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Survivor Story # 3
How I moved from darkness into the light of healing and learned to embrace the quiet power of forgiveness.
By Kara Greenspun
When I was younger, my family rented a beach house every summer. It was the highlight of the season for me, days filled with sunshine and the salty ocean air; it was freedom.
The summer after my 13th birthday, there was a cute boy staying next door. He was strong, tan and a few years older. He took an interest in me, and the excitement I felt was weird but undeniable. Just as I started to find words to my feelings, he turned my crush into chaos.
I didn't understand what was happening, but I knew it felt wrong. I was afraid-afraid of the pain, afraid of what my parents would say, afraid to fight. I didn't know what to do, so I hardly did anything. I was a child and I was ill-equipped to understand what was happening, what it meant, what it was called. In retrospect, of course things become clearer: I know now that he raped me, even if this is still something that I struggle to put into words, or to understand at all. I don't like going over the details of exactly what happened. The details aren't what is important anyway. What matters is what the rape did not just to my body, but to my soul.
Like the riot of confusion that follows when a wave knocks you down and pulls you under, I was engulfed by his betrayal, which was not just physical, but spiritual and emotional too. In an instant, my life changed. I couldn't pull myself toward the surface. A week passed, where twisted memories and dream-like events blurred together. I remember screaming. I remember yelling "NO!" But did I? The questions flooded my mind: What happened? Did I do this? Did he?
The week ended. I went home with my family. I left the beach and the boy behind, along with many pieces of myself. But I didn't realize they were missing until much later. Alone with my confusion, I tried to understand how this had happened. I struggled even to put a name to it. Rape was not a word I would use to describe what happened until years later. When I started receiving love letters from that boy, the explanation-the only one that my 13-year-old mind could accept-became clear: it had been my choice. It must have been.
What I didn't know then is that, often, when a traumatic event occurs, we humans have the ability-a coping mechanism of sorts-to create a narrative about what happened. We smooth out the rough edges of our pain and paint over the darkest spots of our hurt, creating a different, less painful "reality" for ourselves. In other words, if I convinced myself that what had happened-what had been done to me-was a choice of mine, then I could somehow mitigate the feeling of complete powerlessness. And so, my story was born.
I was sure that I had done something to bring this sexual violation upon myself. I knew-or thought I did-that it was my sexuality, new and mysterious to me. I made a conscious decision that I never, ever wanted to feel vulnerable again.
So, I embraced this newfound sexuality and combined it with what this boy-this perpetrator-had taught me about power by vivid, terrifying example. Power and sex became synonymous to me. I wore my sexuality like a uniform; it defined me. I worked hard to maintain total control. I was still only 13-years-old.
I had always dreamt that, one day, I would have a trusting husband and a loving family. After that summer, all of that seemed impossible. I was so filled with shame at what I was convinced I had done that I couldn't imagine ever deserving the future I had once taken for granted. I was deeply angry. My dream was broken.
By the age of 14, I was doing drugs, drinking, having sex and slitting my wrists. By the age of 19, I was drinking and taking sleeping pills daily.
I was also throwing up my food and exercising obsessively, an attempt to control my own body and all it represented to me. No one asked me why I was behaving this way. Instead, my behavior was punished and its causes never explored. Rather than risk the pain of betrayal, I simply stopped trusting others. I hated myself and I was alone.
My body and mind were suffering. And my heart was breaking. I had put up an impenetrable wall between me and the thing I wanted most: true intimacy.
At the age of 20, an injury pushed me into yoga. I didn't know it then, but I was on the verge of transformation. Yoga cradled me as I slowly peeled away all the layers of addiction, one soul- killing habit at a time. I stopped the bulimia, the smoking, the drinking, the obsessive running, the pills and the sex. On a daily basis I prayed for help. There was a long period of real and metaphorical darkness when I just sat alone and cried.
My tears eventually dried and my walls began to crumble. That's when the floodgates of healing opened and my soul was inundated with light. I was referred to the Joyful Heart Foundation by Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles-based non-profit committed to ended violence against women, and invited to participate in a JHF retreat. I felt as if I had been found-it was almost as if they knew exactly where I was in my life and that I was finally ready to heal.
It was on that retreat to Hawaii with other survivors of rape-women like the ocean that surrounded us, strong, beautiful and deep-that I began to remember who I really am. For the first time in many years I could remember myself as a child. I was happy. I was loved. And I never questioned that I deserved these things.
