There’s always something better ahead of you: a Q+A w/ Abby Honold

Sinclair: According to your website, you identify as a rape survivor/thriver. What does being a thriver mean to you?

Abby: I’ll start off by saying that I think there’s more than one label that defines my experience with sexual violence. I think a lot of people like to say, “be a survivor, not a victim”, but I know full well that I am victim/survivor/thriver all wrapped up into one.

With that said, I like the word “thrive” because it reminds me that growth is possible. My life gets to be more than what happened to me, and I get to move forward in whatever way I want to. I think that’s really empowering.

Sinclair: Where are you with healing today?

Abby: I always say that healing is more of a rollercoaster than a linear path, and that’s true for me as well. I am grateful that I can generally look back on where I was a year ago, and know that I’m in a more secure place than I was then. I still have PTSD, and I don’t know if that is ever something that will go away for me, but I don’t have enough good things to say about how beneficial it can be to connect with fellow survivors, on top of therapy and other traditional ways of healing. One of the most helpful things for me has been discovering that I’m not alone.

Sinclair: What’s the best thing about the work that you do?

Abby: My favorite thing is always reaching out to and talking with fellow survivors. Even if our conversation is brief, I know how big of a difference it can make to just have someone acknowledge your pain and tell you that they’ve been through it too. It really helps motivate me on the more technical aspects of what I do, and reminds me of why all of this is worth it. 

Genuine joy is hard to come by with PTSD, so I try to aim for feeling content and generally happy. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: What is something that we often get wrong about women’s bodies?

Abby: I think one thing we get wrong about bodies in general (not just female ones) is how the body holds on to trauma. There are plenty of things that we can logically understand or mentally work through, but our bodies have their own memory that they react from.

That’s one reason why trauma is so difficult to tackle and work through in traditional therapy. The negative experiences we’ve had have affected both mind and body. There are a lot of suggestions people have given me over the years that I had rolled my eyes at, thinking there was no way something like yoga or massage would actually help me.

I’ve learned – as time has gone on – how wrong that assumption was. It was something I got wrong. Things that heal our bodies after trauma are just as important as things that help to heal our minds.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re currently working on that’s both super challenging and exciting?

Abby: I recently joined the research board of a nonprofit here in Minnesota called the Minnesota Justice Research Center. I have become more passionate about criminal justice reform as a whole, and I look forward to being able to help further change as a whole in that arena – not just for victims of crime.

I think that many people forget the trauma that incarcerated folks have often experienced. To me, it makes sense to look at the bigger picture and make things better for everyone at every level of the criminal justice system.

In addition, as always, I’m excited about and proud of my bill, the Abby Honold Act. It would provide funding to law enforcement for trauma informed questioning techniques. It’s challenging, for sure, because a lot of people think that the status quo is working just fine when it comes to how law enforcement deals with sexual assault victims.

I know, as do many other people who have been through the system in various ways, that that’s just not true. I believe strongly in finding better ways to investigate sex crimes. And, the good news about my bill is that if I’m wrong, there’s a research component that will show that. I really, truly want to find a better way to do things, and I hope that this is just the start.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

Abby: One thing I’m working to unlearn is the assumption that everyone has the basic knowledge that I have. It’s a really basic trap to get stuck into. When I’ve given the same talk and have answered the same questions hundreds of times, it’s easy to feel like people should already know this.

In reality, what I talk about is super complicated, and it’s really triggering for a lot of people. It took me a long time to unlearn some of those basic myths about sexual assault victims – myths that I even internally applied to myself.  

So, I shouldn’t expect everyone else to be able to automatically pick up on it. It requires a lot of patience, but I have to remember that we’re all starting at a different level of knowledge and empathy on this issue, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that someone is being willfully ignorant. It just means that they haven’t had the opportunity to learn as much as I have.

Never forget that whatever battle you’re fighting, there are others who want to fight it with you. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Abby: Talking about false allegations is still really difficult for me. I was harassed for a long time by many people who called me a false accuser -as have many fellow survivors that I know.

