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Dahbra’s Story: Recovering From the Trauma of Sexual Assault

Written by Samantha Carter

When Dahbra was just 18 years old, she experienced a traumatic event while living abroad that rattled her entire world. Upon returning home, Dahbra’s mental health began to take a downward spiral. However, with the support of her family and friends, she was able to find treatment and healing at the All Points North (APN) Lodge in Colorado.

Two years later, she opened up about her extremely personal experiences at APN and how she learned to thrive as a sexual assault trauma survivor. To learn more about Dahbra’s healing journey, continue reading her story below or check out the full APN podcast, I Am Not Alone in My Trauma: Recovery x Dahbra.

The Three W’s – Who I Was, Who I Am, and Who I Want to Be

When Dahbra began her podcast episode, she had an important message she wanted to impress on listeners.

“The first thing that actually really hit me when you guys reached out to me [was] talk[ing] about what brought [me] to APN,” Dahbra said. “It reminded me of the first assignment we were given when we got here. [We were told to] write down the three W’s–who we were, who we are, and who we want[ed] to be. I remember when I first got here I was in a state where I was pretty hopeless. I wasn’t really able to picture a future for myself. I remember sitting there and trying to do this assignment and for the ‘who I want to be’ I really struggled. When you guys reached out to me, I sat there and it hit me that who I am now two years later is what I was writing about back then.”

For Dahbra, reflecting on how much her life has changed in the past two years was pivotal to her healing story.

Sexual Assault in a Foreign Country

When Dahbra was just 18, she experienced sexual assault while living abroad in Israel. While she had undoubtedly experienced a traumatic event, she wasn’t able to process the severity of the situation at first.

“While I was in Israel, I tried getting into some therapy and stuff but I was so far away from home, so out of my comfort zone, that I really wasn’t able to get in touch with it,” Dahbra said. “[So] I kind of just repressed it all.”

In an attempt to numb her feelings, Dahbra used drugs and alcohol to cope.

“When I was in Israel, I was 18 years old and everyone there was 18 years old, [too],” Dahbra said. “There was a lot of drinking [and] doing drugs and I used that as a way to avoid thinking about any of the things that I was going through … I [didn’t] want to think about it so … I really didn’t process [it] at the time. I kind of was living on autopilot for those next few days–like I totally was unaware of what [was] happening. I wasn’t there. I totally shut myself off [and] dissociated.”

Fortunately, Dahbra did decide to open up to a friend about what she had been through.

“Weeks later, I told one of my friends and they told me I need[ed] to tell someone about it, [that] I need[ed] to speak to a therapist,” Dahbra said. “They gave me a timeline [and said] if you haven’t spoken to anyone by the next time I see you, I’m going to speak to someone for you.”

Because of her friend’s thoughtful urge to seek support, Dahbra decided to reach out to her long-time therapist she’d been seeing since she was 15 years old.

“We hadn’t been talking while I was in Israel, but I just sent [my therapist] a text and was like, ‘I really need to talk to you,’” Dahbra said. “Then, I spoke to her about everything and I remember having that conversation with her and telling her about it and she said to me, ‘Dabra–you were raped.’ [But], I couldn’t accept that at the time. I couldn’t say those words to anyone. I remember just denying it completely and then I worked with her to talk to my parents about it so my parents were aware. [Still], I wasn’t ready to get the help I needed [so] those next few months [I was] just numbing.”

Coming Home From Israel

Eventually, Dahbra’s numbing caught up with her.

“When I came home [from] Israel it kind of all came up,” Dahbra said. “I was at home with my family so, the way I see it, I was in a place where it was safe for those emotions to come out. I wasn’t just trying to get through in a foreign country by myself. So that was really hard for me those next few months. I was having bad PTSD symptoms [and] panic attacks almost every day–just in a trauma reaction at all times basically.”

When Dahbra wasn’t having panic attacks, she was experiencing fear about when the next one would strike.

“The hardest part for me during those few months was the fact that I was living in constant fear of having a panic attack,” Dahbra said. “I was so out of control. I felt like, not only was I having panic attacks but I was [also] anxious about having panic attacks. It got to the point where I really couldn’t function at all. I was passing out from the anxiety reactions and it was just horrible.”

No longer able to function at a normal level, Dahbra started realizing that she needed some help. Fortunately, her family was there to assist her in making some difficult decisions.

“When I came to that conclusion, my parents were on it,” Dahbra said. “They were calling the people and getting the information they needed and trying to find the best option for me. I think for a lot of people at 18, 19, 20, it’s really hard to make that decision. It’s easier to stay out of treatment and not have to look at that, not have to think about those kinds of things. [But], I didn’t have time to change my mind because the second I was ready to do this my parents were calling everyone and literally making my flight for the next day. So that’s something I’m incredibly grateful for because if I would have waited even a few more days, I would have changed my mind because of how scary it is to take that step.”

Coming to APN for Treatment and Feeling Like She Doesn’t Belong

Taking the first step toward getting help was only half the battle. Next, Dahbra would be challenged with finding a way to let the healing in. At first, she really struggled to open to the process.

“The part of me that was rejecting that next step of getting help was telling me: You’re being dramatic. These people here have real shit–have real trauma. You don’t need this. That was something that I really had to work on,” Dahbra said.

Dahbra struggled with feeling like she didn’t belong, questioning whether or not her trauma was really that significant.

“I [felt] like it’s gonna be impossible for me to share my story because everyone around me is going to be going through so much worse,” Dahbra said. “That negative self-talk was what was really hard for me.”

Luckily, Dahbra was able to stay at APN for over two months. Like many people, it took some time before she was ready to dig deeper into her pain.

