Click For Hope

Rape

I WAS HELD CAPTIVE

Abuse, Breaking the Silence, Sexual Abuse, RapeJasmine LopezComment
 Stock photo by:  Jazi Photo

Stock photo by: Jazi Photo

Please share your story.: When I was 16 years old, I was held captive by someone I thought of as an uncle. He repeatedly sexually assaulted me and hit me. He tied me up so I had no chance of escaping. I was there for 4 days and no one looked for me. To this day, it is still a struggle to sleep. But I've overcome so much since then. I'm now 19, almost 20, and things are still hard due to it. But I've been helped by so many.

How has your story shaped who you are today?:

I'm a much stronger person. I'm going to school to be a therapist to help other traumatized teens get through their issues.

What compelled you to want to share your story with us?:

Nobody should blame themselves.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?:

It's never going to be perfect, but it'll be better. So many people can help. And with your story you can help others.

AND STARTED BY UNBUTTONING MY PANTS...

Abuse, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Breaking the SilenceJasmine Lopez2 Comments
 Photos by: Heather Manwaring

Photos by: Heather Manwaring

Please share your story:

The first time my innocence was taken from me was when I was six years old. My parents had divorced two years prior, so my sisters and I split our time between two households: one with our mother and her partner, and one with our father. At one point, my mother had family in town visiting, and along with them came a friend. Both parents had a funny feeling about Steve--something was not quite right, but in order to keep the peace and evade awkward confrontation, he was allowed to stay in the house with us. He was weird, and quite mean. He would do things like pee on the living room floor, enter the bathroom while we were showering, and kick my sister's butts all in the name of "fun". Of course, none of this behavior was displayed in front of my mother. 
I shared a room with my sister, Kristi, at the time, and it was located in the very back of the house. One day, he somehow got me alone in that room with him. He locked the door behind him, and firmly pushed me up against the dresser. He knelt down before me and started by unbuttoning my pants and pulling down the zipper. By this point I started to make noise and attempted to scream, but he covered my mouth and told me to stay quiet. His finger found its way through my panties and into the folds of the most private part of my body. His finger felt hard and cold on my very sensitive skin as he probed me to his satisfaction. 
I have no idea how she knew, but it was my sister who came and knocked on the bedroom door. Steve mumbled a response, and smart little Kristi ran to get Mom. Seconds later, she was banging on the door to demand he unlocked it. Right before he did so, his hand still suctioned uncomfortably over my mouth, he whispered into my ear, "if you tell anyone about this, I will come back to kill you and your whole family."
My mother glared at him as he opened and exited what was supposed to have been my sacred space. Nothing substantial ever happened after that in the sense of a direst repercussion for his actions. My mom never questioned him or checked in with me, even though she knew something weird had occurred during his stay. It wasn't until a few years later that I came out with a modified version of the story (partially because I had blocked out the most painful part of this memory), after learning that he had passed away from AIDS. There was no longer the fear of the possibility that he would come back to hurt my family, although he had already inflicted plenty of damage already. It wasn't until a couple years ago (I'm now 26) that the repressed memories of the abuse came to light.
Fast forward twelve years, and the second event of this nature made its way into my life. I had just turned eighteen and was playing water polo at the local community college. I was constantly around all of the male athletes: in the gym, in study hall, in physical therapy, at all the parties (not that I attended many of those). I received a lot of attention--more than I'd ever received in my entire life. It was a new experience and it was one of the first times in my life when I felt beautiful and desired by the opposite sex. This made me desperate and way too eager to connect, in a way that made me undiscerning of who was truly worthy of me, my body, and my time. Freddy was the first man to ask me out. He wanted me to come over to his place and watch a movie with him. Naive as I was to the whole dating scene, I believed him and happily agreed. We entered his room and put on a movie...one that we never ended up watching. He stole my virginity that night with a penis as large as an English cucumber, leaving my vagina ravaged and bloody, my senses completely numbed, and broken-hearted by the realization that my first sexual experience was with someone who didn't care about me. I could never get that back. I cried for days, and didn't look at any man in the eyes or find very many men sexually attractive after that night.

