The first blanket that was ever made for The Monument Quilt was the first time I ever told my story.
I've unpacked my experience with sexual violence from many different angles. And of all those angles, while stages in a long process of healing, also conveniently avoided the truth. The kind of truth that once you speak it you know that it is permanent. And then one day, I bought a tacky table cloth from the dollar store. And alone one night I wrote on that ugly tablecloth in beige paint.
"The closeness I felt towards him was always mitigated by a knowing fear. My step-dad raped me when I was in the third grade."
This thing is such a long process.
I learned, while at the National Sexual Assault Conference that 90 percent of adult arsons are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. And although I think 90 percent of statistics about sexual violence are a load of crap, because sexual violence is so under-reported, I agree with that fact. I've felt the primal urge to set things on fire. A rage so fierce and so deep I couldn't name it. You can't take back what has already been taken. And what's forever been taken from me is of equal if not greater consequence than a building burning to the ground.
The one outlet that not only matches, but heals my rage is activism.
As an activist, I have found meaning and empowerment through organizing The Monument Quilt. The Monument Quilt is a collection of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. By stitching our stories together, we are demanding public space to heal. The quilt is a platform to not only tell our stories, but to forever change how people in the U.S. respond to rape and abuse. We are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported rather than publicly shamed.
Public shame isolates survivors. Confining survivors' lived experiences to the private realm cuts off their potential to band together and change our current epidemic of sexual violence. To that end, the Monument Quilt is designed to be an organizing tool. Survivors can create a quilt square, organize workshops or events in their community, contribute anonymously or publicly, and, on a massive scale, come together. Each piece of the quilt will be gathered together to blanket the National Mall in a final display with the message, "NOT ALONE."
Part of the psychological trauma of sexual violence is a sense disempowerment. In sexual violence, one loses control over the one domain we should always have control: our bodies. Activism has transformative potential for healing the deep wound of disempowerment. To feel one's own power is restorative.
According to Judith Herman, "The women who recover most successfully are those who discover some meaning in their experience that transcends the limits of personal tragedy. Most commonly, women who had made the best recoveries were those who had become active in the anti-rape movement. In refusing to hide or be silenced, in insisting that rape is a public matter, and in demanding social change, survivors create their own living monument."
Every one's process of healing from sexual violence is very different. I cannot heal unless I feel empowered. I don't want to be a victim. For me empowerment is an uphill battle. I was raised to be a victim by a sexual predator at an age where words like empowerment and predator were way beyond my elementary vocabulary. I am not a victim. I can't change what happened to me. I can't change that I still carry that violation in my body and that I still feel it. Daily. I am not a victim. I feel empowered the most, when I feel like I am changing the circumstances and the culture that created my abuse.
When I feel the power of the Monument Quilt. When I feel the power of telling my story with so many others. When I feel the power of survivors coming together to forever change the public response to rape. Is when I feel that elusive triumph of overcoming.
And while burning a building to the ground is not of greater consequence than my personal tragedy, blanketing the national mall with stories from survivors is.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.
Follow Rebecca Nagle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/upsettingrape