The Shower

It had been one year since the evidence of past sexual abuse had come knocking on my door, and if you’ve been following my story, you know that up to this point I had believed it was only one incident. Though I had been in a season of rest there was an area of my life that although should be an ordinary, mundane task, was sadly a nightmare: showering.

Ever since my first PTSD episode, I had been unable to shower. What should be easy and mindless was a constant source of dread. A few times a week, I would force myself into the bathroom, turn on the water, and contemplate getting in. I couldn’t do it, the fear I felt was too strong. So, instead I would stand there on the towel, with the shower curtain open, getting water everywhere, and do my best to wash myself while never actually getting in. I would then wait until my husband was showering to lean over the tub and have him wash my hair. He didn’t really know why he needed to do this, but he never complained. Being so broken that I couldn’t wash my own hair was a sobering picture of the devastation and destruction sexual abuse leaves, but it also made me love my husband even more. His patient, quiet support was a rock of refuge.

When the flashbacks and memories came of a time I was in the shower at the age of four, a couple of things happened. First, some of the shame and humiliation from how I’d been “showering” for the past year was lifted as I finally understood the root of why this was happening. I wasn’t just anxious to shower for no reason, rather showering was a trigger to a horrific memory. While I won’t get into the sad and disturbing details that took place in that shower, I will say that when you are four years old and you’re enjoying a shower, feeling “big” that you know how to do it and don’t have to take a bath like a baby, and a grown man gets naked and gets into the shower with you, it most definitely will impact you.

While in a way it was good for me to finally have the understanding of this trigger so I could begin healing from it, walking through the necessary but difficult steps of forgiveness, there was a second thing that resulted from this memory surfacing that I wasn’t sure was such a good thing. If it didn’t happen just once, how many times did it happen? That became a painful and nagging question I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer to. But, with this newfound knowledge of what was going on, a determination to prove that because the light of Jesus lives inside me, I wasn’t going to let the enemy have this power over me anymore. I could and would shower.

Opening up and sharing something that had been so embarrassing was really freeing as I saw the love and support of family and friends, and was reminded once again that we “overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony” Revelation 12:11. Unfortunately, full healing would wait another year from this particular memory. Though the next year I would be able to get in the shower, I would still have to pray through it and have worship music on, and be in and out as fast as I could. I am happy to report that I now shower like a completely normal person, it is no longer a trigger. But for two whole years, it was. That shows you that sexual trauma does leave a big wound, but it doesn’t have the final say. That is because of the healing power of my Jesus, and I hope that gives you hope. Sometimes healing doesn’t happen exactly when or how we want it to, but it does come. He is good.

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Rest

Immediately following the birth of my son, I spent a rough three days driving back and forth to the NICU as his oxygen levels were not where they needed to be. While three days is nothing compared to the heart-wrenching journey many parents face when it comes to the NICU, I was devastated. I really thought that God was going to give me a perfect birth experience after everything I had battled during my pregnancy. I had cried out for him to protect this baby so many times in the months leading up to my home birth, and my faith had already been so tested and stretched, that I had this high expectation for how the delivery would be. To say I felt let down would be an understatement. I didn’t want to be disappointed in Him, but I was. Hadn’t I been through enough already? Couldn’t You just make this turn out right?

Aside from the toll this took spiritually and emotionally, I also wasn’t able to start recovering from birth right away. While most mom’s who deliver at home get to stay snuggled up in their cozy bed while their family nurtures them, and mom’s in a hospital stay for at least a couple days after the delivery while nurses and Dr’s look after them, I was traveling back and forth from home to the hospital. Now to be fair, my husband, family, and midwives were amazing during this time, doing all they could to help me. It’s just that it was exhausting, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And to be perfectly honest, I felt cheated out of an experience I was sure I deserved.

During this time, the stress, anxiety and intrusive thoughts were rearing their ugly heads. Can you picture it? You just gave birth naturally, in a pool in your living room, after struggling with intense panic and anxiety for the past 8 months. You’re sore, tired, and drained. Your sweet new baby who you’ve longed to hold, snuggle, nurse and who basically was the only thread of joy you held onto throughout the whole ordeal, is now in the NICU. You already have this thing about not trusting Dr’s. You just want more than anything to be home with your new little one, in safety and comfort. You’re trying to keep it together and be strong but you feel like you’re at your breaking point. I know in the grand scheme of things, three days is not long. It just felt REALLY long. It was solely His grace and strength that got me through.