How has your story shaped who you are today?: 

It has shaped me in a multitude of ways. It has affected me negatively in the sense that I lost my sense of trust not only in men, but in the world. I shut down emotionally, became very withdrawn and kept everyone at an arm's distance. I was angry, bitter, and abrasive to myself and everyone around me. In order to hide my most broken and vulnerable parts of my psyche, I put on a happy face...a mask that I felt I could control. I couldn't control what had happened to me at six and at eighteen, so I thought that if I tried to control everyone and everything around me, I would never again be hurt like that. 

Now that I have gone through healing of many of these layers, these experiences have shaped me into a very passionate person. I am committed to bringing love to myself, others, and every situation to the best of my ability. It has helped me to develop compassion for others in similar situations, to bring multiple levels of understanding to pain and darkness, and to rediscover my sexuality in healthy, life-giving ways. It has also inspired the direction in which I want to take my career in photography. I want to bring awareness and healing to this issue, because so many women have gone through traumatic experiences like mine and so much worse. We would all be better off working through and letting go of the pain many of us hold onto. 
I envision a world where everyone has vibrant, healthy, loving, honest, authentic relationships!

What compelled you to share your story?:

My story is like countless others, and one that I am willing to share because I no longer want to stay in the dark. I want complete, radical honesty, because I feel like it is the only way we will ever heal as a collective. I want my story to bring light, love, and understanding to those willing and ready to make their way out of their own holes and breathe the fresh air of the light of day.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?: 

That they are not alone. That even in a world where stories and emotions like these are swept under the rug, there are those out there who understand and will listen to you, and even more than that, will love you through it all. That you are still worthy of love and happiness, regardless of how broken you feel. And, I would highly recommend finding an outlet for the pain that works for you, whether that be going to see a therapist, painting, dancing, hanging out with supportive friends...whatever makes you happy. Go and do more of that. The world isn't as scary as you think it is. We're all hurting, and we're all doing the best we can.

"I KNOW YOU WANT THIS..."

Breaking the Silence, Rape, PTSD, SuicideJasmine Lopez2 Comments
 Makeup:  Jacqueline Gamache  Styled by:  Co Chic Styling  Photos:  Jazi Photo

Makeup: Jacqueline Gamache Styled by: Co Chic Styling Photos: Jazi Photo

Please share your story:

It was my freshman year at the University of Iowa. My first year living away from my family. I shared a dorm room with two best friends from a small town in Iowa. We were very different people, but, still managed to enjoy being roommates. Being from Iowa, they often had friends from their home town come visit. It had never been an issue as they all usually went out at night together leaving me in the quiet of our room. One night, after having gone to sleep, and while they were all out partying, there was a knock on the dorm room door. Before opening it I asked who it was. I knew one of the guys who happened to be my roommates' friend, and had met on numerous occasions. He and his friend wanted to wait in the room for my roommates to return. They had been out partying and had had too much to drink, so just wanted to lay down.

The friend I knew immediately passed out on my roommates bed. I laid back down in my bed to try to get back to sleep. Next thing I know there is a weight on top of me. The other friend was laying on top of me and put his hand over my mouth so I couldn't yell out. He said, "I know you want this and it will be good for both of us". He proceeded to rape me, then got up and left, while the other friend was still passed out. I never knew the name of the person who raped me and didn't tell anyone the next day or even over the next year what had happened, in fact, I completely wiped it out of my memory.
 

For the next year I felt horrible about myself and had no idea why. I broke up with someone I had had a 2 year relationship with. I would cry at the drop of a hat. I started to not feel worthy of others' attention and withdrew a bit. I would take long walks at night hoping something bad would happen to me just so I could have something to tie to all of my negative feelings about myself. Because I had blocked the memory of the rape, I was lost and had no understanding why I didn't like myself at all.

About a year after the rape, I was feeling so low. I still had no understanding of why I didn't like myself. I became very depressed. I think on the outside people had no idea as I had always been a happy, bubbly person and tried to continue that persona around my friends. But, it was killing me inside. One night, I was done with feeling miserable and decided to commit suicide. I took a bunch of pills and called my family to say goodbye. My mom realized something was extremely wrong and got a hold of my brother who was also at U of I. He contacted 911 and had me taken to the hospital.

