“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TW: This article contains content about sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TLDR: Taking refuge in the triple gem can guide us to safety. To be at peace at whatever hardships life may throw at us. While sharing metta to ourselves might be the hardest, it is necessary for us to heal and grow over our wounds.

Poem of contemplation: 

Knowing I’m not perfect

Whatever that can be suffered, I have endured.

Life oh life

Have you had enough?

Are you satisfied?

Don’t you find yourself annoying?

Always testing my tolerance

Why is it so tough?

I have never asked for happiness 

Neither do I expect a miracle

I just hope some nights

I’m able to have some peace and contentment 

And some hope to go through the next day

I’ve never cried because of my self-pity

neither do I expect a happy ending

I don’t even cry to make myself feel better

Guilts are redundant

It won’t change into happy endings

I’m not a greedy person

I’ve never asked for more than I needed

I have already surrendered to pain or sorrows

I will not reciprocate the phenomenon that life promises

I’ve always disdained the result

only ask for the consequences

Ending myself won’t get me anywhere either

I will not feel sad for what I never once had

I just ask for one night where

I can be more hopeful

And be left alone

Where Dhamma is by my side

Drowning

If I wanted to drown myself in the sea, I would, but ever since I took refuge in the triple gems, after all these struggles and all the silence through these years, I simply don’t want to do that anymore. 

It’s hard to breathe even when I’m not drowning, but I have enough of it now, I want to live, I want to breathe harder and I want to do something meaningful in this life and I will walk away from the sea to climb up the mountain. Any darkness, any uncertainty however fluid and however dangerous, the triple gems will lead me and take me in hand.

The beginning of physical & mental pain 

Something is not right. 

I woke up with pains in my butt, anally. I remember last night, I was invited to a house party and with a few drinks, I was feeling dizzy. Something was in my drink, but it was too late. I’m so lost, confused and can’t wrap my head around what had happened. 

I got dressed immediately, saw a few men asleep on the floor but I ignored them, and rushed for the door. That was 7 years ago, I never told anyone what had happened until recently. 

I put on a brave front, pretending nothing happened but in my heart, I blamed myself. 

I felt ashamed and responsible for not taking better care of myself. 

There are so many possible scenarios I could think of why this shouldn’t have happened to me if I… 

I could have also exposed the ones who did this to me, I swear with my character, I would have made them pay for it, but time wasn’t on my side, I have to catch a flight the next day. 

As I’m a foreigner travelling, I figure how complicated legally I will have to get involved. I anticipate the overwhelming emotions I’ve to undertake, that scares me and I’m a coward I know but I felt like I wasn’t ready to confront them. 

I was also distraught and feeling disgusted, I wanted to leave that godforsaken country as soon as possible. 

The questions that flood my head

Why me? Why? I have asked myself many times. I have enough of asking, and what happened has happened. 

I’ve stopped asking questions that don’t come with any answers. There is only one thing I’m sure of, knowing what I should do next and how I respond to this adversary. 

I need to get a blood test. It takes time for the body to make antibodies after it is exposed to HIV, and different people make antibodies at different rates. 

The window period for antibody tests is between 3 weeks and 3 months. Up to 95% of people will have antibodies after 6 weeks, and 99% of people will have antibodies after 3 months. 

I waited for a 3-month period to get tested. That probably is the darkest time of my life. That anxiety that keeps building up is killing me. Like a prisoner in the dark cell, trapped within the 4 walls. 

Trying to scream but no sounds can come out. 

When I closed my eyes, I saw the ugliness and bad things that had happened. My pain and sufferings, who can I relate to? All this is just a battle I’m fighting inside myself. Regardless of winning or losing, it all seems ridiculous. 

The test

The day had arrived. Here I was at the clinic waiting nervously, a volunteer working in the Anonymous HIV Test Clinic had taken my blood for testing. 

I know it is not over yet, emotionally I’m still haunted by what those bastards had done to me, but I also know it could get much worse. 

Everyone said being positive is a good thing, but for me, being positive is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. 

It’s like you got hit by the bus and a motorcycle ran over after. I went into a room and this kind gentleman was trying to break the news to me. My nightmare becomes real, the blood test result was out. 

I’m HIV positive. 

I’ve prepared for this to happen, yet I still can’t believe it when it happens, but there is a voice in me that says keep it together. 