While I was disappointed that things didn’t go how I had hoped and imagined, I feel as though I was given back seven-fold what was missing once we finally came home. The joy and relief I felt to be at home with my family was overwhelming. I was so thankful for this new baby. We had been through so much together, and now he was here, in my arms, nursing what felt like a million times a day, as it should be. I would cry just looking at him, thinking about everything we’d just endured.

The next few months were nothing short of wonderful. I was beyond grateful for all the quality time we were having as a family, and that I felt normal. I can now see this time for what it was, a precious gift. A break in the agonizing journey of healing from trauma, so that I could enjoy my sweet baby and just get some much needed rest and relief. The downside is that I didn’t know it was a break. I thought it was done. It was hard for me to recover from it all, and feel hope again. But after a lot of prayer and reflection, with His spirit at work in me, I found myself once again excited for the future He had for our family. I didn’t know that everything I’d already been through, was really just the beginning.

Emmett

While my anxiety lessened in intensity once I accepted the truth, I still battled often with triggers, though I didn’t realize it or understand the reason for the panic attacks. I thought that since I remembered and chose to forgive, moving on would be easy. For some reason, I really thought it was only one time, which doesn’t make sense to me now. If someone could do something so evil to a small child one time, what would stop them from doing it again? They’re obviously lacking a conscience. But I was nowhere near ready to confront more trauma.

I had it in my mind that this “trial” was only surrounding my pregnancy, after all, that’s when it started. So as summer came to a close and I was drawing nearer to the birth of my baby, I kept expecting some big breakthrough. I had planned this perfect birth, and I needed to be completely free from the chains of trauma before the big day came. I wrestled often with the Lord, lots of tear stained prayers written out, begging for deliverance to take place before the delivery.

I can’t pretend after everything I’d battled with throughout my pregnancy that I wasn’t scared. All these doubts were unlocked with the memory of trauma and they were hard to shake, even for a faith filled believer like myself. Abuse causes deeply ingrained faulty beliefs. Is my body bad? Am I safe? Is something bad going to happen to me? You can imagine that wrestling through these questions while pregnant and knowing you have to go through the labor and delivery process is extremely difficult.

By the time it was October and I was still struggling with the same thoughts and feelings, I had to reconcile that sometimes breaking through to victory isn’t big and dramatic, but small and consistent. “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15

With Bethel’s “No Longer Slaves” on repeat, scripture cards as my birth affirmations to look at between every contraction, I labored peacefully in the comfort of my own home, almost a night and day difference between my previous birth experience.

My husband was a rock of support, and my midwives offered me the quiet confidence and peaceful demeanor I needed. Anyone whose gone through natural childbirth can tell you that it’s intense, that’s kind of a given. I fixed my eyes on Jesus and didn’t take them off for even a moment. I didn’t want a repeat of what happened while in labor with my daughter. In between contractions, I would thank Jesus for getting me through one more, and ask him to help me just one more time. Focusing on Him and taking it one at a time was a concept I adopted later on as well when faced with more memories. Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11 echoed over and over in my soul when I was in the hardest and most intense parts of my labor. And then, on October 12, 2017 at 4:14 p.m., after three hours of active labor and nine minutes of pushing, he was here.

For the first several minutes all I could say was, “I can’t believe I just did that”, in absolute awe. I think perhaps it was as much to do with everything leading up to his birth, not just the birth itself. It was like reaching the top of the highest mountain after climbing for months in a spiritual blizzard, most of which took place in the darkest of nights. My midwife was spot on when she said, “that was one of the most redeeming birth’s I’ve ever seen.” After months of questioning my body, I saw what it could do. What it was designed to do. That it was good and strong. I was shown that I didn’t have to be afraid of my body. What happened to me as a little girl was not the fault of my body.