Oddly enough it was while I was vomiting up those pills at the hospital that I started remembering all of the details of the rape. Those memories, strangely enough, were a relief to me. I finally understood why I had fallen so deeply into the depressed state I was in. This gave me the ability to begin to heal. I saw a therapist who helped me understand that the rape was not my fault. However, I also went to a psychiatrist who told me that the rape is in the past and I need to forget about it and move on with my life (essentially snap out of it). I had repressed those memories for a year and now he wanted me to repress them again. I was mortified. I told him what he "wanted" to hear to get out of his office and move on with my therapy and life and never saw him again.

Has it been easy?!? No. Sometimes I find myself making horrible life choices due to still having some of the feelings of not being good enough, or, not feeling like I am worthy of love. I also have had many issues with intimacy. This can be hard for my husband who is a very understanding person. I don't always like to be touched. It has been about 30 years since the rape occurred, and, I am happy to say I survived.

How has your story shaped who you are today?:

My story has changed me in the fact that I understand and empathize with others who are going through issues in their lives. I am a support group leader for Alopecia Areata and feel that my past experiences have made me want to reach out and be there for my group. I am one of the first ones to say, "your story is your story and your hurt is your hurt, don't let anyone tell you it shouldn't bother you".

What compelled you to share your story?: I want others to know there is life beyond rape.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?:

My therapist once said "depression is like being in a dirt hole. No matter how often you try to claw your way out the dirt, it just gives way and you make no headway". Accept someone's ladder into that hole and let them help you pull yourself out. Life is worth living once you can see the sun outside of that dirt hole.

THEIR STORIES & STRENGTH HELPED ME UNCOVER MINE

Breaking the Silence, Sexual Abuse, RapeJasmine Lopez1 Comment
 Photos by:  Jazi Photo  Makeup by:  Jacqueline Gamache

Photos by: Jazi Photo Makeup by: Jacqueline Gamache

Please share your story:

In 2011 I was blessed to have the opportunity to lead 2 volunteer organizations at UIC. When it came around to planning our first collaborated fundraiser I asked myself, "What cause should we fight for?" The very first thought, without hesitation, instantly said "rape survivors". I didn't question it and it didn't take me back that it came to mind first, but that doesn't mean I understood why it did... but the team and I just began working.

I've learned from great, inspiring leaders that you live by the story you tell yourself. If you tell yourself you are a great dancer, you'll be the first on the floor at weddings. If you tell yourself you are a bad dancer, you stick along the side of the circle and hope not to get pushed in the middle. If you tell yourself, you're strong... You'll always find strength, always. This challenge of choosing a story is what I've uncovered for myself since 2011. As our organization, Good Knight, grew to help others in Chicago, a part of me started to realize I was helping myself more than I realized. Helping with what? Still today I can't remember clearly. But with each year, each show, each new team of advocates and survivors, as soon as someone starts to speak or share their story of resilience I could never help but break down. I'd shake, cry, shut my eyes, and find myself gasping for breath between my words of "thank you" for sharing their story. In a silly way, it's kind of become a joke how emotional I get at Good Knight events that our wonderful board brings tissues on stage for me. (That's just one reason why I love them (: ) Their stories and strength helped me uncover mine.

But as I type, I feel my hands pause. I think my thoughts and beliefs, the story I've told myself and the other story that's buried in my memory, are fighting to take charge. So though I may never truly, minutely uncover the details of that "story" I know there's something there. Something there that mattered to me so much as a little girl that it never left my heart and made an imprint, so much so, that I am passionate, almost eager and anxious, to be there for anyone who may have felt the same. Something is there that makes me want to comfort... to love anyone who has ever felt that something is missing, something is wrong, something is hurting...but still knowing through grace that something will make everything okay. 

Being a child, we believe stories so easily. We hear someone else tell us how life is supposed to be and we go with it whether it was the student in my class that touched me when no one was looking or if someone had just "tickled" me too hard in the wrong places. Or if it was a boyfriend that hit me too hard because I was being dumb or another that kept lying to keep me believing I was supposed to give myself emotionally and physically so recklessly. I believed their stories and hid mine. Some of those times seemed so quick I didn't acknowledge them. My mind told me "You're strong, it's okay. Keep going." While my heart has been saying "You're strong, but you can find a better way. I'll be here." Those stories.. that others tell us. They're not true. They're not how you need to live your life. 

