As summer turned into fall and fall to winter, I felt the sunshine leave my soul as well as the sky. Though there were circumstantial inconveniences such as being down to one vehicle, my husband working two jobs ’round the clock, and navigating our schedules amongst those things; the real challenge was inside me. The flashbacks became frequent and unrelenting, averaging one every couple of weeks. However, it wasn’t seeing that was so daunting a task, but rather feeling. I was remembering not just in my mind, but with every fiber of being. And it was brutal.
Before a memory would come back, I would get very nauseated, dizzy, irritable, and have terrible hot flashes. I have always found it interesting the way my body reacted to something my mind was not yet aware of. When the flashbacks happened, I would get intense sharp pains in my head. I have heard this is common though I don’t actually know what causes it; but I think of it as information being downloaded or transferred from one part of my brain (subconscious memory) to another (conscious memory). I would get this very strange sensation in my eyes, where they felt to be getting bigger and bigger and I would blink uncontrollably. This is common in switching.
Some indicators that a switch may be about to occur include the following: feeling “spacey”, depersonalized, or derealized; blurred vision; feeling distanced or slowed down; feeling an alter’s presence; or feeling like time is beginning to jump (indicating minor episodes of time loss).
External signs that a switch may have just occurred include the following: heavy blinking as if the individual is just waking up; mild muscle spasms or jerks; disorientation or visible confusion; checking the clock or one’s watch; seeming not to remember anything that just happened; complaining of a mild or moderate headache; adjusting clothing or posture; clearing one’s throat before speaking so that the tone or pitch changes; or a change in vocabulary, syntax, preference, opinion, temperament, skills, or general personality. [Switching and Passive Influence, https://did-research.org/did/identity_alteration/switching.html ]
It would usually be a couple days after the flashback that the even more unnerving trial presented itself: feelings. Sometimes sheer rage. An unquenchable anger not just at my perpetrators, but more so at God. On more than one occasion while everyone else was asleep but my tormenting past kept me awake, I lashed out at Him in the darkness of the night and out of the darkness in my soul. Why? How could you let this happen? So many times? You must really hate me. WHERE WERE YOU?
The grief. Grief I didn’t know existed plagued my days with perpetual sadness until I felt as though the last flame of hope had been extinguished down to nothing but ash from the bright fire it once was. Wondering if I’d ever again be the vibrant, cheerful girl others once knew me as. And how was I to explain this to others when I didn’t fully understand myself? I couldn’t, so I isolated myself from everyone and everything, retreating into my battered and bruised shell as a means of protection and self preservation.
Lord, you said a mustard seed. Just a mustard seed of faith is all it takes. Do I even have that anymore?
Wanting desperately to get back to the “old me” but seeing it would be impossible, I wondered why. Not even why did it happen, but why do I have to remember? Wasn’t everything better before I did? I was happy. I was content. I was hopeful. Knowing there was no “off switch” to stop what I was experiencing, I came to the conclusion that like a woman in the hardest part of labor unable to stop the waves of pain crashing in; the only way out was through.
That same summer, 2018, during a ministry meeting as I was being prayed over, a rupture of tears came pouring out while I sobbed, “I’m a bad girl.” At first a few were perplexed by this outburst, except our mentor who explained that this was not “33 year old Bethany” who thought she was bad, but rather a very wounded little girl who was wrought with confusion and shame. Upon pressing into prayer further, it was revealed that this fragmented piece was actually three years old. My first experience with being exploited and traumatized had ended with me being told how bad I was.
A trigger often cues PTSD symptoms, but in the case with someone who was very young during the trauma and experienced dissociation, a trigger can also cause what’s known as “switching”, something prevalent in people with dissociative identity disorder. In the website I just linked, it talks about switching due to triggers: “Finally, triggered switches are not desired by any of the alters involved and occur when stimuli has been registered that forces out an alter who can better handle it. For example, if an alter was created to handle abuse from a specific perpetrator and the system then runs into that perpetrator at the store, that alter is likely to be shoved to front so that no other alters can be hurt.” The majority of science and psychology websites will call alters what I prefer to call a fragmented piece. I prefer this because it is exactly that. A piece of the soul is fragmented, broken off from the core personality during trauma through the process of dissociation. The good news is that fragmented pieces can be healed and integrated back into the core personality once the Holy Spirit leads you through the process of reveal,feel, heal.
