The Popular Boyfriend

I haven’t written in so long, but after a night of awful dreams, flashbacks, tossing and turning, I knew it was time to face this memory I’ve been absolutely dreading. And what better way to do that than to write about it? The “boyfriend” that I am writing about passed away a couple years ago; and while I don’t feel I owe it to him to be confidential about his identity, for the sake of any family or friends who might see this I will change his name.

March 2003

I had been out of school all week with a mild case of Mono; I think I slept more that month than I normally do all year. Towards the end of the week one of my good friends called me; “guess who likes you?!?? TIM! He’s been asking about you all week!” Though I’d never really considered him as someone I liked or wanted to date, he was really popular, and at 16, I was definitely flattered.

Shortly after returning to school, this was all confirmed as Tim asked me to go out with him. It was a strange situation, as I really didn’t feel like I liked him very much, but rather enjoyed having all the popular senior girls come up to me and tell me how they were so jealous. If all these other girls thought I was so lucky, maybe I was, and should just give Tim a chance.

A few weeks went by, my 17th birthday passing, and I was enjoying this new “status”, especially to rub it in my ex’s face. Kind of a “ha! you didn’t want me but look who does!” mindset. While this was most definitely in my “wild party girl” stage of life, and I was used to drinking with Tim most weekends, I was not prepared for the party that he invited me to just over a month into our “relationship”.

While we usually stuck around town, one of Tim’s good friends had a place up north that their group of friends partied at frequently. Though I wasn’t very familiar with this group, I decided to accept his invitation as it seemed rather exciting to be able to hang out with people I normally wouldn’t have. It was a pretty long drive, going from Grandville to Whitehall, and once there I found it strange that there wasn’t very many other girls there, in fact I really only remember one. I wish I could ask her questions, to see what she remembers, but I haven’t talked to her in several years.

For the last 18 years, my memories of this night stop upon arriving and don’t pick up again until the next morning when two older girls offered to drive Tim and I home, singing the whole way. I never thought much about it, just figured I had a lot to drink.

Fast forward to this past summer, and flashbacks of the house, and the car ride, and the other girl that was there, keep popping up. Along with the fact that in the morning, there had been a lot of dried blood in my underwear; you would think that would’ve been a red flag but for some reason it didn’t register in my mind at all. As these bits and pieces started popping up, I had that familiar, awful, nagging, feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why don’t I remember anything after getting there, until the next morning?

One night while sleeping I had terrifying visions of being surrounded by three people wearing scary masks; the ones that are like in the movie Scream. All I know is I’m laying down, these three masked people standing over me; I can’t move, or yell for help, and I know they’re about to do something awful, but I’m powerless to stop it. Where is Tim? Does he know this is happening? Slowly, over the course of a couple months, this vision repeats itself. A little more revealed each time. I am able to identify one of the guys that puts a mask on, somehow I see him before he’s concealed. It is the “friend” whose house we’re at up north. As I consider the guys who were there, all of the possibilities seem crazy to me. These are boys I went to school with all my life. Sat next to in class. Most of them quite popular, who likely wouldn’t have had any trouble getting a girl to sleep with them if I’m being honest…so why?

As more bits and pieces come in, I keep hearing parts of a conversation talking about “initiation”. I am unable to understand this at first, and I still don’t know if I voluntarily took some type of drug or it something was slipped in my drink, but it becomes clearer as the night goes on just what initiation means and that I am the sacrificial lamb. Anger and disgust threaten to overwhelm me as I realize the betrayal my “boyfriend” committed that night. As they had whatever drug needed to keep me paralyzed and essentially block out this entire night I understand that this was indeed planned.

In my dreams (nightmares?) I’m often trying to escape this one boy in particular, but I can never get away, and he always wins. Thankfully in real life, Jesus always wins and this boy along with the others are going to have answer for what they did. I shudder to think of how many girls they did this to, girls I likely know from school.

So many questions fill my mind I feel it could explode. What kind of guy WILLINGLY allows his friends to GANG RAPE his girlfriend?? What kind of sick cult was this that this was the “initiation” into their group of friends? The frustration that Tim is no longer here and I cannot yell at him and find answers to this unbelievable night is immensely overwhelming.

I didn’t really like you that much. I just liked the attention. I wish I could go back and not care about being popular. It was incredibly short lived and it wasn’t worth it.

Dealing with this memory has been painful. As the trauma that’s been stored in my body and brain for eighteen years is released, it takes a significant toll on my body. Once again I am left with no choice but to relinquish every feeling (anger…how could anyone do such a thing?, guilt…I shouldn’t have been at that party, fear…I don’t think you can even fathom being a 115lb girl, completely powerless and unable to move or speak, while three guys wearing scream masks take turns raping, degrading, and defiling your body, and despair…how, yet AGAIN, is something like this happening to me? Is this all that I was made for? Basically just a hole for perverts to take advantage of?) yes, these very real and intense feelings, and surrender them all to Jesus. Asking Him to make me clean because I feel so, so dirty.

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Switching

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.

The Blessing and the Curse

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.

https://did-research.org/

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociation-overview#1

https://www.verywellmind.com/dissociation-2797292

I have tried to capture the essence of what this experience is like:

I want to tell you what they did,
tell you everything;
so that it never happens again.
But try as I might, the words won’t come.
The terror inside has left me undone.

It’s silence for now,
my mind has gone blank.
It’s transported to safety;
though my body trembled and my heart sank.

I’ll forget for now, though
part of me will always know.
I’ll keep pushing it down,
but the little girl won’t let it go.

She demands to be heard.
Doesn’t anybody care?
What they said, what they did;
my innocence stolen, my soul laid bare.

Lights, camera, action, I do what I’m told.
But obeying is the death of all that is right.
Dissociation is the curse that keeps me quiet,
and the blessing that keeps me shining bright.

No evidence here.
All appears well.
You’ll never know,
because I can’t tell.

I was scared, and confused.
How could I understand?
Their hands were overwhelming;
so my mind went to another land.

Where I’m safe and no one touches me,
I’ll just block this all out.
But inside I’m shattered;
I just want to shout.

Why am I floating?
Who’s that little girl below?
What’s happening to her is unthinkable.
Will anybody stop it? Does anybody know?

They can’t know while I’m up here,
I’m separated from it all.
Here I’m safe from these people,
but from here for help I can never call.

So I guess that leaves the question,
how safe can I really be?
For this momentary escape is nice,
but how many more times will this happen to me?

I was a commodity,
exploited for their gain.
Nothing of value to them;
how long will I live with this pain?

But forgetting is temporary,
at some point, we remember.
Now I can tell you everything;
All it takes is courage and surrender…