There are still moments when I try to dive into my memory, because the fear in those times when I was alone with someone and trying to get out, that fear still creeps up and I feel it again. My mind throws up the red flag, I go way in over my head, and my body begs "Run!" But now... I come back down to the ground and I remember my real story... In 2011 I was given the blessing to love others and in turn fell in love with myself. In 2011, I found a friend who had been praying for me and helped me begin my walk in faith. In 2011, I found a family and we built a community that told others "It's going to be okay. You're never alone." Then in 2014, I found a man that when I saw, I actually sighed and instantly thought "everything is going to be okay now"... a man who helped me sleep through the night for the first time, and when I would wake up shaking could always say "I'm here." In 2016 Good Knight became a registered non-profit charity and my soul felt that these dreams are now my reality and my stories. And now in 2017, Morgan and I will have a baby girl and I will share stories of strength, beauty, grace, and love so that she can grow into the most wonderful person she will believe she can be. Those are the stories I will believe and I will live by. These are the stories that I will continue to grow with because I choose to. I am free of fear, for there is no person or story that can calm my love for the world and my story that is still unfolding.

To someone with a similar story...

I'd say you are loved in every moment. When you're at your absolute best and when you're completely lost, you are loved. God brings you closer to Him in each of those moments, sometimes we just forget. So even when your story is not going according to "your plan", remember that His grace has a bigger purpose for you and it's even better than we know. Your story is not over.

AWAKENED BY A MAN ON TOP OF ME

Abuse, Adoption, Breaking the Silence, Clickforhope, Depression, Forever Family, Foster Care, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Single MomJasmine Lopez13 Comments
 Photos by:  Jazi Photo  Makeup by: Ashley Vela

Photos by: Jazi Photo Makeup by: Ashley Vela

Please share your story:

It all started when I was 14. I lived in Gary on 21st Sve . I was going to school and just living a normal teen life, chilling with friends and having fun. It had its ups and downs but hey who's life doesn't right?!? So in March 2012, my dad takes a trip to Puerto Rico to visit his mom, leaving my brother, mom, and me alone at home. So one day, being the nosey child that I was, I went looking for my mom but couldn't find her. I went upstairs to check and nothing. Something said go look out the window. So I went and looked, and saw my mom talking to some guy. I didn't know who he was but they exchanged something, and my mom walked back into the house. I didn't think anything of it. I'm 14, why should I really care, right? My mom always told me to stay out of grown folks business, so that's all I knew.

So a couple days later my mom comes downstairs and says "We're having company for a while." I told her, "Ummm...okay?!?" To soon found out it was the guy who she was talking to outside. I told myself, "Something is wrong here. A man is staying in our house that isn't my dad. He shouldn't be here. But she said it's only for few days, and she gets paid for it?!?" Now money was tight since no one had a job at the time, so my brother and I had to panhandle a couple time for money just to get through one day at a time.

One night, I'm asleep and the night is still. Only to be awakened by a man on top of me, touching me, and taking my innocence. My brother was asleep in the bed beside me. The man whispers, "Shhh don't tell anyone, and your mom will be okay." I laid still thinking my life is over. I'm scared...Where's my mother to protect me? He left soon after. The next morning, I walked downstairs to see my mom scooping some type of substance on a plate... Is it flour? Sugar maybe? I walk into the kitchen and she hurried to cover the plate, and told me to get back upstairs. It's now April and the same thing happens again, while I'm asleep in my bed, in my house...while my mom is God knows where. My brother and I were barely surviving and it's up to me to stop this from continuing. May is here and I have no menstrual cycle. My mom is all of a sudden curious, and asks me. "Where's your cycle?" I replied, "I don't know, late probably?" I can't even look at her. I stopped going to school because I had no motivation and no drive to do anything but live in fear.

One day my mom sent me to my grandma's church to ask for some money, but something in me said enough is enough. I went to church and I told my aunt that I didn't want to live with my mom anymore. I was tired of everything going on and I was dying inside. My other aunts, who attended the church, came over too, to gather my things, along with my brothers. We left and stayed with them for a while. I told them what happened and everyone was disappointed in my mom, in how she let her guard down and let drugs break her wall of being a real parent.

