Undying Hope

“She had this way of always finding the good and believing in everything despite all that she had seen. And that is what I loved the most - the pure magic of her undying hope.”
— Becca Lee

This is not easy. No, in fact every part of me rejected the idea of publishing this. But this is why I started a blog in the first place. To be vulnerable. To express that vulnerability and brokenness is real. And to tell others that it's okay to step into your vulnerability and is most likely required of you, in order to transform your life. 

I have found that once you are able to be authentically real with yourself, that's when true healing begins. My intention is not to draw unnecessary attention to the details of my life. It is not to prove to myself or others that I triumphed over my 'sad story'. Because this is not a sad story. This is my hope story.

I want to expose the truth to those who are reading this and to tell you that life can be really difficult and that it is okay to not be okay sometimes. We were taught from a young age to conceal our emotions, appear strong in the face of adversity, and to not crumble under emotional distress. Although at our very core we are we much more alike than we perceive ourselves to be, we fight so valiantly to remain separate; to fight our battles alone. But there is truth that our interconnected-ness can found in our weaknesses. My hope story is about how something tragic brought me closer to my faith in God, closer to the people I love, and inspired me to change and renew my life. I have found that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to be completely vulnerable in order to transform into the person we were truly meant to be. This story is my personal expression of vulnerability. A story I buried deep within and never had any intention of drawing to the surface. But now it's time for me to let it go.

When I was 19 years old, I was raped by the person I had been in a relationship with for over five years.

I thought I could trust this person. I thought he would protect me, not hurt me, and yet when our relationship ended, our exchanges became unhealthy, destructive, and at times violent. I was publicly humiliated, emotionally abused, and physically assaulted on more then one account. There were no respectful boundaries established between the two of us and when I attempted to distance myself from him, I found myself trapped in a series of his insecurities and rage.

I had not consented. I verbally said no. 

It happened in my own home. I was stone cold sober. And just like that, my life was changed forever.

For over two years, I was in denial that the rape was real, because I refused to believe that something like that happened to me. Because these are the lies our culture had taught me and reinforced over the years:

Sexual assault happens with strangers. It occurs if you are promiscuous or put yourself in dangerous situations. If you are assaulted, it's your fault, because you wanted it, or because you allowed yourself to be in that kind of a relationship. If you report it, it’s because you feel guilty about what happened and you want revenge. And by 'you', I mean the hundreds of thousands of women and men whose lives have been affected by the devastating consequences of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Let me give you some sobering statistics:

Sexual assault affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men in their lifetime. The false reporting of sexual assault crimes only happens 1-4% of the time, which is consistent with the false reporting rates for all other felonies. Out of every 1,000 cases: 99% of abusers walk free, only 6% of reports lead to arrest, and only .7% lead to a felony conviction. Perpetrators of sexual trauma are less likely to go to prison than other criminals and 90% of all cases are never reported to the police.

It is clear that the prevalence of sexual assault and intimate partner violence is unfathomably common. But the real question I was faced with was this: Why was it so difficult for survivors like me to step forward? Before I shared my story with anyone, I was a health educator on my college campus speaking out about these issues. I became president of the student health organization that was leading the national campaigns 'Step Up' and 'It's On Us'  for bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention. I wanted to help create awareness about this epidemic and help others feel safe and supported, even when I did not. No one was aware it had also happened to me. I sat through countless board and committee meetings with other students and faculty members to collaborate how the university could create better policies, programs, and awareness campaigns. It was obvious that whenever someone brought their personal experiences into the conversation, a daunting silence and awkwardness filled the room. Did it make a person less competent or credible if they had a personal testimony related to the issue?  Did we not know how to support survivors, or did we simply forget how to empress empathy towards one another? 

I quickly realized we weren’t just fighting a battle trying to prevent the issue, as survivors we were also fighting the shame, guilt and cultural stigmas that made people so uncomfortable and intolerant of survivors speaking out.

Even family members or friends were quick to shame and pass judgment on those I knew had come forward. 

