There is Life After Trauma written By Carolyn J. Hudson
Wow! It’s been six years since that horrible night that I was raped by an elder of the church I attended at that time. That violation dramatically changed my life on all levels; physical, emotional, mental, financial, social and most of all spiritual. It was catalytic in nature. It was a force that became a demarcation, a mark in time from the life I knew to a new life totally unknown to me.
The physical assault of rape was horrible enough, however that did no compare to the co-abuse or re-victimization I experienced and the serious health issues that magnified because of the attack. Most days I fought for my life physically, mentally, emotionally and some days I was too weak to fight. No one knew. We Christians are good at hiding.
What has happened to me in those six years? I died and did not know how to revive myself. I reached the deepest depths and the highest heights in my soul. It’s difficult to explain those many collisions in my soul. The emptiness and fullness, the peace and fear, the sadness and joy, the destruction, the death, the depression yet the determination. Through it all, my survival tools became truths that I call “Points of Grace” that helped me maintain life and walk the healing journey. Instead of writing my life events over the years since my last writing in 2011 I chose to write what I have learned through this trauma journey.
My Points of Grace – My Truths Birthed From My Trauma
- Trauma is life changing – I learned the severity of trauma. Trauma is not a hiccup in life. Trauma is a life changing eruption that destroyed my life as I knew it. My structure, my pillars were gone. Trauma changed the landscape of my life. I had a new normal now, a normal I did not want or ask for but it was my life now, whether temporary or permanent. Insecurity, fears, anger, confusion, isolation, self- blame and severe depressions are just a few of the new normal feelings.
I did not want to accept or call my life a new normal. I wanted my old life back. I fought to keep doing what I do every day but I failed. My mind and body did not connect anymore. Depression lived with me every day and slept with me every night. No matter how much I wanted to attempt normal everyday functions I couldn’t. The assault affected my capacity to do daily chores. I could not function. Memory loss, confusion, anxiety, fears, isolation grief, depression were my normal. Through therapy I realized my trauma symptoms were not unusual. They were normal for a survivor. As I began the healing process and many symptoms began to minimize I realized my life would not be the same.
- Silence is not golden – I learned the importance of speaking out. Speaking out is imperative for real healing. It’s empowering, strengthening and life giving. Hiding and suppressing the trauma has long lasting negative effects. Suppressing pain can cause health issues. Though I was silent, the violation, the trauma still affected my life decisions. Talking about the trauma, talking about the pain and releasing it helped. It was important for me to have someone to talk to, have a safe person, a safe place where I could speak, where I could release my pain and not be judged.
After I was raped the authorities advised me not to speak about what had happened for fear of it may affect the trial to come. Being the obedient person I was trained to be from childhood, I desperately tried to honor their wishes but failed. I needed a release in my soul. I had to talk to someone.One Sunday morning while serving as a minister I broke down in church. Fortunately I made it to the ministers room before I let out the biggest cries and screams. I could not be silent. I was in great pain and needed to talk. That was the best thing I could have done for me. They wanted to help but couldn’t. Talking about the trauma later with others helped me tremendously. I learned the safe places to express myself. Talking helps many survivors heal and decrease the negative effect on their future lives. Silence is not golden.
- Safe places are necessary for healing –I learned having safe places to express yourself is an important component of healing. A safe place can be a person, group of people or a place. It is a place in your life where you can be yourself. It wasn’t good to isolate myself though I preferred that above anything social interaction. Trusting someone with my wound I learned was important. I tested the waters and trusted my gut. I could tell very quickly if someone connected to me just by their conversation. A safe person is someone who has your heart, who empathizes who listens to you without judging and has your best interest in mind. If I shared my pain, my heart and it bounces back to me that person or group of people was not a safe place. Anyone who judges, blames, guilts or minimized the violation was not a safe place for me. Re-victimization can kill someone who has survived a traumatic attack. Don’t allow it. Finding a therapist that fit me was important. Finding a support group that fit me was important and sharing with people that know me.
My place of worship was not a safe place for me. I felt re-victimized by the church leadership and eventually had to leave to live. I relied on my safe places, a few family members and friends, my therapist and later two support groups. Sometimes the person in my safe place did not understand what I was going through but they were there for me, patient and empathetic. I could trust them with my wounds. But I also had to grow into a safe place within myself. My own thoughts were a danger to me and they had to change for my good. Sometimes I was my worst enemy. I had many battles within my conflicted soul. I had to build myself up from within and destroy all negative thoughts that hindered my healing.
- Healing takes time – I learned that healing from a trauma, a wound takes time. When one event changes your life, your life will not be restored overnight. The process is a marathon, not a sprint. People may want to rush you and others may not understand why you can’t just get over it, let it go and move on. No one has the right to give a time limit on healing. Every life is different. Every healing journey is different. Healing is restoring life within the best way you can however long it takes. It is mending that part inside you that is broken. External forces do not determine your internal healing. Some areas may never be totally healed. I recognized the areas in my life that are forever changed and I am learning how to live with the loss.
