Please share your story:
I was a freshman in high school, a young fourteen years old. I was innocent by nearly all definitions of the term. The guy at the desk behind me was much older and started verbally harassing me. He would draw disgusting pictures of us together and pass them around the class. He started touching me without permission while sitting in study hall. I was terrified and disgusted and revealed it to the dean of the school. I felt listened to, but simultaneously, the response felt unexceptional and I felt minimized. I felt this was perhaps expected conduct for a boy of his age. I started to believe this was commonplace behavior- and maybe next time I should not complain.
That same freshman year- a different boy sat next to me in the back row of a class. I didn't know him- but after a few days- he began taking his penis out of his pants before the teacher came in and told me to suck it. It became a daily act for nearly a semester. Most people in the class didn't notice- others laughed with him. I sensed there were people present that knew it was inappropriate- but they didn’t say a word. I often asked him to stop, sometimes I ignored it hoping he would find someone else to aggravate.
One day, this same boy pulled me aside in the hallway and demanded me to give him a blow job after school in the bathroom. I told him to go fuck himself and loudly declared to him and his friends what a piece of shit he was. My heart raced inside my chest. It was the first time I had used the dreaded "F word," and I felt the weight of it on my tongue- but I felt it was warranted. Obviously embarrassed- he pushed me against a wall after I refused and whispered "I will make everyone believe that you did." Two days later, I was sexually assaulted in a bathroom before soccer practice by a older student I had never even seen before. To this day I wouldn't be able to name his name or tell you much of what he looked like. It took me by such shock- I didn't even fight him- I just wept bitterly until he ran out of the bathroom mid-assault and left me sobbing on the floor. I later learned he was friends with this boy in my class, I saw them walking together in the hall. I was still a young fourteen years old but the innocence began to slowly but surely seep out of my body like a bad paper cut.
When I was fifteen, a guy from another class began walking too close behind me as we went down the stairwell during passing period. He grabbed me between the legs- and I can still feel his hot breath on my neck as he said "I am going to fuck you so hard it's going to make your ass bleed." I proceeded to turn around and punch him in the face. I was called into the main office for disciplinary action. I raised my voice in the meeting and told the Deans what the boy had said. They told me I could go- but as far as I know, that guy received no discipline whatsoever. Once again I learned that maybe this was part of life for a young teenage girl. Though the words were never said to me, I couldn't help but wonder, is this all part of "boys will be boys?"
I remember a cook I worked with cornering me in the freezer at the restaurant- "jokingly" kissing my neck. Every time I fought him- he pushed back harder. If I let him do it, he would open the door of the freezer so I could get back to work. He did it every time I went back to get something from storage. I couldn't even work without wondering if one day he would take it further.
When I was in college, my much older boss at a steakhouse told me that my skirt wasn't short enough. He did this by taking me into his office and running his finger up my skirt and pointing to where on my upper thigh, my short skirt should end. I was so numb I don't think I even said anything. I was making good money and I was no longer shocked by anything.
Words and touches came very uninvited in my life on and off for multiple years. The absolute worst moment was when I taken advantage of fully. I was manipulated and forced upon by an older coworker. We were alone working and he told me go and get something from the back storage room. I woke up on the floor with a bump on my head and saw him zipping up his pants. My jeans were around my ankles and I knew what had happened. He made threats that he knew would succeed in making me stay quiet. Because I was unconscious- my memory until a few years ago- was very limited. I remembered running out. I remembered chain smoking half a pack of cigarettes on the hood of my car at 1 in the morning trembling listening to "footsteps" by Pearl Jam on repeat. But because I had no memories of the event at the time- I was able to isolate it- and extract it from my life. I went to school the next morning. I never told anyone the full version of what happened- except a standard teenage quote "I quit that job, my boss was a pervert and I was getting sick of it." Though I pushed the memory down and away- my social life suffered. My relationships suffered. Any innocence I had left hemorrhaged out of my young body like a trauma victim. A world I felt once was beautiful had turned grey. I was jaded, I was cynical. I smoked more, I drank more. I did what I could to numb feeling used.
I quit sports to pursue working full time at other jobs. I kept very busy and slept very little.
Fast forward to a few years later and I was doing fairly well. I was in nursing school and I had been successful at staying numb and busy. I had been in good relationships. I had not disclosed full stories about my past- but the pieces that I did tell were met with full support and compassion. I became the class clown- I stayed goofy and light-hearted. Because deep down, if you stripped it all off- I think I felt a hundred years old.
One day I was sitting in my psychiatric nursing class and we were to watch a scene of a rape from a movie in order to gain the worldview of sexual assault- so we could work with the victims. I squirmed in my seat until I could no longer take it. I went to the bathroom and threw up. I realized it then- there was nothing about this I had healed from. I did what I could to try and heal within my own power. I started a group for women across campus who were trying to heal. I met with dozens of girls cross legged on the floor of my tiny apartment- other women who had been assaulted. We shared stories, tears, and we built friendships. I thought that fixing others would somehow fix me. It worked temporarily.
