Lysa TerKeurst’s newest book title pretty much sums it up. I haven’t even read the book yet, but I know I will love it and that it will deeply resonate with me. Just the few times I’ve listened to her story on how this book came about, I know that she understands the pain and grief that war against our faith in a Good God.
It’s 11:30pm and I couldn’t sleep because I was shaking with anxiety, feeling like I couldn’t breathe, tossing and turning, ugly crying in desperation, “why?” and “how much more?”. It’s not supposed to be this way.
Sleep has been eluding me lately as it seems every night new memories are pushing their way to the surface as I wrestle against them, willing them to stay locked away and let me be, though I’m powerless to stop them. I can’t stop them from coming, I can’t stop the triggers that reveal them, the physical pain my body goes through after they come, the emotional turmoil that’s finally released after being hidden so long. It’s not supposed to be this way.
It’s been four years. 110 memories. Multiple abusers, starting from age 3 through 17. Four years of wondering when this nightmare will end. Four years of trying to live my life as normal as possible while recounting, remembering, and reliving a past more traumatic than anything I ever thought possible. It’s not supposed to be this way.
Two uncle’s. An aunt. Her “friends”. An extended family member. A friend’s dad. A guy from the gym my parents worked out at. “Friend’s” of the family, including one from church. A seventh grade science teacher. Camp counselors. Boys I went to school with. Isn’t pedophilia “supposed” to be rare? How is it actually possible that so many different people could hurt me in the same unthinkable and evil manner? Memories so incredibly disturbing, perverse, and shameful I could never write them online. Not even just the acts themselves, but the psychological brainwashing, manipulation, and confusion that ensued to keep me quiet, which wasn’t even necessary because I dissociated every.single.trauma anyway. It’s not supposed to be this way.
I’m still here, sometimes so overwhelmed by the fact that I’ve even survived the memories, let alone it happening in the first place. I’m still clinging to my faith, still hoping, still believing, still declaring He is good…even though it’s not supposed to be this way.
And I can only hope that somehow, someway, someone out there will see all that Jesus has healed me from. How most people with a past like mine are not living a blessed life like I am. That even though it’s been incredibly difficult, HE has brought me through… strengthening me, putting my pieces back together, reconciling my soul back to Him. That though SO many people in my life failed me, hurt me, abused me, tortured me, took advantage of me…He has never let me go. Every single memory I’ve faced, He’s been there, holding me, comforting me, catching every tear. It’s really not supposed to be this way. But maybe, the beauty from this devastation is that I know Him more fully. My roots have been planted so deep that NOTHING can pull them up. My house has been built on the solid rock, my faith on the firm foundation.
But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
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.
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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Somewhere around 2015 I started having terrible panic attacks whenever I had to drive on the express way. I would find alternate routes no matter how much longer it took me, just to avoid it. If someone else was driving and there was no way around it, I’d try to distract myself in any way possible, but it didn’t typically help much. As soon as we’d pull onto the exit ramp I would instantly start to settle down and the fear would dissipate. I never even thought about why this was happening, I just knew one thing for sure; I hated the express way.
This fear led me to skip out on many things. When friends wanted to get together with our kids at a place 45 minutes away. When I was on my way to a cousin’s wedding but the fear was so paralyzing that 25 minutes into my drive I pulled off the express way and headed home on a different route. My focus was so intent on avoiding the trigger, (though at the time I didn’t know it was a trigger…just a fear) that I never tried to figure out this phenomenon but just accepted it.
Since there wasn’t any explanation or reasoning, it caused tension in my marriage when we would take trips to the other side of the state or up north and I never wanted to share the driving. Or when my dad would want me to come visit but I didn’t want to make the drive. I couldn’t explain what I didn’t understand. How do you find the words to communicate that as soon as you merge, you feel completely out of control, like you could die at any moment, but that it would go away just as quickly as it came on. I didn’t know how to verbalize what was inside: terror, especially when there appeared to be no plausible cause for it.
All the while, I also had this one memory stick out as being really strange, but I never could figure out why it was so odd to me or why it would come to mind so often. I typically just dismissed it as, “yeah, that was weird. I wonder why…” but quickly moved on and didn’t dwell on it.
I had always remembered part of what happened, and maybe that’s why it seemed to bizarre. Something was missing.
