I’ve been getting a lot of traffic to my blog since my Vox article came out. I wish this beast were monetized! But hey, if you’re visiting from the Vox article, welcome to my ad-free blog! My husband thinks you’re here looking for pictures of me and my daughter. Considering the fact that I’m getting a ton of visits to my About Me page, I think he’s right. That’s a little sick, you guys. I gotta be honest. But I supposed we are all infected with that weird gossipy sickness in one way or another. Give the people what they want I guess? There’s pictures of the two of us around here, sure. Try the very first post, about taking her to the Womxn’s March against Trump, or this post about things that made me happy during this dark, crazy year.
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Moving on…today I have something special. Today’s guest blogger is an attorney, public speaker, and blogger who still managed to find time to write a piece for my blog about how she healed from multiple sexual assaults. She is also a Muslim woman, and in this piece she address how her culture has served as both oppressor and liberator throughout her journey. I am so proud and honored to share her story on Betty’s Battleground. She asked me to note that, rather than using stock images, she has given me permission to use her original photography and artwork! It remains her property, and may be redistributed only with her permission and a link back to her blog, http://www.echoesofhervoice.com. Any unauthorized use is a violation of copyright laws.
Sheerin Siddique is a Michigan-licensed health care attorney in the greater metropolitan Detroit area, a blogger at echoesofhervoice.
The Story Behind The Voice
If you’ve read my blog, Echoes of Her Voice, then you know who I am and you are familiar with my life story. You’ve read all about my lost hopes and crushed dreams, you live through my current happenings and present recovery, and you wait for my future goals and infinite possibilities to unfold. But if you don’t, then you wouldn’t be aware of my struggles, especially after reading the inspirational quotes I share on Facebook, seeing me with my children on school grounds, working with me as a co-worker or colleague on a daily basis, watching me hold to my religious obligations as a Muslim, or meeting me at community dinners and events.
From the confidence that radiates from me, the façade of smiles that I emanate, and my aura of happiness, you would never suspect that I am a sexual assault and domestic violence survivor. I am exceptional at masking my true emotional pain. Since the day I was ten years old, I mastered the art of burying my sorrow in such a way that not even my parents knew what I had endured.
Until I “came out” as a survivor, nobody would have ever guessed the violation that had been inflicted on me. They never would have known I was beaten, bruised and raped. My voice was muted. I had been a slave to my three perpetrators through my silence, shame and self-blame, but nobody knew. Had I not finally decided to speak my pain aloud, the thoughts of my sexual assault would never have crossed my friends’ and family’s minds. They would never have known I was hurt at the tender age of ten by a man four times my age whom I trusted, then abused on all levels during my marriage, and then again raped by a man who promised to marry me. Because I am an attorney and hold leadership positions, nobody supposes that I would permit myself to be hurt. They certainly would never have believed that I have intertwining thoughts of loss, suicide, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues.
Today, I stand here speaking my truth, even though it shatters all the expectations of my Desi (South Asian) culture. It is taboo to become a divorced single mother who writes and speaks openly about rape and sexual assault; and not just anybody’s, but MY own abuse and trauma. My focus moving forward is to break the silence that abused women are strapped to, to change the conversation about assault so that we rightfully place the blame on the perpetrators and halt the further victimization of survivors, to transform into advocates for other survivors, to educate society on the realities of rape and mental health, and to alter the perception of such truth in our culture and society. I accomplish all this through my blog, using my own experiences as my inspiration. I persist in not just relaying my story, but combining it with advice so my posts serve as life lessons for the world.
I am a three-time sexual assault and domestic abuse survivor. The first incident occurred right around the time I hit puberty. Not understanding the transformations taking place in my physical body left me vulnerable to an assault by a man whom I trusted. After it happened, I blamed myself fully for this man’s dirty actions. He harassed me with lingering stares that followed my every move, threatened to harm my younger sisters, and confused me with his kind words. He meant to silence me, and it worked. I trudged through my teenage years clothed in agony. I attempted suicide in secret, deaf and dumb to the world, consumed by my terrifying past. Being a Muslim Desi woman, my most prized possession was no longer valuable. Although it had been unfairly stolen from me, I believed I had given it away through my shortcomings. I assumed I could not say anything, lest my entire family’s name, reputation and future would be hanging by a thread.
Years later, I agreed to an arranged marriage. He was a physician from India. Because my standards were so low, I was content with the fact that a man had miraculously married me: my value was in the ability to marry and I had fulfilled my purpose and found meaning in my life. But this relationship turned against me as well. He was a selfish, violent man who passed his time with abuse of all kinds against me: physical, sexual, mental, emotional and spiritual. I stayed with him for fear of wearing a Scarlet “D” Divorced. I told myself there was always hope that people can change. I was terrified to leave his side, because doing so would mean the beginning of a confined and frightening life alone. But after a near-death experience on a cold January night, I walked out and away, carrying me and my children to safety.
