It’s been awhile since I wrote- 4 months actually. I would be lying if I said that I stopped writing because I didn’t need to anymore and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t out of fear of what might appear on the screen as I type.
I always begin to type and then erase, get half way through and then close the tab. Part of me is scared of the truth that would keep coming out. Well today, right now, I’m not going to do that. I need to write it out, I need to see my words, I need for it to keep becoming real, I need to keep moving forward.
Most of you know about Adopt a Classroom with Charleston Hope, the non-profit I run. Well this past year was one of our most successful years yet. We adopted 7 schools and over 2,300 students received a wrapped Christmas gift, Holiday party, and one on one time with community members from all over. It was so incredible and my heart was incredibly full.
The day after Adopt a Classroom ended and we were given an incredibly generous donation from a sponsor, it was a great day- until my life took another turn, another blow- doing its best to knock me right back off my feet.
I am not kidding when I say I was sitting at a restaurant with my best friend, for hours and hours, just talking, hanging out, sharing Adopt a Classroom stories, and really just talking about life. It felt so good to be in the place that I was at- finally feeling happy, good, and strong.
I remember my words exactly to my best friend, “I can’t believe how far we’ve come. We’re both back to being weird, we’re laughing, we’re happy. I finally feel like we’re in a good place (since Chad died).”
My best friend reciprocated that feeling and excitement of being happy, finding ourselves again, and moving forward. It wasn’t but a few hours (if that) after the two of us saying that- that our worlds were rocked, hard, yet again.
It’s the last thing I remember, standing next to my best friend until I came to it- franticly trying to find my way out of a strange apartment- fearing the unknown, panicking from the known, and crying-begging for help.
Here it is again- a new chapter to my story, this time one that carries an entirely different set of tools and resources to mend. Intense therapy, a whole new level of honesty, a LOT of self work that leaves you feeling lonelier then ever and the determination to accept that this is not who you are- this does not define you- well that might be the hardest of them all.
The past two years I’ve worn a cloak of grief, I’ve been labeled as the girl who lost Chad, the grieving girl. Now, on another terrible December night- I would put on a new cloak and wear a new label- a sexual assault victim.
Those words terrified me. They pained me. They stripped me. They broke me in ways I didn’t know was possible- I thought I went through the deepest pain when I lost Chad, that nothing would hurt this bad again. But here I was, two years later- broken, used, taken advantage of- and left to fight the pain alone.
Another Christmas spent tucked in the sheets of my parents bed, stirring up every bit of strength I had inside of me to be okay at Christmas dinner, to feel the pressure of fighting through another moment, another circumstance- feeling like I had to prove my strength- when all I wanted to do was fumble.
You don’t think it could ever happen to you- someone slipping something in a drink, treating you like you are nothing, something that can be used, manipulated, and controlled- and then tossed to the side- left on their own to pick up the shattered, broken pieces. You can’t imagine it and you never do.
As I walked through the next days- more and more of me was stripped, taken. Tests and kits expose you, violate you, and just keep stripping you- layer by layer- leaving you weaker and weaker. I know longer had the control of my body that I once had, it was stripped from me. As they told me I was in control, pulling out cameras, and computers, and papers- I began to feel feel that control was something I no longer possessed- and I wondered if I ever would again.
I became a piece of evidence, with every bruise or mark they found and documented- I felt another piece of me leaving, another ounce of strength leaving my body. I remember never feeling more alone, more broken, more violated. “How did this happen? Why in the world was this happening to me? I thought I had been through enough. How am I going to get through this.”
As they asked question and after question, I sat there silently at first, scared of what was going to come out of my mouth, scared of the truth, scared of what had just happened. Their tone left me feeling like it was my fault, the blank white walls left me feeling that there wasn’t much hope- the color in my life had been stripped away yet again. I felt the pressure that I wasn’t telling the truth, they didn’t believe me, and that somehow, I allowed this to happen.
When questions were asked that I didn’t know the answer to, I felt tears streaming down my face and I knew- the pieces that were missing were only ever going to be filled in by a man who saw me as a piece of trash, something he could just use to get what he wanted- not caring about the costs that came with it.