Though there are so many things that can be a trigger, for me personally the main one has been words. This has made managing it very difficult because we are surrounded by words all the time. From real life conversations, to listening to the radio, watching television, reading a book, or scrolling Facebook, words are everywhere and unavoidable. Since I cannot always avoid or manage when triggers occur, it has increased my dependency on the Lord. I have no control over when it will happen, because I cannot control what other people say. Thus, I lean on Jesus day in and day out. There is no other option. I can’t stop it from happening, so I cling to the One who gets me through it when it does happen.
Remember above how I mentioned a fragmented piece being attached to the words, thoughts and feelings, “I’m a bad girl?” Here are just a couple examples of how that one word, “bad” triggered both ptsd and switching. The first happened with my husband, unbeknownst to him. He had said the word right before we were going to bed, and though we had both been hopeful for intimacy that night, once that word was spoken all prospects of any time together quickly vanished. Within a few seconds I went from feeling relaxed and ready to snuggle up with him to feeling panicked and concerned. I knew something was suddenly wrong but didn’t know what. Why do I feel so anxious? What is happening to me? Something is not right. Please Lord, let the baby wake up…give me an “out”, I don’t know how to explain this to him…I don’t even understand… And my prayers were answered. The baby woke up, intimacy was no longer an option. Not that he wouldn’t have understood if I tried to explain to him, he’s so understanding and patient and good to me through all of this, but I didn’t even know where to begin. I went to bed that night feeling relieved and thankful that the baby woke up when he did, but also feeling so much frustration that my “condition” was costing me so much. I felt like a failure as a wife, and so much anger that someone could do things to me that would cause me this much turmoil and impact every aspect of my life. That is an example of a trigger, one word, causing PTSD.
About a week later I was at a bonfire at my friend’s house. There weren’t many of us there, it was a pretty small group. At one point we were able to sneak away for a few moments and I shared with her the experience I had after my husband saying the word “bad”. She helped me connect the dots back to that prayer meeting, and how that word was triggering the three fragmented piece that was wounded and traumatized. As we went back out to the bonfire, I felt really odd. Not panicked or anxious, just really strange. Almost like a different person. This was the first time I experienced depersonalization/derealization. The article explains it great, but all I can say when it happens is “I don’t feel like me.” This can be rather frightening but it never comes with panic, just a ton of bewilderment. It is very bizarre, to feel so disconnected from everyone and everything. I was really confused about how I was feeling, but in this incident talking about the word “bad” and how it impacted me triggered not ptsd but rather a switch, with that fragmented piece who had no sense of identity being pushed to the forefront of my personality. When I went to bed that night I felt everything I had felt at three years old during that first traumatic episode that had been frozen in time for so long. That feeling was complete and utter abandonment.
I want you to keep the perspective that this post was about one trigger. One word. One memory. One week. Since starting this journey of healing, there have been 156 weeks. 27 memories. More triggers than I could ever count. There’s also been One solution. One Lord over all. One Savior whose blood and love has gotten me this far. I know this process isn’t over, I’m not done. But neither is He.
Dissociation is a very common coping mechanism for young children who experience trauma. While it protects our minds in that moment, allowing an escape for what is too overwhelming for our little souls to bear, it results in what’s known as fragmentation. I think this concept is widely misunderstood or unknown, so I’ve included a few links I think describe it well.
In the spring of 2018 I had been on my healing journey for a little over a year. With two traumatic memories revealed and processed, I was hopeful the worst was behind me. At this same time, my mentor and great friend that knows many of the intimate details surrounding my traumatic past and has journeyed with me through the darkest parts of healing, started a weekly bible study/prayer group. As a homeschooling mom of four who’d been going through a rather intense season, I was so excited about this and looked forward to getting together with my “faith sisters” every week.