What I did remember was being at my dad’s apartment, though I’m not sure if I was 16 or 17 at the time. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was ready to go home to my mom’s as I had school and friends to get back to the next day. My dad’s friend “Trent” was over, he wasn’t much older than I was. My dad often teased and made fun of Trent for being unattractive, saying he could never get a girl as cute as me. Not that I was stunning or anything, but I certainly had zero interest in Trent, and if I am being completely honest, though I thought he was nice, he kind of repulsed me.
I was eager to get home, however my dad was expressing how tired he was and asking if he could just take me straight to school the next morning. Trent offered to take me home instead, to which we both agreed and were thankful for. He said he just had to stop home for something and then he’d be back to pick me up. Here is the first red flag, that neither my dad or I noticed.
He lived really close by so I wasn’t sure what was taking so long, but around a half hour later we were on our way. He told me while he was at home he grabbed some pop, and he offered me a can. I didn’t think to ask why it was already open. So that afternoon we drove off headed south on 131 in his little black car while I drank my pop and we listened to rap on the radio.
Hours later, I woke up really confused.I struggled to make sense of how I’d been asleep so long, why we were about a half hour north from where we started when we had been headed south, why it felt like it had been hours since we left, and it must have been as it was starting to get dark, and it was only supposed to be about a 40 minute drive. I was feeling disoriented but thought I must’ve just been really out of it. I asked where we were and why it was taking so long, and how long I’d been sleeping for. Trent was acting really strange. He seemed so nervous as he tried to explain that he’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and then just wanted to let me sleep. Nothing was adding up, and it always stuck out to me as being off, but I never put the pieces together.
Fast forward to December 2019. I’d been having flashbacks of traumatic experiences for almost three years, but all of them had taken place when I was a little girl. When this memory started popping up, I remember thinking, “yeah that was really weird, but wasn’t I about 17? I would remember if something happened to me at that age!” But it just kept coming back up, like a fly that you keep swatting away but it won’t leave you alone.
The Holy Spirit kept bringing up the fact that he went home to get something before we left. The pop he gave me. The fact that I woke up hours later no where near where we should’ve been. How strange he was acting. And then it came one night, just like all my other memories. I could not only see what had happened, but I could feel it. I was drugged and raped. The next morning my whole body hurt so badly as though I’d been hit by a bus.
In my anger, after finding out what his last name was from my dad, I looked him up. I couldn’t find him on Facebook, but I sent him a follow request on Instagram. He did not accept. I just wanted to tell him that I knew. I’m sure he would deny it, but I didn’t care. I wanted him to know that I know.
This memory was a little different for me to process than the others. I knew that feeling angry was normal, and appropriate. But I wasn’t some innocent little child this time. While I never led him on to any degree, it was well known that I was a promiscuous party girl. It made navigating through the emotions of it a little different than what I’d grown accustom to. I might have been a wild child at this time in my life, but I was still victimized by Trent. He used deception to take something from me that he wanted. I may not have been an innocent little girl, but something was still stolen from me that day. Feelings of dirtiness and disgust were very prevalent with this memory.
I am happy to report that over the last several months, with the healing power that only Jesus brings, my fear of driving has significantly decreased. Even though inviting Him into these dark places causes me the discomfort of having to recall painful events, it ultimately leads to healing every time. And that’s the only reason He wants to address these things I’d often rather keep hidden, because He loves me and wants to occupy all of my heart.
In April 2019, it had been a little over two years since the truth about my childhood had been unleashed with a ravaging fury, threatening to overtake me in the process. I’d been seeing Sophia for a couple of months, which was facilitating healing by helping me develop something I’d thus far been lacking; self compassion. Though I was learning to have peace about where I was in my healing journey, that didn’t mean the torment had stopped.
For the most part, my husband remained unaware of the terrors I faced in the night from flashbacks because he’s an extremely heavy sleeper. That changed one night that spring. Whether he wasn’t sleeping well, or my distress was worse than normal, or likely a combination of both, he witnessed what happens when my traumatic past invades my sleep. The crying out, the tossing and turning as though trying to escape some invisible force that refuses to be silent, the sporadic jumps as self preservation kicks in full force, it all made for quite an alarming sight, I’m sure. I vaguely remember him looking at me with concern, asking me if I was okay.
The next morning he was surprised to learn that this is actually a pretty common occurrence, he’s just typically asleep through it. Though I hadn’t shared every disturbing dark detail of my memories, he knew enough of what I’d been going through lately, and I guess witnessing me firsthand relive my trauma was the last straw for him to stay quiet. He contacted my cousin under the pretense that he needed my uncle’s number for a question about our dog, since he’s a veterinarian.