I spent the next few weeks not eating, sleeping, and carrying the weight of what happened. I felt alone, broken, used, taken advantage of, violated, angry, and sad- but what I felt the most- embarrassed, shame, and guilt.
That guilty feeling left me ashamed to tell my story. I’ve heard and read about what people say about sexual assault and rape victims- I know the culture and society we live in. I felt the culture with most people I told. The questions and statements of “I don’t understand how you don’t remember?” “I don’t understand why you accepted the drink?” “I don’t get the story- it doesn’t make sense to me.”
With every statement and question, I felt the judgement behind their voice. As I would whisper quietly that I didn’t know or I don’t understand either- I felt shame placed on me, I felt guilt placed on- making me retreat back into my shell of hurt, pain, and shame- day after day.
The guilt became unbearable at times.
What if I did something wrong? Why did I accept that drink? Why can’t I remember anything? What if I said something I shouldn’t have? How did I get there? What if I said okay? Why can’t I remember?
Answers- there are none. You’re left scrambling to fill in the darkness- to put any piece you can together- but you can’t and because of that- the only one you feel there is to blame- is you.
This was an internal battle that I knew I was going to have to fight, for the most part, alone. I knew the lies that were quickly being placed on me and over me. I knew the voices in my head telling me I was alone, that this was my fault, that I would always be living in some type of tragedy weren’t going to go away, not without a battle plan.
I was angry my friends and family had yet another burden of mine to carry with me, to help me through. It wasn’t easy for them- how do you bring that up? How do you talk about it?
As January rolled around and I found myself getting back into the routine of things- the journey began. I was in therapy for over a year already but I knew when I walked in this time- no longer able to keep silent, an entirely new set of techniques were going to be pulled out battle this one.
As I walked through January and then February and now March- I’ve carried a lot. I’ve carried a lot of grief, a lot of loss, a lot of identity issues, and a lot of lies. I’ve had terribly restless nights, anxiety and panic attacks that have led me to emergency care, and yet again, a few nights that I didn’t think I wanted to continue to endure anymore pain.
I’m a huge advocate for therapy. In January intense therapy began as we began to work through this- I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t feeling safe in my own house, in my own city. I was scared to walk the streets, I could hardly go in crowded restaurants, and I was constantly looking over my shoulder out of fear of who was behind me.
Months went by as I walked through weekly therapy, often times twice a week- fighting and fighting to keep going, to not give up, to see the other side.
I began to be chained by the lies that I’ve carried over the past two years and certainly the lies I began to believe after this.
I am damaged. I am broken. I am nothing. I am a victim. I am never going to see a different season then pain and grief. I am worthless. I am something people see (or someone) as someone who can just be used and tossed aside. I am guilty. I go through too much and my friends are going to leave me. I am not good enough. I’ll never have love again. I’ll never be happy. I am what I’ve gone through and I am my circumstance- nothing more. I am not in control. I can’t take care of myself. I don’t deserve to be taken care of. I am to broken to be loved. I have too much baggage. I am evidence.
I believed them but this time, I knew something had to give- myself of my lies. It was time to keep being a victim of my circumstance or to fight day to day with a battle plan in hand, rooted in Christ alone.
As the weeks went on and I carried the pain quietly, I felt pain and brokeness, I had countless nights of unbearable pain, crying myself to sleep. I felt the hurt that came with this new trial, this new hardship- but something was different.
I began to take a different approach to the pain I was facing. I began fighting it with a different strategy- many different strategies. I wondered where these new strategies came from and it wasn’t long that I recognized that I had been prepared for this battle, I had been trained for this hardship, for this brokenness- and this time- not fighting was not an option.
As I began to pray specifically- targeting the specific areas that I needed help in, healing in, and reassurance in- I was reminded of the many times I prayed specifically the last two years. I was reminded of the pain I felt and still feel in Chad’s passing- I remember the nights of not wanting to live anymore, of believing my life would never be anything then grief, of feeling like my entire world was gone- leaving me with nothing.
I began to create strategy #1- remind myself of where I’ve been (grief) and where how far I’ve come. This quickly reminded me of the Lord’s faithfulness through my darkest time.