One afternoon that May, I was nursing my 6 month old baby, getting him down for a nap. As I was starting to doze off, I heard the Holy Spirit loud and clear, “you were raped seven times”. At the exact same time as the Lord said this, He showed me a picture of myself in a cheerleading uniform from when I was in high school. I was stunned and perplexed, while the image I saw I remembered clearly, the words didn’t make sense. I was 15 in that picture. Raped seven times? How could that be possible? I would remember that. While I felt quite certain that what I had just seen and heard was really from the Lord, I just couldn’t make sense of it, and besides, it seemed rather frightening and left me pretty freaked out. So I did what I did the first time the Holy Spirit told me something I didn’t want to hear; I ignored it.
A couple weeks later something strange happened. The exact same picture I was shown while laying down was posted to my Facebook by a family member, the very family member that actually took the original picture several years before. I knew this was significant and that Jesus was trying to get my attention, but I still didn’t understand. I didn’t yet realize that had nothing to do with how old I was in the picture, but everything to do with who took the picture. It was about a month later at one of my weekly get-together’s with my “faith sisters” that things got a little intense as my Heavenly Father started to reveal a significant piece to this mind boggling puzzle. Now, these meetings weren’t your run of the mill, ‘cookie and coffee’ bible studies; rather they included intense warfare, inner healing, and deliverance. As my friend was ministering to me, the number 7 kept popping up, over and over from the Holy Spirit. I said I didn’t know what that meant, and my friend said the Lord was saying I wasn’t ready to know. Yikes.
While I was curious about what all of these things meant, to be honest I was mostly just afraid. I had already been through so much, what now? For a few weeks I tried to ignore it all but deep down I knew that just like the other things had to come to the light, so this would too at some point. So I decided that if Father was with me throughout everything else, so too would He be with me in this. I could trust Him. Though I didn’t want to face it, I had been through enough to know that ultimately the only reason He had to reveal it was so He could heal it. That there was yet another piece of my soul somehow damaged by trauma and letting Him into that place that had me in bondage was the only way to get free.
As I once again mustered up the quiet courage and trust to say, “okay Lord, show me” I was shown several images over the next week that slowly put everything into place and made sense. While at my dad’s, whom I went to see every other weekend, my aunt was asked to babysit while my dad went out with his at-the-time fiance. Oh, that must be why the Lord showed me an image of her being handed cash, babysitting money. It was when he lived in the trailer, I was 7. My aunt, at time time 19, decided to invite a couple guys over.
I remembered a specific beer bottle with a red X, but could’t figure out what it was. A quick google search revealed it was something called “Dos Equis”, the image on the page was the same as what was in my head. Glimpses of me parading around the house in my dad’s fiance’s lingerie, sitting on a guy’s lap being told how pretty I was, and eventually, being given NyQuil came back to me. The tears came as I could see myself lying on the kitchen floor unconscious, while they not only sexually abused, but sadistically tortured, my seven year old body. I could foggily see their laughing faces, not just the men, but my aunt too. I could faintly hear one of the men saying, “how long do you think until she wakes up?”
As I pondered all the ways the Lord had slowly revealed this memory, I struggled with the word “rape.” Can’t that term only be referring to sexual intercourse? Then I found the actual definition on dictionary.com: “unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.”
When I counted the various household objects I saw in the memory, and it came to seven, just as the Lord had spoken months before, I wept. I felt dirty. And terribly betrayed as I realized there was yet another family member, on the other side of my family, who violated me in such a disturbing way. Why is it that the very people who had been entrusted with my care seemed to have absolutely no regard for my life? But I think the worst part of healing from this particular memory was the body memories, which is thoroughly and fascinatingly explained in Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. Several times my nipples would burn severely as I remembered one of the men holding a lighter to one of my most sensitive areas.
