The Mighty Logo

How Disney's 'Moana' Gave Me Hope After My Sexual Assault

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I’ve seen “Moana” three times in the last four days. Not illegally via some sketchy website but the full on, go to the theater, pay for my ticket and promise my firstborn in return for popcorn and a drink experience. I apologized to little Cinemark Extreme 3D Luckett in advance, but it was worth it. Not only have I seen “Moana” three times, but I have yet to leave the theater without crying at least twice. As someone with deep-seated emotional trauma, crying isn’t new to me, but very rarely can a movie make me cry without involving a dead and/or dying dog. Call me a cold, heartless shrew but watching Simba’s dad die never phased me. “Moana,” on the other hand, has yet to allow me to leave the theater without looking like an odd, tomato-human hybrid. Slap a sticker on me and I could sell at your local grocery store for top dollar because I am as the kids say, “organic as f*ck.”

There’s one scene in particular I think is the main reason I can’t get enough of this movie. A crash course for those of you who haven’t seen it. “Moana” follows a Polynesian teenager named — you guessed it — Moana, on a quest to save her island. She can’t do it without the help of Maui, the demigod whose theft of the heart of Te Fiti is the reason everything is dying.

From my understanding, Te Fiti is the Polynesian version of mother earth and her heart had the power of ultimate creation — that is until it was stolen by Maui and an evil force named Te Kā appeared. It turned the oceans dangerous and started sucking the life out of the islands. Therein lies Moana’s purpose: get Maui and escort him across the sea to return the heart. Although much more happens and you should go and see the movie to get the full experience, my favorite part is the final confrontation between Moana and Te Kā.

After Moana has scaled the mountain, she realizes Te Fiti is gone and turns to find herself face to face with the dreaded Te Kā. It’s in this moment she realizes the two are one being and Te Kā is just an embodiment of the pain Te Fiti felt after her heart was stolen. In typical disney princess style, she processes this down the mountain slowly with heart held high in the air and allows Te Kā to come to her so the heart can be returned to its rightful owner. During the tense moment when Te Kā comes running at her — still in scary demon lava god form — Moana sings this:

“I have crossed the horizon to find you I know your name,
They have stolen the heart from inside you,
But this does not define you,
This is not who you are,
You know who you are.”

In just six lines, this children’s movie has explained all the frustration and hurt I’ve experienced as a survivor of sexual assault. People always talk about the shame involved in the aftermath of these attacks, most of it as a condemnation of the way society has treated victims and survivors. There is so much truth and need for reform with this argument, but at the same time it overshadows a rather different kind of shame survivors can also feel.

I never felt shameful about my sexual assaults in the traditional sense. Being angry at myself for drinking too much or wearing the wrong clothes never even crossed my mind. Instead, my shame came from a place of frustration. Why was this affecting me so much? I was the only thing stopping myself from letting go of two moments out of the millions I’ve collected so far. Why couldn’t I just let it go and get back to my life? If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m only just now coming to terms with my past and acknowledging its impact on my present.

To help explain where I’m coming from about the power of this song and just the movie in general, it would be easiest to just take a closer look at the last four lines. “They have stolen the heart from inside you, But this does not define you.” This section is my struggle coming to terms with what happened to me. When trying to repress the memories, I refused myself the right to be a victim. In my eyes, being a victim meant I had given up. The weakness and my attackers won. I failed to see what happened to me is a crime. But the desire to forget and to not be a victim hid what I have now found to be a vital part of my recovery. I am not just a rape victim. I am not just the leftovers of someone else’s choices. Living with trauma simply means living, but with a few added turns along the way. Just like Moana sings, it doesn’t define who I am.

The next lines then build on this idea with a valuable addition: hope. “This is not who you are, you know who you are.” So many times during my recovery have I returned to this idea and thanks to Lin Manuel Miranda, I can now do it in song. In the early days, these lines were a lie. My perspective was so out of whack, I truly believed the recluse I had transformed into was permanent. I would never wake up without my mind immediately going back to those dark places. Thank god since I’ve started my intensive outpatient program (IOP) my thoughts have changed drastically. Confronting my past and learning healthy ways to exist instead of constantly being at war has, for lack of better words, changed me. My past will always be a part of me, there’s no denying that. But coming to terms with that has taught me something even more valuable.

Who I am today is incredibly powerful. When I was at my worst I never gave in. I reached out and asked for the help I so desperately needed. And when I started getting that help, I was pushed so far outside of my comfort zone. But even so, I never missed a day. I’ve opened up about my trauma not only to my friends and family, but the entire f*cking internet. By doing all of this, I’ve slowly started to remember this person — not the smelly girl who wouldn’t leave her bed — is who I truly am.

“You know who you are.”

What a powerful reminder for all of us who have ever been stuck. It’s not “I” or “we” know you you are, but “you.” Inside, you have everything you could possibly need to move forward from this. You may take meds or go to therapy in addition, but healing will never come unless we recognize our immense strength. It allows for these outside factors to contribute to our journey, but stops us from taking credit away from the only person who has been there for everything.

The promise of new lessons in the most unexpected places (Disney movies?) is a lifelong incentive to never stop learning. And I think that’s why I love this movie so much. It helped me to remember we have no control over where our journey takes us and that’s OK. Change is scary, but by keeping in mind where we’ve been, each “misstep” can be used as a lesson to guide us one step closer to becoming the person our soul aches to be.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via “Moana” Facebook page.

Originally published: March 7, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home