** Before scrolling, please beware that some of these photos may be triggering for victims of sexual assault. **
My deepest gratitude to Liz Gilani of Liz Gilani Photography for working with me to tell my story.
I thought he was a friend. He played the role quite well…in the beginning, at least. Always checking in just to see if I was “okay”, he made his way into my trust. And soon he knew all there was to know about me and my past. He knew I’d been assaulted before. He knew my fears and my boundaries. Most importantly, he knew I didn’t want to have sex with him. He knew I’d recently lost my family and he said I reminded him of himself. He said that he cared.
Years went by and we remained long distance friends. It never occurred to me that his words were all lies, and traps, until circumstances led us to the same area. What I believed was a meeting “to talk” turned out to be what I can only describe now as a horror movie. His demeanor shifted markedly from the jovial man I thought I knew into a presence so cold and ominous it took my breath away. His eyes grew large, empty, and dark and all the life drained from the room. In a single moment, everything around me changed and terror gripped me so hard I couldn’t breathe. I tried to scream but found myself paralyzed. I just…froze.
Some events are too scary, too terrifying, and too traumatic to fully experience. So your mind drifts upwards and you watch events play out from outside your body. When you’re alone with someone twice your size and they begin manifesting demonic qualities, you don’t know what else to do but just…freeze. You know you can’t escape. You also know you’d never win in a fight. So you just…drift away in your mind…and pray it’s over soon.
Time slows down in a strange way. You float outside yourself as though you’re watching a movie. In the moment, it seems to last an eternity but looking back, it all went by in a flash.
I don’t remember when he left. I only remember the sound of his voice, chillingly cold…angry, even…telling me not to contact him. I remember the slamming door and the sound of tires on gravel as he sped out of the driveway to meet with his family, or so he said, as though nothing had just happened. I don’t even remember how long I laid there. I just remember staring blankly at the bedroom wall, my thoughts fuzzy, distant, and far away. I couldn’t feel anything…not a single thing.
Days went by in a fugue. Eventually the numbness wore off and when it did, despair replaced it. Oh God, the despair. Overwhelming and unlike anything you’ve ever felt. Full of confusion, I struggled to accept the reality of what had happened. My mind continually searched for a rationalization that didn’t include the truth. After all, he was the one person I had ever let in. He was the only person I had ever really trusted…
Eventually the despair faded, but only to give way to an anger…no, rage… so deep and intense it nearly overwhelmed. It was a pure rage, a righteous rage… not yet tainted with thoughts of retribution. It’s the purest anger I’ve ever felt, and yet there was no expression to be given it. In this world, a woman’s rage (no matter how justified) only brings a fresh host of accusations, scolding, religious shame, and scrutinizing doubt. Without a single acknowledgement of the wrong done, much less justice for it, it is demanded that we “forget about it” and “just move on”…
And yet you can’t. When someone violates you, they force a sickness onto you that is neither asked for nor deserved. And there is no “just moving on” from that. You’re made to carry the weight of someone else’s sin, filth, darkness, and shame even though you did nothing wrong. No matter how many showers you take, that sickness and shame does not leave you. It seeps into your cells and it clings to your soul. You cry, you scream, you pray, you bargain, and you beg with God for mercy to cleanse this filth and yet it does no good because it wasn’t really your soul that needed cleansing. It was theirs. But now you’re paying the price for it.
It’s hard to know what’s more painful – the assault itself or the accusing and shaming responses of others. Accusations, condescending looks, judgement, and those you counted as friends that magically disappear the moment you need them.
“Were you drinking?”
“What did you do to deserve that?”
“Well, you ARE really pretty…”
And endless other judgements, justifications, and criticisms. As though the trauma itself wasn’t enough, you now must bear the weight of judgement and doubt from everyone you thought should care.
All you can do is isolate. Because telling the truth is labeled “bitterness”, legitimate anger is labeled “bitchiness,” the results of the trauma is labeled “attention seeking”, and there is no option that provides any amount of validation, much less support. If it all doesn’t drive you into self-harm or suicide, the only way to survive is that a part of you must die. A very large part. You’re forced to either withdraw completely or lock away the pain in a huge self-negating attempt to convince yourself you’re okay. The first option brings more judgement, pain, and suffering and yet the second requires you to live in a twisted state of denial about your own reality, driving the sickness even further into your being.
In time, too much time it seems, the anger solidifies into resolve. And eventually you accept that it’s your job to heal no matter who understands or supports you. You realize that the ignorance and neglect of culture, friends, family, and even the police don’t matter and more importantly… they never did. You realize you have the choice to either let the trauma kill you or you can dig deep enough to find a strength you never thought you had. So you take their hateful attitudes and ignorant statements and you rip them into shreds. You decide it’s time to give yourself the love that nobody else would.
It takes what feels like forever. But when you’re forced to struggle alone, you develop a greater power than if the whole world had stood by your side. You gain the sort of strength that, because it came from no other person, no other person can ever take away. It’s a journey through the darkest pit of hell on earth, but in the end you realize that what was meant to kill you was used to grow you.
For the longest time I felt defeated by the assault, but now I see it as a exercise of futility. Because God sees all and remembers all, and nobody truly gets away with anything in this world…least of all unrepentant rapists or corrupt policemen. Not only that, but God has all the power in the world to turn our pain into our purpose and He promises to use our suffering for good and for the good of those who love Him.
I pray my story is a testimony to the truthfulness and faithfulness of this promise.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. – 2 Corinthians 3-4