Being single wasn’t easy. I busied my day with my obligations as a single mother, a demanding career, and extracurricular activities. I pretended that the lack of a companion didn’t bother me. I acted as if my life was fulfilling and complete. My emotions were doing loops and backward flips inside of me, but I never exhibited them. The reality, though, was that my nights were lonely, painful and tear-filled. After three years of playing a game of make-believe, I aggressively began seeking my life partner. It was during this hunt that I was taken advantage of. I met a man who claimed that he wanted to marry me, but it was a scam. After he raped me, I again took to believing I was at fault. This was the third time in my life that I was abused by a man I trusted; that meant there was something wrong with me, didn’t it? I asked for forgiveness and I begged him to give me back my dignity by marrying me. I would do anything to have the situation rectified. Instead, he said that I was the one at fault. Little did I know that he was a narcissist and it was detrimental for me to even be in his presence.
Life After the Trauma
This last trauma triggered a hurricane of submerged memories and unbearable pain and I became a zombie. These disruptive symptoms forced me to confront my hidden past. I was not eating, sleeping, or interacting with people. Although I continued to live my life as expected on the outside, I was dying on the inside. My faith, goals and dreams were all floundering. Although my religion teaches its followers to be content, grateful, patient and optimistic, I could not meet those standards. I prayed, but my mind lacked concentration, while my heart lost faith. I stewed in shock, depression, hurt, impatience and ungratefulness. Soon, these feelings transformed into anger and a desire for justice.
That was my breaking point. I was finally forced to look back on the string of invasions and abuses, and to take action against the men who harmed me. I knew something had to be done, and that it had to be me who made the first move.
My journey of healing began when I first accepted that I had been hurt, specifically raped. Without that, I would still be paralyzed in the mindset of shock and disbelief. Once I accepted reality, I cried like I had never cried in my life. I shed tears for my childhood self, for my divorced self, for my single mother self, for my lost dreams, for my stripped dignity, for my shattered home, for my broken heart, and everything I could dream of. That was the best thing I did for myself.
I contacted an agency specializing in aid for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. I began taking my therapy sessions seriously, and started the conversation about my childhood abuse. I met with two counselors because each one provided an avenue of help that the other couldn’t. A center whose sole focus revolved around sexual assault and violence provided aid that no other facility could. Their events, conferences, and literature all rotated around a type of trauma that affected me 360 degrees. I also needed a Muslim therapist in my life to guide me on healing in a spiritual way: to accept what has been decreed, as even a leaf will not move without God’s permission. She taught me to continue to pray even if it seems impossible, to remain strong and patient in the most difficult moments, to ponder on the fact that life is a test, to remember that with each difficulty comes more than one ease, to consider that all my sins are washed away with each trial, and to bear in mind that God loves those He tests the most. This mixture of the practical and the spiritual provided a balance for me that I required for my mind and heart.
I took bold steps to warn this last perpetrator’s friend, his community and the other women whom he was trying to “woo” in order to violate them. This was my way of finding meaning from my pain. If I could save one life, then it made up for the life he had temporarily destroyed. You may wonder how I came to know about these people. The reality is that even though the world is big, it is also small. Between the conversations this last perpetrator and I had, I was able to find his “best buddy” through Facebook, his community in which he lived in, and the other women he had or was planning to violate. It took a lot of time, but that was what was required to find my retribution. Even if I couldn’t keep it up, I had aided the women whom I was meant to protect at that time.
I also did something I never thought I would do. I filed a police report against this last perpetrator. This was a daring move for me for various reasons. First, in my culture, nobody reports this type of abuse. Women are forced to hide it, because it is almost always dubbed the woman’s fault. Second, reporting the sexual assault also meant that my legal name and contact information would be in the hands of a police department. Documenting the crime against me somehow made it even more real for me. Finally, it was also a way – the only way – to hold him accountable for his actions. Nobody else would, because most Muslim Desi women refuse to be entangled in this web of legal action. I learned that most of his victims were divorced and/or single mothers, a taboo lifestyle. Because sexual assault is also considered a negative characteristic in my culture, it is often too much for his marks to bear. This meant, if I didn’t report him, no one else would either, and he would continue to get away with it. Taking back my voice was empowering. I was proud of myself for standing up to a man who believed and relied on the fact that no woman ever would.
