I am not the only one.
More stories are coming to light – people experiencing the emotional and physical trauma as a result of harrowing encounters with acid. Attacks utilizing this extremely harmful substance are on the rise around the world. Connecting with others in our suffering can be a crucial component in the healing process. Each person’s odyssey is unique but when there is an intersection of similar events, understanding and empathy is experienced in a different way.
Ironically, I had felt nearly entirely alone when it came to my own experience with sulfuric acid. I have never met another sulfuric acid burn survivor. I researched this issue for the last several years, trying to find others who had experienced the pain and trauma I have lived through. Past research has returned little results. These types of incidents are extremely rare, and when they do occur are typically crimes of passion or utilized as a punishment towards women, such as in parts of Asia and the Middle East for refusing to wear a hijab. Disturbingly, the rate of incidents involving acid attacks appears to be increasing.
“The London acid attack is part of a depressing, ‘barbaric’ trend,” details the attacks in stunning detail. Wayward teenagers riding by on a moped toss acid onto innocent bystanders. Another attack carried out by someone in their mid-twenties at a nightclub earlier this spring. “By some measures, Britain has the highest rate of acid attacks per capita in the world,” according to the Post article. Since 2012, the rate of such incidents has increased from 188 to 504. People are dying and suffering great injuries. Scars are being formed, both visible and invisible.
What is behind such a stark rise, you ask? Gaps in the law have helped create a lack of criminal recourse when it comes to such attacks. In other parts of the world, these types of incidents are usually initiated by men against women, according to USAToday. Yet in Britain, it is usually initiated by men against men, as it has grown into a preferred method of gangs in inflicting damage. The article goes on to make the case that acid can be purchased in stores, specifically those that sell hardware, while guns are apparently much harder to obtain.
A particularly harrowing case is one affecting Daniel Rotariu. His story detailed in USAToday, he was “blinded in both eyes and suffered burns to 32% of his body,” when a woman he was seeing poured sulfuric acid onto his sleeping body. “More than half my life I’m gonna have to live it like this…Sometimes I wish I was dead and I didn’t survive,” he said.
Reading about this recent spate of acid attacks broke my heart while hitting close to home. While the circumstances surrounding my injuries were unique and contain vast differences from the ones detailed in the recent press coverage, there are striking similarities. In the aftermath of my own injuries, a part of me wished I had not survived. Confined to homebound tutoring, I missed most of my sophomore year of high school. Undergoing countless plastic surgeries and laser operations, it felt as if I was reliving the same traumatic experience over and over again. The same physical and emotional wounds left open that were never able to scab over and even begin to heal.
Suggested solutions to stem the tide of such attacks abound. Some advocate for stricter laws governing the storage and use of sulfuric acid. Others suggest placing the possession of sulfuric acid on par with carrying a weapon may lead to fewer attacks. No matter the proposed solution, the injuries sustained by survivors are long-lasting; and, once lost, no amount of medical care or legislative action can ever fully eradicate lost eyesight or permanent disfigurement.
To the victims of the recent acid attacks in London, I can assure you that life does get better. Close, supportive relationships can help heal. Taking up a cause, clinging to faith, sharing your story with others all help promote growth. With the passage of time, the journey ahead will seem less daunting. Strategies can be developed to help mitigate the long-lasting effects of enduring such a traumatic event.
My life today is a happy one. Focusing on the gift of life that is survival has slowly chipped away at the remnants of bitterness and anger that had calcified around the edges of my heart. I make a daily choice to heal, using the lessons of the past to help inform the promise of the future.
Despite this, pain is still present. People will tell you it gets better; that, in a few years, you will no longer live with the consequences of the injuries sustained. It does get better, but not in the ways everyone assumes. There is no sense in sugar coating the truth - I have spent nearly the last eight years grappling with the implications of losing my face with no end in sight.
As hard as it may be able to see, things will be gained. Character qualities will be developed. A strain of empathy may appear or be strengthened. You may experience insensitive remarks from those around you; yet, you will also be overwhelmed by the intensity and impact of beautiful moments of kindness. People will come through in both wonderful and unpredictable ways that will provide help on the road of healing. Trauma has a way of stealing joy. The challenge is noticing and keeping in your memory those moments where good made itself known.
To the 504 people attacked with acid in the last year in Great Britain – your cries are heard halfway across the world. My heart breaks for you and your families, not just for the injuries sustained but also for the journey ahead. Despite the pain, hold on to the hope that there is life after trauma – even if you never refrain from missing the pieces of yourself lost in the process.
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