Saturday, September 22, was the 3 year anniversary of when I was raped… most recently. Let me explain. This was not the first time. I have a long history of surviving these experiences, starting as early as the ages of 3 and 5. And this is not uncommon. Many people, especially those who started their lives as victims, are victimized again. Predators have a keen sense of who would be a good victim, and those who were victimized in their formative years know no other way of being. It has taken nearly a decade of intense therapy to unlearn the things that I was taught as a child victim.
I hear a lot of people substitute the word “survivor” in place of “victim.” In the years that you are just surviving, this is very accurate. You’re a victim when it happens, and a survivor in whatever you do afterwards to keep yourself alive, moving forward. I developed addictions, an eating disorder, and other self destructive behaviors to survive. My brain could not cope with reality. How could it? Reality was a living nightmare. Pure hell. These are the things I did to survive. To kill this thing inside of me. To get by despite it all. I thought I was doing pretty well. I didn’t realize the extent to which these experiences were destroying my life, until my behaviors came to a head. It was life or death from there. Keep doing what I was doing and let it kill me, or fight and as a result, live. My problem was, I didn’t want to live. I had no interest in it whatsoever. Which is why I nearly died numerous times. But there was some sort of secret spark in me. It was the bane of my existence, and it wanted me alive, when every other part of me wanted to die. It was my incurable hope. And thus, this blog was born, to document it. To explore it.
Today, I don’t see myself as a survivor. I am beyond that. I use the terminology, because it is what people are familiar with. Today, I am a thriver. My life, my success, my flourishing, is my big “fuck you” to everyone who hurt me. Though, today, I’m not angry or bitter. I let that go. It was too heavy. I punished myself with it long enough, believing that I was somehow punishing them by doing it. All I knew was someone had to pay. But I forgive myself for that now. I didn’t understand. I forgive most people, but contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is not necessary for healing. Some things, only God can forgive. I am only human. Today, my heart hurts for that little girl, for every little girl still living and suffering. Not just those who are still being abused, but those who are now grown women, with little girls still trapped inside, reliving it daily. Punishing themselves for the acts of others.
Look, I’ve come a lot further than a lot of former victims ever do. I’ve been blessed. But I do know this: I am supposed to share my experience so that the others know it is possible to not just survive, but to thrive. To use the pain as fuel. To live your meaningful lives. These are things you CAN overcome. As a matter of fact, there’s now even a name for that: posttraumatic growth. And you can achieve it. I promise you, you can.
I don’t want to make it seem like these these things won’t affect you for the rest of your life. They never go away. They will always hurt. At times, they still haunt me. But it is possible to get to a place where they no longer control you. Where they do not shake you. Where you can observe them from a distance that will prevent you from broken by them every. single. time. You’re heart can hurt for the child within, but you will be equipped to comfort her with the compassion you never received. You. Can. Heal. And you can help others do the same. Once you find that love for yourself, you will want to share it with others. ALL of us who were victimized deserve that.
Running is hard. It requires endurance, and movement, and dedication. I naturally have an inclination for laziness, and depression often causes me to feel incredibly unmotivated. So, when I started running, I invited God in the process, because I knew I could not do it without Him. I’m notorious for being unable to maintain anything long term, however, my recovery and my relationship with God have shown me that it can be done. I have had both of these for nearly 7 years now.
When I started running, I immediately found myself having times when I wanted to quit. I felt like I couldn’t get through the discomfort, or I couldn’t find it in me to get out and do it at all. It was too hot, or too cold, or too hard, or I was too sleepy; but I did it. Three times a week, I woke up early, and got out there and ran. When I had moments that I felt I couldn’t finish because it was too excruciating, I prayed. Each time, I prayed that God would end it. I pray the ending was close. In the process, I quickly discovered that God didn’t want me to pray for it to end. He wanted to pray for His help to get through it, despite the discomfort or difficulty. That was when I realized my running was a metaphor for my life. Often, I’ve found myself praying for the pain to end. “Make this situation go away or stop” or “take me God, end my life, please!” I always begged for the finish line, but sometimes, finish lines are far away, and though God could pick it up and move it for you, you need to learn that you can get through it. There is an important lesson after a finish line. I can do it. It can be done. I can get through it. Even when things are hard, I will survive and I will overcome.
