spiritual surviving rape

In Her Words: Surviving Sexual Assault

10:38 AMHeather

I am so honored today to have this precious friend as a guest blogger on my blog, telling HER story in HER words. I want to let you know my perspective of her story. I've known this friend for years, and I've known her to be a loving, thoughtful, caring and kind friend, wife and mother. About eighteen months ago, she reached out and asked me to pray for her as she stood on a stage in front of thousands of college kids to tell her story. Before that, I had no idea of the pain she had endured. She has a powerful story of dark days, deep pain and God's healing. Now, she is in a season of redemption where she is using her story and telling it in order to speak into the lives of other victims. She is the real deal. These words of encouragement are not platitudes. They are truths hard fought to come to fruition in her life. We all have powerful stories. I'm privileged that my blog can be a platform to allow her to tell hers. My prayer is that it will bring light to a dark subject and bring healing to other victims and those who love them.

I should start this post off by telling you a little bit about me and my story so you’ll know where I’m coming from as I write this.  I am currently a 38 year old wife and mom.  When I am not doing all kinds of wifey and mommy things, I talk to groups about sexual assault—about prevention and recovery.  I do not have any kind of college degree that would qualify me to talk about this topic, but I lived through sexual assault as a 20 year old college junior.

I grew up in a very stable, very conservative Christian home, the oldest of 3 kids.  I usually describe my parents as Ward and June Cleaver (ya know, of Beaver fame).  I was a high achiever and very typical first child—perfectionist, type A, anal retentive, tightly wound.  Pick your adjective and I pretty much fit all of them heading into college.  I professed a belief in Jesus Christ from childhood, but my faith was pretty shallow and rules bound—I follow the rules and God will just bless my socks off, right?!  I chose to go to a Christian University in the south—in the same city where I grew up.

My freshman year, I joined a sorority.  They were known as fun girls but not nearly the worst on campus—about half rule breakers and half wholesome Christian types.  I was on a merit-based scholarship, so while I definitely joined in some of their fun, I pretty much still colored in the lines.  I was doing really well in school, appropriately balancing school and social life, and had just been voted Vice President of my sorority in January.  I had a long term on again, off again boyfriend who had taken off to Europe for a semester abroad, so I had more freedom that spring semester than I felt I had up until that point in college. 

On April 19, 1997, I joined a good friend and her parents at a local Mexican food restaurant to celebrate her 21st birthday.  I was still just 20 and while I had done my share of underage drinking, that night I was to be the designated driver so I didn’t have anything to drink prior to the one drink I would have at the party.  My roommate and I finished with the official activities and went to a party held at the house of some good friends.

At this point, I’m going to skip to the punch line because I realize that other victims of sexual assault might be reading this and there are all sorts of things that act as triggers to women who have lived through a sexual assault.  That night, I was raped by a male friend.  We had been friends since freshman year. We had both gone abroad through our university’s summer study program the previous summer, and we shared a major.  We were actually study partners that semester as we had a couple of the same classes. 

God is gracious in that I do not remember a lot of the details.  I ended up accepting a drink from him that night, and the police believe it was drugged with Rohypnol—the date rape drug.  Mercifully, whether as a side effect of the Rohypnol or as a result of Post Traumatic Stress, my memory of the actual assault is not very vivid.  I remember lots of detail leading up to the assault but almost nothing of the assault itself. 

SO, when Heather at Clinging To The Vine asked me to write this, she asked what I would say to other victims. But I’d also like to address people in general about how to help if you find yourself in a situation where this has happened to a friend.  If you have a friend that this happens to, then your job, whether you want it or not, is to immediately be the voice of logic.  My roommate handled the situation about as perfectly as someone could.  She did NOT insist I go to the hospital, though she did continue to suggest it throughout that day.  She filled in where my logic just was not functioning. My primary concern at the time was honestly making sure no one ever found out about this and wondering if he had some weird disease.  When you have been a victim of this kind of assault, there really is not much logic in play. 

I felt CRAZY guilt—I should never have been at a party with underage drinking. I should never have taken a drink. I should have listened to the stories I’d heard through the grapevine about how aggressive this male friend was.  What if I did or said something to him that indicated I was interested in that?  And probably the scariest thought—what if I’m pregnant or what if he had some kind of disease? That evening, my roommate’s logic finally prevailed and she drove me to the emergency room.

As a friend of the victim, your job longer term is to be present without being pushy.  The other great thing my roommate did was she let me proceed at my own pace in dealing with this.  She never pushed me to talk about it but she never avoided talking about it with me. 

Before my rape, I was very extroverted.   Now, I am very much an introvert.  Many times, when there is a death of someone, you might struggle with what to do or what to say to the loved ones.  I have heard those who have experienced a loss say that it is most important to acknowledge the death and to not pretend that life is the same as prior to the death.  I would say it is the exact same advice with someone who has experienced a sexual assault.  The victim is not and cannot be the same person they were before. But I have also learned that God can use even that awful event for good in their life and the lives of others.  It is important as friends and family members to be present and realistic about the event and the subsequent changes.  It is equally important for you to be a reminder—either by your presence or with your actual words—that there can be good and happy times in that person’s future. 