Up to this point, I remember having conversations with my friend wondering when my Charles Ingalls would stand up for me. My daughter and I had been watching a lot of Little House on the Prairie lately, and I noticed that Charles quickly and passionately stood up for his family when he felt there was some type of violation or injustice. I knew my family cared, but thus far, no one had dared to confront my uncle, I tried to not let that bother me, but it hurt.
As much as I craved a knight in shining armor standing up for me, I also feared the repercussions of a confrontation. For 30 years, the subconscious belief that something terrible would happen to me if I told had been brewing under the surface. It sounds so silly and irrational, but when you’re three-seven years old and a grown up tells you that everyone will be mad at you and know how bad you are, that something devastating will happen if you open your mouth, those things get ingrained in you and you believe them. And it takes a lot of learning to trust Jesus to untangle those lies. Aside from this, wondering how it would impact my mom and her relationship with her sister made me want to keep up this false peace we had going on in our family, trying to protect everyone else but myself.
Amidst all the conflicting emotions, my husband contacted my uncle, saying he knew what he had done. I had this moment of thinking I would surely have a severe panic attack, the apprehension and uncertainty of what to expect being too much for me. The truth finally being out, he would know that I remember and that I’m not keeping quiet. I didn’t know how to feel, it was scary but it was something else at the same time…liberating.
For years, I allowed a flimsy band-aid of silence to try to cover up a gushing, infected wound, somehow believing this could stop me from bleeding out. My husband unknowingly ripped off this band aid, exposing my wound to the light, giving it what it needed all along to finally begin to heal; acknowledgement. Though I feared I would suffer terrible anxiety from this, I felt the peace of Jesus permeate my being, and I slept better that night than I had since the whole journey to heal started. And you know what? I got my Charles Ingalls. All of the silence from the rest of the family seemed to make sense, Jesus knew it needed it to be my husband all along. I needed it to be husband.
Burn the Ships, For King and Country
How did we get here? All castaway on a lonely shore I can see in your eyes, dear It’s hard to take for a moment more We’ve got to Burn the ships, cut the ties Send a flare into the night Say a prayer, turn the tide Dry your tears and wave goodbye
Step into a new day We can rise up from the dust and walk away We can dance upon our heartache, yeah So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships And don’t you look back
Don’t let it arrest you This fear is fear of fallin’ again And if you need a refuge I will be right here until the end Oh, it’s time to
Burn the ships, cut the ties Send a flare into the night Say a prayer, turn the tide Dry your tears and wave goodbye
In February of 2019 it had been two long, wearisome, years since my flashbacks of childhood trauma had come crashing down on my life like a tidal wave. I had felt utterly hopeless at the beginning of the new year, because it didn’t feel new at all; rather, every horror of healing seemed to be unrelenting, with no end in sight. After a few conversations with close friends and family, and much prayer, I decided it was time to see a counselor.
That may seem strange, that I had been going through such intense turmoil for two whole years before deciding to go to counseling. It may sound even stranger when I say it honestly didn’t occur to me. From the very beginning, from the very first “episode”, I had relied on the Lord to guide me through this journey, surrendering every excruciating part to His hands. For whatever reason, it wasn’t until this time that counseling was even on my radar. Not because I was trying to be super spiritual about it, just because I had come to a place of complete dependency on Him, and with every memory, every twist and turn in the process, I followed His leading. When He brought it up two years in, I nervously obeyed.
I did feel a glimmer of hope break through the dark pit of despair, that somehow a counselor was going to “fix” me. I sat anxiously in the waiting room that first appointment; having never seen a counselor before in my life, I had no idea what to expect, only a mix of emotions at the thought of a stranger knowing every intimate detail of my shameful past. She was young and beautiful, and the epitome of compassion. My time was spent giving her a rundown of what I’d experienced the last couple years, while shifting in my seat, smiling nervously, and fidgeting often. Thoughts of can I actually say this? Will she think I’m crazy? raced through my mind, but the only thing I felt from her was complete understanding.
My good friend and I marveled at the way the Lord worked out so many details in putting this together, from the fact that I went from being wait-listed for months out on a Monday morning, only to miraculously have my first appointment a few days later; to the fact that her name, Sophia, means wisdom. For the next couple months I looked forward to my Thursday afternoons. It was a set aside time in my busy life that I could just focus on what was going on in my heart, no distractions, just having to face it all. It was a little scary, but it was freeing.
