Sexual Assault: My Story of Survival
By Elizabeth Leland | Guest Blogger
My dear sisters (and brothers),
I want to share my story and my heart with you because it is important for you to know that you are not alone.
Facing the unspeakable pain and trauma after experiencing rape or abuse is never easy, but I promise there is light, and there is hope, and there is even joy and peace to be found. I found these things after realizing that life is too precious and too beautiful to live with the paralyzing effects of trauma. I also discovered that healing – psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically – cannot be fully achieved on your own. Thanks to witnesses to hope like Maura, and with the support of my parents, I decided to go to counseling. This is not just my story – this can be your story too because in the journey of healing you are never alone. You deserve light, hope, joy, and peace as well, and you can achieve it.
It all happened very suddenly. I had just moved to a new city, all aglow with the excitement of a new apartment, my dream job, new scenery, and endless places to explore. But in one day, my life changed. Seven months ago, I was raped.
After it happened, I couldn’t speak to anyone, I couldn’t turn to any one I knew, because I felt an overwhelming sense of shame and horror – horror not just of the man who had raped me, but also of myself. (Loathing yourself is one of the dark and twisty sides of things like rape and abuse. But you must realize that it is dark and twisty and it those thoughts are wrong.)
I told a handful of close friends what had happened to me, mostly because I couldn’t give the typical “Good” or even “Fine” answer to the “Hey, how are you?” question. And yet, from most people and friends, I hid it, because having people find out meant those people would make judgments about me – about anything and everything I had done or did, no matter what. I felt that people would try to see ways in which I had been ‘asking for it.’
I suffered through months of panic attacks, triggers, fear, anger, shame, confusion, flashbacks, deep pain, and most of all I was fighting cynicism and bitterness towards men. But I decided early on in my recovery that I wanted to be a person that believed in the goodness of people, and in the strength of love. This was a daily fight, a daily decision, and I came to see that counseling played a vital role in winning this fight. It was also in counseling that I was able to confront the ugly things that were making me into someone I didn’t want to be.
I tell you all this because I want you to know that if you have been hurt, if you are in pain, there is hope. There is more beauty in you than is fathomable and it is because you are a daughter of God, made in His image and likeness. You have nothing to fear with Him at your side, and you can overcome the past, and the pain, and the memories. He gives us people and tools to become whole again – but it is up to us to take the step to use them. Take heart! Counseling is such a tool, and it is the first step to peace.
When I first began counseling, my biggest fear was that my counselor would judge me, my decisions, my thoughts, my reactions, my emotions. It was, quite simply, terrifying to tell this person who I didn’t know things that I felt were embarrassing, or TMI, or would be burdensome to hear about. But after several sessions, I began to realize that my counselor had no intention but to help me. I found that talking about the memories or emotions helped me uncover deeper issues or wrongly held beliefs about myself. My counselor helped me understand these things and why they were there. She helped me gently pull these “weeds” in my heart out by the root.
I went to counseling week after week, sometimes leaving emotionally and physically exhausted, but it was the exhaustion you feel after running a race. It was a sense of accomplishment, although sometimes after a particularly difficult session, it felt like just a glimmer of accomplishment. But any step forward, no matter how small, is progress.
If you take away anything, take away this: If you are struggling, hurting, or trying to bury pain… consider counseling. Consider it, and then go. You have nothing to lose, and a whole beautiful and joyful life to gain. Everyone’s story is different, and equally as important.
Whether you like it or not, or realize it or not, Christ is always at your side. He sees every single tear, and He has experienced each moment of pain that you have experienced. He does not turn away, but stands at your side, even when it seems that you cannot feel His presence. One night, as I cried in my best friend’s arms, I declared that I was angry that God felt so far away, and seemed so silent and indifferent. To this, he responded, “Elizabeth, can’t you see? He has been there for you in every single person who has touched your life along the way – in your family, your friends, your counselor, even in this moment, He is holding you right now in talking with someone who loves you.”
I decided to entrust my recovery and healing to Blessed Pope John Paul II because his words to young people never cease to invigorate me. He, like Christ, simply told us, “Do not be afraid!” He has great things in store for you. “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
P.S. “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.” –Blessed Pope John Paul II
P.P.S. You are not alone, and you are enough.