The next day, I was in the hospital getting rape kits done, swabs, and shots, only to find out I'm one month pregnant. Yes, I was 14 years old, pregnant and felt like a piece of trash without anyone or anything. My aunts told me and everyone cried. Three months past by and I'm now four months pregnant. I'm tired, big and taking everything in, all at once. I have a journal to keep me sane and it wasn't working. My aunt found it and kicked me out because of something I wrote. I was then placed into foster care and I can honestly say it was the best thing that could have ever happen to me. I missed a lot of school, so I had to do 8th grade over again which was my choice. Even though everything was bad, I was blessed with a beautiful son on December 24th, 2012. Yes I can really say he was my gift from God. I named him Alejandro Nicholas Kirkland.

I moved again shortly after that to Whiting, Indiana and my son got a terrible fever of 104.3. My foster parent really didn't care and kept saying to give him water. God whispered to me and said be patient, just watch. A few hours later, my therapist came and saw Alejandro so hot and called the abuse hotline. We went to the hospital and stayed all night. Lets just say God has his ways and perfect timing. The doctors said if we had waited any longer, he wouldn't have made it. That made my life take a turn it really needed to. We were removed from her care and moved to East Chicago, and spent a summer there. We then were placed in a foster home in Gary once again. At this time, I just couldn't deal with my life and putting my son through that didn't feel like it was right. I couldn't do this to him. I was in school but I didn't have a job and I couldn't provide for him like I wanted to.

So winter of 2014, I got placed in Dyer at a mom's home for some help and to see if I still wanted to have the role as a mom. I found out that I didn't. I didn't have help andit was hard seeing my peers with their baby's father. I was alone and no one came to see me. I loved him with all my soul and being, but I wanted better for him. I want him to have the world and some. I wanted to give him everything I never had. Summer of 2015 I gave him up for adoption. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. I signed the papers and he was officially adopted. He deserves better and that's what he's going to get. God has always watched over him and I trust Him.

So its been a little over a year now and his new family spoils him and some. He loves it. I'm also glad that I could be a blessing to someone who couldn't bare on their own child. But, overall God gave me an amazing person to help guide me and steer me in the direction I needed and her name is Kiessa Hamilton. I love her so much and shes my rock. I'm sure I wouldn't be here without her pushing me to keep going forward. I will be 19 on September 18th and its crazy to think about how I've been in 6 placements, 5 schools over 4 years. Where did the time go.?.

I can't end the story here. I always told myself good things come to those who wait. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for God. I wouldn't be telling my story without Him. And I'm a firm believer, because God's work is so pure and unbelievable. He's amazing! When you think it's over, God sneaks up and says "No you're just getting started."

How has your story shaped who you are today?:

It shaped me to know that life isn't over. Keep moving forward and know you have more to live for. Life is more valuable then you think. Keep pushing through the pain and you will find healing.

What compelled you to share your story with us:

Because I've been through a lot and I feel like I can help someone overcome their troubles. To let them know they can get through what they're going through. You are a strong independent person!

What encouraging words would you say to someone who shares a similar story?:

You're strong!

You got through it!

I'm proud of you.

Keep going.

I knew you had it in you.

Never give up on your dreams.

God has plans for you.

 

I KNEW HE WAS DANGEROUS...

Breaking the Silence, Suicide, Depression, Abuse, Sexual Abuse, RapeJasmine Lopez1 Comment
 Photos by:  Jazi Photo  Makeup by: Ashley Vela

Photos by: Jazi Photo Makeup by: Ashley Vela

Please share your story: :

 I do not remember how young I was when it first started, but I do know that I was quite young. I only have a few memories of actually being molested as a child, because I repressed the memories. I mainly remember the times I lied to get away because I knew he was dangerous, but I loved him because he was family. I was conflicted, but I knew he was not safe, and I would do anything to make sure we were not alone together in the same room. I remember when I was around 10, he grabbed me and I was finally strong enough to pull away and run away. I ran to another room, and closed the door crying and saying "I got away today", but at the same time not understanding why I did not want to be alone with him. It was so confusing to me. When I was fourteen and I was a freshman in high school, a group of senior guys were goofing off in the crowded hallways and they thought it would be funny to circle me. They had me trapped and reached out and started grabbing me and touching me and I freaked out. It was a few months later when I had nightmares about them and I acknowledged what they had done was wrong. As I was dealing with those emotions, the memories from my childhood came back full force. It became a burden as I kept the secret from my parents because I felt like I would not be believed because of who the person was in my family. I clung to the Lord during that time, but it was overwhelming for me and I did not have the best counseling at the time.

