When someone has a horrific event, almost every section of the human brain is affected. Trauma is a severely disturbing, destressing, and damaging experience. 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.
What is Trauma
Trauma is a severely disturbing, destressing, and damaging experience. The physical assault of rape was horrible enough, however that did not compare to the assault on my psyche and the revictimization I experienced. Preexisting serious health issues magnified because of the attack. My brain went into survival mode. Most days I fought for my life physically, mentally, emotionally and some days I was too weak to fight. No one knew.
What happened to me in those five years after the assault? I died and did not know how to revive myself. I reached the deepest depths of depression. It’s difficult to explain the many collisions within me. From the lowest of valleys to high heights. The emptiness and fullness, the fear and peace, the sadness and joy, the destruction, the death, the depression yet the determination. Through it all, my survival tools became truths that helped me maintain life and navigate 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.
Truths Birthed from Trauma
1. Trauma is life changing – The rape was a life changing eruption that destroyed my life as I knew it. Trauma is not a hiccup in life. My structures and 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 and self- blame were just a few of the new normal feelings. I learned the severity of trauma.
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. No matter how much I wanted to attempt normal everyday functions I couldn’t. The wound was deeper than I realized it affected my capacity to do daily chores. Memory loss, confusion, anxiety, fears, isolation, grief, depression became my daily companions. Through therapy I realized my trauma symptoms were not that unusual. They were normal for a survivor. As the wounds began to heal the symptoms minimized or disappeared altogether.
2. Silence is not golden – I learned that speaking out is imperative for real healing. It’s empowering, strengthening and life giving. Hiding and suppressing the trauma causes long lasting negative effects. Suppressing pain can cause health issues. Though I was silent, the violation still affected my life decisions. Talking about the trauma and the pain helped. Each time I talked I exhaled a little more pain. It was important to have someone to talk to, have a safe person, a safe place where I could speak and not be judged. Releasing the pain in a safe environment is imperative.
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. One Sunday morning while serving as a minister I broke down in church. Fortunately I made it to a private room before I broke down. I could not be silent. I was in so much pain. A couple of ministers were in the room and tried to help. Eventually I left. I felt better but embarrassed. It wasn’t the safest place for me. Talking to the right people helps many survivors heal and decrease the negative effect on their future lives.
3. Safe places are necessary for healing – A safe place is a place in your life where you can be yourself. I learned safe places are an important component of restoring my life. It can be a person, group of people or a place. It wasn’t good to isolate myself, though I preferred that above any social interaction. Survivors of assaults often isolate themselves from society and family because it’s comfortable and feels safe. Re-victimization happens often and it a concern of survivors.
Trusting someone with my wound was not easy, but it was important. A safe person is someone who embraces you, listens to you and has your best interest in mind. I could tell quickly if someone connected to me just by their conversation. I realized that sometimes when I shared my trauma with a person, I trusted they became uncomfortably quiet and didn’t know how to react. If I shared my pain, and it bounced back to me I knew the person, or group of people was not safe, and I became very cautious. Anyone who judges, blames, guilts, or minimized the violation was not a safe place. I removed myself and avoided any activities with them. Someone who shows empathy, care and concern is safe. I learned it’s important not to over burden your safe people even though they will be there for you.
Sometimes your safe place isn’t what or who you expect. Church was my life. Many people run to the church for help after a tragedy or trauma. Unfortunately, my place of worship was not a place for me. I felt re-victimized by church leadership and eventually had to leave to live. Sometimes you have to leave to live. A couple of family members and friends were safe places for me.
Later my therapist became a safe place. Sometimes the person in my safe place did not understand what I was going through but they listened, were patient and empathetic. I could trust them with my wounds. But I also had to grow 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. The stronger I became in myself the less I needed external safe places.
4. Healing takes time – When a tragic event changes your life, your life will not be restored overnight. I learned that healing from a trauma, a wound takes time. The process is a marathon, not a sprint. Some people may want to rush you and others may not understand you, why you can’t just get over it and move on. No one has the right to give you a time limit on healing. Every person is different, every tragedy is different and every healing journey is different. Healing is restoring life the best way you can however long it takes. It is mending that part of you that is broken and building new parts. 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. As life goes on I’m sure more areas will be revealed to me.
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. My body and my mind were so split, they were never in agreement. I didn’t realize the damage 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 God in my local church. It was my life for almost thirty years and my life was destroyed by revictimization. But where man fails God is faithful.
5. 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 survivors after a traumatic event. 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 over the years. 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 praying my way through. If my breathing was labored 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!
6. 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 understanding”. 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.
7. 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 grace and 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 grace and 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. Yes, I was severely hurt by church leadership that it was necessary for me to separate from religion. Yes, I was angry with people that said I had to forgive to heal. Despite it all my strong belief in God prevailed. Because of the victimization, revictimization and preexisting issues in my life I experienced a depth of desperation and loss beyond human intervention, beyond my support system. There was a time that no one could connect with me in that place. No one could help me. I was beyond the depths of depression. But grace was there. God was there and I eventually rose from that grave.
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 with 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 had 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 five 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 faith. There was that undergirding belief that I would eventually get out of the stoop that plagued me for years. Then that day came. I started climbing out of the depths of trauma. My deepest depths brought me to my highest heights. I finally had life after trauma. What a wonderful place to be, in life not mere existence.
There is life after trauma. Choose life! Begin living again, not just existing. When you choose life, then life chooses you. A new beginning, a new outlook. All your struggles will not leave suddenly but you will progress daily. You will have the strength, and desire not only to live but to live on purpose and in purpose. You are stronger and wiser than you think you are. You have something to share, a story you need to tell. Everyone has a story. What is your story? What helps you live your life after tragedy? What are your “Truths Birthed from Trauma?”
These are truths I learned from 2008 to 2014 and are still true today (2020). There are more truths, pain and progress. Healing is a journey, sometimes a life long journey.