The days on that island with those women changed my life forever. I learned during that time that nourishing oneself wholly and completely-mind, body and spirit-is not greedy. I learned that I deserved all of the healing experiences we had there. And I forgave myself for all the times I hurt myself. I realized that I was doing the best I could with what I knew at the time. As I forgave myself, I also learned to forgive others. When I look beyond the human mistakes and see the frightened child, it's easier to understand that we are all just on our own paths, learning lessons in our own time. Knowing this, I believe, is knowing compassion.
In letting go of my past, where my very existence was based on sexuality, power and pain, I had to create a new belief system. I had to learn to accept, value and love myself exactly as I am. And I had to learn to trust myself. The healing that began on my retreat had taken hold. I was on my way back to me.
I began with affirmations, declaring my worth out loud. I would even give myself a hug or a playful wink in the mirror, all in an effort to get out of the self-destructive rut I'd been stuck in for so long. I was starting to like the company I kept, even when I was alone. It was not easy, but I was rewriting my story.
I don't know why painful events happen in life. Maybe it's karmic. I do know that I am grateful for all of my experiences-the falling down, the getting back up, and everything in between. I understand now that healing is not selfish, because when we heal ourselves we become a source of healing for others. I have joy in my life again, in abundance. And joy is contagious.
I am now a healer in my own right. I am a Yoga Teacher and Thai Massage Therapist. I truly believe it is a gift to help guide others towards setting their own hearts free and to help them to see-as I understand it-that we are all the creative manifesters of our own destinies. I have also been blessed with true, honest love. I am engaged to be married to an amazing man who loves me for who I am at my center.
He is for me, as I am for him, a dream come true.
I still look at those pictures of myself as a child. But now, when I do, I stare into those familiar, twinkling eyes and I whisper, "I know who you are, and I love you very, very much."
Editor's Note: Research conducted by Liz Claiborne revealed that despite a large media focus on the issue of teen dating abuse and sexual assault, 74 percent of sons and 66 percent of daughters say they have not had a conversation about the issue with their parents. This lack of communication between parents and their teens is a serious challenge in the effort to prevent abuse among teens or address the impact of past abuse. For more information on how to begin a dialogue with your teens visit http://loveisnotabuse.com.
Originally posted on: http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/firstperson_rm01.htm
Survivor Story # 1
My husband and I were married for over 10 years. Those years were fraught with physical violence, threats of violence, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, and various forms of exertion of power and control. Throughout this time we were very involved with our church. Both of us had ministries, my husband on the governing body of the church, and I worked in children's ministries.
Early in our marriage my husband was physically violent with me. I told him I would leave if he ever laid his hands on me again. At that time I tried to contact my pastor; however he wasn't available when I called. After I made the call I began to fear the implications of telling my secret. What would everyone think? Would they believe me? My husband is Mr. Wonderful, everyone likes him. Then the personal self-doubt started. Am I making a bigger deal out of this than it really is? Do all husbands act this way? What I saw as a child was nothing like what I was experiencing. My Dad loved my mother: treating her with love, respect and kindness. I was completely unprepared for the abusive situation I was experiencing. The doubt lingered and festered.
As time passed, the abuse transitioned to verbal and emotional. Name calling, threats of physical violence, breaking of personal property, verbal abuse of the children, neglect, spiritual and financial abuse were all methods that he used to perpetrate domestic violence. For years I lived in fear. My children were young and with the birth of each he got worse. The more perceived responsibility he had, the more abuse I incurred. It got to the point that my eldest started being a target for abuse. That was when I knew I had to make some changes in our lives.
I began meeting with a friend from church and we discussed and prayed about the situation. We prayed for healing of my husband and we prayed for relief for me and my children. During that time I went to my church leadership and explained what was going on and that I needed help. The church leadership decided to involve him in a general bible study and never came to me and asks me how things were going, or if he was improving. They never confronted him or held him accountable for his behavior.
Sometime later, I summoned the courage to leave. With the help of a neighbor who I had been confiding in, they kept my husband busy and I literally escaped from the house with my children. Shortly after I left, I contacted an elder from my church to inform him that I had gone. He and my pastor came to my new home and discussed what had been transpiring in our marital home. I poured my heart out to them again. I told them that someone was going to get hurt, that he was out of control, that I was terrified and I wanted out of the home and relationship. After I filed for divorce they came to me and said, "Don't do this. Please go to counseling with him. You don't have biblical grounds for a divorce."
