12 Jul Lisa’s Story
This is not going as I envisioned. Even before starting, I’ve run off the rails. Although I have put the horrible terror and panic behind me, the scars are closer to the surface than I realized. I think I have always underestimated the damage of my experience, since I walked away from the terror and panic. I am a great repressor and minimizer of my feelings. Some of you probably get exactly what I’m talking about.
I was a teenager and very confused about my relationship with boys/men. I was abandoned by my father after he and my mother divorced. I was probably more scarred by that than I ever wanted to admit, but that is another trauma for another time.
I moved to a new town as I started my freshman year of high school and was desperate to fit in and find acceptance. I made a friend and she attended a church in the heart of town. It had a brand new and exciting youth director. He was doing all sorts of fun things with the kids to get them excited about church and God. She invited me to come to youth group and I joined in with a happy heart. We were talking about God and philosophical questions, listening to acid Christian rock and having tons of fun. Nothing could be better.
Then one day, my friend told me about what had happened to her when we were playing hide and seek in the church’s family center. She had hidden in the coffin that we used for our Halloween Haunted House. The youth director “found” her hiding there while ostensibly looking for a hiding place. He climbed in too and proceeded to fondle and kiss her. I was really uncomfortable with this, but rather than seem uncool and unsophisticated, I’m sorry to say I did not tell her to talk to the minister. I didn’t go to talk to him on her behalf. I made some joke about scoring with an older man and changed the subject. I regret this failure to support my friend to this day. Not because of what happened to me later, but because I failed to help and support her when she was hurting.
That summer, we had a church trip. My friend was going and so were all the cool kids in the youth group that I wanted to like me. The places the group was going were new and exciting to me. I begged my Mom to let me go. She ultimately relented and I was over joyed. There were 8 girls and 4 boys on the trip and we were chaperoned by the youth minister and his wife. Now, there was a problem in that one of the stops had cabins that could accommodate 6 people. So, some of the girls had to bunk with the guys. I didn’t see a problem with that. I was trusting that I would be safe. I was naive.
The first night of the stay, everything was wonderful and we had a smashing time. I fell into bed exhausted and woke the next morning ready to go again. The second night was where it went to hell. I settled into my spot and was getting to sleep when the youth director said he was uncomfortable where he was and shifted positions to be next to me. I didn’t think anything of it and went to sleep. I awoke when someone inserted their finger into my vagina. I think that is enough detail, but I will tell you that for what felt like hours, the youth director did things to me that had never been done before. I was terrified. I could not move. I was in a room full of people and I could have cried out and exposed what was happening but I COULD NOT DO IT. I couldn’t make a sound. I just laid there and cried. I was no longer a virgin. In a room full of people. I had been violated.
But, I am a great repressor, as I said before. Over the weeks to follow, I succeeded in making myself forget. I did not go back to that church. I really never went back to any church. After a while, I never thought about it. I thought it was behind me. I was wrong.
Over 15 years later, as the result of an emotional trauma not related to sexual abuse, the memories of what happened to me on that trip resurfaced. Things always come back. They never really leave. I was re-devastated, only now I was an adult and had better processing and coping skills. I was in therapy and talked to my therapist about it. I could not get the memories out of my head and once a week sessions with her were not going to be enough. She recommended going to a group session and told me of a group in a small town nearby. I went to a session and remember walking into the room and looking at the women around me. I remember their faces and their demeanor. I remember thinking about them and feeling a terrible kinship and a fear of them as well. I was afraid of what they would tell me, what they would make me feel and afraid of what they would say to me about letting this terrible thing happen to me.
When the women began to talk, I remember being shocked and horrified. I remember the revulsion I felt for what they had suffered. These women had been repeatedly violated by trusted people, even their own family members. They were victims of horrible physical abuse as well as sexual abuse. I wanted to throw up. I also wanted to laugh. I wanted to sing. I wanted to dance around and be happy. Why? Because I realized that as bad as what I experienced was, as horrible and terrifying and painful as it was, I could count myself as one of the “lucky ones”, if you will pardon the term. These women had been through seven levels of hell. They were still living in one of those rings. I was too, but it paled in comparison. I listened to their stories and I gained perspective.
I do not mean to make light of what happened to me or to others who have been sexually assaulted, but for ME, seeing that things could be so much worse, so much more crippling and fragmenting, was a liberating experience. I remember leaving the session and driving away feeling the most amazing sense of relief. I could acknowledge what happened to me and what an effect it had on my young self and realize that as bad as that was, so many had gone through much worse.
I never went to another session with the group. I went home and slept soundly. I got up the next day and easily went to work. I have been at relative ease with my memories from that day. I am not saying it’s easy. It’s especially hard to talk about it openly, or write about it, as I am now. I know it’s behind me. I know the assault does not define me. I am not a victim. I have chosen to look for the better side of things. I have also learned, as I’ve gone through the tribulations of your life, that it is not the tragedies we suffer that define and shape us so much as the actions and choices we make in the aftermath. It’s in deciding that despite what has happened, we are still alive, we are still strong, and we are still worthy. Sexual assault did not kill me; it did not end my life. It gave me a different life. It gave me MY life and I am moving forward and not letting my perpetrator define my life. I choose to be lucky and I choose to be happy and whole. To hell with him. I’m gonna live.