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 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.