So I buried the secret deep within. Away from exposure. Away from reality. Away from the truth. I learned how to live in self-denial and avoidance. I was a high-achiever and learned that if I could achieve my way through life, there was never a reason for me to be considered a failure in the eyes of others. In fact, I knew I could draw attention away from this tragedy in my life by dazzling others with my accolades. I was also a division I track athlete at the time, and I used running and competing as my form of therapy. I could physically push my body beyond limits and know that I was capable and strong. There were times that running was the only thing I fully felt like myself doing. But soon after my college running career ended, so did my identity as a strong and capable winner. Suddenly I felt like the greatest failure of all time. I didn't know how to adjust to life. Because life required a lot of things I didn’t want to do…like discontinuing the work I was involved in on campus that helped give meaning to what I had endured. My career as an athlete, something I had identified with my entire life, came to a screeching halt and so did the achievements, accolades, my sense of self-efficacy. The new life I had worked so hard to build in four years felt like it had been stripped from me. Graduating required moving away from the place I called home and back into the house the rape occurred in. It required parting ways with my sister, best friends, the guy I was convinced I was destined to marry, and my teammates, who were all my support system at the time. I didn’t feel comfortable or safe in my own hometown and was triggered all the time by intrusive memories, thoughts, and anxieties. I didn’t understand it then, but because I didn’t have a choice in many of these major life changes that were all occurring simultaneously, I could not manage the emotional and physiological stress it took on my body. 

I began experiencing PTSD symptoms, which included hyper arousal disturbances, exaggerated startle response, night terrors, and physiological reactivity to trauma cues that caused cognitive disturbances. According to the National Women’s Study, about 33 percent of rape victims develop PTSD at any point during their lifetime. I didn’t know it was possible for memories I had buried so deeply to resurface so vividly, let alone that PTSD symptoms could arise years after a trauma has occurred. I felt like something that wasn't there before had suddenly invaded my mind and body. Every day presented an onset of new triggers and emotional/physical reactions. Loud noises brought on panic attacks, stressful situations made me want to lie down and give up, and I couldn’t find the words to communicate to others what was happening to me.

For a month, I had to sleep with a light on in my room because I would wake up in terror and forget where I was. I became extremely paranoid and was fearful that my perpetrator was going to show up at my house unannounced like he had done many times before. If a car honked at me or I overheard a couple loudly arguing in a public space, I would tense up or shut down. I was overly-sensitive to criticism, unresponsive to suggestions or encouragement, and was verbally abusive back when I felt attacked. When I drank alcohol, the symptoms and my reactions only became worse. I felt re-victimized every time I tried exposing myself or others to the truth and was rejected for it. Everything around me was overstimulating and increased my irritability. Getting out of bed became a challenge and mundane tasks were difficult to focus on. I started a full time job in July of that year, and could not make it through an 8 hour work day without several trips to a single stall bathroom, where I would allow myself 2-3 minutes to completely fall apart. It was exhausting to hold myself together long enough for the sake of saving face in front of my co-workers, and the charade only continued when I got home.

The activities I once loved and found enjoyable turned grey. I stop running and exercising. I gained weight and paid little attention to what I was eating. When I would get into arguments with my significant other or a close family member, I would become filled with rage or I’d numb myself out completely. The world for several minutes would go fuzzy. There was an actual buzzing noise or ring I could hear inside my head. Suicidal thoughts became more concrete. I became terrified of myself and what I thought I was capable of. How had I become so immobilized and spiteful towards the world around me? Fear and emotional instability was crippling my life. 

That was my reality. It was not pretty. It was down-right atrocious. 

Until I reached out for help and allowed the pain to wash me clean.

It started with a three day trip to a psychiatric ward. Yes, I did in fact spend three days in one of these institutions. My parents picked me up from a Mustard Seed parking only a few miles away from my office after having a major anxiety attack. They found me curled up in the fetal position, shaking uncontrollably. I told them I could not go home, and I didn't want to be left alone.

I had taken several stabs at my wrist the week before with a pen while I was waiting for a cab.

The only reason I got home safely that night was because I had called my best friend to tell her I loved her. I told her I couldn't take the pain anymore. I just wanted it to be over... 

I recognize now that it's not because I didn't want to live. I just wanted the pain to stop. She was over four hours away and I knew she couldn’t reach me in time. But she told my sister while I was still on the phone with her, who came to my rescue. And together, the two of them saved my life. I can’t imagine receiving the phone call that both of them did that night, not knowing what it was going to result in. But they fought for me, when I wasn’t capable of fighting for myself.

These two are the real heroes of this story. Without them, there wouldn't be a hope story.

And they will never understand how grateful I am for the selfless love they both displayed so courageously to protect me. It was the kind of love that I had never experienced before. It was the kind of love that never fails.  