So I rescinded the application for divorce and went to counseling. Counseling with the Christian counselor was grueling. I told her that I had read that in situations of abuse the individuals should be counseled separately. She disagreed. He denied the abuse and I was afraid to say anything. It was a worthless and agonizing exercise with him blaming me for everything wrong in his life. I sat there terrified to speak the truth of the abuse that had transpired. What I did learn from this counseling was that I was a complete doormat and I had allowed that to happen in the name of keeping peace. He said that I was not being a good wife because I didn't submit to his authority. At one point during counseling the pressure was so great to reconcile that I verbalized consideration to moving back into the marital home. When a friend of mine begged me not to do it, I told him I wasn't ready. The next night he came to my new home and proceeded to assault me, calling me all kinds of names, choking me, throwing me to the ground and beating my head on the floor. When he finally left, I called 911. He went straight to the home of someone on the governing body of the church. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital and church leadership finally convinced him to turn himself in to the police.
We both filed for divorce. Church leadership told me that if I continued to go through with the divorce they would dis-fellowship me from the church, because I did not have biblical grounds for divorce. Then my husband rescinded his filing. After the pressure of church discipline, I rescinded my divorce filings.
He plead guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges and court proceedings ensued. My husband didn't come back to the church but he met with people individually to recruit people from church to testify for him in court. He told them I was crazy, belittling me and minimizing his own actions.
I tried to stay at the church for the sake of my children. I kept saying that he broke the covenant by virtue of his abuse, that husbands were suppose to love their wives like Christ loved the church. This fell upon deaf ears. The small group we belonged to decided not to have me involved. Few people spoke to me when I attended church, whether it was because they didn't know what to believe or what to do, I don't know, but I felt ostracized in the place I sought sanctuary. My place of sanctuary became a battle ground. My church repeatedly became a place of revictimization. Clearly, my church and the leadership did not understand the dynamics of domestic violence and how they contributed to its perpetuation.
I was the elephant in the sanctuary that people didn't want to admit was there. I reminded them of the ugliness of the world. Ugliness that made them uncomfortable and didn't fit into there perfect ideation of what Christianity and Christian marriage was about. It was unfathomable that evil lurked amongst them. Couldn't be....it just couldn't be. The thought was "If we ignore it, it will go away". While I wasn't the evil, I was the "it", and eventually I did go away. For my own well being, I had to leave that church behind, one where I had so much history. I fled my home and now I had to flee from my church. My home and my sanctuary were both gone.
I came to the realization that "sanctuary" was not in the building but in my personal relationship with Christ. I came to understand that I was going to go through some time where all (and the best) that I could do was to rely on Christ. It became important for me to take time to heal and tell my story as part of that healing process. I hope that leadership in churches will be open-minded enough to realize they need knowledge regarding the issue of domestic violence. I would like to see church leadership accept that domestic violence is a real problem in faith communities and become responsive to the needs women involved. Women, by virtue of their gender, are not lesser vessels in the eyes of God, just different. Until society values women to the extent they do men, there will be little assistance afforded in these situations. Society has recognized substance abuse as a sickness.
Domestic violence is a sickness also, it represents a character flaw. It is not just a person who has a temper. It represents their world view of the purpose and value of women.
Men in the eyes of Christ have a great responsibility to care for their wives. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ never abused or belittled people. Clearly, it is not what he intended for women. Educating church leaders with regard to the realities, prevalence and pathology of domestic violence will help women who are literally trapped in their domestic situation. God did not intend for me or any other women to live in the bondage that is the reality of domestic violence. He intended for women to live a life of freedom to help make the world a better place for all his creation, especially to let his creation know about Christ. By ignoring the reality of some women, churches are devaluing what Christ has made and thereby ignoring their call.
Survivor Story # 2
(Missouri, July 11, 2008: Special to SHE magazine) As a former reporter and freelance writer, I have written my fair share of headlines. Some good, some bad. Yet as I look back on the past year, I cannot help but contemplate the anniversary of my own headline in The Cuba Free-Press in Cuba, Mo. The headline stated: "Former TRP reporter survives stabbing." Reading it even now almost feels like I am reading it about someone else and not myself.
The lead of the story written by Chris Case was straightforward enough: "Former Three Rivers Publishing reporter Angie Fodge is recovering from the stab wounds she received last week during a violent knife attack by her husband. The woman was seriously injured in the attack, but miraculously did not suffer any permanent or life-threatening wounds."
It was a beautiful morning in Cuba on July 27. Although sad, I was packing up and moving back home to Southeast Missouri. It was the place I had called home since I was young. My husband and I had discussed the matter, and he seemed fine with the idea. He was a truck driver and could live anywhere. My 3-year-old daughter was happy because she would be closer to her father, my ex-husband. We had just settled an almost-two-year custody battle, and we were looking forward to the prospects ahead.
That morning my husband was eager to help load the car for us. He had been home for a week and was scheduled to go back out on his truck for a little while longer. The week had been rough. He had come home and threatened to kill me on Wednesday. We had been arguing a lot. But I had somehow settled him down and thought if I could get him back on the truck on Friday, all would be well.
