Rape victim enjoys life again thanks to a pack of wolves

Today Sarah Varley is a radiant 28-year-old, but life hasn’t always been easy for her.

Nearly a decade ago, at 19, Sarah was a healthy, well-balanced, gregarious young woman when she was attacked and raped. It changed everything. The resulting trauma was incredibly difficult to recover from; she suffered from post-traumatic stress, was crippled by anxiety and fear, and developed an extreme eating disorder.

By the time she was only eating a couple of raisins and walnuts every morning and weighed just 90 lbs, her family and friends were desperate. But no one knew what to do.

During this difficult time in her life, Sarah went to visit some cousins who ran a wolf and wolf-dog shelter. And there, something strange and amazing happened. 

She bonded with the pack of wolves. 

"I was scared of everything, but one day I went into the enclosure with a wolf and it was the first time my brain shut up. When you're with a predator that can hurt you, your brain automatically focuses on that. Instead of the million imaginary threats I had been on guard against, I was focused on this one threat and I was present in the moment," she explained.

The encounters with the animals brought familiar and frightening emotions to the surface that Sarah had been going to extremes to try and repress. "When I first began spending a lot of time with them I definitely felt hyperaware and there were moments when it was scary. But having that level of fear was what allowed me to start feeling. Before I was scared of everything around me, but when I was with a wolf I had a legitimate reason to be scared and respectful which gave me something to be focused on."

Looking back on this healing transition she reflected, "I think that respect... is what helped me so much... It allowed me to take back power over a traumatic event in my life and it has helped me heal."

The support of the pack allowed Sarah to rebuild herself emotionally and mentally. She gained back her confidence little by little and managed to start eating again.

Then she met Matthew Withem and found not just a great relationship but also a fellow wolf lover. They moved to New Hampshire together and took over responsibility for a shelter with several dozen animals. 

The young woman who didn’t eat and had been so full of fear and anxiety was now spending all day in contact with wild and semi-wild animals. 

She felt truly healed and secure. “No one is going to attack me again — I live with wolves. It's a huge sense of relief.”

Check out Sarah playing with one adorable wolf-dog:

The best solution to horrible crimes like rape is to focus on changing societal attitudes towards women and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Survivors like Sarah who bravely share their recovery stories provide hope to other victims, showing them that there is a path — albeit often a long and difficult one — to feeling safe and in control again. The power of that hope is not to be underestimated.

Thank you, Sarah!

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