Below is an excerpt from my latest column in BlogHer, on what being a survivor taught me about love and resilience:
We all know survivors who triumphed over something; cancer, a car accident, service in Afghanistan or Iraq, child abuse, extreme poverty, or rape. Our lives and time march on, the indelible mark of trauma lingering like a shadow or ghost.
New acquaintances and friends see only the strength that came after the storm. Colleagues notice the passion, the dedication, the fire for completion, and are glad to have a collaborator at the table.
My journey began in a matriarchal family. Surrounded by women with a strong will to live and triumph over any challenge, my mother, her sisters, and my cousins fostered an atmosphere of feminine strength and resourcefulness. Their influence and capacity for joy made the unexpected possible.My challenge came, and as a naïve 17-year-old girl, my well of inner strength was tested. A female acquaintance led me to an unimaginable hell. I was held against my will and experienced a gang rape at the hands of six young men for six days.
When their brutality gave way to the need for more drugs and another victim, they left me with a drug-and-alcohol-soaked coward. I will never forget the long phone cord and how it restrained me then became my lifeline as I huddled in the fetid bathroom. I called my parents at home. My father came to my rescue.
He loved me. My mother loved me. And while I was broken inside, their love steadied me. It still does. Love’s boundless capacity for healing and building resilience and hope cannot and should not be underestimated.
I am a survivor. My parents never shamed me. I have a beautiful life. I have experienced the joy of falling in love and having the man of my dreams father my only child.
I survived the soul-crushing loss when he died on his 26th birthday at work.
I watched our daughter become a brilliant, healthy, generous, kind, and faithful person.
At every turn, I’ve made mistakes. I’ve made great choices. I remember the moments all along the way where trusting my gut became easier with each step. Confidence grew with hard work. Perseverance paved the way for better moments, better opportunities, for new kinds of happiness and fulfillment.
It is my privilege to be a survivor, and with that privilege comes responsibility.
Image: Torleif SvenssonToday, after years of political and corporate consulting as a media and communications strategist and as an advocate for women’s equality around the world, I work for an organization that defies the odds every day. Dr. Denis Mukwege is a Congolese obstetrician and gynecologist, globally renowned for his brave and pioneering work at the hospital he founded in 1999, the Panzi Hospital, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.