Seeing a different perspective after trauma.
We cannot have a world where everyone is a victim. “I’m this way because my father made me this way. I’m this way because my husband made me this way.” Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over, you are responsible.
― Camille Paglia
He closed the door behind him. It was a dark room with one long window, higher than I could reach without being on my tippy toes. It wasn’t the first time him, and I had sex, but even though I didn’t want to again, I couldn’t say no. As someone labeled him, he was the “mother f — ing general of the hood,” known for making millions and ordering the murders of people who crossed his path.
He finished and left the room. Just as I was putting my pants back on, another guy entered the room. And another. And another. And another. All to have sex with me, on their terms. I was petrified. All I could hear were male voices through the walls, but I didn’t know how many or who was out there. I was locked in a room with nowhere to go until it was all over.
After a couple of hours, one of the oldest guys walked in. I was exhausted up to that point and couldn’t even begin to get back down on the navy blue carpet floor. I looked at him in the eyes and begged, “Please don’t do this. Please just pretend you did and walk out, telling the others guys you did it. Please…” There was a pause, and when he looked at me, I felt like I was seen as another human being for the first time that night. I could see him struggling to decide at the moment. He turned around and walked out of the room, saying something in Vietnamese to the other guys. That’s when I slowly walked out after seeing no more guys come into the room after a few minutes. Keeping my eyes focused towards the floor as I walked to the door, I left the apartment and took a bus home. By the end of it all, I’d been raped by thirteen guys. Yes, thirteen.
I was 16 years old when that happened. I didn’t dare tell any of my friends and certainly wouldn’t share it with my parents. I was ashamed and felt absolutely dirty and used.
At 18 I married someone who was verbally and physically abusive. It took a hard toll on my spirit, breaking me down into thoughts of suicide, regular self-harm, a suicide attempt that landed me in the hospital and deflated self-worth. Whenever I tried to fight back with words, he’d laugh and call me names, or he’d look at me like I was insane for audaciously standing up to him. I channeled all my anger into a journal, only to have him find it one day where he lashed out in anger at me for the things I dare said in it. From then on, I decided it was just safer to keep everything to myself. I told myself I deserved all of the emotional pain and only allowed it to keep coming. I was defeated. It all culminated into him trying to kill me one night in the family home as our three young children slept upstairs, beating me unconscious and stabbing me.
After the attack, it took three months before he’d be arrested and incarcerated. During that time, I was fortunate to have a solid team of people around me to support my healing. Slowly over time, I was asked to share my story at various events by people who told me I had a powerful message to share. It was challenging for me to be in the spotlight as an introvert and to share something so personal with strangers. But the more I shared my story, the more women (and some men) would come up to me or message me in private saying they had been or were going through, what I had. Many asked how they too could overcome their adversities. I learned that the more I didn’t want to share my story, the more I was doing a disservice to others.
What I’ve come to appreciate is the remarkable lessons in all of my dark times, from the rape to the attempted murder. All experiences are merely that- experiences. They are opportunities to grow from, learn from, and transcend. Every single situation, whether you perceive it as positive or negative, is precisely what you need at that time. Yes, that may be a hard bullet to bite. The brightest light resides in the darkest dark, meaning that those of us who are going through deep traumas and adversities have the most prominent light to bring to ourselves and to the planet. We must alter our vantage point to see this perspective.
Let me make an important note here. Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation, nor does it mean that the perpetrator’s actions or behaviors are excused. Not at all. Forgiveness frees you from the bondage of emotional pain. It means you’re not attached to what happened to you or what kind of punishment the other person will receive. See, the beauty of this physical experience is that each of us is on our unique journeys and there are universal laws that apply to us all, such as the Law of Karma. It’s not up to you to decide when someone will get back what they give out. The other important thing to note is that while a gift is in your pain, this does not mean you need to start looking for painful situations or staying in sad situations. Each of us goes through ups and downs in life, and it’s what you do in those rock bottom, darkest of dark times that matters.
I appreciate the rape and beatings I experienced because it taught me forgiveness, compassion, resilience, and mental toughness. Most of all, it showed me my purpose in life. Each day I wake up inspired and full of joy thinking of ways I can help contribute to other people’s lives. Over the past five years, I’ve had the privilege of helping everyone from young women in Uganda to lawyers in Canada to ex-drug dealers overcome their pain. I’ve created a mentorship program for aspiring young leaders in Africa, helped women of trauma reclaim their sexuality and helped seven-figure CEO’s with their spiritual growth. All because I went through the dark times I did and saw the gift that it indeed was. While I’m also a great receiver, my cup is so full, and my life is overflowing with abundance that I have much to give others.
You may not have experienced rape or abuse, but you’ve been through your own adversities. Where in your life can you let go of anger, resentment, and bitterness? Any of it that you’re hanging on to is robbing you of your fullest potential. Free yourself and share the gift from your pain with others.
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About Jessica Santonato
Based in Toronto, Canada, Jessica Santonato is a TEDx Speaker and inspirational speaker who shares the message of forgiveness and finding the gift in pain. She is an award-winning author featured alongside Lisa Nicholas, Neale Donald Walsch, and SARK in a book series called “Pebbles in the Pond”. In her latest memoir “Flip The Script” (Fall 2019 release), she shares her journey of living a criminal lifestyle, assault, attempted suicide and domestic violence before the age of 30, to her rise in conscious leadership and philanthropy by the age of 35. Recognized for her leadership abilities, she was one of three people chosen by an American personal development company to help more than a thousand entrepreneurs from across all continents achieve success through the power of vivid story sharing and communication.
Flip The Script, an organization Jessica founded, is a raw and unfiltered story sharing community where everyday people inspiringly share how they’ve overcome adversity and discovered the gift in their pain. Proceeds from events support their story sharing program ‘From The Streets To The Stage’ for males who’ve been (or are currently) incarcerated and/or who are recovering from addiction.
She has been featured in media such as Cosmopolitan Magazine, Rogers TV and various podcasts, and has given talks at Humber College, Mississauga City Hall, inner-city schools and at an event for international peace activist/conscious hip-hop artist, Emmanuel Jal.
Click here for more info: http://jessicasantonato.ctcin.bio