I felt so bonded to this baby, like we’d literally just been through hell together, and it brought a closeness that an easy pregnancy may not have. He was with me when I was fighting fear, daily struggling to survive and hold onto a faith I once thought was so strong. His birth birthed a warrior, a survivor, and an inner strength that only comes from above, in me. We had decided on the name Emmett, and the Hebrew meaning is truth. This was a season I had to not only face hard truth, but learn how to lean on the truth of scripture to replace all the lies my mind was bombarded with. Jesus’ words in John 8:32, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” became even more personal to me.

Surrender

By June 2017 I was utterly exhausted from the daily battle of incessant panic attacks and never ending anxiety. Every day for several months I was pleading and begging for it to stop, crying out to the Lord to help me understand why this was happening to me. Why was I so afraid all the time? Why were these terrifying thoughts replaying over and over? Am I going to be okay?

Being pregnant, just numbing my emotions by going on medication wasn’t an option for me, but I was desperate for some relief. I just didn’t know how much longer I could take it. Even in the scariest of moments, I held onto hope that somehow, I was going to make it out of this. That my Heavenly Father knew what was going on, and He had a purpose for it. Even if I didn’t understand.

It’s like the more I ran away from it the worse it got. If I ever wanted this nightmare to end, I was going to have to face the truth. I eventually accepted that something did happen, I just didn’t care to know what that was.

The fear of the unknown and remembering what it would be like held me hostage. Will it be scary? Am I going to feel like it’s happening? What if I remember wrong? There’s something really difficult about knowing something devastating happened to you, when you were in the most innocent and vulnerable of states, but not really knowing the details.

So it was, that after months of being like a child who writhes and squirms and kicks and screams against their parent who is just trying to help them, I wore myself out in the fight, and I gave in. I collapsed into my Father’s arms, the very arms I’d been wrestling against all this time.

And I saw it. I saw myself in bed, staring at the green and yellow border on the wall, tractors, I think. I saw how the small sliver of light from the hallway slowly got bigger as he entered the room. And now I know why I haven’t been able to let my husband come to bed in white t-shirts. I was told we were going to play a game but quickly found out this game wasn’t very fun. All those glimpses and pieces from before finally came together in a cohesive memory. It was strange, like I was watching it in the third person.

After I saw it, I thought, wow, that’s really sad… but I’m okay! Remembering wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. A peace fell over me as I walked through the steps of forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit connected all the dots as to just how much this impacted me. From my self esteem, my promiscuous teen years, the birth trauma, it all had roots in this incident. It’s like everything clicked and made sense for the first time.

So, it’s over right? I thought since I finally let that memory come , walked through the steps of forgiveness and let the healing in, that this nightmare was over. I was wrong.

Denial

The next few months were the scariest time of my life. I wasn’t ready to face the truth, I couldn’t get past the whole, “there’s no way something like this could’ve happened without me knowing. How could I possibly not remember something like that?” In actuality, this is quite common. Dissociation is a God-given coping mechanism that allows the core personality to go on in tact by separating the trauma from the conscious memory.

I was going through what is called a “denial stronghold“. Unfortunately, running away from the truth made it worse. I was so afraid of the truth, afraid of what letting that memory in would feel like, but inside was a little girl screaming to be heard, begging for justice and someone to believe her. My daily struggle with never-ending anxiety and panic attacks were taking it’s toll. I was constantly on high alert, fighting for my life. This state of hyper-vigilance was exhausting, as I was constantly, day after day, putting all of my effort into fighting the worst intrusive thoughts one can imagine, and battling daily just to survive. “No weapon formed against me will prosper” became the anthem of the life, until after hours of doing intense warfare every single day, I would collapse in exhaustion, only to begin the same process again the next morning.

I could be in the middle of doing lessons with the kids and have to retreat to my room, devouring Psalm 91 over and over again, tears falling until there weren’t any tears left, until eventually I felt stable enough to move on to the next task. My kids didn’t know what was happening to their mommy, or why I would suddenly need to go be alone. I can, however, see God’s faithfulness through that time as even on the worst of days, somehow, I was able to do what needed to be done and meet the needs of my family.

One thing that really took a hit was my ability to cook decent meals. Aside from the typical fatigue and nausea of pregnancy, getting through each day was so much work, and this was the area that I struggled to keep on top of. My husband had no idea what I was going through, so this was a cause of tension at times. All he knew was that he was working two jobs, sometimes gone 14 hours a day, and coming home to frozen pizza. I couldn’t possibly tell him what I was experiencing when I couldn’t understand it myself.

