Sexual Assault Awareness Project

safetyfundamentals-a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words-1-638

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I wholeheartedly agree.  Photography has the power to convey an emotion or experience in ways that words simply can’t no matter how many are written or said.

Part of healing trauma is finding a way to process the painful emotions in a way that breaks their hold on the mind and body.  One of the best ways to do this is by finding creative, non-linear ways of expressing the painful and frightening emotions that are quite often too painful (or buried too deeply) to access in a more direct way.  Music, poetry, painting, dance, photography, etc..these are all very common creative expressions that can prove to have powerful healing effects for victims.  For me, well, I’ve always been partial to photography…

Last winter, my therapist noticed I was stuck in my ability to move past the sexual assault I experience a couple years prior.  While I was beginning to understand what really happened to me, I just couldn’t shake the pain and despair of such seemingly senseless violence.  The injustice of everything I experienced, including being silenced and shamed by police and “friends”, brought confusion and pain that lingered in my body and haunted my every thought.

In a stroke of brilliance, my therapist suggested that I connect with Liz Gilani, a photographer, to create a photo story to externalize my emotional experience with the assault.  The purpose being to not only process and resolve the trauma for myself but to also bring purpose to the pain.

I participated in this project in order to heal, but I’ve decided to share it for many more reasons than that.  Sexual assault is an absolute epidemic that is overwhelmingly ignored, denied, or at best met with indifference by our society.  One in four women are victims of sexual assault and those numbers are even low due to a severe lack of reporting.  Women fear reporting for many reasons including fear of retribution, being re-traumatized, shame and blame from others, self-blame, lack of support, and the most heart-breaking…because they see stories like mine where the police simply don’t care and they know their own fruitless efforts will only cause them more pain and suffering.  Of all issues, sexual assault is one of the most prevalent, relevant, and yet oddly one of the most ignored by society.

This photo story is my way of bringing justice to a situation that never found justice. I want the friends and family of my fellow survivors to truly understand the emotional and spiritual damage that is done through sexual violence so they can show more compassion and support to those who have been victimized.  I want our culture to understand that this issue is not to be taken lightly and that instead of blaming and shaming victims, we need to start holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

More than anything, I want victims to know they aren’t alone.  I want them to know that God did not want their experience to happen anymore than they did, and that He is on their side.  If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual assault and you feel like they would benefit from this story, please feel free to share.

Many blessings,

Ruthie Grace

** Before clicking, please be aware that some of these photos are very graphic and could be a potential trigger for some victims of sexual assault. **

Photo Story

Advertisements

Spiritual Abuse and Forgiveness

Forgiveness-and-Freedom


For many, the idea of forgiveness brings with it a feeling of inner peace, comfort, and freedom.  For those who have walked the road of deep remorse and regret for their own wrongdoings, forgiveness can taste very sweet.  As Jesus says in one of his parables, “…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36-50 ESV).  Likewise, he who is forgive much, loves much.  Forgiveness is, and should be, a wonderful thing.  But it isn’t always…

Like any other inherently good thing, forgiveness can be misused.  It can be taken out of context or used selfishly to further one’s own ends, or it can be applied inappropriately in ways that bring about harm instead of healing.  In these cases, forgiveness does not bring freedom at all, but rather further harm and in some cases, psychological and emotional trauma.

Here are some honest aspects of forgiveness and how they commonly get misused.

  1. Forgiveness is both a free-will choice and a process.  Forgiveness is misused when it is demanded, guilted, or otherwise manipulated from a person who has been wronged.
  2. Forgiveness requires a full acknowledgement and assessment of the wrongdoing and its effects.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with or implied to necessitate condoning, excusing, forgetting, or denying the wrong that has been done.  (As Pastor Mark Driscoll states, “forgiveness does not come with a side of amnesia”).
  3. Forgiveness is the process by which rightful emotions stemming from wrongdoing are resolved.  Forgiveness is misused when it is spiritualized in a way that dismisses the need for emotionally processing valid feelings of anger or pain associated with being wronged.
  4. Forgiveness is a personal process that takes place within the self.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with reconciliation with another person, especially when the other person has neither acknowledged nor repented of their wrong.

