(I want to preface this blog post with a warning. This post contains some in depth details, and may be disturbing for some to read. I apologize in advance if it causes emotional upset. That is not the intention of this post. I’m writing to share a story in hopes that others will find comfort and hope.)
Five years ago, my life was forever changed. I wish I could say that I am glad at the events that took place that night, but I can’t. Although, I will say that what happened shaped my life and future. So I can’t be bitter about it. Let me just tell my story…
My best friend (at the time), Amy*, and I had a weekend tradition. We loved going to Downtown Disney and just hanging out. We’d eat dinner at the ESPN Zone, have some drinks in the hotel bar, chat with complete strangers and just have fun. I won’t lie to you, I loved those nights and all the fun we had! I was such a reserved teenager, and I never rebelled. I waited until I was 21 to drink, I never did any kind of drugs, I didn’t date the bad boy… this was my time. I was exploring the world of worldly fun, and I loved every second of it. This particular night wasn’t unlike the others. We had a few too many drinks, and played off our buzz in the ESPN Zone. The variable in the night was my friend’s ex-boyfriend, Todd*. He had been texting her throughout the night. She’s a beautiful girl, and I never questioned why all the boys gave her attention. It was obvious. I was never jealous of it either. Where there was a boy wanting to show her affection, there was typically a friend willing to show me the same.
Sometime after midnight, we decided to head out. Todd was begging her to come see him, so I agreed that we could stop by and possibly go out for a middle of the night meal. We drove to his house and picked him and his friend, Dave*, up. I remember thinking his friend was cute! I flirted, he flirted back… it was fun and innocent. We pulled into Denny’s and headed inside. That’s when things started getting strange. Dave started behaving unusually. He kept talking about how he didn’t have his cell phone and was getting antsy. After a few minutes, he excused himself to the restroom. A few more minutes passed, and Todd received a phone call from Dave saying that he didn’t have his keys and he thinks that he lost them in the car. Amy handed me her keys to go give to Dave so he could look in the car. I met him at the entrance and placed the keys in his hand, and I turned to head back towards the table. Dave stopped me and asked me to come help him look. I didn’t see an issue with it. So I went with him. Once we reached the car, I opened the back door and began looking. Dave told me I might have better luck looking from inside. His point seemed valid, so I climbed in. Dave climbed in after me and shut the door. He asked me if I really thought he lost his keys. I said yes, and he proceeded to pull his keys out of his pocket. His intentions were to get me alone.
He started kissing me, and I didn’t mind at all. He was cute! A cute boy giving me kisses was always ok. He started trying to reach under my shirt, and unbutton my jeans. I told him no… I was ok with the kissing, but nothing more. He listened, for about 30 seconds. I again told him no, that I didn’t want sex. He tried to talk me into it as he pulled his penis out of his pants. I again said no. Before I knew what was happening, Dave had taken me from a sitting position and thrown me down onto my back. I hit my head on the car door in the process. While he did that, he somehow managed to unbutton and pull my pants and underwear down. I was in shock. Frozen in the moment. The only thing I could think of was “I told him no over and over again… what in the world is happening right now?” … And while those thoughts were replaying over and over again in my mind, Dave had positioned himself on top of me, and had forcefully entered me.
We’ve been taught that we have a flight or fight sense ingrained into us as a part of our nervous system. What isn’t told to us is that there is actually a third option. Freeze. For the first two to three minutes of the attack that’s what I did. I had always thought that I’d be the woman who would immediately fight back and have a triumphant story of how I fought off my attacker. I learned that night that I’m not that woman.
After a few minutes of being sexually violated, something in me snapped. It was like my brain slapped me awake and screamed “DO SOMETHING”. So, I did. I somehow managed to get Dave off of me, and I sat up and pulled my pants right back up. He looked surprised, and a little angry. I didn’t want to fight, I didn’t want to get hurt, so, I tried manual stimulation to appease the man. I wish I hadn’t done this, but at that moment in time, I didn’t know what else to do. We all hear horror stories, and statistics, and all I knew was that I didn’t want to be a sad story that was told. I wanted to get out of this situation unhurt and safely. I don’t remember how I got out of the car, but I did. I like to think that my flight instincts kicked in. I remember being out of the car and I started walking towards the restaurant. Enough time had passed during the attack that Amy and Todd were walking out to the car to leave. I walked immediately up to Amy and just stood there. She knew that there was something wrong, but I was unable to speak. I just stood there, shaking. And then she did what I didn’t want to do… she led me back to the car so we could drive the boys back.