I can now remember what one of the men looked like, though it took several more months for his pale pudgy skin, short black dreads, baggy jeans, and dog collar choker to be seen clearly. As for my aunt, well, it all kind of made sense. She had always been troubled and it was one of those things, like the situation with my uncle, that was a surprise, but yet not really that surprising. The way she started acting extremely suspicious with tons of questions when I came out about having abuse in my past a year before, always commenting strange things on my posts when I would try to share anything about it, and suddenly trying to be “besties” with my dad, well it all clicked now.
When I calmly but firmly confronted her, she freaked out. She apologized but claimed she didn’t remember, and then she blocked me. I hope she knows that because what Jesus did for me will always be greater than what she did to me, I forgive her. And I hope she doesn’t hang out with people like those men anymore. But mostly I hope she seeks forgiveness. Not from me, but from the only One who can heal her of the shame and fear she’s been living in.
It’s been a whole month since I last wrote, and while I wanted to continue documenting my story, I faced a few of the most difficult weeks I’ve had since this healing journey first started. Another memory surfaced and the emotions and stress that came out of it really took a toll on me, I was in bed for the majority of two weeks straight. An inability to cope with stress, my body shaking and trembling, sheer exhaustion, anxiety, lot’s of unpleasant things were going on. It isn’t just the memory that is “frozen in time” but also so many trapped emotions and physical responses to trauma that are stored right along with it, and I have to say when they are released it’s bittersweet. Very difficult in the moment but I know in the long run it’s so good these things are getting out and no longer stored in my body. During this time I was asking my husband if this nightmare would ever be over, and he encouraged me to write a letter to my uncle. I thought this letter would be just for me, for my own healing, but I felt very strongly that the Holy Spirit was leading me to make this my next post, as opposed to just the next chapter of my story I was planning to write. So this is a little interruption in the timeline of how things have transpired, but I pray it brings healing to others who maybe haven’t been able to find the words to match their experience.
Where do I begin? There are no words in existence to describe the evil that was done to me by your hands. Not just the things done, but also the words said, the lies that took root in my soul. Did you really think you could get away with it forever? That I would remain silent all these years? The innocent, powerless, helpless, little girl is now a grown woman with the light of Jesus Christ shining brightly in her, and the Holy Spirit that is in me will not back down, but stand for righteousness, justice, and truth. Because that little girl deserves it. I deserve it.
I was just a baby, three years old, when you first began to torment me for your own sick desires. I was innocent, full of light and joy, and you did all that you could to kill everything that was good about me. At times in this journey it’d seem you almost succeeded; that darkness had won. But the redeemer of my soul spared no expense to win me back to Him, including bloodying Himself on a cross so that I would know the depth of His love for me. While I rejoice that the evil grip of sexual and psychological abuse will not have the last say in my life, I cannot ignore, minimize, or deny the catastrophic damage that was left in my soul by your choices.
When a child is very young their personality has not been fully formed, so any trauma that takes place in those early years greatly impacts their sense of safety and security in this world, along with their sense of identity. Because most of the times you molested and abused me I was only three and four years old, the confusion, fear, and despair that set in rocked me to the core of my being and set me on a trajectory far different that what my parents had in mind for my life. The subconscious messages of never being good enough, of my body being bad, of only having one purpose in life – to fulfill men’s sexual desires, and of being of absolutely no value unless I was performing sexual acts, would replay over and over; echoing in my soul and causing me to seek out situations further expounding upon the damage you started.
Do you remember the first time you decided to act out your evil, twisted, perverse desires against me? We were at a family pool party, and I had just turned three a few months before. As I went upstairs to change out of my bathing suit and lay down for a nap, you followed me with your video camera. I did everything you told me to do, but you left yelling at me, telling me you’d tell my mom what a bad girl I was if I didn’t hurry up and lay down for my nap. I laid in that pastel daybed feeling more alone and confused any child that age ever should. Utter abandonment is the only way to describe it.
