In this Thriver Blog, Danielle Ratliff, for the first time, bravely shares her wounding, her struggle, her recovery and her triumph. Finding voice around the self-doubts and self-shaming has given her new freedom and new life. At Survivors to Thrivers, we offer these Thriver Posts to help you know you are not alone and there is a path to healing. Here’s to Thriving!
Too often, survivors of rape and sexual assault blame themselves. We question choices (and memories) while fearfully replaying traumatic moments in silence, believing no one else can understand the depth of our shame and despair. But we aren’t meant to shove the painful memories down indefinitely or to sit in silence. Openly sharing our experiences is healing, whether it’s confiding in a trusted friend or writing a blog post. Yes, it’s messy, emotional work. But we are more courageous, resilient, and stronger than we ever imagined.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
– Brené Brown, research professor and best-selling author
Absolutely, Brene. Sometimes we have to venture into the dark abyss of fragmented memories and vulnerabilities to discover (and appreciate) our light. When I was a child, I fell off the back of a wooden playhouse. I remember landing on my back, stunned and gasping for breath. The older boy’s hands and moments that followed are so hazy that I question if I imagined it. But deep down, I know the mental fuzziness is my brain’s attempt at protection.
Fast forward to 2011. I was twenty-eight years old. Hopped up on liquid courage at a neighborhood dive bar, I offered four acquaintances a place to crash. We walked the few blocks to my apartment. I remember dancing and laughing until the floor started spinning. I said I didn’t feel well and naively retreated to my room. The women left. He remained. My mind screamed no, but instead of vocalizing it, I froze. Part of me dissociated. There was an eerie sense of floating above my body. And then everything went dark.
It took me a day to call the police. They said I’d already washed away any evidence. If he drugged me, it would be out of my system, and they didn’t offer a test for it anyways. There would be video surveillance of us at the bar having fun. I had invited him to my apartment. They were sorry it had happened, but it would be my word against his. That was the reality. I could press charges or not, my choice. I chose not to press charges. Because perhaps, it was my fault. Maybe my skirt was too short. And I had invited him over. I certainly didn’t vocalize my ‘no’. I blamed myself for poor judgment and freezing instead of fighting back.
I did my best to keep up with work, to continue counseling my nutrition patients through their weight loss struggles, pretending everything was fine. Outside of work, I withdrew into myself. Nightmares plagued my sleep. I remember waking up in cold sweats, unable to scream or run from a faceless man. Doctors prescribed medications, but my mind continued spiraling downward.
Several months later, I rashly decided it was all too much to bear. I took handfuls of Zoloft and Ambien and waited for darkness to swallow me into nothingness. But as the edges of my vision started closing in, something within me said ‘no’. Instead of freezing, I pulled out my phone and called for help. I remember drinking the charcoal mixture on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. It stained my teeth and lips dark, but I’d taken the first step in returning to the light: asking for help.
Now, a decade later, I’m more joyful and aligned than ever. I’m embracing my truths, creating work-life balance, and happily engaged to an incredible woman. It’s been quite the healing journey. I didn’t do it alone. I accepted I needed professional help. Counseling helped me process feelings and let go of shame in a safe environment. Family and friends lifted me along the way. Facing my shadows and exploring self-healing practices like meditation, bodywork, gratitude, and journaling led to some life-changing insights.
I began to accept each of us is a soul in a body controlled mainly by our minds. Consciously shifting my thoughts towards the good in life changed everything. It altered the filter through which I experienced reality. Instead of viewing myself as a shameful victim, I accepted the traumatic moments as catalysts for transformational growth. Ultimately, the experiences strengthened me and gave me a greater appreciation for life’s joyful moments.
In the words of Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God, “Every human thought, word, or deed is based on fear or love. Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, hides, hoards, harms. Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, reveals, shares, heals. You have free choice about which of these to select.” Indeed, Neale. Indeed.
We cannot control the actions of others, but we can choose our reactions. I don’t know why predators and rapists decide to inflict harm. Luckily, we can reclaim our power by owning our stories, releasing shame, and shifting our energy towards love. It’s okay (and incredibly beneficial) to ask for help along the way. Facing our darkness and consciously choosing love over fear reminds us our inner light never left us; external circumstances blocked it temporarily. We can rise above our shadows stronger, wiser, and kinder. And we can shine our loving light back into the world, empowering other humans along the way.
You can read more of Danielle’s articles and explore her guided meditation offerings at https://www.joyfulrising.com. Sign up for her email listserve to receive access to a free 5-minute mindfulness meditation for stress & anxiety. You can also follow her on Instagram @joyfulrising, Facebook, or Linked In.