I did this every time I ran. I’ve learned to listen to my body now. If it gets excruciating, I can slow down. I can pace myself. If I am experiencing pain, it is okay to pause. And I’ve learned that when I feel like I’m having moments when I want to give up or quit because it is just too effin hard, I can ask God for the strength to get through it. And I realized, I can do this in life. Do I have moments when I ask for Him to end it sometimes? Yes. But I always, eventually remember to ask for strength instead. And while I make the mistake of begging for an end, I can always feel God waiting patiently for me to realize my error. And when I have asked for the strength, God ALWAYS answers the prayer. And As soon as I get through it, I praise God for answering it.
And again and again He answers it. Every time I run, God answers it. I pray for the strength to get out of bed. I pray for the strength to get through the hard moments, and I pray for strength to finish.
It is for this reason that I love to run my longest runs Sunday mornings, before church. Because I do this, I always come to church in a state of praise and worship for all that God has already accomplished in my day and in my life. And I revel in God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness in my running process and in my life.
Last Sunday, God showed up in an incredible way. When I reflected on the run, I realized there was a poignant message there that I must share.
I’ve gotten more used to my Sunday runs, and I am excited to accomplish them and see God show up, so getting out of bed has become easier. When I got out there Sunday, I was wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt, with a jacket over it. I didn’t pay the forecast of rain much mind as I usually find that to be wrong, or the rain to be light. All I knew is that it was going to be 55 degrees in February, and I was excited for shorts running weather. When the run started, I was feeling good. The previous week, I had been so exhausted that I kicked my own ankles the entire time. My ankles were bruised and had open wounds from the constant kicking. It definitely hurt. I was throwing around the massive cuss words, ALL OF THEM, by the end. This Sunday, I was better equipped. I had gone to bed earlier and had my coffee. I was doing well. Around two miles, my friend noticed it get darker and mentioned “uh oh, its about to rain.” I was feeling so good, I hadn’t even noticed. When we turned the corner, I could see a downpour up ahead pretty quickly. That’s when my “uh oh” moment happened. I am used to light rain while running, but I don’t have a lot of experience with rains like that. I got nervous. I knew I was going to be cold. As soon as we crossed the street, we were hit with a wall of rain. The winds became violent as well. When the first gust came through, it was so strong, it made a whistling sound that made me very nervous. I come from North Carolina and have been through my share of tornadoes, and they often start with winds like that. We were also close to Lake Erie, and there is a small chance that water spouts can come onto land. I was certain either was about to happen. I looked for ditches to lie in and there were none and I thought “omg we’re screwed.” As we crossed an open wind, the sideways walls of rain assaulted us. The winds blew so hard at us, that I was reminded of the winds suffocating me when I skydived. I struggled to breathe. At points, I had to close my eyes, for fear my contacts would either get too soaked to see through or blow right out of my eyes completely. I was freezing, and my fingers and toes were going numb. My friend offered an extra shirt to stay warm. At that same moment, we hit a hill to run up. Looking back, I find that hilarious. It was so much like obstacles in life, it had literally taken on the the phrase, “when it rains, it pours.” That was epitome of a moment that I had to ask for the strength to get through.
Once we passed through the storm, I felt more relieved that I have ever felt during a run for getting through a challenge. I thanked God for the strength. As I tried to catch my breath, my friend informed me there was another open area up ahead where winds might be difficult. I began to mentally prepare for a repeat of that experience. I became increasingly nervous as we neared that area. Once we got to that, I was surprised and delighted to find that these were entirely different circumstances. The ran was nice and light. The wind was strong, but this time, it had become a tailwind. I found the wind propelled me. It basically picked me up and pushed me further. I loved it! It made running so easy! I wanted it to last forever! Haha That too, I found poignant. Sometimes when we expect challenges, we find ourselves finding benefits instead. Sometimes challenges turn out to help us in incredible ways. They carry us farther, faster than we are able to do on our own. Once that moment passed, again I found myself praising God for giving me the wings.
These experiences were so beautiful, I found myself smiling for the rest of the morning. I also found myself so grateful for the lesson there, because it was so clear to me. Once I was nearing the finish line, again the tailwinds picked up, launching me forward!
God is so cool, y’all. He is faithful, and wonderful. God is shows up to help every time, and all you have to do for the assistance is ask. Jesus said we have not because we ask not. And it is true. God is eager to help you get through anything. He is waiting for your call. God is excited to hear from you. The truth is, finish lines can’t be moved, but God can get you through any race. Any obstacle you face, God is willing to give you the strength. If you are going through ANYTHING that you feel like you cannot withstand, God wants to help you overcome that, and come out the other side. I have seen this to be true. Again and again, I have seen this. I have experienced this. God will show up every time you ask. Even if you don’t believe, or think you aren’t a good person. Even if you doubt. You feel like God is angry or vengeful, or or wants to punish you? These misconceptions are not true. God wants you desperately to ask, but God has boundaries, and will not come into any situation without being invited. God is not one to impose. But if you ask, like clockwork, He will show up. I promise. With everything I have, I promise you that.
