Sexual assault survivor helping others with mental health

Managing mental health

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - A Henrico sexual assault survivor is opening up about her traumatic childhood experience for the first time, in hopes of saving a life.

Sarah McFarland, 49, has spent years counseling others without realizing she was the one who needed to heal from her own scars. McFarland said the only way she became whole is by getting professional help, something she was sure she never needed until her world grew out of control.

"Both my mother and father lived within three miles of me, but I never spent time with them as a child, not on birthdays, not on Christmas, not summer vacations, ever,” McFarland said.

She was raised by her grandmother who battled addiction. As a child, she saw a lot.

"My grandmother got hit by a car because of her alcoholism,” she said.

There was even domestic violence. McFarland's uncle murdered her aunt.

"These things were minimalized to be just things that happen, so I didn’t know that they were traumatic events,” she said.

On event includes perhaps the worst violation of all, beginning when she was just 4 years old.

“There was some molestation by one of my uncles, and there was a boy that lived down the street from me who raped me at the age of 8. I never told anyone until I became an adult because of the shame,” McFarland said.

The events of her past affected how she lived as an adult.

“I lived in my own little box, trying to keep everything together…I only had a handful of people I trusted.”

It escalated into her always wanting control.

"Like someone not putting a can in the cabinet the way that I wanted it to be,” she said.

It reached a tipping point, and McFarland realized she needed help.

"There are so many people who don’t give themselves that permission, and they struggle so significantly throughout the course of their entire adult lives without asking for the help that needs to be made,” mental health advocate Erin Mahone said.

It’s why Mahone is featuring McFarland her in upcoming show Friday, called “If You Could See Me.” Which features people who have learned to manage anxiety, open up in a serious, yet fun format in order to help others.

"The only way we get to the point where we have the kind of services and community support we need for individuals with mental illness is by talking about it, in every single way that we can,” Mahone added.

It means doing what McFarland did - coming to terms with the past in order to be your best now.

"I was looking outward to fix the inward problem and it wasn't working,” McFarland said.

The “If You Could See Me” production only happens twice a year. The next event will happen Friday, Jan. 11, at the Virginia Repertory Theater beginning at 7 p.m. There will be resources available to find help near you.

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