(Note: I wrote this initially in 2018 at the height of the #metoo movement out of frustration and pain – watching the events unfolding in the news. I originally posted it only on my private FB page. Today, I am taking a leap of faith and sharing it with you too, as scary as this is for me. I hope and pray it will be of some help to someone, somehow, somewhere. Thanks for reading.)
I was sexually assaulted when a teenager, by someone I knew. Someone in my neighbourhood, someone I should have been able to trust. The devastation of sexual assault is horrific, life-changing and grievous.
At the same time, it is not the end of the story. Not yours and not mine.
Like any other catastrophic loss – we drown in the emotions of despair, of rage, and of helplessness. We must mourn our losses. Losing innocence, losing the idea that the world is a “safe” place, losing trust (especially in men). We experience the loss of feeling whole, undamaged, and beautiful. We weep over the loss of our identity. Who am I, what does it say about me that this would happen to me? We lament the loss of our dreams and hopes. We grieve the loss of agency over our bodies and the deep wounds of our spirit.
For a time, we tamp down all the grief, numb out, live in denial. How can we cope in the real world? These emotions are uppermost in our minds.
Often, it is other crises in our lives that propel us to get the help we need. There comes a “straw that breaks the camel’s back,” and we know we have to begin to heal.
For me, that didn’t happen until I became an adult, and then only over time with differing modalities. As a teenager in a Christian home, Jesus was “the answer,” and you would slap on a Jesus bandage to a gaping wound and expect everything to be okay. In the 70s the church did not have much experience with those who were sexually assaulted. Or how to attend to us meaningfully. I would say we still have huge issues to work out, but, have made progress. And now we are making more progress with the awareness of #metoo. We are now calling out anyone who uses their power to abuse others in our culture at large, and in the church as well.
I don’t think it even occurred to my parents to get me into counselling. It just wasn’t in their wheelhouse. Nor did they think to explore with me how my faith was effected by what had happened to me. They loved me so much; I don’t doubt that for a minute. But they had no context from which to guide me, so we carried on.
Deep and terrible anger
It was in counselling as an adult that I came to understand this deep and terrible anger. I learned that it was good and right to feel the anger. Violated, with my identity stolen from me – I learned that Jesus was angry too. That He wept with and for me. That I needed to grieve my losses. And it would take time.
Hatred, bitterness, and the unwillingness to forgive was the poison I was drinking, thinking that it would kill him. But it was only killing me.
What I learned is that forgiveness is a process. It is not linear. And sometimes the process must be repeated – over and over again. I learned that to forgive, I must allow myself to experience the full weight of the hurt, anger and humiliation. Begin to let go of the pain. I had to release the perpetrator. Trust that one day, justice will be done.
I learned that Jesus wasn’t a bandage, Jesus was a healer.
The Spirit of the Lord
One day while Jesus was on earth, he went to the temple, and he took down the scrolls, and he opened them, and this is what He read:
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Savour the words
I savour these words, let them roll over my tongue like sweet candy. I play them like notes on the piano. Up and down the keys again and again – music to my hurting soul. They are a balm to my wounds, tenderness to my heart:
Jesus binds up the brokenhearted.
Jesus proclaims freedom for captives.
Jesus releases us from the prison of darkness.
Jesus proclaims a day of vengeance!
Jesus comforts those that mourn.
Jesus gives those who mourn beauty instead of ashes.
Jesus gives the oil of joy, (laughter is good medicine).
Jesus dresses me in praise instead of despair.
He draws me to Himself, as I hold up my bruised, broken and bleeding heart. He sees me; knows my pain, He cares. Jesus weeps with me. And He, gentle and tender, works in my broken heart. He binds up, frees, and releases me from darkness. I turn towards Him, the Light of the world.
And He has proclaimed a day of vengeance, one day Justice will be done. One day, “… justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24 ESV. This brings profound relief.
Comfort for those that mourn
Jesus comforts those that mourn. Jesus, the Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with our grief. Isa. 53:3. So, He picks me up, holds me close to His heart, and He croons love songs over me. I cling to His love – as a child to her favourite stuffed animal.
I repeat those words to myself: He loves me, oh, how He loves me.
He. Loves. Me.
And Jesus gives me beauty for ashes. Out of the ashes, the Phoenix will rise. New life can grow as I learn to loosen my grip. Let go. Let go of pain, look for ways to help others. I learn to become more compassionate and caring to those in pain. I point others to hope – to new mercies, fresh each day.
Laughter is good medicine
Jesus gives me joy, and laughter is good medicine. I look for happiness in unexpected places, and it peeks out often surprising me. There is the love of my family, my children and grandchild. The love of my friends. A great joke well told. Reruns of “I Love Lucy,” oh, how she makes me laugh! The late Stuart McLean, Canadian author and humorist, laugh out loud, you bet! I search for gratitude. What happened today that was good? Gratitude has been proven to increase our happiness.
Praise is a sister to joy. And it often takes the stinger of despair away. We know music is a great healer. So, I can choose to put on music that lifts my spirit. Did you know that your brain chemistry changes when you sing?
My pain doesn’t get to have the last word
So my pain, my devastation, the sexual assault – it doesn’t get to have the last word. It doesn’t get to be the whole story. Or the end of my story. Sometimes flooded by current events, the rage and sorrow returns. It overwhelms and confounds me. Then, I need to express it. Mourn anew for all of us, all the women wounded by sexual assault. But, I won’t stop there – won’t let it define me. I am not my sexual assault.
Made strong through the broken places
I am a woman, made strong through the broken places.
I am a woman, brave in the face of fear.
I am a woman, resilient, rising from the dust and grit of despair. It may knock me down but I will get up again. I will shake off the shame. Walk with my head held high in each new day.
I am a woman – hopeful in the face of centuries of sameness. Believing that we can make a difference in the here and now. Little by little, bit by bit. I am a woman, shaken – yet not destroyed in the face of ignorance and abuse of power.
I will not give up
I will not give up or give in.
I am a woman, empathetic in the face of deep sorrow and sadness. I am a woman choosing freedom instead of bitterness. And learning to forgive, again and again.
This is who I am.
Called out of darkness
Jesus has called me out of darkness and into His marvellous light. He knows my name, and I am His child, His treasure, the apple of His eye. And I am His beloved, and He is mine, and He has covered me with Love.
And His love surrounds me, upholds me, sustains me and envelops me. I am His, and He is mine.
I am loved
I am a woman profoundly loved by God. This is who I am. This is where I can rest secure.
I am loved.
Always, forever, eternally, loved.
This is who I am.
I am loved.
I am loved.
I am loved.
If you have been sexually assaulted there is help, there is hope. Please reach out to a counselling center near you.
LifeCare Centres have offices in Pickering and Bowmanville; they are a group of highly skilled professionals. There are psychologists and psychotherapists who will be able to assist you. You can make an appointment at 905-231-2273.
Some churches also offer programs that help you find freedom and healing from differing kinds of trauma. My church, Sanctus Church, provides a program called Freedom Sessions. Call 905-686-4450 or contact Care, at firstname.lastname@example.org to register.