Lindsay Diles is a musician, sexual assault survivor, and activist. She sat down to share her experiences and tips for other survivors to navigate their healing during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Can you tell us a little about your experiences as a survivor of sexual violence?
I was in my second year of college when I met the individual who, little did I know at the time, would change the course of my entire life, in an instant.
We met working together at a restaurant. He invited me to a party he was having at his place, telling me that there would be people there who would be “good for me to meet” (I was just changing my major over to Theater). He came to pick me up after we got out of work, as my car died earlier that day, and on the way, he made it a point to reassure me that if I needed a ride back to my place, he would take care of it. Throughout the night, we talked, shared stories, really seemed to hit it off.
We started out at his apartment, where the party was going on, and eventually made our way downtown to a dance club. I watched my drink the entire night, never setting it down or taking my eyes off it for a second. I knew where all of the exits were, in a weird way – as if my body could anticipate something felt off. I was with people I didn’t know very well and so I was being extra cautious. We danced, kissed, had a great time, and then the party moved back to his apartment, where I realized I wasn’t feeling well. I knew I hadn’t had that much to drink but something just felt “off.” He offered his bedroom as a quiet place where I could rest, away from everyone. Little did I know, moments later, that would be the place where my life was changed forever.
Everything was completely upside down. I was confused. Things weren’t making sense. I remember thinking that I liked this guy and yet I also remember saying NO. Multiple times. I remember being frozen, completely detached from my body at one point, as if I was watching a movie. “It was someone else that was on the screen, not me. These things didn’t happen to me. I was careful.” I remember saying that I needed to go home, back to my apartment, and he said that it was too late and the cabs weren’t running this late. And I remember believing him.
I was a virgin.
My brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening and that all of a sudden I had become “a statistic.”
I remember coming back to my apartment and telling my roommates “Yes, I had sex, but I said no,” and still, my brain didn’t register what that actually meant. I remember showering, starting to process it all, trying to wash out the shame, guilt, fear, confusion. I threw away my underwear.
There was a bubble inside me that wanted to keep this a secret. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and didn’t want anyone else to know what happened. I felt as if I did something to bring this on myself. “Maybe I should have said this, or shouldn’t have said that.” We all know that’s not the case, now.
Inside that bubble rose a voice that was fighting to be heard. It wanted to fight, to be seen, believed, vindicated. I went to the police, DA, local authorities, yet I received responses similar to many victims where the questioning was turned back to me. “What was I wearing, how much did I have to drink, why did I go to the bedroom…” I was completely dismissed, then dismantled.
I had one last shot and that was campus representation. Finally, someone would represent me – through a campus trial. When I decided to come forward and people started to find out, instead of being met with support and compassion, I was made into a mockery. Shamed. Ridiculed. Scoffed at. Betrayed. “Friends” taking sides. Belittled. Threatened. Property vandalized.
Somehow, I kept going.
I remember the ones who stood up for me, even when they were in the minority. I am grateful for them to this day. They are the ones who sat in the back corner of the campus courtroom even when they were outnumbered by the “defendant’s side.” They are the ones who stood up for me and spoke on my behalf as witnesses, even when they were outnumbered and in the minority. The one who held my mother’s hand in that courtroom for 13 hours as the campus trial dragged on from night into the morning, while my father sat beside me to face “the defendant” together.
I choose to use the word “defendant” because this individual no longer affects my world. This individual has never faced jail time, although he was found guilty. This individual walks the streets where our loved ones also walk. This individual knows exactly what was done and will have to live with that. But this individual no longer affects my world.
“Go where you feel safe and celebrated. Remember you are not alone.”
I share all this because it’s important to recognize there’s a lot more that goes on beyond the act of rape itself, which in and of itself is traumatic enough. The aftermath that follows is a huge component that leaves a significant impact. It has affected me significantly and still does in certain moments to this day.
My story is not about a finish line. My story is not about the rainbows and butterflies that come in once you’ve “unlocked the next achievement” or the “finish line” that you cross. The truth is, some days that “finish line” seems like it keeps getting pulled further away. Other days, you do “unlock the next achievement.” My story is about taking my power back. Taking my power back means getting to say “you no longer affect my happiness and my ability to rise” and developing ways to dance with this trauma, not away from it, to use it as fuel to continue to rise. My story is about reclaiming my own power – back in my body, in my mind, in my environment, in the way I speak to myself – it’s about embracing and celebrating myself for who I am, my body for doing everything in her power to survive, embracing my journey, my “messiness” and my resilience during every single step of this healing journey. This power lives in YOU – no matter how many doors it takes to access, all you need is the right key that works for you.
How have your experiences as a sexual assault survivor shaped your work as a musician and artist?