“I was here for two and a half months and it was a process,” Dahbra said. “I’d say for the first month I really was struggling with that negative self-talk … and it was really hard for me to share … I was pretty shut down and dissociated.”

Learning How to Open Up and Get Close to Others

Fortunately, Dahbra finally did start to open up, little by little.

“I remember having a conversation with Lana, [my therapist], about it and telling her I [didn’t] feel like I [was] getting anything out of this,” Dahbra said. “I just [felt] like no one [was] understanding me, [that] everyone [thought I was] fine … [Then], one of the exercises she had me do [was] carry around this elk horn … I had to always have it with me and she said people are gonna ask you, ‘what’s with the elk horn?’ That gave me the opportunity to share and say to people, ‘because I have a hard time telling people what I’m going through and often times people don’t ask me what’s going on.’ It really kind of helped bring those walls down.”

As Dahbra started to let down her walls, she made meaningful and unexpected connections with the other residents at APN.

“I had the opportunity to become so close with the people who were here,” Dahbra said. “More than anything, the other clients here were the most important part of my experience [at] APN.”

When finally sharing her story with others, Dahbra was met with the exact opposite of what she was originally fearful of.

“The incredible thing of being here was the acceptance,” Dahbra said. “I [felt] so validated, like what I was going through was real, what I was going through was understandable, and it was real trauma. [I also learned that] trauma is different for everyone and that’s okay.”

No longer isolated by her negative self-talk, Dahbra began to learn new and positive things about herself and her experiences.

“Before coming [to APN], I really never felt like anyone could understand what was going on in my head,” Dahbra said. “I remember just sitting in group and sharing and every person going around and telling me, ‘You’re incredible. I can relate to this. Everything you’re saying makes sense. We understand you.’ That’s something that I really never experienced in my life. I never experienced that sense of being able to share and [the] feeling [of being] truly understood. I think that was one of the most important parts of my experience here–just understanding that I’m not alone.”

Reflecting back on the program, Dahbra emphasized the importance of being in treatment for extended periods of time.

“It’s a process and I’m so grateful that I was able to spend two and a half months here because it really takes time to open up and to lean into the experience,” Dahbra said.

New Tools to Manage Mental Health

Not only did Dahbra walk away with a new outlook on her trauma and incredible bonds with others, but she also left with some tools to use in her everyday life post treatment.

“[Addressing my emotions] was [something I was] completely unaware of before I came to APN,” Dahbra said. “It was like–I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine … I’m not fine. [Suddenly], I was hitting rock bottom. Now, recognizing that I’m able to catch myself before I get there, I’m able to recognize the warning signs if I’m feeling like I’m having a bad day, I’m able to reach out to some people, I’m able to take care of myself–that’s something that’s so important because we never want to get back to that rock bottom.”

To help her continue developing these new skills upon returning home, Dahbra made a post care plan with her support team at APN.

“So I sat down and I wrote: red, yellow, green,” Dahbra said. “What’s it like when I’m doing well [aka green]? What’s it like when I’m yellow–when I’m feeling those warning signs, when I’m slipping a little bit? And then the red. Being able to recognize the warning signs before [I got] there was something incredibly important … So going through the process of kind of learning to be in touch with my emotions that I tried so hard to avoid was something that was extremely important [when] leaving APN.”

When you’re at APN, it’s a lot easier to stick to a consistent self-care routine. However, Dahbra learned that some flexibility would be needed in the “real” world.

“When you leave, you’re in real life,” Dahbra said. “It’s really hard to continue stick[ing] to that really great routine that I had here taking care of myself. But, the positive aspect of it was that even if I’m not able to stick to that routine every day, I know there’s something I can do that feels good–that helps me if I’m having a bad day. I can take a long shower and put on all my lotion and take care of myself … Recognizing those little things actually [made] a difference.”

Reflecting on the Changes Two Years Later

As Dahbra shared before, she now feels like she’s become the person she always wanted to be. Two years after her treatment, she reflects on what that’s like.

“[Coming to APN] made me the healthiest version of myself,” Dahbra said. “To kind of tap into that, be here, and think about what I was going through, the goals that I was setting for myself–I think it’s a real blessing for me to be able to come back [and reflect on that].”

While it can be tough going through this kind of journey at such a young age, Dahbra also recognizes the gifts in it all.

“For me, recognizing that some people go through their whole life living with this pain and are only able to deal with it later [is so important to my journey],” Dahbra said. “The fact that I was 19 years old and was looking at some of these things was the most incredible blessing to me.”

Because of Dahbra’s courage to seek help when she needed it most, she now gets to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Just two years later, Dahbra’s reflected on how she’s met every single goal she wrote down for herself in her APN journal.

“The fact that [I now] fully accept who I am, what I’ve been through, and I’m not scared to share–that’s something I never really thought I would feel. I’ve been working on … having boundaries and being able to recognize that I’m worth taking care of. I don’t have to just take care of everyone around me. I wrote down in my journal that I want[ed] to be in a healthy relationship and today I have an incredible boyfriend who thinks the world of me … In terms of the logistics, I wrote down getting a psych degree [and] that’s what I’m doing right now. I am living in New York. I have an apartment. All those things were written down in my notebook. So the physical steps that I’ve accomplished [are] huge, but also in terms of the emotional–the vulnerability, the self-confidence, the ability to put myself first, to feel happy. I never thought I could be this happy and that’s like something incredible to recognize.”

There’s nothing easy about going through sexual trauma. However, Dahbra is living proof that things can and do get better with treatment, time, and care.

If you’re interested in learning more about All Points North and our addiction and mental health recovery programs, submit our confidential contact form or call us at 855.934.1178 today. You never know how good your life can get until you let yourself feel the things that are hard.

More From Dahbra

Listen and watch Dahbra’s episode of Recovery x APN below, and find more episodes on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.