I remember my midwife trying everything she could to help me with this anxiety. The supplements she recommended couldn’t put a dent into fixing this. She told me about how the baby can feel what the mother feels, and the consequences that come from a baby whose prenatal environment is filled with anxiety. I desperately pleaded with God to protect my child from any harmful effects of what I was going through. I’m not choosing to feel this way, I don’t want to feel this way, please Lord, watch over my baby.

The fear and panic manifested in different ways. I could be driving down the road and just suddenly feel my muscles jerk or seize up and it was like I had no control over my body. I would pray religiously over every.single.thing out of fear that if I didn’t cover all my bases just right, the ground would come out from under me and the worst case scenario would happen. It was impossible for me to relax. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. It’s like something wouldn’t let me.

One of the worst incidents happened on my 31st birthday. My husband took me to see “The Case for Christ” and I so badly just wanted to escape for a little while, to forget my daily struggles and watch a movie like a normal person. It was a sold out show, we ended up in the very back row, surrounded by strangers. I couldn’t get comfortable no matter how hard I tried, and though I typically enjoyed movie theater popcorn, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. Just thinking about it made me feel disgusted.

Not even a half hour into the show, extremely terrifying intrusive thoughts popped into my head and I really thought I might not live to see the end of the movie. Typically when someone is having a PTSD episode, they will enter fight, flight or freeze mode. Flight was always my go to, like I was trying to get as far away from my reality as possible. However this time I couldn’t get up and leave. There was too many people, too many stairs. I felt dizzy, sure I couldn’t make it to the exit without falling. I stayed put for the remainder of the movie, frozen and unable to escape, shifting in my seat and unable to stop fidgeting, trying to somehow make it to the end. Whispered prayers in desperation got me through, though it may have been one of the longest hours of my life.

A year and half later I would have a memory come back that made sense of this whole incident, and it involved being in the back row of a movie theater watching “Rescuers Down Under” in November 1990, when I was four years old. But in the meantime, I was left feeling like perhaps I was going crazy.

Am I going to survive this pregnancy? Is this ever going to end? I would lash out in anger at the Father I thought had good promises for me. Why are you doing this to me? Where are you? You told me to trust you. Yes, the faith I thought was so strong was now being shaken to the core of my very being, and I hadn’t a clue what the outcome would be. It took everything in me to muster enough faith to trust at all, to believe in a good God when everything inside me was screaming the opposite. Scripture became my lifeline. It was quite literally, all I had to hold onto.

Fear

Monday, February 13th, 2017: Only a couple weeks had passed since the Lord told me to trust Him with what was next. I was enjoying a hot cup of coffee and taking notes on a Francis Chan sermon I found on YouTube, savoring the quiet moments alone before the kids woke up. I knew they’d be up soon and our morning routine of breakfast, devotions and homeschool would begin, so I decided to take a quick shower. As I was getting ready to get in, still listening to Francis Chan on my phone, a sudden and intense feeling came over my entire being that I had never experienced before. (At the time I had no idea what had happened, but would later learn that with just one word, I could have what’s known as a “trigger” that would send me into a tailspin only Jesus himself could get me out of).

I quickly shut the sermon off and jumped in the shower. Feeling absolutely bewildered by what was happening in my mind and body, I tried to ignore it and think about something else, but whatever was going on wasn’t going away; in fact it intensified. A rush of panic swept over me and I got a metallic taste in my mouth. I can only describe this scene as though it felt that something was trying to kill me. I jumped out as fast as I could, having only shaved one leg, and text my friend, Tiffany.


See in my mind, this was a spiritual attack. The feeling of absolute evil upon me was so strong that it couldn’t possibly have originated from anywhere but hell itself. Little did I know, that this was actually coming from within. Somewhere buried in the deep recesses of my subconscious mind, a dark traumatic past was rising up and taking over. This state of hyper-vigilance remained for the rest of the week, and the only plausible cause I could come up with was that perhaps, I was pregnant. I had heard that the hormonal changes in a pregnancy can make a woman anxious, but could it possibly be capable of causing it on such an extreme level?