Even in my darkest moments, when I felt the most challenged, I often found a glimpse of light that can warm my heart from the Buddha’s teaching

Facing my ugly pain & suffering head-on is the fundamental Buddhist way that has always kept me going. I must find a way to cope with it. 

The Healing Begins

Regardless of how I have suffered, the happiest thing I have ever come across is the teachings of the Buddha. 

Silly me, coping doesn’t resolve my pain; it merely distracts me from it. The first step to healing my pain is to stop coping with it and start being with it. It hurts, but it needs to be acknowledged. 

The more I run away, the further I get from acknowledging my pain and misery. This is the Buddha’s first noble truth: acknowledging the suffering. Why haven’t I learnt it, especially since I know it by heart? How can I heal the sorrow that I haven’t identified? Similarly, the Buddha taught me that through acknowledging one’s suffering, they open the door to alleviating it.

By three things the wise person may be known. What three? He sees a shortcoming as it is. When he sees it, he tries to correct it. And when another acknowledges a shortcoming, the wise one forgives it as he should. ~ Anguttara Nikaya I – 103

Forgiveness, that is what I need. Once I’ve acknowledged my pain, I need to generate more loving-kindness for myself so I can forgive myself. 

It is not possible to have sunshine without the rain, smiles with no tears. By the laws of the universe, there is an inevitable polarity we must all experience.  

How can I possibly forgive myself if I don’t forgive others first?

I stop focusing on what others have done to me unfairly gradually and try to accept it. Forgive them, I find myself with less hatred.

 When I accept other people’s mistakes repeatedly, I realize that I can also accept my own mistakes in the end. Since forgiveness starts within me, it is imperative to start the process of forgiveness from the inside out.

Acceptance

When we do something wrong, we have two choices: change the situation or accept it. In Buddhism, this is referred to as right action and right view under the teachings of Noble Eightfold Path. If there is something we can do to change the course of things, we should take the right action or practice till we get it right. However, if we can’t change anything, we should practice the right view, which means looking at the situation in a new light.

Non-acceptance often leads to feelings of guilt and frustration. We should accept that we are human beings with emotions that often lead us to ignorance. 

It is because of our ignorance that we might commit mistakes. But, if we shed light on our ignorance, we can transform it into wisdom and learn from our mistakes.

Sending loving kindness to myself

In the past, when I dwell on the past and constantly analyze a situation, I might somehow be able to overcome it. Sadly, It never works that way, instead, it chained me to the past with torments. The past is gone, but my mind keeps it alive. 

Mentally revisiting a situation repeatedly only causes more suffering — it doesn’t solve anything. Instead of holding on to these dark memories, meditation is a way to look inward and get to know what’s happening inside my mind. 

By seeing through the self-generated feelings and emotions, I learn to let go.

I began meditating, as best as I could and doing it daily. Loving-kindness meditation is one of the meditations I practice often. 

Keeping my eyes closed, thinking of a person close to me who loves me very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still alive or who has passed; it could be the Buddha or my mother. Imagine that person standing by my side, sending me their love, sending me wishes for my wellness, for my health and happiness. I could feel the kindness and warmth coming to me closely. That gives me the strength to carry on living. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy,

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain.

Acknowledge the sufferings, accept it, forgive myself, and most of all, send loving-kindness to myself and let the Buddha’s Dhamma guide me. 

No matter how many years I have suffered, the best thing that happens to me is I have Dhamma by my side.

Handful of Leaves and Kusala Mag are in collaboration to share Inspiring stories sprinkled with Buddhist wisdom. Check out the latest edition!


Need help? It is one call away 

Sexual Assault Care Centre by AWARE

National Care Helpline: 1800-202-6868

SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444 

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 

Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours) 

Tinkle Friend:1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children) 

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 

“I lost my sense of smell.”: Turning to Dhamma when Covid strikes you

“I lost my sense of smell.”: Turning to Dhamma when Covid strikes you

TLDR: Learning to be okay with not feeling okay can help us recover better when an unexpected illness happens

It was during a meal that Celeste, in her 20s, began to feel some slight discomfort. Her throat was dry and her nose was runny after having Tom Yum soup.

At 4 am, Celeste confirmed that her discomfort was not from the Tom Yum but something worse.

Her test result showed she was positive for Covid-19. It was something that she never expected to contract as she had taken many precautions.

Fever and body ache struck her quickly. This shocked her as she assumed that after being fully vaccinated, and keeping a healthy lifestyle, it will pass like a breeze.

That was far from the truth as she entered Day 2 of home recovery.

