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'It is incredibly healing to help others heal'

Author and advocate Danielle Leukam finds new purpose through writing.

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Danielle Leukam on Thursday, February 18, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
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Editor's note: You may remember Danielle Leukam from her story of survival in which she recounted a brutal 2018 sexual assault . Last month, she published her memoir, "Four Pounds of Pressure: A Memoir of Rape, Survival, and Taking Back My Power." Now she's sharing columns with Post Bulletin readers.

It shouldn't take staring down the barrel of a gun for someone to pursue their dreams.

Unfortunately, for me, it did.

On Nov. 18, 2018, I woke up to a noise at the end of my bed. I was tied up by an unknown, masked, armed man. I was terrorized and raped three times over five hours while praying my 3-year-old boy would stay asleep and unharmed in his bedroom next door.

During that time, the things I wished I had experienced in life flashed before my eyes. What a long list of wonderful things I could have missed out on. I had never made a bucket list, let alone started checking things off of one. But I was blessed to have survived, so I took my second chance at life and ran.

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Nov. 18, 2018, was my new beginning. It was the day I started chasing my dreams.

I began writing my story within the first week of surviving it. I wrote to remember details, process what happened, and perhaps find an easier way to tell my family than verbalizing it. I continued writing more regularly because it became therapeutic.

I found myself questioning why I hadn't written before. I questioned why I never pursued writing the novel I had wanted to write since I was 18. I was taken back to being 6 years old, first learning to write and realizing my love for it. My mom recently found a letter from my older sister written to me in 1994 that said, “I have one sister. She likes to write.” Out of all the things she could have said to describe me, she knew I liked to write.

In the midst of writing my story, I became an activist against sexual assault and an advocate for survivors. I'm on the Survivor Advisory Group to the Governor of Minnesota, and I take any opportunity I'm given to empower women and survivors to take back their voice and their power. I have learned that it is incredibly healing to help others heal, and I am able to do this through writing.

My memoir and blogs have helped normalize what survivors experience. It also gives family and friends of survivors important insight. Since starting this process, I've also written a children's book and a compilation of other survivors' stories, and I'm working on a thriller.

My hope for others is that it doesn't take a traumatic event to make you realize the importance of following your heart, taking chances, and loving yourself.

And by sharing my experiences with PB readers, I hope to bring my mission to a wider audience and continue the conversation.

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"Four Pounds of Pressure: A Memoir of Rape, Survival, and Taking Back My Power" by Danielle Leukam. Contributed / Danielle Leukam

You can catch Leukam at a book signing for her memoir, "Four Pounds of Pressure," and a release party for her children's book, "Fly Like a Girl," from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29, at Forager Brewery in Rochester. For more information, visit www.danielleleukam.com.

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