Fast forward a few years down the road and I was married with a young daughter. I was (and am) married to a wonderful man who is understanding, patient and gentle. But in mid 2013- what had started as a very long season of postpartum depression started spiraling into night terrors. Touches from my husband I loved began feeling toxic and uninvited. I felt sick all the time. I stayed in bed often. I didn't want to see friends, I didn't want to be social. It was so difficult to go to work, I remember being on the red line and thinking "what if this train de-railed? Would it really be that bad?"
I met a Christian therapist in 2014. It was my hesitant new years resolution after my husband had pleaded for over a year. I was determined to pick myself out of the bed, save my marriage and my own sanity. It took over a year of hard gut-wrenching work- but I do believe that was the best decision I ever made for myself. It was hard- as I am a mental health professional- to admit to myself that I needed help- and a lot of it. It was hard to humble myself and sit across from someone who picked apart my past. But she did it gently and lovingly and she prayed over me each session with words that I had always needed to hear. I do believe that year was the year that my healing began. I learned how to talk about what I needed to talk about. I learned how to set boundaries. I learned that none of the behavior I had experienced should have been minimized- by others or by me. I slowly learned how to heal, that Christ covers all. I can't begin to convey the importance of finding a therapist and doing the hard work- this was the cornerstone of the entire healing process for me. My story will continue- some days I feel amazing, and other days of feel twinges of memories. Some nights I sleep soundly and others are interrupted by dreams I can't wake up from when I want to. But this is my story- healing has come and though it hasn't cleaned out every dark closet of my heart- it opened the curtains to let in light- so I can breathe easier and not live in terror or anger any longer.
How has your story shaped who you are today?:
I think I have a deep desire in my heart to be soft. I meet peacekeepers and so many gentle, loving women. I spend a lot of my time fascinated in how I can be like them. I am just recently realizing that life hasn't shaped me to be a peacekeeper. Through these events, life has given me the gift of righteous anger- and the kind of empathy that makes you weep. When I see a wrong- I can't shrug it off easily. When I see war, I don't think "God is in control- this stuff happens," instead I think, "What can I do? This is disgusting. I'm so angry right now. God gave me this anger so I can do something."
I used to think that feeling angry meant I wasn't doing well. I've come to realize that there's multiple types of anger- and there's a kind that is good. The kind that sees something unjust and can't hold still. You clench your fists around the arms of your chair until your knuckles are white. You feel it rise in your chest and you exhale a prayer- begging the Lord to help you stay grounded.
I have peace. I have peace in knowing that God is good no matter what. I also have peace knowing that God has gifted wounded warriors all over his planet. There are billions of people on this planet whose world turned grey at one point or another. Innocence was stolen, sometimes all at once, or sometimes it dripped out like a leaky faucet. It's through these broken humans who should be jaded- that God says - "You- I need your story."
I have learned forgiveness. For some reason, this seemed like the easiest part for me. I work in mental health and I see how the cycle of violence twists and poisons people- trickling down through families and generations. If I imagine perpetrators once being victims (which most were)- forgiveness tends to lend itself easily to me, and for that I am grateful.
I've learned that I'm not invincible. No matter what, no matter how much therapy you go through or how much you've forgiven- we are still human.
One day at a hospital I worked at, we got the name of an admission coming in. I recognized it immediately- the age- the background-everything. He was a man from my past. One of the men who had taken something from me- who had stolen my innocence. My whole body stopped functioning- my brain slowed- and I couldn't quite communicate why- but I begged the supervisor to let me go home. I was in a daze the drive home and found myself in bed much of the following days. Just his name had taken me from a healthy functioning human being- to a completely broken and empty vessel. I was not immune- I was not invincible- but I was not overcome. He was discharged and I came back to work- shaken- but still ready to do my job. I needed to remind myself that though I was not all powerful- I was redeemed.
What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?:
Everything that happened to you is part of your story. Every story we read has conflict. For some people, the conflict is small. For some, it's so great that you want to toss the book across the room and are too heartbroken to try to complete reading it . But so many times, the stories we remember are the ones with the greatest amount of conquered conflict. I wouldn't want to read a biography about my life if it were about a girl who walked around cynical all the time- seeing this beautiful world through a grey lens.
I wouldn't read about a woman who spent her life scared, angry and bitter. I'd love to read a story about a girl who went through something hard and instead made something beautiful of it. We can do that through Christ. Christ rescues us from our bad stories. Then he restores us to new life. Then, when we are ready, he redeems those stories to always be used for his good in the world. I really believe that. If I don't live that- I'm going to read a biography about a girl who didn't allow herself to be redeemed- and that's going to be a sad life to read about.
Let yourself hurt, let yourself feel, let yourself remember, and finally -heal. That needs to be part of your story.
Then, let your story be redeemed through Christ- there's a whole lot of people out there who NEED the redeemed version of you. And they are waiting.