Rotten food & rotten plans

Snapshot of the food that had no taste due to Covid

Celeste felt that being a swim coach, playing tennis & yoga, coupled with healthy eating would provide a strong trampoline for recovery on Day 2. Covid had other plans installed for her. It was not going away.

“I lost my sense of smell. Everything tasted like rotten food”, she recalled.

Fear arose when she Googled and found that some people stopped eating even after recovery as their sense of smell never recovered fully. They had lost interest in eating as it was no longer enjoyable.

There was also a very real possibility that she may end up in the 0.2% of infected vaccinated patients who died from the disease. 

The fear then morphed into self-blame for falling sick.

“I didn’t realise it was unkind until the anger and fear clouded my mind. It made me afraid of Dukkha (Suffering)”, she recalled.

Her meditation practise helped make her aware of the unnecessary self-criticism and blame she was laying on herself. However, the fear and anger grew in her mind.

Soothing Fear with Dhamma

As the fear paralysed Celeste, she decided to use piano music to calm herself as she lay in bed. However, the mental proliferations filled with fear did not go away.

She then recalled a playlist of talks recommended by her Dhamma friends from her young working adult Dhamma group (DAYWA). Being new to Buddhism, she was unfamiliar with whether it would help but decided to give the playlist a try.

“Be okay that you are not feeling okay”, Ajahn Brahm, the monk on the playlist, advised. This struck her hard.

She was always trying too hard to be healthy. Covid was something beyond her control. Despite being fully vaccinated, she still fell deeply sick. Acknowledging that it is okay to fall sick was a great relief to her heart and mind.

“90% of my worries never came through. I spent so much time worrying about things that never happen”, recalled Celeste as she was recovering.

After the one hour Dhamma talk, Celeste felt at ease and fell into a deep sleep.

Returning to senses

Celeste, having heard numerous mind-soothing episodes of Dhamma talks, was ready to accept a life of no smell. She reflected that she had taken her 5 senses for granted and realised that they did not belong to ‘us’ strictly as we could not command them as we like.

“We don’t own these senses, senses are merely borrowed. Not Mine, not myself.” she reflected.

Celeste was internalising and seeing first-hand what Buddha talked about non-self. We do not control our body and mind as much we would love to. For if our body was fully ours, it wouldn’t lead to dissatisfaction and we would have full control. 

This brought to mind Buddha’s teaching to monks in the following dialogue:

What do you think, monks? Is form (body) permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, sir.”

“But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”

“Suffering, sir.”

“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“No, sir.”

As Celeste was coming to peace with her lack of smell senses, it came back to her. She was beginning on her upward path to recovery.

Associating with the kind

As she slowly recovered, she found that body aches and pain remained. However, she avoided the trap of feeling unhappy with her body.

“Wanting things to be perfect feed the monster within you. Pain reminds you that your body is not perfect…and that’s okay”, Celeste shared.

Beyond the Dhamma talks, her loved ones were pivotal in lifting her towards full recovery.

Her in-laws delivered her favourite vegetables that she loved to eat even when the Delta variant was a real threat to their health. Her yoga friends delivered herbal tea and cooked for her.

This difficult period also made her appreciate her husband more (who was also infected and had to be hospitalised). Life and death became very real for her when her husband heart rate dropped drastically which landed him in the hospital as she lay at home infected with Covid.

“These moments made me count my blessings and not take them (loved ones) for granted”,  Celeste recalled.

Life lessons from covid

This episode made Celeste rethink the way she was living her life. She decided to cut down on some overindulgence she was partaking in, such as midnight movies and sleeping late. Maintaining health was a crucial component of her life that she wanted to strengthen. 

She then aspired to dedicate more time and consistency to her meditation practice which tide her over this tough period. She found herself meditating less when times were going good for her and hence, aspires to build a consistent habit of meditating regardless of the times.

“Be patient and be unafraid” she advised those who may face such an unexpected infection.

“For your friends infected with Covid, ask them how you can help them. Delivering food and checking in on them really lifts their spirits”, she encouraged.

In our darkest and lowest times, recollecting the Dhamma is one way to rest our minds at peace. This allows our body and mind to be okay at being not okay, paving the way for deeper healing.


Wise Steps:

  • Create a playlist of your favourite Dhamma talks that you can listen to in times of trouble
  • Every hardship we face is an opportunity for us to turn towards the truths of life or remain in our perceived truths of life