Then I created strategy #2- believe in the word the Lord gave me for the year- FREEDOM. I am reminded that the Lord has not only called, but promised, me freedom from the chains and lies that have been keeping back.
And the came strategy #3- new, Christ-like community was essential and I had to have it. I made the commitment to attend a new church, to get in a small group, and to allow myself to be invested in for a time being as opposed to constantly invest in others. I was reminded that the Lord provides in far greater ways then we can ever imagine. I was poured into, I was called out on the lies I was believing, and I was challenged in ways I hadn’t been challenged in a very long time- to walk into the freedom God has called me. Here are a few things my new community at my new church reminded me, even though I had only known them for a few months:
-I am loved and worthy. Christ is the only thing that can heal me. God has called me into freedom and promised it- why am I not walking into it? There are no plan b’s in the Lord’s eyes- only plan. Every single circumstance and situation in my life was part of a plan. The Lord knew what I was going to face and He loves me so much that He chose to turn into something good. He created his plan A and never second guessed it so neither should I. This is another piece of my story that can help people and hopefully point people to the Lord. I am not alone. I am not used, I am made new- day after day, moment after moment.
And most importantly, I was reminded that I have a choice- to let my circumstance define me or to define my circumstance by the unwavering truth and promises God has placed on and over me.
And then came the fourth and hardest target of the battle- to pray specifically, including to pray for the man who drugged and sexually assaulted me. To this day, I sob every time I pray for him, I get angry at first at God, mainly for calling me to pray for Him- and then I am reminded of the freedom of giving God the control, of placing it in His hands.
To say I am thankful for what happened that night in December sounds insensitive, but this is my story and I get to choose how I am going to write it- and I am thankful.
The act, the disgrace, the audacity of someone to do what they did- no, I’m not thankful and if I being honest- I am still working deeply hard to fully forgive.
The lesson, the growth, the strength I have not only received but I have recognized that is in me- yes.
Levi Lusko says it best, “Suffering isn’t an obstacle to being used by God. It’s an opportunity to be used like never before.”
I learned quickly the art in seeing your suffering as an opportunity to be used like never before and I learned it because I chose to. It took and is taking work to see suffering that way- but I know there is no better way to see it other then through God’s eyes. I wasn’t ready to share with people then, no. But as I keep taking steps forward, not only from this circumstance but from Chad’s death, which I am still walking through- I have come to the realization time and time again that this is my story, already written by God, already planned by God- and I am not going to keep shying away from it.
It was and is time that I take off the cloak of victimhood- it’s not serving anyone, especially me. No longer am I going to walk in the weight of the situations and pain that have happened to me- don’t get me wrong- I am going to feel them and process them- but I will not let them define me. Not anymore.
It’s not an easy story to tell but there is freedom in being honest, in sharing your story, in sharing your pain. There is something beautiful in getting it out on paper, which I am just realizing as my spirits feel lifted and I feel more free. There is something beautiful about recognizing what you are going through but making the decision to fight it, to go to battle with it, to say enough is enough.
That man also does not deserve another ounce of me. He does not deserve another ounce of my time sitting in the pain and trauma he caused me. He has no right to my feelings or emotions, he never thought he did anyways and I will not give it to him anymore. He may have taken a piece of me on December 14, 2016 but he will not get anymore. I will not sit in guilt or shame or embarrassment because of the inexcusable actions of some man- if anything- he will make me stronger, he will make me a warrior, a fighter, and stronger believer, a stronger follower of the Lord.
The way I choose to see it- what satan used for destruction- the Lord has used for reconstruction. I committed to rebuilding my life, my community, my hope, my relationship with Christ, my belief in His promises. I committed to a church. I committed to Christ-like community. I committed to putting myself and my healing first. I committed to focusing on what the Lord says about me, not what my situations say about me. I committed to trust God and His promises. I committed to falling in love with Christ and accepting all that He has and is calling me into. I committed to moving forward- to moving out of grief, out of pain, out of anger.
I am committing to freedom. I am committing to fighting my battle from a place of victory- know it has already been won. I am committing to take off the cloak of victimhood. I am committing to see suffering as an opportunity to be used by God like never before. I AM COMMITTING TO FREEDOM and I am not looking back.