Or how about the many times you took your son and I out to do something like feed the ducks or ride the horses, and you’d send him back to the house for something you “forgot” so you could have a few moments alone with me? That sweet, precious child was violated in the most disturbing ways, and sheer rage at what you did followed me along, bubbling to the surface at inconvenient times. What about the time we had another family pool party, only this time I was a little older. I didn’t want whatever was being grilled that day, I was a picky eater, which infuriated you. When my Mom got me a McDonald’s Happy Meal but told me not to let the other kids see me eating it, it was just too much for you. I had to be punished. So you came into room where I was hiding out and did the unthinkable. I’ll never look at happy meal the same.
The deep shame that set in would take miracles to shake free. I could go on and on about all the times you took advantage of my innocence, gender, age, size, and body. I’ve had over 20 memories surface over the past three years. When we were decorating Christmas cookies, when you bought me lip gloss and gave it to me on the tractor ride, when you promised me candy. When what you did frightened me so badly, I lost control of my bowels and had an accident, which really wrecked the mood for what you were doing, and you berated me, dragging me back to the house by my arm, telling me how disgusting I was. No, I had a very normal physical reaction to severe trauma, YOU are the only one guilty of anything disgusting that day. But each time left something similar, something too big for me to process then. Intense feelings of fear, confusion, shame, anger, and despair. All trapped in a teeny tiny body, buried so deep it would take years of establishing safety before I could begin to feel secure enough to let them out.
While processing through this the little girl that was hurting so badly would come to the forefront of my personality, and I would feel everything she felt. Through counseling and prayer these fragmented pieces would begin to heal, but throughout this process there were times that the hurt little girl would be able to talk, about the memory and how she felt. Not me in present age, but actually the part of me that was broken because of you. Do you know what the three year old little girl said when working through just one of these terrible memories? She said she wanted to die.You caused a three year old little girl to want to die. If there is anyone who should be wrestling with fear, shame, and despair, it’s you.
I can only imagine the things that were done to you in your childhood to cause you to become such a monster. While the saying “hurt people hurt people” can be true, at the end of the day we all have a choice. And you chose multiple times over the worst case scenario your sick mind could come up with. I’ve seen my parents wrestle through guilt during this journey, wondering how they could’ve not known. But the truth is they loved me to the best of their ability, and when I was with them I felt safe, valued, loved, and secure. I too often wondered why didn’t I try to stop you or say anything? The truth is that I was the epitome of powerless and helpless, being still very much a baby that was paralyzed by the fear you instilled. Intimidation is your greatest weapon and you used it well.
But I am no longer a little girl, and I refuse to be silenced. I’m sure there are many in the family who would love nothing more than for me to keep quiet. In many ways it looks like I have torn apart our family. But that is once again a lie as there is only one person responsible for what has happened and that is you and you alone. Those who wish I’d keep quiet need to check their hearts and recognize the evil they’re trying to conceal and know that while this has been an extremely painful journey, I am without a doubt doing he right thing. Painful, difficult truth is always better than a comfortable, convenient lie.
You can continue to deny, I wouldn’t expect anything else. But all anyone needs to do is look at your character, and mine. Jesus says that a person will be known by the fruit they produce, and while I’m far from perfect, the evidence of good fruit in my life is clear; while you continue to live in pride and not many people can come up with anything nice to say about you. You can keep running and hiding from who you really are and what you’ve really done but you can be sure your sin will find you out. What’s hidden in the dark always comes to light eventually and it’s only a matter of time before others start speaking up. I know I’m not alone in this, just the first to have the courage to speak the truth. I can’t imagine living my life that way, always pretending.
I pray you fall to your face in repentance and admit to what you’ve done and accept the consequences. You should WEEP over the destruction you’ve caused. What you have done is nothing short of despicable. I pray you humble yourself before it’s too late as none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, and I wouldn’t want to face the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in your condition. Your only option is repentance, but I question whether you’re capable of feeling remorse, cold as you are.
One thing is for sure, you shattered me to pieces. The journey to become whole again has been the absolute most difficult thing I’ve ever had to face in my life. But as I have allowed Jesus to shine His light on every hidden and terrified corner of my heart, I can confidently say that every piece belongs to Him. And I pray you find Him too, before it’s too late.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.