The Drive

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.

The Band-Aid

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

Sophia

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.