The entire time we were in the car, Dave was making hateful and derogatory remarks towards me. At first I tried to downplay them and get him to stop, but it just made it worse. I stopped speaking. After we dropped them off and drove back to my apartment, I replayed the night’s events in my mind. And by the time we reached my home, I realized that I had been raped. Amy had been trying to get me to talk the entire way back, and now that we were home, I finally spoke. I told her that I had just been raped, and I asked her to stay with me because I couldn’t be alone. I’m not sure if she didn’t believe me, or just didn’t care, but she told me no and she left.
I wish I could say that was the only time I was alone during this ordeal, but it wasn’t. I had been casually seeing a guy at the time, and when I reached out to him for comfort, he ran the opposite direction… into the arms of another woman. Amy disappeared from my life as well. The attack had occurred in the early morning hours of Saturday. So I spent all of Saturday and Sunday trying to pick up the pieces myself. I didn’t want to tell my family… I was afraid I was going to be judged and blamed. The two friends I was closest to bailed upon learning of my attack. I felt so alone. I even entertained thoughts of suicide. I didn’t think I could act on them, but I was so low and in such despair that I wondered if it was my best option. I remember lying in bed Sunday night and just crying out to God. I asked Him to send me someone, anyone, who could help me and show me the love that I so desperately needed…
During this time period, I was a full-time nursing student, and had to be at the hospital for my clinical rotation bright and early Monday morning. If I missed these clinical hours, I would be kicked out of school. At this point though, I really didn’t care. And then my phone rang…
I made some amazing friends in nursing school, and the woman who called me was one of the best I could’ve had. Her name is Jen, and she saved my life. She called to ask me a question about school, and she immediately heard the despair in my voice. I broke down and told her what had happened. She stayed on the phone with me that night and showed me the love and compassion that I needed. The following morning, I went to school as usual. But I just wasn’t present. I took care of my patients, but just went thru the motions. During my lunch break, I called the advice nurse to inquire about the therapy options my insurance carrier provided. She told me I needed to go immediately to the ER, and then to a psychiatrist and she booked me an appointment that afternoon. I let Jen know what the nurse had told me, and tried to go about my day. I couldn’t leave the hospital… I would be kicked out. I was going to miss the appointment the nurse had set for me, but I felt I had no choice. I figured I could deal with it later. Jen had become concerned, and had told our instructor that something happened to me and she needed to ask me about it. Our instructor pulled me aside and into a private room, and I broke down. I told her what had happened. My instructor sent me right to the ER and told me that she would deal with the administration at the school and assured me I wouldn’t be kicked out.
Upon arriving to the ER that afternoon, I was taken immediately back and placed in a private, closed off room. I told the nurses and staff that I only wanted to make sure I was ok and that I didn’t want police involvement. Unfortunately, that’s not how our system works. While I was waiting to be examined, I was brought a bunch of pills and was given a shot. They took me to a separate room to do an examination. Since it had been over 48 hours since the attack, and I had showered and changed, they did not do a rape kit on me. I was told that if I still had the clothing from that night unwashed, I should give it to the police. I had already done the laundry, so there was nothing to be found from the outfit I was wearing. After the exam, I was taken back to my room, where two police officers were waiting. I was asked a series of questions and forced to relive the night. I told the officers at the end of my statement that I had no desire to press charges at this time. I wasn’t in a place in my life where I was able to handle this added stress. I was given a card with the case number and the phone number of whoever was in charge of my case. I was also told that should I change my mind, the statute of limitations does not expire on rape cases.
Immediately upon departing from the ER, I went to see a psychiatrist. I don’t remember much about the visit, except that he made me very uncomfortable and I didn’t want to open up to him. When I left I didn’t even bother to schedule a follow up visit with him. Looking back on it now, five years later, it could have been the fact that he was a man that made me so uncomfortable. I had just been through this horrific attack, and talking about it to anyone, let alone a man, made me so uneasy. It made me uneasy for years.