For so long I had wrestled though so much on my own, because I didn’t want to burden anyone with what I was dealing with. Somehow, I had been trying to protect those closest to me from the brutal reality of what I was going through. I didn’t want my parents to feel guilty or suffer through broken relationships with their families, I didn’t want to “bother” my husband, fearing he would think I was dirty, or at the very least, wish he’d married someone without these complex issues. I just didn’t want those closest to me to suffer because I was suffering. They would never see it this way, but I couldn’t help but try to shield them from it.
Sophia gave me what I needed most at this point in my journey, a completely safe place to tell the truth. The truth about what had happened, and the truth about just how much it was impacting my life. As it turns out, that’s one of the most powerful tools of healing; to be able to spill it all without any fear of what the reaction will be or worry of consequences for someone knowing.
It’s not as though she didn’t ever give me advice on how to manage my triggers, or give book suggestions, or practical tips to navigate it all. She did, but the most helpful thing she offered was a listening ear. That little girl, she just needed to tell someone. Jesus knew that.
I remember when the invitation came and my initial response of “oh yay!” was very quickly overshadowed by, “wait, I don’t know if I can do this.” For the numerous reasons I would want to attend this celebration one fact remained: I would have to seehim.
Over the next several days my husband and I debated whether or not we would go, and he left the decision up to me. After much prayer and deliberation, the RSVP card was sent back with a yes. Yes, because I wanted to be brave. Yes, because I love my cousin and was so happy for her. Yes, because we adore weddings and hadn’t been on a date in almost a year. Yes, because I didn’t want to miss out on this special time with our family. Most of all, yes, because I thought that not going meant he still had power over me, that it made me weak and I was so determined to prove to myself that I had healed.
As the weeks went on the reminder that I had to see him hung on our refrigerator, taunting me every time I walked by. I rehearsed scripture, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of he servants of the Lord and this is their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:17). To name a few.
I thought I was so strong and brave and proof of the Holy Spirit’s power as I got ready to go that day. We had decided to just go to the reception since this was our first time leaving our 9 month old with a sitter and he refused to take bottles. My nerves were a little shaky on the car ride, but I tried to focus on how good it felt to get out with my husband and how we were going to have a good time. I was so thankful and relieved to be at a table with my parents and siblings, I knew they totally understood my trepidation. I knew if I just avoided all contact with my uncle, which should be easy to do, everything would be just fine.
Then it happened. He stood up just a few feet in front of me and started giving a speech. Why wasn’t I prepared for this? Of course the father of the bride would give a speech! How could I let myself be caught so off guard? Oh Lord, why didn’t warn me ahead of time? My family at our table saw all the color drain from my face as I began to shift in my seat and fidget anxiously. First, the hot flashes. Then the dizziness and waves of nausea. I wanted desperately to run out of that room but fear held me frozen in place, that and the fact that I was fervently praying no one was noticing my intense and uncontrollable reaction and in no way wanted to draw any ounce of attention to myself.
His speech seemed to last forever, and hearing that same voice talk about the joys of his daughter’s childhood when he slaughtered mine was more than I could take. Seeing others smile up at him as he went on, and on, and on, filled me with anger and grief. Do you know who he really is and what he’s done? As I sat there, unable to face him and instead looking in the complete opposite direction, shaking on the outside and dying on the inside, I was able to see that my Heavenly Father had made provision for me after all; my husband.
I gripped my husband’s hand underneath the table with everything I had in me, clinging to his strength. The only other time I held his hand this tightly as though clinging to him for life was during the birth of our fourth child. I will forever be thankful to have him by my side. When it was finally over I wanted to escape to the ladies room but I still felt paralyzed by what just took place. I wanted to be sure to tell my cousin she looked absolutely stunning, because she most certainly did, but then we left shortly after as I felt very drained from the whole ordeal. Yes, somehow, listening to my abuser speak and being in such short proximity to him was indeed an ordeal, an exhaustive one. I wrestled with my naivete on how I wasn’t nearly as ready for this as I had hoped, and to be honest felt a little discouraged that I still clearly had such a long way to go.
\For the family members still refusing to believe the truth, there is just no way that someone has that kind of internal response to someone without there being a darn good reason for it. I’m not an actress, I’m a wife and a mom, doing my best to cling to Jesus until I truly am healed and whole. It’s never been my intention to disrupt anyone else’s life, I’m just trying to get on with my own. Trying desperately to cling to the hope that He really works all things for the good of those who love him, that somehow He can make something beautiful out of my ashes.
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.
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.