“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” ~Susan Taylor
I don’t typically watch the news. I have a computer and a T.V. without cable, or even basic access. I stick to Netflix, and I get my teeny bit of “news” from Philip Defranco, on YouTube. That’s about as much as I can take. In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to stop watching the news. I took her advice. I had, at the time, become overwhelmed, baffled, and distraught over the Shaniya Davis story.
I couldn’t understand how, someone could do that to their daughter. I couldn’t understand how someone could do those things to a 5 year old. I was starting to drown in a sea of headlines and news reports of just how evil this world is.
And it is true. This world can be a very evil place.
I have spent a good chunk of the past few years overwhelmed by an issue that the rest of the world seems underwhelmed about: sexual violence. Such violence is beyond an epidemic in our world, and repeatedly, our response is victim blaming, and sweeping it under the rug. It makes me cringe to know that 1 our of 4 girls, and 1 out of 6 boys will be the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18. How do people walk around in their own little bubbles, oblivious of something so heinous?
I don’t know, they just do.
In some of the work I have done, I have teamed with people who had similar experience and ambition, wanting to do something on the matter. What have I found? That there are victims out there working toward solving a problem, without even having dealt with the issue in their own lives. It is like someone with a still gaping and bloody bullet wound trying to fight for gun control.
First, you need to address your own trauma.
The hard part is, no one else is stepping forward to solve the issue. All of those people who’ve never had to suffer through the trauma have no interest in dealing with something so dark and ugly.
This is just what I have found.
I look around me, and I see people becoming passionately driven about the issue of guns and asking themselves, “what could of we have done to prevent the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012?”
I would never venture to claim that this question is not important, pertinent, or should not be asked. I do, however, think that it is too soon to be torn apart by these issues. Our hearts are still breaking from what happened, and the details that continue to unfold. Our stomachs are still twisted by what the children of Sandy Hook must’ve witnessed that day. Chills are still shooting down our spines to imagine what evil it takes to commit such an act.
How have we allowed this to lead to a divide? What the survivors need right now, is a community to come together in support around them. They certainly have a long, tough road ahead of them.
Repeatedly, through the past several years we have witnessed tragedy and allowed it to, even for a short time, bring us together in mourning and solidarity. For the first time in my life, I have witnessed the opposite happen. That is what breaks my heart now.
I think ALL of us will agree that something has to be done to attempt to prevent these massacres from happening again, no matter what side you’re on. What that “something” looks like will start to materialize as we work on the matter. I trust that.
At this point, I don’t care what that “something” is just yet. I am still far too stricken with grief to start thinking strategy. Am I alone in this?
I look at the faces of the victims, and my throat starts to tense. I hear their stories, and my eyes are filled with tears. I cannot look at December 14th with a hard heart. I find peace in my belief that these children are safe and happy now. I find strength in the stories of heroism in the adults that fought for these kids with their very lives.
I remember too, those who survived, and I give them this message: you can overcome your trauma and live a fulfilling life. This may be a struggle, but it does not have to defeat you. This dark moment in your lives can become a place of strength, and a place of motivation. You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many, and we will still have your hands when the heavy realization hits you of just how blessed you are to have faced and survived a trial that many will never even have to face.
To the rest of us, I say: stand down. This is not a fight. We are worn and we are weary. We have faced far too much as a country this year. Yes, we must address this issue, but please, for God’s sake, can we take a moment to grieve first?
To all of us, I plead: Do not let this destroy us. We will march forward and we will advocate for the changes necessary to prevent such tragedy in the future, but first allow yourselves to grieve. Before you stand up to fight, address your own trauma. Make sure that when your time comes, when your voice rises, that you are in a place where you are strong enough to argue your side. So many times, I have seen angels fall short here, and lose the drive to carry on. We can heal. We can overcome. But first, we must grieve.
A heart must finish breaking before you can begin to mend it.
It is true that this world can be an evil place, but what is also true is that each of us has the ability to contribute to the good. If you are going to pour fervently into this world, be sure that what you are pouring is positive.