When I was sixteen, I started dating a guy, but it turned into a very controlling relationship. He had a bunch of crazy rules, and for some reason I kept going in the relationship despite these vivid warning signs. A few months into the relationship, he showed up at my job while I was working alone, and I was happy to see him, but he ended up raping me. It would have gotten even worse, but I believe the Lord allowed a customer to ring the front bell and stop him. I had frozen, I could not say no to him, because I reverted back to the little girl in my mind. I know that I was praying for it to be over and for me to get away. I also remember at one point seeing the back door and thinking "I need to go out that door...I need to leave and get away from him, but I can't...because this is my job...I can't leave...I'm stuck here...how do I get him to leave...Lord help me". This was a controlling relationship too, I was also scared to make him angry. I remember after I helped the customer, I went to the back room, and tried to put on a happy face, and he was so angry with me. He stomped out, and I kept smiling until he left then I fell to the floor crying. I was so scared because I thought I was the one who was wrong. I knew I could not let anyone know because I had just come back from a mission trip and they would think that I was bad. I locked up and went to my best friend's house and I never told her what happened. That night changed me. 

My relationship with God changed, how I viewed myself changed (which was already tenuous from severe bullying in junior high). I was still a Christian, but I was so angry with God. I felt like He left me that night. I still played the part, but inside I was so broken and did not know how to put it together again. I had an older friend who was such a blessing to my life. A few weeks after that night, she walked in while he was arguing with me and he had grabbed my wrist forcefully. As soon as she came in, he dropped my wrist and pretended everything was good and then left. She looked at me and took me to her car to talk privately. I confessed to her about the abuse, but I still never told her about that night. She handed me her cell phone and told me to call him and break up. I did, even though he started spreading rumors which attacked my reputation, and they were all lies. The more I tried to defend myself (as teens do), he would make up more and more lies until I stopped talking to my friends. One thing I understand now and I did not understand then, was that all of my childhood memories came back full force because I had to deal with the anger I had towards God. I had felt that my childhood molestation was now my fault too. 

This made me desire to leave the state for college. I needed to get away, and I needed a change of scenery and I thought going to an out of state college would give me that. This is when I started realizing that I was so afraid of being raped in college. I started having some fears come out, and I sank into deep depression and became suicidal. I even attempted one time, but the Lord graciously saved me. I was a mess and all over the place. I reached out for counseling, but without the repressed memories coming forth, they were not able to help me. They put me on anti-depressants and they did not work. In some ways I felt like they made me worse. The side effects were horrible and made me feel like I was going crazy. Even though I was in a Bible college, I felt so far away from God and I could not understand why. I would see others and feel like God was not happy with me and that I was not worthy of Him. I remember crying out to Him over and over yelling "Can you hear me??" Meanwhile I was teaching Sunday school and showing the world I was still the "good little Christian girl". The depression got worse and worse to the point I could not function and I was becoming suicidal again. I even began cutting, I literally felt like I was going crazy. I remember walking by the side of the highway in three feet of snow at 2 am and thinking I should just jump in front of the trucks because living life as a crazy person was not worth it. My world was so dark that light did not even seem like it was a possibility. Then I came back to Chicago to be admitted to a Mental Hospital. 

