A friend of mine recently posted about a 10-year anniversary, and that got me thinking about milestones, steps on the path, and how far I’ve come. In June of this year, it will have been twenty-six years since I was sexually assaulted; and it will be ten years since I actively sought healing from that assault. I remember how frightened I was when I first sat in front of my computer and typed the words “healing after rape” into the browser bar. I didn’t know what I would find, but I did know that I could not continue with my life as it was.
For a few years after the assault, I never thought about what had happened. I literally blocked the incident completely from my memory, though the pathways leading up to those moments were clear and unobstructed; there was a space and time inside my head that was just grey, like a room filled with dust and cobwebs. I did not want to enter in. Then there came a morning in the summer after I graduated high school when I woke up late and jumped out of bed, only to be hit by the most crippling flashback I’ve ever experienced. I ran to the shower and stood there under the spray – as hot as I could make it – still shivering and shaken by the memories. I felt sick. I WAS sick. I became sicker as time passed – years went by and I began to avoid life, avoid people, avoid everything. I dropped out of college. I sequestered myself in my home and hid myself behind my writing. Simple things like going to the grocery store or ordering pizza over the phone became monumental obstacles. I never went anywhere alone, if I could help it. Driving alone engendered total panic. I stayed that way for the next eight years, until I had my first child. Giving birth to a daughter changed everything; I knew I had to find a way to face the world again, but I didn’t know how.
It wasn’t until right after the birth of my second child that I began to actively seek healing. Things had happened that proved to me that I was out of control and that I had to change. My fears had driven my marriage to the brink of destruction, and I hated the person I had become. So I sat down in front of the computer and typed those words that led me to the first milestone: Pandora’s Aquarium. Here I found understanding and acceptance. This incredible group of survivors – women mostly, but some wonderful men, too – did not tell me I was crazy or that I just needed to “get over it”. They embraced me and welcomed me into their community; they listened when I needed to vent, they heard my story and understood the fact that I just couldn’t remember everything. Though they are a varied group of many different faiths – and no faiths – I truly felt that God’s unconditional love was extended to me through them. For the first time in many years, I felt something close to normalcy. It was an incredible feeling.
The second milestone came about fourteen months later, when I applied for a job and was hired. I had worked in the past, but never for more than a few months. I simply couldn’t handle being around people. The anxieties and panic attacks I experienced were debilitating, and I had given up on the idea of ever being employed. But I ran across the advertisement for Jubilee Project by accident; a poster on the door of our local pharmacy said that they were accepting resumes through that afternoon. Before I had time to really think about it, I made a phone-call that would change my life. Though I couldn’t get the resume there that day, they extended the deadline for me. I applied and within a week I was going to work for the first time in eight years. I really didn’t believe I could do it, but I was wrong. Not only did I do it, but I thrived on it – the small salary was only a tiny part of the benefits I reaped. Like the survivors at Pandy’s, the people I worked with gave me caring acceptance – again, I felt that unconditional love that is a hallmark of God.
There were other important milestones on the path – ones that enabled me to work proactively in my own life. Losing 130 lbs, going back to college, moving to a new town with more opportunities – all these were massive steps on the journey. In 2009, I began working at Cherokee Church, where I again encountered God’s people and more examples of his unconditional love. That year, I became involved with a man who had been my pastor; who used his connection and my faith to get close to me. He betrayed my trust in horrible ways – the abuse was emotional, sexual and physical. His suicide-threats kept me in the relationship until it was clear that I had to make a choice – would he survive, or would I? I chose me. I left in December of that year, but then ended up getting an order of protection against him the following July – another milestone.
Today, I consider myself to be a survivor. I am grateful for the people who have extended love and kindness to me along the way. I am in a relationship that is a partnership in every meaningful sense of the word, with someone who respects me and tries his best to understand me, even when I’m triggered and in my most vulnerable state. He never takes advantage of my weaknesses or suggests that I should “just get over it.” He is always willing to listen when I need to talk. I still have plenty of bad days, but there are plenty of good days, too. It has been almost twenty-six years since I started walking my wilderness path through the aftermath of rape. I’m still walking, probably always will be. But that’s okay – life is about the journey, and there are many milestones ahead.