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Dear Survivor, We May Change By The Abuse, But Will Refuse To Be Reduced

Posted: December 27, 2020

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Feminist poetry is a powerful tool which always reminds me that we are in fact not alone – countless women have braved through these struggles.

Dear Survivor,

Today I want to tell you about my poetry guide for survival. The scars of gender based violence are such that a recent incident, or even a years old memory, can trigger you into a downward spiral.

This recently happened to me and I felt utterly alone and unable to come out of the ordeal. When I couldn’t find help anywhere, I turned to poetry. Similar voices and experiences put into poetic form came to me like empathetic friends. They seemed to know what I was experiencing and held me until I could stand up straight and go into the world again.

Feminist poetry is a powerful tool which always reminds me that we are in fact not alone – countless women have braved through these struggles. Reading about their experiences and journeys have worked as a soothing balm for me.

I’d like to share some of these poems with you, with the hope that they support you, whenever you need them. The good thing about poems is that you can come back to them whenever you want and find new meanings each time.

From ashes, rising

I want to begin by sharing a small passage from the book, Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, which aptly defines the connection between our bodies and the violence they are subjected to.

[…] resistance exalts those bodies- the bodies of women, of femmes, girls, and all gender
nonconforming people. The bodies of this collection are touched against their will,
bombed, stoned, they are giving birth, they are bending and not breaking, they are crying,
they are shouting, they are raging. Beyond luck, they thrive. From ashes rising, from
rubble resounding, these bodies are borne and forged indestructible by the fires of
demolition.

I find these words immensely healing because they acknowledge the pain and the rage of the violence we experience, without any erasure. The last two lines are particularly powerful because they capture the essence of the community of survivors which, despite its traumas, gathers resilience and walks onwards towards life.

The shame is not yours

Rupi Kaur’s book, The Sun and Her Flowers, has some gems of resilience with respect to gender based violence like no other – ‘[…] how can I verbalise consent as an adult if I was never taught to as a child’ and ‘parts of my body still ache from the first time they were touched.’

One of her most profound works in this area is her poem ‘home’. Here is a snippet which speaks of shame.

i’ve spent years trying to figure out
how i could have stopped it
but the sun can’t stop the storm
from coming
the tree can’t stop the ax
i can’t blame myself for having a hole
the size of your manhood in my
chest anymore
it’s too heavy to carry your
guilt-i’m setting it down
i’m tired of decorating this place
with your shame
as if it belongs to me
it’s too much to walk around with
what your hands have done
if it’s not my hands that have done it

Healing is a messy business

Nayyirah Waheed’s poem heal from the book Salt normalises the fact that healing is a messy business and there can be no time limit for how long a person requires to rehabilitate themselves. She says:

in our own ways
we all break
it is okay
to hold your heart outside of your body
for
days.
months.
years.
at a time.

In Nayyirah Waheed’s work I found the much needed reminder that healing is a messy business. One cannot put a time limit on how long one grieves for their wounds. Feeling pain does not equal weakness, instead it is a necessary outlet for trauma.

I find her poem meditation reassuring because it teaches me that as survivors we can hold space for our pain and simultaneously have the strength to work through it.

if
the ocean
can calm itself
so can you.
we
are both
salt water
mixed
with
air.

Still you’ll rise

The stigma that is attached to being a survivor of gender based violence can seep into our minds and create a story of shame and tragedy. Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise helps reshape this narratives as survivors. Here are a few lines from this celebrated poem from Phenomenal Woman:

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Angelou in her unbeatable candour famously said “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” Still I Rise is a glowing testament to poems which are healing and hold our hand through the toughest of days. They do not give us strength but remind us that it already exists within us.

These poems have seen me through turbulent times and I hope they will do the same for you. When you feel alone in your struggle, may you read these poems and remember that even without being physically present your fellow survivors, fellow sisters are standing by you.

Your Fellow Survivor.

A survivor of gender based trauma is affected in ways that go deep, and their worldview can get permanently damaged. It can be really crippling in their day to day life – whether in the personal or public sphere, and sending some comfort their way can help.

We at Women’s Web are collaborating with the Saahas App for Survivors of Gender Violence to reach out to women who need to be heard, and healing, as survivors of gender based violence. Letters to the survivor from our authors will be published on Women’s Web in the coming 10 days, and also on the Saahas website, in a series called “Dear Survivor”.

If you would like to participate, please upload your letter on your Women’s Web dashboard, and if chosen, it will be published.

Image source: pexels

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A poetry-loving, feminist, and queer-affirmative therapist.

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