So during my hospitalization, with these two in mind, I survived. I wrote the word 'Excelsior' on a piece of paper and hung it up in my room in light of Silverlinings Playbook. It was my best friend’s favorite movie. I remembered the line, "This is what I learned at the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining." I realized that I too, had the choice to quit, or find the silver linings in my life. My sister and mom came to visit me every day, twice a day, to make light-hearted jokes about the cold coffee and the woman who wouldn't stop shouting at the TV and telephone. I used humor and grace to keep me afloat in the midst of the chaos around me.  I had several exhausting interviews with different doctors and nurses, was required to attend a community group therapy session daily, and after catching a glimpse of my chart, also discovered I had a diagnosis. In small print were the words, 'Severely Depressed with PTSD'. Did those word really describe me??  My name was right there. I remember feeling both angry and relieved to have a reason to be sitting there. 

I was prescribed an anti-depressant, a sleeping aid, and a 'emergency use only' anti-depressant that was intended to slow my central nervous system down when I felt an onset of a panic attack. Although in some ways it was a completely humiliating and de-humanizing experience, it was also the first time anyone had acknowledged or could address the truth in what was happening to me psychologically and emotionally. My family members were forced to come to terms with the severity of the situation. Even I, myself, was forced to recognize that this wasn't going to go away by itself, and intentionally hurting myself wasn't going to do any good either. I had a lot of inner work to do. 

There is one thing about my time in the hospital that will always remain with me. Each day we were given an opportunity to craft, however, we weren't allowed to use scissors or glue, which was limiting in many ways. But I found a way to collage ripped pieces of paper I had taken from a magazine and glue it together with paint. I formed a heart out of flowers and surprisingly, it turned out quite beautiful. When I got home, I framed it to remind myself that I was capable of making beautiful things out of hopeless situations.

In my vulnerability and brokenness, I found this undeniable truth. In that truth, I found hope. And with hope, I began to heal. 

It didn't happen all at once. And it certainly didn't happen overnight. But slowly, I was able to find new resources that were able to better help support me and equip me with the tools I needed to face these difficult times. After three weeks, I gave up the prescription meds. They made me feel fuzzy and only masked the symptoms I was experiencing. I started seeing a therapist instead, and we worked together over a ten month period of time examining my attachment theories, generational attachments, and worked through my conscious thoughts and cognitive disturbances. I admitted to my therapist that after a few weeks of working together, I seriously considered not coming back. Therapy was hard work. It was difficult to release the deeply seeded attachments I had formed in early childhood and carried with me all my life. But I also recognized how necessary it was for me to continue showing up in order to step into a greater awareness of myself and how I related to the world. I didn't have to allow the actions of others to disturb my healing or the way I viewed myself.

I would highly recommend to anyone reading this, take the time to go to therapy. If it is important enough to you, you will be able to find the time and the resources to do so. You do not have to have some traumatic life experience as a prerequisite excuse to go. I learned that we all have inner work to do. You will discover and uncover things you never has any idea had such influence or hold over you. I had no idea that a car accident I had gotten into when I was sixteen still was affecting me today. But the body does an incredible job of holding onto trauma and not letting it go. It takes courage to step into that kind of vulnerability, but it is amazing how freeing it can be when you allow yourself to dive into the issues that may have been affecting you all your life. 

Eckhart Tolle once said, “That in you which recognizes madness as madness (even if it is your own) is sanity, is the rising awareness, is the end of insanity.” Through a deeper examination of our own lives and consciousness, we can begin to make sense of the world around us, let go of our pain and insecurities and all the things that do not make us flourish, and help others find their innate truth and peace within themselves too.

We are born with an innate Truth that tells us exactly who we are in the eyes of God. That truth tells us that we are worthy, we are loved, and we are capable of doing all things. But over time, people, places, and situations silence that gentle voice within. It tells us we need to seek something outside of ourselves to be happy. But that is not true. When I finally recognized that I only needed to seek approval from God alone and depend on Him for my needs instead of other people, it changed everything. It grounded the instability in me.

So therapy changed my life. And so did reiki. I came to reiki in need of healing. My mother had been receiving treatment for over a year from a strongly Christian based Reiki Master and recommended I go. I knew nothing about it at the time, other then the fact that it was energy work and had healed my mother's immune system completely. She had to wait six months to see a specialist and in that six months the inflammation in her cells decreased by changing nothing but diet and reiki treatment alone. Members from my church had warned me that it was a dangerous practice that dishonored God. But it has healed my mother's body and I knew it had to be something more. So I went and after six months of treatment I can also say that it healed my life in miraculous ways. 