In the following weeks, life resumed normally. I coped the best I could, but I found myself withdrawing from my life outside of school and work. About a month after the attack, I made the decision to tell my family. Where I was expecting shock and horror over the attack and my decision not to press charges, I found heartache, love and an invitation to seek healing with their help. I talked with the pastor of my church, and found a Christian therapist to talk to. I began seeing her on a weekly basis. I wish I could say that she helped me through this horribly difficult time in my life, but that would be a false statement. After six weeks of therapy, she decided she wanted to try a new technique that she had learned about at a conference. The technique made me highly uncomfortable, and I began scheduling my appointments every other week, then every three weeks, and then I stopped going. I called and left her a message one night and told her that I was very uncomfortable with the form of treatment she was using and I needed a few weeks to sort out and decide what I really wanted from therapy. The following day while I was in class, I received a missed call and voice mail from her. Never in my life have I seen, or actually heard, someone treat a client/patient so unprofessionally. She was madder than a hornet and ripped me a new one. I hung up the voice mail midway through when she used the phrase “… and when you’re actually ready to deal with the rape, like you’ve been avoiding for so long, then you can give me a call…” The tone of voice she used was rude and condescending. How awful for anyone who’s been thru a trauma to be chastised in such a way! Since that day, I have never stepped foot in a therapist office, and I probably never will again.
The first year was the hardest. I put everything on the back burner and focused on the here and now. Nearly a year to the date of the attack, I had a small mental breakdown while I was at home alone one night. I called the national rape hotline and learned that a lot of women don’t begin to feel the full emotional effects of their attacks until a year later. I made the decision that I needed a fresh start… so I made the move to Northern California. When I had made the full transition into life up here, my healing really began to take shape. I found a new group of people who accepted me and loved on me. I began seeking God again. I made my new home my safe space. Sure, I had some hiccups here and there, but I found that I started to work through them easier as time went on. I was healing… slowly and steadily.
I had nightmares and night terrors every night until late-2010. They stopped when I found the safety I desperately needed. That safety came in the form of my wonderful and amazing, loving husband, Joe. You see, up until I met Joe (and even a bit after), I had severe trust issues with men. The ones that I had dated after the attack, and before Joe, usually blamed me for the rape. Some even used it as an excuse to mistreat me and stalk me. But Joe was different. Very different. He accepted my flaws and trust issues, even before I told him about the attack. Once I did tell him, he reacted with empathy and love. He was patient, kind and helped me through my issues. Once I felt safe with him, and trusted him completely, I felt safe in general. For three and a half years, I thought men were the enemy, and God used this amazing man to show me I was wrong. Never in my life have I been so happy that I was wrong! Its always been said that you find what you’re looking for and need when you’re not looking for it. That statement for me is true. When I was looking to just get by, God gave me security and love.
Today, I am a work in progress. Sure, I have my faults and flaws, and sometimes I run into a situation that brings up the past. But the important thing is that I am healed! I am saved. I am redeemed. I am loved. I am cherished. I have been set free! My attack does not define me. I have found safety and love in the arms of my sweet Joe, and that’s all thanks to my Jesus. I no longer hate men, and I’m not afraid of them either. I am married. I have a son on the way, and I hope to raise him knowing that he is to love and protect women, not hurt and break them.
I share my story with you for one reason: Chances are, you know someone who has been the victim of a sexual assault. You may even be that victim. Healing from an attack like this is a huge process! It took me nearly four years to finally be ok with what happened. I have forgiven my attacker, accepted that this happened to me, and have moved on with my life. It’s a circumstance that has shaped me as a human being, but it is not something that I use as a crutch to lean on when things get hard. Life will throw some curve balls at you, and how you react to them determines your character.
If you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault, or if you know someone who has, please read the following:
– What happened to you is NOT your fault. I had people blame me, and for a long time I accepted the blame for what happened. No matter what your circumstance was, if you said “No!” and it happened anyway, you are not to blame. Your attacker is.
– Reach out to others! Talking about it really does help. Whether you choose a professional or a friend, find someone you can trust and confide in them.
– Know that you are not alone. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
– Pray. God didn’t do this to you, and it breaks His heart that you’re in pain. He gave each of us the gift of free will, and your attacker chose to use his to hurt you and others. God is the Almighty Comforter, and I can assure you, justice will be served to your attacker one day. He is the ultimate Judge.
A huge resource for me was Rainn.org. I used their online chat many nights, and even called the 1-800 hotline number a few times. During the first year, it was a lifesaver for me. Please, use it! And pass along the information to others who might need it as well. It is there and in place so you can seek the help you need.
That is my story. I can honestly say that there is more, but I don’t remember. I don’t remember my attackers real name, what he looked like, and I don’t remember a big chunk of the attack. At this point in time, I’m ok with that. There may come a day when I need to recall more details and memories, and if that happens, I’ll do what I can to find them. Sometimes our mind protects us from horrible things. I like that God created us that way. If you know someone who would benefit from reading my story, or if you’d like to share it, I give you full permission! Just make sure that you send them here, to this blog post.
Healing is possible! And I feel like I am living proof of that. I am a survivor of sexual assault.
“I can do ALL THINGS, thru Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals in this story.