed the trauma, and I was struggling with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. It was hard and time consuming work to peel back the layers of trauma.
After the first few months, I started actually looking forward to each session. Kelly and I decided it would be useful to keep talking when I graduated and moved back to Boston. So we used FaceTime and still do. Healing takes time and the road to recovery can seem long and never ending, but whether you are in therapy or not, the time will pass. I decided to focus less on how much time it was taking and just take each session as they came.
3. Therapy And Medication Can Be A Winning Team
In the fall of 2015, Kelly and I decided that medication might be beneficial to me. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor and after a bit of discussion, she prescribed Zoloft. I know there can be a stigma with mental health medications, but it has been so important to my recovery. It may not be the right choice for everyone, but for me, it helped a lot. With the medication, I wasn’t having overwhelming panic and anxiety over small things, and my depression wasn’t taking over anymore either. Therapy has helped me work through the trauma and my mental health struggles, and medication has added a piece of armor.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To “Go There”
It can be so helpful and empowering to bring up the really hard stuff in therapy—even if it feels embarrassing or hard. Even if the words are painful. Even if it takes you time to feel like you can. In those first few months, I was suicidal and cutting myself. I felt like a failure and was afraid to bring this up to Kelly. It was hard, but sometimes a secret or a struggle can feel bigger or less manageable when you have to carry it alone.
It was hard to learn how to talk about all these struggles and to learn who I was, beyond the identity I had tied to my trauma. Sometimes I write down notes in my phone of what I want to talk about and I find it easier to read off the hard stuff rather than coming up with the words on the spot. My openness with Kelly helped her help me. It helped me help myself.
For four years I believed that my rape was my fault. I believed that I was unworthy of love and happiness. I believed that I was broken and worthless, and that my life had no value. I believed that suicide was the only logical answer to my problems. But, in the past four years, I have learned that my life has value. I know now that my rape was in no way my fault. I don’t hate myself. Learning to love myself has been perhaps the greatest gift that therapy has given me.
Kelly has said that she did not save my life, but over the last four years she has played a starring role. Therapy helped me reclaim my identity and my life, and for this I will forever be grateful.
Laurie Katz is an elementary teacher, rape survivor, and advocate. She has written a book about her rape and recovery titled, Liar Laurie: Breaking the Silence on Sexual Assault, published by Trigger Publishing.
You can follow Laurie’s journey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lauriekoehlerk
And her website: https://www.laurieslife.com/