It’s been extremely triggering to encounter people who use the same kind of language and attacks that I faced during my experience, and I’ve found myself being more defensive occasionally when that subject is brought up.

However, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in being able to separate out and interact with folks who have good intentions in that area. There are people who care about both due process and care for victims, and I’m glad to connect with those people because I really think that, together, we can make a difference.

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

Abby: I try to practice self-care constantly! For me, self care goes beyond treating myself to something a little luxurious – although that’s important too – whether it’s taking an extra long shower, eating a favorite meal, or getting a massage.

I think that the vast majority of my self-care is putting my well-being as a top priority. I’ve always been someone that would rather care for others rather than myself. So for me, self-care often looks like saying “no” to a request or tackling a big task at the beginning of the week so that I can have some space and time for myself.

Self-care looks different for each of us, because we all have different needs, and sometimes the specifics of my own self-care routine changes based on what’s happening in my life at a certain time. As long as I’m placing myself as a priority in my life, I’m always able to find ways to practice self-care.

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Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Abby: Genuine joy is hard to come by with PTSD, so I try to aim for feeling content and generally happy. The best path to this for me is to unplug from anything serious for a couple days to reset my brain a bit. It’s hard dealing with trauma day in and day out.

I love watching things that are pure comedy or wholesomeness during these breaks, and spending time with my pet and husband.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Abby: It’s really hard to see someone in a position of power (whether at a university, police department, attorney’s office, etc) refuse to change things, despite countless examples of why things aren’t working the way they are.

It gets even harder when I’m hearing from fellow survivors who are still being negatively impacted by people like this. It just really saddens me that there are people who have all the tools and resources to heal instead of hurt, and they don’t choose to change for the better.

It took me a long time to unlearn some of those basic myths about sexual assault victims – myths that I even internally applied to myself. So, I shouldn’t expect everyone else to be able to automatically pick up on it. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Abby: Coming forward publicly was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and honestly it shook me for at least a year afterwards. That’s probably how long it took me to get used to it. I was not only suffering from some pretty intense flashbacks and reminders of my trauma, but I really doubted that anyone would ever want to listen to what I had to say.

I had spent two years of my life being ignored, harassed, and underestimated. It was totally new territory to actually be listened to. It was definitely difficult changing my entire life around and having to spend so much time talking about something so triggering.

I feel like I’m in a great place with being able to handle things now, but everything about this was a tough adjustment. I’m very grateful that I was able to keep pushing through and find some balance.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Abby: I try to always remind myself to do the right thing, and what I mean by that is often more complicated than what my gut reaction is. Doing the right thing requires a lot more critical thinking than just being able to stick to a simple rule that I can always follow. But I’ve tried to always commit myself to truly listening to others, checking my biases at the door, and being kind.

It doesn’t always work. I’m far from a perfect person. But, I’ve been proud of myself since applying these guidelines to myself and my own behavior. I’m also a strong believer in both accountability and redemption – neither one truly exists without the other. I try to always live by them, and I really do hope others will check me if I don’t check myself.

I like the word “thrive” because it reminds me that growth is possible. My life gets to be more than what happened to me, and I get to move forward in whatever way I want to. I think that’s really empowering. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Abby: You never know what’s around the corner. I don’t even just mean external things, but you also have no idea how much strength and creativity is inside of you.

You can do it. And if you can’t, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just because one thing doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. There’s always something better ahead of you.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Abby: I owe this to fellow victim-survivors (oops, that’s six).

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Abby: We can all do better, be better, and make a better world. The secret is open-mindedly collaborating with one another. Never forget that whatever battle you’re fighting, there are others who want to fight it with you.

 

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Abby Honold is a rape survivor who advocates for sexual assault victims. She had planned to be a teacher at the time of her assault, and now instead focuses her energy and knowledge towards raising community awareness in order to affect positive change for victims, especially those within the criminal justice system. Instagram. Twitter. Website.