I have tinnitus. Tinnitus is a constant ringing in one or both ears, which I managed to get in America at a shooting range.
I’d never been to America before. I was visiting my mum when the earmuffs lifted off one of my ears just as I shot. Tinnitus is usually reserved for musicians, tradies and people with serious chronic conditions. But I am very good at that whole wrong place wrong time thing, you see.
You get used to the noise, of course; you have to or you’d go (more) batty. But it sneaks its way into your thoughts—at obvious times, when you are listening closely, but also at random times.
You are sitting on the train watching the trees speed by, wondering what emails will greet you at work, when suddenly you can hear nothing but a high-pitched screeching. It fills all your senses in such a way that you wonder if you’ll pass out.
If you were looking at me while this happened you would have no idea; you’d just see a woman blinking slightly longer than necessary.
Being a survivor of sexual violence feels remarkably similar to my tinnitus: unexpected, unwarranted, undeserved and lifelong.
I have fallen into the deep pit of despair more times than I’d like to admit. Walking around all day with tears that are about to fall, sitting in my eyes like a sneeze that just needs the right light to hit it to explode.
Try as I might, I cannot overcome these moments on my own. It has taken me a long time to realise but the only thing able to pull me out of that pit is my brothers and sisters, siblings and friends in the survivor community. They have helped me not only heal myself but to learn how to heal others with me.
I was not prepared for this life when I started my activism journey. I’ve never been much of a planner or organiser, preferring instead to fall from one thing to the next. Before a holiday, a travel itinerary will appear in my inbox from my sister, who has planned out an entire road trip for us.
My only required input is for, “Can you be up at 7am or should we do later?” (later being the obvious answer). Even the biggest decision of my life didn’t feel quite like a decision but more like an inevitability.
The media scrutiny of my trial turned something that had happened to me into a cautionary tale, with a different moral depending on which side you believed. A narrative was being created on the front page of newspapers and on internet discussion boards. A narrative that was missing one vital aspect—my voice—and that needed to change.
I never imagined my story would have the impact it had, so I was nowhere near prepared for becoming a public survivor and it made me feel more alone than ever. As I fell down another path I hadn’t picked, hands reached out to cushion my fall. Before I had even realised the path I had fallen down, my phone was flooded with messages of support from fellow survivors. People whose stories you are deeply familiar with and people whose names you will never know, offering me support and guidance, friendship and care.
It is from this well that I continue to quench my thirst years later, continue to gain strength from all the incredible survivors who came before me and since. We’re being hurled towards a new day through the sheer force of survivors and their determination. We can never change our past or what happened to us, but we can change the future.
Can you see that bright, beautiful future free from sexual violence just beyond the horizon? When I am lifted up by my fellow survivors it floods my vision, it’s all I can see. I’m there. You’ll be here soon, too.
This story originally appeared in the march issue of marie claire Australia.