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.

The Wedding

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 see him.

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.

The Longest Winter

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.

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.

A Letter

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.

Uncle *****,

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.

Your niece,

Bethany


The Shower

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

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

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

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

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

Rest

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

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

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

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

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

Emmett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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