I was wrong.
As we were driving to a local truck stop, my then-husband drove past it without saying a word. I asked him where we were going, while I had my finger on the button to roll down the window. I was scared. This was not the first time he had threatened my life. I was so tired that morning of struggling with him all week and hoping and praying that everything would be OK.
As he drove with my little girl asleep in the back seat, he looked over at me and told me he bought a machete at Wal-Mart the day before and that he was going to kill me because I was a "[screw]-up."
He looked at me and hit me in the face.
I reached for my cell phone and began dialing 911. He pulled out a 4-inch serrated-blade pocketknife. It was one I had bought him for Christmas. He started cutting little places in my hand, while he pried the phone from it. He threw the phone out the window.
What happened next seems like a blur. The news report stated he stabbed me several times in the back, head and neck. One of the places he stabbed me was in my right temple. That must have been the last place because he said, "You're dead. You're already dead, and you don't even know it."
The news report said, "The couple's three-year-old daughter was asleep in the back seat of the car at the time of the stabbing."
She woke up but stayed quiet. Later she would tell me she played hide-and-seek because she was scared. At the time I fought my husband because I knew I had to try to stay alive for her.
As he stabbed me the last time, I felt dizzy. I slumped over the side of the seat I was in. There was blood everywhere. The next thing I knew he was turning the car around and telling me he had to take me to the hospital. The report said when he realized what happened he dialed 911 from his cell phone. Luckily, we had more than one in the car that morning. He told the dispatcher he had stabbed his wife and was driving her to the local hospital. It was 16 miles away. Then he looked at me. "I am sorry, baby. I will get you to the hospital. I am going to jail, but you are going to live."
We pulled into the emergency room and a nurse came and put me in a wheelchair. I screamed for them to take care of my daughter and someone said she would be OK.
I was admitted and prepped for surgery following questioning by the police. The surgery was really just exploratory to stitch my wounds and make sure there was no permanent damage. I had lost a lot of blood, but luckily there was not permanent damage. I woke up after coming out of surgery in tears as a child who has awoken from a nightmare would. Some days I still feel the exact same way.
My now ex-husband was taken away by the Crawford County sheriff's deputies. He was later charged with first-degree domestic assault with serious intent to harm and armed criminal action. If convicted, he faces up to 10 to 30 years on the assault charge and a minimum of three years on the armed criminal action charge.
Reports say he said he didn't remember anything. He had a long history of mental illness. I wasn't sure, but I thought he probably had stopped taking his medication for bipolar disorder. But I always thought I could help him if I loved him enough. I was wrong.
The police had confiscated the car and found the weapon. A friend of mine graciously had the car cleaned for me before I picked it back up. There was no trace of the incident that had occurred.
I was released from the hospital the following day. My father from Vanduser, Mo., and his wife had come to pick me up and bring me home. I could not have survived the first week home without them. They offered me solitude and a place to heal away from all the chaos.
Although the police had found the knife I was stabbed with, they had neglected to search the entire car. A month later as I was unpacking groceries, I found a Wal-Mart bag with a receipt dated July 26, 2007. It listed razors, soap and machete as items that had been purchased. As I looked further in the trunk, I found the new machete that my now ex-husband had planned to kill me with.
Although my wounds healed within a matter of months, the nightmares come sometimes even now. I sought help from counselors, friends and support from the Safe House for Women outreach office in Cape Girardeau. Some days are better than others. I will read another headline or see something on the news that will remind me of the incident, and it will bring it all back.
Today, I am still a freelance reporter and my daughter is happier and healthier than ever. I have just received a scholarship from the Allstate Foundation to go back to college with the assistance of Betty Brown and Linda Garner of the Safe House for Women. I plan to use this experience to pursue a career helping others who have gone through similar situations. Life is looking up.
I have made a choice to move forward with my life for myself and my daughters. On my way to the hospital that day, I prayed that God would let me live so I could teach my daughters not to make the same choices I did. The man who tried to take my life sits in the Crawford County Jail awaiting trial.
This year I have talked with many in the criminal justice field who refer to people like me as a victim. I have started correcting them and saying I am not a victim anymore but a survivor. So this year, on July 27, I will celebrate being a survivor. I will not take life for granted, and I will resolve to tell my story to those who may need to hear it. I know I am not the only one with a story to tell.
Editor's note: Read the full account from Angie Rice and more stories about local women in the Summer 2008 issue of SHE magazine, coming July 20 in the Southeast Missourian
Originally posted at: http://nnedv.org/news/national/149-survivors-story-she-magazine.html
Precautions After Leaving