For those of you that don’t know what reiki is, it is hands on energy work that can be done to release emotional and physical pain and energy held within the body. It is a scientific fact that we yield an energetic field that cannot be detected once we die. I learned that you cannot separate the spiritual mind from the physical body, and where there is emotional or physical pain trapped inside the body, the energetic field is affected too. In it's purest form, I believe reiki is the holy spirit moving through people. 

I praise God and Jesus Christ alone and intention absolutely does matter. To those who believe reiki is demonic, I want to ask if you have ever allowed someone lay their hands on your to pray. Reiki is no different. When Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to the Eleven and said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe; in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." Mark 16:15-20

We were given the holy spirit as a gift from God as a result from Jesus's death and resurrection. I have witnessed healing miracles in my own life and in the lives of others seeking treatment, and it has only strengthened my belief in Christ and God, not driven me further away from Him. In fact, there were times that God’s presence was so unbelievably overwhelming to me, there was not a single bone in my body that could ever deny His existence. Reiki may have been an avenue or the ‘umbrella’ that helped me hear His voice, but it is God’s grace that ultimately led me to Him. It is through Christ’s sacrifice that I was able to harness and welcome the Holy Spirit into my life to transform my relationship with Him and with others.  

So reiki also changed my life. And so did every interaction and connection I made with other people about their own healing journeys. What I began to realize is that as humans, we were are all inner-connected through our pain and suffering. It's inevitable that we will encounter it at some point in our lives. We were intended to help each other through it, not avoid it all together. I started praying harder, and turning to God with all my requests, desires, fears, insecurities, and daily thoughts. During this time of trial and suffering is when my faith was unleashed and grew the most. I learned to trust and depend on Him and Him alone, and that was entirely freeing. 

In the spring, I joined a support group at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center that met for 10 weeks. I had applied in the fall, but was wait listed for six months. This resource is free and incredible and isn't given the credit it deserves for the amount of work they do to serve others. I met some amazing beautiful women who had all overcome the similar tragedies and yet were so full of light and love. Together we formed a community and were able to provide healing and empathy for one another that the outside world could not understand. I left every time feeling lighter and happier. We worked together to create goals for ourselves over the course of the 10 weeks and I made it my goal to finish my hope story and publicly publish my blog. I knew that revealing to others the truth about my life was completely unknown and terrifying. But at the same time, I also knew I wouldn't have to pretend or tiptoe around my story anymore to make others feel more comfortable.

Although I have talked completely from personal experience, I know that this is a part of something greater than just me. My entire life I believe others have perceived me as having this 'picture-perfect-privileged life'. But the truth is that I chose to find the good and believe in everything despite what I had been seen. For many years I was suffering in great silence and heartache. Now I know that my story and voice does matter, and so does yours. 

I have revealed this part of myself to help combat the negative cultural stigmas surrounding mental health, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and all the shame, guilt, and fear associated with it. I want to help draw others who are combating the same battle, closer to a place of healing and understanding. You are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not incomplete. You are completely entitled to the pain and heartache you are experiencing, but it will not last forever. You are whole and worthy of love. 


There lies an inherent truth in every single one of us. We can drown those voices out by the noise of life, or we can take the time to listen. In my time of healing, I learned I had to withdraw from the world to withdraw from within that which was truly special and courageous in me. When I started paying attention, this is the truth I heard:

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am both a masterpiece and a work of art simultaneously. I know the real value of my own self-worth. I can make beautiful things out of impossible situations. I have a heart that can survive unyielding storms. In my brokenness I have found strength. I am whole. I am enough. I am worthy of a loving, healthy relationship, and deserving of a plentiful prosperous marriage that contains unfailing love. I desire purity and unity with God and with my spouse. One person's actions were not my fault or responsibility, nor do they have to haunt me for the rest of my life. I am grateful for these trials, for they have served me well and strengthened my relationship with God. I do in fact forgive those that have wounded me deeply, because I know that they too were wounded by someone else. But the abuse ends with me. Every day I have a choice to believe in the lies of other’s untruths and injustices, or I can give myself permission to love and heal myself completely. I can reach outward to help heal the lives of others. I choose forgiveness. I choose love. I have an undying hope that love is real and came at the ultimate price on the cross. Through love, we are granted the permission to be free. I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.

 

-m. elizabeth