Content Warning: This interview with Sarah Levy of Pity Party deals with sexual assault and trauma recovery
I have flashbacks nearly every day to when I was 16 years old and two guys sexually assaulted me at a youth group event. I often disassociate from present reality, and suddenly I’m back in that place. Sometimes it replays in my mind exactly as it happened. Other times, I replay the situation in search of some solution, fighting my way out of it or saying the “right thing” to get them to stop. That was 14 years ago, and I haven’t seen either of my abusers in over a decade, but the flashbacks never stop.
This is what I was dealing with when I came across Pity Party’s new record, Concrete. In the album, lead singer Sarah Levy honestly and unapologetically tells of her own experience with sexual assault – and writing about that pain was no easy task.
“I had full intent moving forward that writing about it would be therapeutic,” Levy explains. “I had this great, romanticized idea that it would help me overcome trauma if I was able to put it into words and finally have a place to house it instead of just having it muddled in my head. And then it turned out that wasn’t the case.”
I know this feeling, as I’ve spent the past couple years in therapy, searching for closure and the ability to move on from my own trauma. Therapy has been mostly positive, but the unfair expectations I put on myself for recovery led to frustration. Levy encountered similar frustration while writing Concrete.
“When it came time to record, I was like, ‘damnit this shit’s still here!’ We all know trauma recovery’s not linear. And putting expectations on it, like how I had initially, wasn’t helpful towards my experience in healing.”
But after the record was written, Levy had a moment of consolation. In the powerful title track to Concrete, Levy addresses her rapist directly. Since the person who assaulted her was a bandmate who was still in the band at the time the song was written, she had a chance to scream the lyrics to them at band practice, before they or any of the other bandmates knew the context of the song.
“That was the last song we had written with them,” she says. “And I remember the feeling of playing it at practice, and we wrote this song with them, and I had these lyrics that were what I had wanted to tell them.”
Sexual assault survivors often feel voiceless; it’s like there’s duct tape covering our mouths. We feel this way for a lot of reasons: shame, guilt, and fear of repercussions, to name a few. But in that moment, at one of the most intense band practices of her life, Levy was able to rip off the tape and say what needed to be said.
“It felt like us playing that song was me finally getting to tell that person all of the things I needed to tell them,” Levy says. “And it was one of the most emotional band practices I had had, because I finally felt like I had gotten to have some solace.”
In sharing these songs, Levy hopes listeners can find a moment of solace too, and know that they are not going through this on their own.
“Whatever anybody can take from it to find any piece of closure or solidarity or comfort or just feeling less alone,” she says. “’Cause that’s the hardest part of getting through it, right? The hardest part is getting through the days where you’re screaming in your head. And you’re sometimes, like, ‘what the fuck happened? What’s going on? What’s real?’ If something can get you through those hardest days when nothing makes sense, then that’s the smallest thing that we can do.”
I still have flashbacks to that moment 14 years ago. But lately, in a lot of these flashbacks, the events play out differently. I’m back in that moment, but this time, I scream the lyrics to Pity Party’s “Concrete” at my abusers.
You didn’t ask, you took.
Now I’m sitting shook.
Of all the things I’ve overlooked,
They’re staring back at me,
I’m drowning in your greed
You devoured me.
I close my eyes and sing these lyrics in my head, and for the first time, I feel something resembling closure. The pain is still there, and I’ve made peace with the fact trauma recovery may be a lifelong journey. But at least now I’m free of the tape that once covered my mouth.