Singing literally saved my life. As a musician and artist, my experiences as a sexual assault survivor have helped me access a place of vulnerability and passion within myself that has helped tremendously in my healing process. Taking raw emotions and turning them into an art form has always been a way in which I’ve processed and gotten through tough situations. It has shaped the way I focus, perform, and express the feelings experienced in music and lyrics in songs to tell these stories in the most authentic way. When I’m performing on stage, I’m home.
No matter the feeling – love, sadness, heartbreak, anger, hurt, happiness – there’s someone out there who has been in that place or experiencing these feelings. I truly feel as an artist, it is both my duty and honor to be able to access these feelings and express them in a manner that brings this story to life in such a relatable way. It is a way to use your voice to speak out on behalf of those who may not be able to or feel they have one.
We turn pain into power, and healing into helping others. We continue to shine our light so other survivors can find us, even if that lightsaber gets heavy.
“Unshaken” is a song I wrote to help me get through my own feelings as part of my healing process, and my hope is that it can continue to heal others the way it’s helped a portion of my healing in writing it.
In your healing, what people and relationships have been most beneficial to you? How do you prioritize fostering those relationships?
The ones who truly see me and celebrate me for who I am, in all of my “messy moments” or “being too much” are the true warriors, because they keep showing up and keep supporting me no matter what. I am extremely grateful for my immediate family, my “framily” (close friends who have become family), and my coach and therapist(s) who have been an amazing support system for me over the years in the many stages of my healing process. The most beneficial relationships for me have been the ones who have been next to me on the path in my journey back to finding myself again.
In order to access my light again, I’ve had to sit with many extremely dark times – extremely long periods of time that sometimes I wasn’t sure if I would ever come out of these moments. No matter how dark it gets, even moments as I’ve recollected my thoughts for this blog, I’ve had to constantly remind myself that it does get better. It’s in these moments, the not so easy parts, where my friends, family and coaching support I’ve received on this journey have stepped up and shown me what it feels to experience love, support and safety, which has transformed into how I may be that person for myself. My friends and family, coach and therapists, have helped me ride these waves, no matter how rough it gets – sometimes handing me the surfboard and other times peeling me off the bottom of the ocean, as I figured out how I could “shine” again.
I am extremely grateful for the friends and family along the way who have allowed me to feel safe again, which has been extremely beneficial to my healing.
What techniques do you employ to soothe yourself when you feel triggered? How have these techniques improved your life?
Beyond the mud masks and spa time, in addition to music providing a great way for me to self-soothe, it’s not always accessible. I’ve put together a “Trigger Toolkit” for myself to help in times when I’m feeling activated/triggered, when it’s hard to catch my breath and the knots in my stomach start coming on in full force. These techniques have improved my life significantly. Each item in these toolkits may look different for everyone, depending on what works for each individual.
I can react, but I’m still in control – of my body, of my mind, of my safety.
Here are some samples from my “Trigger Toolkit”:
- Moving my body – yoga, running, walks, kickboxing, punching pillows, dancing, sensual movement, breaking a sweat
- Ripping paper/cardboard – soothing/stress relieving sensation (provided by former therapist)
- Deep breathing – alternate nostril breathing, left nostril breathing, counting your breaths “in for 3, 2, 1, out for 3, 2, 1” or “in for 4, 3, 2, 1, out for 4, 3, 2, 1”
- Adding mantras to breaths – Breathe in “I am here,” Breathe out “I am safe.” (or create your own saying that works for you)
- Adding tapping to breaths – alternating fingers, maybe even breathing with tapping and mantras
- Meditating – quieting the mind and drawing your attention inward, sometimes with music, other times in silence, depending on the mood
- Looking up at the moon, breathing it in and out – same with sunsets
- Making a list of things you are grateful for
- Trauma-informed yoga
- Notice 3 things you can see, hear, feel, smell – bringing awareness to present surroundings
- Take rest – whether it means canceling or rescheduling obligations until you feel safe to resume, or simply taking time out of your day to find stillness, rest your body, nourish your body, give your body sleep and rest she deserves
Based on your experiences, what is one message that you would share with other survivors as they embark on their healing journeys?
I’m a person going through life who has been violated, is still recovering, and has something to say.
To the thrivers who have endured incredible strength through unimaginable circumstances. You are fierce, you are strong, and you are not alone.
Healing is not linear – it can show up in circles where some days you’re on top and others, you’re at the bottom of the wheel. The important part is that you keep showing up for yourself, every single day, especially on the hard days. I constantly have to work at my own “stuff.” I have to ask myself, “What does my body need?” “How can I best take care of ME right now?” Allowing ourselves to sit with the triggers as they come in, feel it to heal it, and have compassion for yourself.
GO WHERE YOU FEEL SAFE AND CELEBRATED.
REMEMBER YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Follow Lindsay on social media at @lindsaydilesmusic.
If or someone you love has experienced sexual violence and is seeking free, confidential support, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.