My Guide to Healing as a Survior by May Saengpraseuth Alirad
I was born in Laos in 1985, surrounded by family and community. At the age of one, my parents snuck me and my sister over to Thailand to a refugee camp without saying goodbye to our extended family. I never saw my only living grandparent again. My family and I stayed in Thailand until September of 1989, when my uncles partnered with a local church to bring us over to the US. Since Elgin, Illinois is Vientiane’s sister city (the capital of Laos), we resettled there with our family and hundreds of other refugee families. We came to American with no money and a handful of paperwork. Upon arriving in the US, my father was able to find a job as a factory worker, and my mom was the local babysitter for our apartment complex. I had to learn a new language and culture at the young age of four. Also, at that time, all the refugee children were encouraged to attend church in the hopes of learning English. In the first grade, at the age of six, I became a victim of sexual assault by a same-age child on the church bus.
My journey of sexual trauma started at the age of six when I was in first grade. I didn’t tell anyone about it; instead I began to sexually assault other same-age children. From the age of seven to thirteen (sixth grade), I was experimenting and acting out what happened to me with other girls. The sexual behaviors on my end stopped when I got to middle school. But while in eighth grade, a classmate assaulted me while over at a friend’s house, then as a junior in high school, a boy I was dating tried to rape me when I visited his house. During my senior year in high school, I was sexually assaulted by someone I was dating during that time. When I was twenty, I met someone on the party line. We moved in together, and our relationship became physically and emotionally abusive. He abused me, and I abused him. At the age of 24, I started dating someone else who raped me. I was raped again by another man. Then at 25, I was in a relationship with someone who coerced me into engaging in sexual activities with him. At 27, I was raped by my boyfriend and stayed with him until I was 30. When I was 32, I was raped by someone else I was in a relationship with. A couple of months later, he broke up with me. Then I was raped by an acquaintance who came to town from another state. After that, I was coerced to have sex with the next three men that came along. I stayed with the third person who coerced me until I got married at the age of 33 to someone I met at church when I was in high school. And there went twenty-five years of my life of being a victim of sexual assault.
The biggest life challenge was healing from 25 years of sexual trauma. Although from the outside, I may have appeared to be very successful because I received my master’s degree at the age of 23, bought my own house at 31, and had a car. I was living very comfortably, but at the age of 32, I knew I needed help and that I was not okay. I tried to get professional mental health services and was put on a waiting list for six months. When I finally connected with a therapist, she was wonderful, and I learned so much from her. However, I still had so much shame, guilt, fear, and condemnation. I felt ashamed for the experiences, guilt that it was my fault, fear that others would find out about the sexual assaults and need professional help, and condemnation from others through victim-blaming. One day, my life changed forever! On September 13, 2020, one of my friends and I were praying together, and this spirit of the assault, which had shame, guilt, fear, condemnation attached to it, came out of me. I’m not trying to be spooky, but I literally felt something stuck in my throat, not wanting to come out. So, we kept praying, and that thing or evil spirit left my body. The next thing I remember, I was saying “Yes” to God. Yes, to whatever He wanted me to do. Yes, to sharing my story; yes, to accepting my story; yes, to owning my story, and yes, to helping as many people as I can get to the place I reached that day. It’s as if I had been carrying a backpack filled with bricks most of my life, and now I am free to just put the backpack down. It’s unexplainable, but the best word to describe it is freedom. Something that I had never felt before in my life. September 13, 2020, will go down in history as the date I said yes to myself, yes to my purpose, and yes to my happy mind space.
What did you learn about yourself as you navigated your challenges?
I learned that God is not finished with me yet. Although I had counted myself out because I had done too much, said too much, and gone too far off the deep end. I still have so much more life to live and still so many more people to help. I am not my past anymore. It is not who I am. Yes, those things did happen to me, but it does not define me anymore. Lastly, I am stronger than I thought, braver than I’ve been, and wiser than I was yesterday.
What drives you?
I am driven by all the “Little Mays” and “Big Mays” out there in the world. I became a school social worker because I wanted to be that person that I never had the courage to tell. I have become the person that I needed in first grade. So essentially, I have become that person for all the elementary school students that I work with and have worked with for the past 14 years. Also, I want everyone who has ever been assaulted, whether it was yesterday or 60+ years ago, to know that healing is still possible for you. You just have to believe that you deserve to be healed, happy, and whole and do the daily work that is required.
Additionally, I am driven by the need to bring awareness and prevention to children and adolescents. I was sexually assaulted as a child. If I had been in a prevention program that taught me what to do if this ever happened, I think I would have told a trusted adult. Now it is my life’s purpose to create and bring this prevention program to all the children around the world.
What does finding your voice mean to you?
To me, finding my voice means being able to speak my truth and not be afraid of what others will think or say. It is a place where you can begin your self-actualization healing journey. It’s a sense of freedom from your past, freedom from your negative thoughts, and freedom to live your best life!
Tell us about your book and the journey/process of writing it.
My book entitled “Was I Assaulted? My Guide to Healing as a Survivor” is written to empower survivors of assault to find their voice and take control of their lives. It was a very emotional process. There were times I would be writing, and tears would just stream down my face. There were things that I wanted to purposefully leave out of the book because it was too revealing or intimate, but I didn’t. There were times when I didn’t think I could do it, didn’t think I was good enough, or didn’t think my book would make a difference, but I persevered through them. I finally realized that writing this book has been healing for me, and if I can just empower just one person with my story, then all the pain I went through was worth it!
What brings fulfillment in your life?
My biggest fulfillment would be to help and empower assault survivors around the world to take control back of their lives. To teach and empower all children to dream big and feel like nothing is impossible for them. Finally, to know that my husband, Ali, and I are raising our daughter, little Eden, to be someone greater than we are and who will change her world.
How can people access your book when is it out?
My ebook will be free on Amazon starting April 27 for a limited time. You can visit my website delaocoaching.com where it will take you directly there!