My main goal in writing this post is to talk directly to other victims of assault.  My story ended well.  The district attorney was not optimistic about our odds at trial.  The reality was, my delay in going to the hospital left very little physical or blood evidence.  The likelihood that my rapist had used a drug that induced at least partial amnesia meant that my memory would not be a powerful tool.  So, eventually, my father opted to call my assailant on the phone and threaten him.  He basically said the guy should steer clear of any contact with me or anyone else I was close to and if he did not, we would be pressing charges and he could expect to spend the rest of his life on a sex offender registry after he was assaulted himself in jail.  My rapist chose to leave school the next day and did not return to finish his degree until after I had graduated.  All that to say, I had the luxury of recovering without having to worry about seeing him around and I did not have to go through the trauma of a trial where the defense would likely have attacked my choices that night.

The first thing I would say to victims is, you need to get professional help dealing with this.  Whether your assault happened 2 weeks ago or 20+years ago, you need counseling if you have not had it.  I firmly believe the only reason I am a fully functioning adult in all areas of my life is because I had very supportive friends and family who all encouraged me to seek professional help.  The bottom line is there is not a person alive that you are friends with that can bear the weight of the sadness that has come to you in this circumstance—not a roommate, not a boyfriend or husband, or even a good female friend or sister—and you certainly cannot do it on your own.  They can help you shoulder the pain but ultimately you are going to have to seek outside help. 

I went into MAJOR denial after the rape.  I finished out the semester—taking my final exam sitting next to my rapist, before he had left our college.  I went on to a successful summer internship in Washington DC and then I started having panic attacks.  If you have been raped and you have not gotten professional help, you are NOT living the full life you could be living.  Your life may be pretty and decorated with all sorts of fancy distractions, but if you have not dealt with this professionally, then deep down something is missing and broken and demands attention to fix it.   I promise you are missing out on having your rape transition to become a mere footnote in your story instead of the main attraction.  If your assault is left unaddressed, you are probably completely unable to see the ways in which it has determined the course of your life.    

At the time of my assault and in the immediate aftermath, I honestly could not imagine a time when that one event did not shape everything about my life and who I am.  I am now a living testimony that this really does not have to be a big part of your story IF you deal with it now—through counseling and time.  I spent HOURS dealing with how bad it hurt and sitting with the discomfort of it all.  It was not easy or fun, but it was totally necessary.  I eliminated those people who were uncomfortable dealing with the reality of what happened to me.  I got angry with God—seriously angry.  I asked God the hard questions and then waited for those answers.  I said earlier that no human being can deal with your sadness and anger over your assault, but God actually can.  That is what I learned.

I serve a good God.  He was good before my rape; He was good during my rape; and He is good and faithful afterwards.  My heart was not the only one broken on the night of April 19, 1997—God’s broke too.  However, there is no heart-break that I suffer that God cannot redeem IF I ALLOW HIM TO! 

The story of Joseph in the Bible is one where a rather na├»ve young kid, Joseph, boasts and says all kinds of arrogant stuff to his brothers.  He is then sold into slavery where he follows all the rules, yet is still put in jail because someone lied about him.  So he goes from treasured son, to slave, to prisoner—and all the while, God is there, good, moving in the middle of all Joseph’s mess.  Eventually, Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s second in command and saves the entire nations of Egypt and Israel from starvation.  When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who have come to beg for food, he says (in Genesis 50:20), “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” 

Prior to my rape, I don’t think I had ever noticed that the translation of this story said, “He (God) brought me to this position.”  Here’s my takeaway—God put Joseph in that specific position, but God did not just whoosh him there—Joseph had a LONG and PAINFUL road to get to the position God ultimately intended him to have.  God did not want me to suffer, He did not want me to be raped, but He allowed it to bring me into a position where I could help others.  I am uniquely qualified to speak about this topic. 

Satan would like nothing more than to have your rape alter or distort your ability to commune with God.  He would like nothing more than to derail God’s good plan for your life through this one event.  If you will allow God, He can take an event that Satan meant to enslave you, and redeem it into a beautiful part of your story. 

I cannot tell you why God allowed this in your life, I can only answer that for myself.  My answer is in all honesty, at the time of my attack, I looked great on the outside, but my inner life was not great.  I was walking pretty far from the Faith I had been raised with.  My “serious” boyfriend was a jerk—someone who would not have been in it for the long haul.  God allowed this, and in my own life it resulted in the end of that unhealthy relationship and it led to better friendships with the girls that stuck with me through the messy aftermath. 

The outcome God intends from your story will be different than the outcome from my story.  Your confidence should rest in the fact that we do serve a faithful God.  We serve a God that can redeem this and one who can bring purpose from this pain and one who can buy back that destruction. 

In the book of Joel, God is talking to Israel about something bad that’s happened to them—an army of locusts has destroyed everything.  The Israelites are in a position where they are uncertain if there is any ability to have a decent future.  In modern day terms, their world had come crashing down—they have been laid bare.  God says to them in Joel 2:25—“The LORD says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts.’”  He goes on to say in verse 26, “Once again you will have all the food you want and you will praise the LORD your God, who does these miracles for you.” 

If you are still reading this, chances are you know exactly how impossible it feels to believe that God can bring good out of even this.  I really do vividly remember how very dark that road feels.  I am here to tell you that God will give you the strength to get through your dark days.  You will know the sufficiency of God to daily endure this pain of your world crashing down.  Regardless of how lonely and dark it is right now, you are not alone—He is there in the middle of this circumstance, ready to deal with all this mess!  It wasn’t until years after I graduated and years in counseling that I can look back and see all the ways God provided for me during that time.  He can do the same for you.

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