A few weeks ago I had the humbling honor of receiving an invitation to a Take Back The Night (TBTN) event. The TBTN organization gives young people the support they need to take back their lives after a sexual assault. The group gives the young men and women the coping skills and tools necessary to talk about their experiences and, hopefully, heal the invisible scars that linger in their emotions and thought patterns.
Peeking into Beauty and Pain
I felt exceptionally honored because they invited me to host a Scars R Sexy t-shirt signing at the event – an event meant to help people heal from what I believe represents the deepest kind of wound. Fortunately, I’m not a victim of sexual assault, yet for a few short minutes, I got the chance to see a small glimmer of what went on in their heads and the profound damage this type of violence can inflict on a person. I saw the broken parts of them; the majority of them held strong doubts about self worth. But, I saw what most of them could not – an unspeakable beauty in each individual there.
Willingness to Share Creates Space for Strength
A few of the women I met really touched me in unexpected ways. Some had worked through a majority of their emotional scars and began using their journey to heal and empower others. One of the young women, though, still struggled with acceptance and remained in the midst of trying to find her voice and purpose in her journey.
Jane (I’ve used a pseudonym in place of her real name to protect her privacy), late to the event because her afternoon class ran long, walked to my booth and asked me asked me about the Scars R Sexy campaign. In brief, I told her that I hoped to give people a voice and forum to tell their scar stories and talk about the challenges and victories during their journeys toward recovery.
She asked if she could sign the shirt and, of course, I said, “Yes”. As she leaned down to do it, her eyes filled up with tears. You see, Jane’s first boyfriend drugged and raped her on his 18th birthday. While she relayed her story, she wept about her own lack of strength to talk openly about her experience. She wanted to have the courage to talk to others and felt envious of the women who bravely shared their rape stories in this public forum.
Listening to her, I saw the very strength she so badly wanted lying under a layer of fear in her eyes. Her desire for liberation from the invisible prison of sexual abuse moved me so much that I sobbed the whole way home as I thought about her. I wanted to take her home with me, so she could have just five minutes of not having to work at keeping her emotions, words, and pain in control. Five minutes of freedom – I wanted to give her a place of safety where she could find her two feet underneath her again.
After listening to Jane’s story, I let her in on a little secret about finding strength…she had to have the willingness to tell her story — and she had just done that. She told a stranger about her experience and nothing bad happened; in fact, I hope that maybe something powerful happened. I pray that her choice to tell me her story empowered her to stand up and move down the path to healing.
That night I learned a scar lesson. I learned that this campaign encompasses so much more than visible scars. I always knew that emotional scars, left behind by some traumatic event, played an important part in the Scars R Sexy campaign, but this experience brought that intellectual knowledge to the forefront of my conscious mind. People, whether they suffer from physical or deep and invisible emotional ones, desperately need someone to tell them that it’s okay to share their story. In fact, they need to hear the truth; that telling their story can help heal them and empower them to pay it forward by helping someone else.
Some resist because they believe others will judge them for publicly talking about their imperfections, scars, and traumatic experiences. Yes, we share this fallen world with those who will make assumptions and pass judgment about people who talk about their very personal and painful experiences with others. But that’s not the point. They judge because it makes them uncomfortable in some way.
Share your story anyway. Empower yourself. Empower others.
I received my invisible scars from the way people treated me when I was sick and suffering. The physical scar from my surgery has never bothered me; the other stuff I went through, though, left indelible marks on my emotional psyche and my self-perception. I’ve taken my power back from those scars. This campaign represents one of the many tangible ways I hope to pay it forward and empower others to do the same.
That night, I realized that a good portion of my job in paying it forward includes listening to the emotional scar stories, smile, hug, and when the opportunity arises, to say, “Psst, you can say it. It’s okay. I’m here to love you through it and all you have to do is say it.”
Editor’s Note: Amy Tippins secured permission from “Jane” to tell her story within a post on the RockScar Love blog.