I was fortunate to have a support community that didn’t push me to get over it. They understood that rape affected every area of my life and that it would take time. My initial reaction after the violation I was determined not to let what this elder did to me stop me from doing my daily routines. But I was wrong. I didn’t realize the damage that he inflicted on me internally, emotionally and mentally. It was impossible for me to continue my life as normal. On the outside I looked fine. Inside I was temporarily destroyed. My healing would take years. Physical healing took the least time. The mental, emotional, social and spiritual healings took the greatest amount of time. Spiritual was the greatest struggle because of my dedication to serving in my local church. It was my life for almost thirty years and my life was destroyed by re-victimization. But where man fails God is faithful. In spite of not being able to do spiritual calisthenics such as daily prayer, reading and studying the Bible and serving God’s people, God was right there with me carrying me through His healing journey.
- Listening to your body is lifesaving – Your body has a voice and it talks to you. It gives you signs of trouble, areas that need attention. I learned my body. I learned its voice. I acknowledged areas of damage that needed to be fixed. Unfortunately trauma aggravates pre-existing issues whether they are a physical ailment, emotional, mental or dysfunctional issues. Trauma can also cause new health concerns. I did not ignore my pains. I did not ignore the uneasiness, the strange feelings. I did not ignore the mental changes nor my emotional reactions in situations. These feelings were new strange and not normal. My body reacted to the trauma more than I realize. I realized that how I felt was normal for a sexual assault survivor. Some people need medication and psychotherapy to function while others self-medicate.
Every day I listened to my body. My actions and reactions in situations. Beginning my journey of healing opened up other areas in my life where I was wounded, past assaults, work abuse, church abuse. I listened to my heart. I began learning the symptoms of pain. Listening was crucial to cleaning and healing wounds.. Many days I didn’t know if I would make it through the day. Many nights I lay awake paralyzed in fear, hardly able to breathe, praying my way through. If my breathing was labored in the daytime I learned to walk slow, move slow and find a place to sit. If I became disoriented or confused I cancelled my day’s plans and returned home. The emotional changes were a little more difficult to handle. Life was moment by moment until I could do better and I did. Just make it through the moment was my motto for a while. My life is worth it!
- Having a foundation of peace and patience helps healing – One of the greatest things I learned is that maintaining peace and patience are two great tools to practice. Walking in peace everyday as opposed to stress or worry keeps harmony inside the body as well as within my environment. Not rushing my healing, rushing to do activities or make a decision added to the harmony and calm within my environment. Peace relieves stress and patience destroys worry.
It was imperative that I stayed consciously aware of my peace and patience and when there was a threat to loose either. I fought getting stressed or worried. I fought becoming anxious in my soul. That foundation of peace was important for my strength and survival. Peace bypassed my mind and my emotion and maintained itself. The Bible puts it this way “ It is the peace that passes all understand”. There was this undergirding knowing that I would be alright. That knowing had to be protected and maintained so I became very conscious of when my peace was disrupted. It was my secret faith that kept me going everyday especially when I didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to do so. Peace was there.
- There is a depth of loss no man can touch. – I learned there is a point beyond which the human spirit can go. There is a depth in the soul where all the positive thinking, motivational speaking, uplifting speeches, sermons, talks and thoughts cannot penetrate. They are not allowed. It is a depth of loss, a depth of pain beyond human intervention and it can only be reached through faith. It is a faith beyond human understanding. It is a faith that cannot be explained with mere words. It is a faith that is untouchable. It is a faith that can only be accessed through the spirit. It is a faith that keeps you, strengthens you, undergirds you and helps you rise above and beyond the torment in your soul. .
Yes, I was violently raped by an elder of my church. Yes, church leadership did not embrace me. Yes, I was severely hurt and angry that I separated from all church. Yes, I was angry with people that said I had to forgive to heal. In spite of it all, my strong belief in God prevailed. Because of the victimization, re-victimization and pre-existing issues in my life I experienced a depth of desperation and loss beyond human intervention, beyond my support system.. No one could connect with where I was in that place. No one could help me. But faith was there. God was there. I am so glad.
8. There is life after trauma, if you choose it – Sometimes it’s hard to vision or feel an end to the pain. Sometimes my body was so numb I did not care about life. Sometimes a survivor feels they deserve the pain, the heartache and decide to live in it. There are many reasons why trauma survivors do not choose life. Sometimes living life again is unimaginable. It’s not impossible. Life is a choice. I had to be in a place on my journey of healing where I had the desire and the ability to choose life because as stated in #5 “There is a depth in the soul where all the positive thinking, motivational, uplifting speeches, sermons, talks and thoughts cannot penetrate”.
In these six years of my healing journey most of my strength was spent on making it from day to day. There was no strength or energy for anything else. Most of the time there were no thoughts of life or purpose. Most days I just survived. I barely did what I had to do to exist.. There was shear numbness and depression day in and day out. I didn’t know there was life after trauma and I didn’t care. But I had a peace and assurance in my relationship with God that I would be alright. I stood on and rested in that truth. There was that undergirding belief that I would eventually get out of the stoop that plagued me for years. Then that day came. My deepest depths brought me to my highest heights. I saw life after trauma and experienced faithfulness and truth. I began living my life. There is life after trauma. Choose life!
What are your Points of Grace? What helps you survive to thrive again? I chose life! When I chose life, then life chose me. I have a new beginning. Are all my struggles gone? No! I still battle, but, I chose life. I have the mental and emotional determination and strength not only to live but to live on purpose and in purpose.