After going through my own experience of sexual violence, I struggled to care about my own well-being. Those around me - including family members, close friends, my lacrosse coach and college - all pushed me in the direction they felt was the necessary next step: talk therapy. While they felt instant relief in feeling as though they had done something to help, I felt even more alone. Mental health support seemed to be everyone’s default suggestion, and no one mentioned anything else in terms of supporting my healing process.
Even after trying therapy, I was struggling, and my family and friends could see it. I could feel it. No one tells you the physical and mental toll a traumatic event can take on the body and mind. Disrupted sleep, anxiety, self-destruction became common places in my life, yet I couldn’t name them as being linked to what had happened to me. I just knew that talking wasn’t making me feel better and my self-destructive behaviors intensified. People thought that with time and therapy, I would be better after a few months. My experience became a topic no one wanted to discuss and I felt ashamed for not being “over it”.
Around the same time of trying therapy, I was reintroduced to the sport of olympic weightlifting. It was more of a “just give it a try,” type of approach. I was scared of the gym space, only familiar with some cardio machines. I oftentimes felt lost and intimidated by the idea of a gym, let alone lifting weights. Slowly, weightlifting became more and more attractive to me. It was the first outlet that I chose. Unlike talk therapy, weightlifting was something I opted into. I did it to make myself feel good, not because someone wanted me to do it.
Over time, my teammates started to hold me more accountable, and I saw myself getting stronger. Weightlifting brought me a sense of community and responsibility. The consistency of practice and the months-long process of competing toward a goal brought a sense of structure I didn’t know I needed. I started to prioritize my physical health again and could feel a shift in my confidence both in and out of the gym, all while my destructive behaviors started to dissipate. Through going from being scared to pick up a barbell to then lifting heavy weights, I physically wanted to be better for myself in a time where I wasn’t exactly caring what happened to me anymore. I wanted to be in the gym with my teammates, cheering them on, versus starting fights at a bar, finding anything to put in my body to get to the next day.
Eventually I connected the dots of how beneficial weight training was for my healing process, even to the point where I was ready to return to talk therapy. I thought there could be others like me who are intimidated by the gym space, have gone through sexual violence and just didn’t want to talk about it. As I started to do more and more research, each time I could only find mental health support groups and a simple acknowledgement that you will have physical and mental responses to an act of sexual violence. There weren’t any resources for focusing solely on physical well being.
Ultimately, as a society we focus on the mental before the physical, but I thought, why not switch it or work in congruence with the two? There needed to be more options for the after-care process and I created Already Strong to fill that gap. Already Strong classes provide survivors the sense of community, accountability, and structure that weightlifting gave me, not to mention the physical and mental health benefits that come with exercise. I didn’t start weightlifting to reclaim my strength after being raped. I was already strong. Just like every person who identifies with the mission- we are all Already Strong.