Forgiveness is, essentially, about our own heart and our own actions that flow from our heart.  It’s about not exacting vengeance or seeking retribution for the wrongs done against us (which is different from seeking justice, which should be pursued if violent or criminal activity is involved).  Forgiveness is the process through which we are able to both process and effectively resolve anger, pain, loss, and even rage resulting from harm that has been done to us.  The only emotion we are to look out for is that of resentment, which is simply the unresolved, unprocessed anger that has taken root in our hearts.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “be angry, and do not sin.”  It actually says “be angry!”  Anger is healthy and necessary to feel and process.  The only thing we aren’t supposed to do is use that anger as a reason or excuse to cause more harm.  But the emphasis of that scripture is on controlling our actions and responses, not in denying the initial emotions themselves.  Clearly, scripture expects anger (Jesus got angry a lot), especially in the face of wrongdoing.  However, scripture does expect and implore us to control it and handle it in healthy ways.

Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with the emotions of anger and rage, hurt, or grief.  Yet these are healthy and necessary emotions to feel, especially in the wake of loss, betrayal, or abuse. The full range of emotions need to be felt and acknowledged in healthy ways which, depending on the severity of the offense, may take anywhere from weeks to years to fully analyze, assess, and process.  And while it’s true that dealing with hurt feelings isn’t always easy, expecting a person not to have them when they have been harmed (or dictating how long you think they should last) is not only irresponsible and ignorant, it is further damaging.

If the rightful feelings of hurt, pain, loss, or anger are not allowed to be communicated or expressed in healthy ways, the only alternative is for them to settle into resentment or repression…that’s just how it works.  Allowing people around us to feel and healthily express the full range of emotions, especially in response to wrongs done against them is necessary and good.  We must understand that the entire concept of real forgiveness was hijacked for many people, not being used as a healing balm to restore but rather as a battering ram meant only to control, shame, and manipulate.  We need to understand how to help those people work through their feelings without further traumatizing them.

When people have been abused this way, they may hear the word “forgive” and, quite naturally, have a negative reaction.  Conscious nor not, the body and mind remembers former attempts at manipulation or psychological/emotional abuse and will respond instinctively to avoid it again.  What emotionally battered people need is compassion, a listening ear, and the freedom to both feel and communicate their emotions in healthy ways…not more dismissal of, shame about, or demands to feel or not feel their feelings.  This, as one can expect, only pushes a person into resentment…not lead them out of it.

I believe it’s our job as Christians, friends, parents, pastors…or just as compassionate people in general… to understand what it means to have suffered from spiritual abuse and learn how we can help and not further hinder those who have suffered it.  And whether intentional or not, callous dictates to “just let it go” or “move on” or “forgive and forget” can, and often do, deepen the emotional and spiritual damage of an already battered person, pushing them further away from healing than ever.  I hardly think that’s the goal of any well-intentioned individual, Christian or not.

If we are to truly help those who have been wronged or spiritually abused, we need to properly understand the emotional and psychological ramifications of that abuse.  We need to learn how to walk with people through the turbulent waters of emotional, psychological, or spiritual trauma so that we can patiently, kindly, and compassionately lead them to a place of healing and peace.  Then, and only then, is true forgiveness possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Tell Themselves “She’s Strong”.

 

People are always telling me how strong I am…as though it’s a compliment or something.  But it isn’t…not for me.  Because I never feel strong, and being told I’m strong feels insulting when I am hands down the weakest person I know.  When my life’s story is that I have always been the unwanted, unloved, ignored, insulted, or abandoned one who never even had the guts or strength to breathe without apologizing for taking up someone else’s air.  The one so desperate for a friend that she’d jump at any measure of attention just because it felt like hope that I was worth something.  And that’s all I ever wanted from before I can remember – to just feel and be worth more than someone else’s beating post.  But I never was.  And nobody ever sees that. Why?  Because nobody thinks about the people they perceive as “strong”, even if those people are dying right in front of them.

The reality is I’m not strong, and never have been.  But nobody ever saw that and so I numbed the pain, shut everyone out, pursued abusive relationships, and sold my soul to the devil just because he offered a better looking lie than any reality I had ever known.  I lost myself and the capacity to handle life without completely tuning out or shutting down.  And now it takes every ounce of sanity and strength I have, every single day, just to pretend to be normal for long enough to keep people from asking too many questions.

Strong?  I have never been strong.  And I hate being told that I am because I can’t even hold myself together long enough to get through a day without thinking about how nice it would be to not wake up.  But nobody ever sees that because, quite frankly, they just don’t want to.  So they tell themselves, “she’s strong.”