On Friday, February 17th I got my answer. I stood in my bathroom astonished to be looking at two pink lines. I wanted so desperately to feel joy, didn’t I want more kids anyway? Hadn’t I been praying about this? I should be thrilled! But the only thing I could feel was fear. My mind flashed to how just months before while praying I thanked Jesus for the birth I had with Mia, that I was finally able to deliver a baby vaginally. I heard him say, “do you want to do it again?” but I couldn’t answer that. Thinking of the intense anxiety I had after her birth left me feeling paralyzed.

Apparently, pregnancy can be one of those things that trigger and reveal a traumatic past. I tried really hard to focus on my excitement over having another baby, I loved this baby so much already and I had no idea why I was struggling with such intense anxiety, I truly just wanted to enjoy this pregnancy. After another week went by and I was still having daily panic attacks, Tiffany invited me over so she could pray with me to help ease my anxious mind.

Only 5 weeks along, I sat down in her living room as our kids ran off to play so she could pray with me. She had barely gotten out but just a few words when I burst into hysterical tears, “I was molested when I was four, I think it was my uncle.” She was trying to calm me down but I was, for lack of better words, freaking out. “I don’t understand why I’m saying this, I don’t remember,” I bawled. I couldn’t understand why these words were coming out of my mouth and I really didn’t understand how something like this could be true if I didn’t remember. I hadn’t connected that all this panic and fear was because I was remembering. And I certainly didn’t know that there was such thing as dissociation, or DID, or that I had it, or that these fragmented pieces that contained memories could rise to the surface and speak, in something they call “switching”. All I knew was something terrible and unexplainable was happening to me, and I was powerless to stop it.

Warning Signs

In the fall of 2016 I was practically living my dream as long awaited prayers to be a stay at home mom and begin homeschooling my kids were answered. This was a very exciting time for me and I felt closer to the Lord than ever before. I could tell that I really had changed so much, and was loving who I was becoming and all the work the Holy Spirit had done in my heart. I was experiencing what it was like to be in an intimate relationship with Jesus, and loving every minute of the time I spent daily in His presence; I just couldn’t get enough!

This is also the time I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and if you know anything about how this works you also understand that darkness and light cannot co-exist; anything hidden in the dark will be exposed by the light as Jesus begins to occupy more of our hearts.

During this time I began having tons of dreams with my aunt and uncle in them, but I never knew why. I also kept having this strange occurrence where every time I would lay down and close my eyes, I would see myself in their house, but it was so specific. I remember this! I remember being on the couch with my cousin, watching TV before bed. I remember how as a little girl my pajamas were often nothing more than an over-sized baggy t-shirt and underwear. I remember being on the stairs and turning to say goodnight as I headed up to bed, for some reason before everyone else. I remember my aunt in the chair rocking the baby, I think maybe she was nursing.

“Lord, why do I keep seeing this? Are you trying to tell me something? Why does it feel so strange? There’s such an eerie feeling about it.” I would ask each time, but not receive an answer. I really didn’t think too much of it, or even the dreams for that matter. As a first time homeschooler of three kids, I had enough on my mind to keep me occupied.

One night that fall stands out in particular. My husband was on third shift at the time, and I had just sent my older two kids to bed as my three year old laid passed out in my bed after falling asleep to Frozen. I felt peaceful as I laid down next to her and started to drift off to sleep, but that was quickly interrupted. I heard a voice very clearly, “your uncle molested you when you were four.”

My eyes popped wide open as I took in the words I just heard. Knowing what I do about spiritual warfare, I immediately thought this was the enemy trying to scare me and was all, “get behind me Satan”, rebuking this monstrosity of an idea and declaring that I had a great childhood. I would not even for a moment consider this could possibly be true. I was absolutely sure the devil was just trying to mess with me and never thought about it for a second more after that night.

As the New Year came, I began really pressing into prayer for the promises I was believing the Lord had given me for our family. As my prayers grew bolder and bolder, I started to grow impatient waiting for these promises. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper clearly, “whatever I give you, trust Me.” I naively giggled a little at that, thinking “of course I will! That’s easy!” I thought I had so much faith, but I had no idea what was coming.