- After speaking up about her sexual assault, Aly Raisman felt so tired she had to sit in the shower.
- She thought she had a medical problem, she said in her upcoming Lifetime special, “Darkness to Light.”
- Surviving sexual assault and facing triggers can physically exhaust the body for years.
And yet, surviving — and speaking out about — sexual abuse has been so draining that at times, the 27-year-old couldn’t take a proper shower, she said in her upcoming special, “Aly Raisman: Darkness to Light,” which premieres on Lifetime Friday.
“For a long time, I couldn’t really stand up in the shower because I was so tired,” she told Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, in the documentary. “I would sit on the floor and wash my hair and I was exhausted.
“I went from working out seven hours some days to not training anymore to literally some days not even being able to walk for 10 minutes,” she continued.
“I used to feel so embarrassed because I’m like, ‘I competed in two olympics and I’m celebrating being able to stand up in the shower every day and wash my hair,'” Raisman said. “But that’s what survival of sexual assault looks like to me.”
Raisman was so tired she thought something was wrong with her
Raisman was abused by former USA Gymnastics’ team physician Larry Nassar so often she “lost count,” she said. The now-retired gymnast opened up about it in 2017, joining some of her teammates and leading to Nassar’s prison sentence of up to 175 years. Raisman has since built a platform on sexual assault awareness and prevention.
In the Lifetime special, she visits several survivors of sexual assault to talk about their experiences and their healing journeys. Raisman shares how physically depleting survival is, especially when you can’t control all triggers and are a go-to spokesperson on the topic of sexual assault.
At one point in the filming, she collapsed on the couch after giving a TV interview in the wake of former gymnastics coach John Geddert’s sentencing and suicide.
“I’ve realized just from years of speaking out, after the interview, if I feel really sick or really nauseaus, if I don’t lay down and just relax, it affects me for the rest of the day,” she said. “It literally feels like I just finished a training session, even though it’s very different.”
Raisman hasn’t always known how to protect her energy like that. She used to feel like she could fall asleep “anywhere, anytime,” she told Dave Moody, an Atlanta-based commercial contractor who survived child sexual assault, in the special.
“I was really concerned something was wrong with me, and the doctors said everything is fine,” she said. “In that moment, it felt like I’m the only person in the world who’s struggling with this.”
Reliving abuse can exhaust the mind and body for years
When sexual assault survivors talk about their or others’ abuse, or experience any other trigger, their bodies can go into a fight-or-flight response as if abuse is happening in the moment — even if the trauma happened decades ago. That’s exhausting.
Research shows a history of sexual harassment is linked to clinically poorer sleep quality. Fatigue also often goes hand-in-hand with depression, post-traumatic-stress disorder, and other common long-term effects of sexual abuse.
But processing the trauma in therapy and learning how to avoid certain triggers can help. In addition to resting after interviews, Raisman doesn’t say Nassar’s name and tells people to refrain from going into graphic detail about abuse.
“I have really come such a long way,” Raisman said. “I finally feel more energy, and it’s cool to see it creep up in different ways.”