I began my blog, echoesofhervoice.com. In November 2016, I started writing weekly posts under the pen name of Fatima Noor. My intention with this blog was to expose this last abuser. I hoped to reach women throughout the nation so that I could protect them and prevent them from ever going through the pain I did. However, it evolved into much more. My blog became a platform that I now utilize to teach the world about sexual abuse and domestic violence in general. It is now a canvas to paint my story and release the burden of silence encrypted within me. And it is a mode to illustrate to the world that there is a life after rape, through my journey of healing.
I openly came out as a sexual abuse survivor to my sisters and parents, as painful as it was for me to tell them and as excruciating as it was for them to hear it. I also came out to the Muslim community in a local radio talk show on station 910 AM called Between the Lines with Fatima Salman. As part of Sexual Assault Awareness month, the topic not only opened the lines of communication on this taboo topic, but it allowed me to break the stereotypes associated with survivors of sexual assault, and permitted me to show the world that anybody can undergo abuse. It was very therapeutic to share with the world a secret that bogged me down for almost three decades of my life.
I continue to do advocacy work through public speaking and writing for outlets other than my own blog. But the difference is that I write under my own name, not a pen name. My “coming out” debut article was written in response to the radio talk show: “A Muslim Sexual Abuse Survivor Pushes Back.” With this article, I attracted a different target audience. As much negativity as I received, I was gifted with that much more support and praise, although that was not my intention. I swam against the current of trauma and secrecy to openly label myself as a sexual assault survivor, which I am proud of. I no longer have to hide. I no longer have to run. I no longer have to pretend. I no longer have to be scared. I no longer need to be something I am not. I am me, and I love sharing my story.
Finally, I began taking care of myself. I spent time with myself, and rewarding myself with some “me time.” I began exercising as a way to release all my anger and frustration. Every pounding of the foot discharged my stress as I ran on the concrete floor. I was drawing and painting, which distracted me and soothed my pain. There is something so beautiful in creating pieces of art from your raw emotions. And seeing your very own art work makes you feel good and proud of your artistic capabilities. I appreciated nature much more, immersed myself in scenery, and documented these images through photography. I now have saved photos of the changing seasons year-round, numerous sunrises and sunsets in different settings, and a diversity of greenery and flowers. I also started reading and joined a book club where I interacted with friends who shared the same interests as me. All of these activities are me-centric and were necessary to aid me in my healing process.
What Am I Doing with My Future
I don’t know where I came up with the strength to do what I did. But looking back, I would do it all over again. I have no regrets. I have come to accept that I may never achieve justice the way I want from the men who have harmed me. The police report is on file, but it will likely not evolve into prosecution, since there is no evidence and would be a “he said, she said” matter. But I have come to the reconciliation within myself that whatever I have done is the best I can do. I am not God and I cannot protect all the women of the world. I am a single mother of three children, one of whom is a high schooler. I have a demanding career as an attorney, and I persist in my activism. Even while continuing to heal from all my past trauma and the present difficulties of life, I will continue to fight back with my writing and public speaking. I may not do as much as others or what I have done in the past, but at least I am doing what my abilities and time allow for. What the future holds, only God knows, but I know that I will never be silenced again.
Advice for the Struggling
For all those who are struggling (in whatever way you are), please have faith and never give up. I know at this very moment, life seems impossible, but it will get better. Time will heal and bring with it ease and many blessings.
Be brave and strong. We have a saying in our religion that God doesn’t burden us with more than we can bear. So, when it seems impossible to move forward, remember that you can handle whatever you are dealing with.
Never compare yourself to others. Each one of us walks in our very own shoes down our very own route, paving our very own footprints. Your struggle is unique and is yours and you never have to justify your life to anybody.
Never be ashamed of your struggles. We each carry our own burdens, although we may never share them with the world.
Take care of yourself in a way that produces peace and happiness, whether it is seeing a therapist, going out with a friend, dancing, reading, writing, drawing or baking. Be in tune with your needs and desires because you deserve self-care and healing. If you don’t take care of yourself, then who will?
If you can, share your trials with the world by writing or talking so that we can learn from one another and inspire each other. As ugly as the world is, there is also beauty within it, and there are more supporters than naysayers.
To all of you, may you find relief from your troubles, strength from your pain, meaning from your sorrow, laughter after your tears, and blessings in your journey. I know I have, and I hold strong faith that this will continue for the future.
Thank you for sharing your story Sheerin.
If you would like to leave Sheerin a respectful note, please do so in the comments below.
I would also greatly appreciate it if you would take a moment to share this post. Change can only come about as the result of awareness.
Til next time.