Once back in Chicago the hospital would not accept me because I did not have insurance at the time. I ended up staying with my friend and her husband, and this was the biggest blessing to me. I was able to just stop for a while. While I was there, my medication ran out and I did not have a doctor in Chicago to renew the prescriptions. I was nervous because of the dosages I was on made it dangerous for me to stop them cold-turkey but I had no other options. I had no side effects, and in fact, I started doing better and it became clear that my issues were not chemical imbalances. I slowly started coming out of my depressive fog and back to the Lord, and realizing that He had never left my side during the darkness. He was always there. I just took life one day at a time from there, but I would slip into depression periodically. I knew there were parts of my heart that I knew were there, but I did not know how to access them. While I was back with the Lord, my relationship was still different. I felt like I had to perform for Him, and and that I needed to do everything right. In my head, I knew that it was illogical, but I could not change my heart. I would talk to friends, and pastors about it because I was desperate for help to change it. I would tell them that the distance from my head to my heart was a very long way. I still dealt with horrible anxiety and fear of being raped. I was afraid to live alone because I felt that I would never be safe. I was even afraid to stay home alone when my parents were away. I went to counseling, but it was not helping either.

One day in November 2011 (about 2 years into the counseling), I went to church for early morning prayer. I told the Lord that I had enough of this and that I was ready for Him to deal with it because I did not know what else to do. I remember telling Him that He had permission to open the closed doors of my heart and to deal with stuff that I didn'teven know was there. The next night at my counseling session, my counselor asked me about my boyfriends. I counted off the relationships (which were few), and in my head I knew that there should be five but I could only remember four names, and two of those guys I dated for like one day and really did not count. We just started talking and offhandedly I said a name and she looked at me and said "who?" I looked at her and was like "I didn't tell you about ***?" She said "No". So I started telling her and all of the sudden I was telling her about that night at my job. As I told her I remember looking at her and saying "Oh my God, he raped me". With that it was like the floodgates opened and the memories came back in vivid color with emotions and feelings as if it had just happened the day before.

The following two years were some of the most difficult years as I dealt with, not only the rape but my childhood as well. I am so thankful for the friends and the support I had around me at the time, and of course for God's love. While the memories were so difficult to deal with, I cannot begin to tell you the freedom that came from allowing God to go to those dark places. My relationship with God is so beautiful now. I can finally see myself as He sees me, as His precious daughter whom He loves and cherishes. There is freedom in telling your story. It gives you back the power that was taken from you. I now control who I tell and when. This is my first time sharing the story publicly, but I knew that it was time. Those men no longer have anything to say over me. I remember telling people that there has to be a reason for me going through this, if I can someday help just one person, then all of this pain was worth it. If I can save one girl from being abused, then it is worth it. If I can help one woman heal, it was worth it.

I am telling you, that it was worth it to share my story!

I can't end it there though....I need to share that I have many reasons for my weight gain, for health conditions which contributed, emotional eating etc.It definitely became my comfort during the years of the pain I held deep inside. It is still a struggle that I have, and is very difficult for me. Because along with what I mentioned, it has become a shield to protect me from unwanted advances. As I have gone through times when I've lost a little weight, something will happen to make me want to have that shield back up. I believe that this will be the final step to my healing, to conquer this wall and break this shield, and I am nearly there. I needed to mention it in my story because it is something I rarely share. God will be with me along the way and I know this battle will eventually be won. God has more than restored the years that the locust have stolen, and I am blessed beyond comprehension. 

How has your story shaped who you are today?: 

I am who I am because of what happened to me, and what I went through. I am no longer fearful of my own shadow, but I am growing stronger each and every day. I am growing bolder, and standing up for others. I am compassionate because I know what it is like to be alone. I feel like I can help others because I understand the emotions and the feelings even if my story may be different than theirs. Jeremiah 29:11-13 says "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." This has been my story. I have been seeking Him, and I have been finding Him. I want to help others find Him and to find the freedom that I now have.

What compelled you to share your story with us?: 

I believe this opportunity is for the Lord to fulfill plans that he has for my life. To share my story to those who are going through their own pain, and hope they know that they are not alone. Also to share my story with those who knew me during those times but may not have understood what was happening at the time. And ultimately for God to get the glory for what He has done in my life.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?:

 I pray that you will continue to keep pushing through the darkness. You are NOT alone, despite how you feel. God has not left you, He is still by your side. Ask Him to reveal Himself and He will. There is light and there is joy on the other side of the tunnel. I promise it will end, and you will look back and realize just how strong you have become during the process.