Trisha Meili, known in the headlines as the "Central Park jogger," still doesn't remember the brutal rape that left her in a 12-day coma. Now, 16 years later, she's continuing her recovery from the severe brain injury that left her unable to walk, identify simple objects or button her own blouse.
Speaking to a packed crowd during APA's 2005 Annual Convention, Meili announced she has been able to reclaim her life and is working toward becoming whole physically, emotionally and spiritually--a feat her doctors once considered impossible.
"I felt like a survivor, rather than a victim," Meili said. That belief, she added, helped her move forward and avoid dwelling on a past she could not change.
She highlighted four lessons that helped her do that:
Feeding her psyche through psychotherapy and the support and encouragement of others.
Valuing the power of the present moment.
Continuing to grow beyond what she thought would be possible.
Learning to accept herself for who she is, post-trauma.
But the road has not been easy, she acknowledged. Meili, now 45, was a rising 28-year-old investment banker in New York City when she went for a jog the evening of April 19, 1989, in Central Park, where she was attacked, bound, raped and left for dead. (Convicted murderer Matias Reyes claimed responsibility for the attack in 2002, which was confirmed by DNA evidence at the scene and, ultimately, vindicated five previously convicted teenagers.)
Despite Meili's dramatic physical and cognitive gains since the attack, she still has double vision, no sense of smell, balance problems and some cognitive deficits, such as a slower memory.
"I will never be like what I was mentally before the attack," she said, adding that such an admission was vital to her healing.
She also credits the support she received from others during her recovery, such as letters of encouragement and years of psychotherapy, which provided her with a safe, nonjudgmental environment in which to heal.
"All these messages that I was getting were confirmation to me that I was not alone, that I had done nothing wrong, that I wasn't to blame and that I was a vital part to my own rehabilitation," Meili said. "Looking back on it, this is exactly what my psyche needed to hear to keep pushing me forward."
And in moving forward, the small physical and cognitive improvements she did see--such as just being able to stand up without thinking about it--motivated her to continue pushing herself.
"Over many, many years of seeing these improvements, I became more confident in living within this new body and mind," Meili said.
In fact, six and a half years after the attack, she ran the New York City marathon, the last leg of which wound through Central Park, where she had jogged the night of the attack.
"I was taking something back that had been taken away," said Meili, who before the attack ran marathons.
"After I nearly lost my life in that park and doctors predicted I would never regain my physical or mental capabilities, I crossed that finish line in four and a half hours," Meili said. "And, the fact that I'm able to stand in front of you today, I think, is proof that these lessons [I learned] do make a difference and certainly did in my life, from healing to wholeness."
The resilience she gained during her recovery also motivated her two years ago to reveal her identity in what became a best-selling memoir, "I Am the Central Park Jogger" (Simon & Schuster, 2003). She hopes her messages of resilience and healing can help others who face trauma do the same.