How to Support Friends on the Anniversary of Their Sexual Assault
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
It was my 22nd birthday recently, and also the anniversary of a day that I was raped. It’s a clashing of a day when I’m supposed to invite people out to celebrate being alive and a day when I just want to crawl in bed and not exist. Both of these events are ones that I am unable to overlook.
This year, I made plans to celebrate my birthday a few days before in order to separate the two but then it gives me no accountability for the actual day itself. It’s (relatively) easy to ask people out for a birthday celebration but incredibly difficult to ask people to spend your assault anniversary with you. How do you ask someone to be with you because you are afraid to be alone? Because you’re afraid you really won’t be OK? How do you even ask people to hang out because it’s the anniversary? How do you bring that up?
As I tried to maneuver conversations with my best friends to let them know the importance of this day, I realized we rarely talk about how to be a good ally to someone after an assault and basically never talk about how to still be a good ally every year after. Because of this, I decided to make a list of things I think friends can do to support their loved ones on hard days. I know everyone processes trauma differently, so this won’t be accurate for everyone, but they’re good things to ask your friends if they would be helpful for them or not.
1. Be present.
Honestly, the biggest thing for me on my year markers is just knowing I’m not alone. If you can spend time with me, whether it’s for hours or just to grab coffee for 30 minutes, it makes a huge difference. If you can’t be in person, then intentional texts/Snapchats are a great second choice.
2. Don’t feel like we have to talk about it.
I promise you it’s going to be on my mind all day and probably days leading up to and after as well, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we have to talk about. Today, like any other day, we’re still the same friends. Talk to me about dogs, classes, penguins, coffee, someone you think is cute, or basically anything we would normally talk about.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk about it.
Now that I said we don’t have to talk about it, I want to affirm that we definitely can as well. Honestly, I might want to say something about it, but will be too afraid I’m being a burden if I do or that you don’t want to hear about it. Personally, asking how I’m feeling is a great way to allow me to decide if I want to say anything.
4. Remind me I am safe.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is honestly the worst because even though I know I am safe in this moment, by body continuously tries to convince me I’m not and it’s really easy to believe it’s true when I’m stuck in my thought processes. Help me stop that. Remind me we are safe and there is virtually no harm present.
5. Remind me I’m in control.
Piggybacking off number four, feeling out of control feeds into dangerous PTSD thought processes and can trigger panic. Being assaulted is having all control taken from you and to feel that same way can cause me to start catastrophizing. Don’t make decisions for me but instead give me options. Even if you decide we’re going to coffee, give me choices on which coffee shop.
6. Ask me how you can support me.
Literally asking “How can I support you?” is one of the very best questions there is. With that being said, sometimes I honestly have no idea what I need or what would help. That’s where this list comes in. Tell me you’ll be present. Ask how I’m feeling or if there’s anything I want to do.
7. Tell me I’m not a burden.
One of the hardest parts of telling someone the importance of hanging out on the anniversary of their assault is feeling like you’re a burden to them. This feeds into my self-narrative that my assault is something to be ashamed of. Remind me you are actively choosing to be with me because you love me and not because you feel you have to.
However you choose to support someone, the most important thing to remember is the fact you’re choosing to support them. Every person needs different things and, each year, I even need different things. Be comfortable with starting conversations asking what you can do to support your friend and go from there.
Anniversaries can be frightening for someone going into them and just knowing they won’t have to go through it alone can make an immense difference.
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.
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash