Written for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry for publication February 28, 2019.
Nothing prepares you for the moment when your life changes forever. There are no flashing signs saying, “This is it!” It just happens. In a split second the veil is lifted, reality shifts, and you can no longer deny the truth. It is the moment when every benefit of the doubt is gone. The moment innocence is lost.
“That’s me,” I said.
Right there in my Inbox. With one click of an attachment. There it was.
A photo of me from three years prior walking into Pastor Johnny’s bathroom. I had on a blue baseball t-shirt and blue jeans and was carrying my polka dot toiletry bag. I wish I had a time machine and could yell, “Turn Around!” . . . “Danger Ahead!” But I didn’t. And I couldn’t.
I just sat there staring at the screen.
Immediately, I began experiencing all five stages of Kübler-Ross’s grief at the same time. Overlapping. It was one of the most intense feelings I have ever experienced. I cried. I got angry. I yelled. I was in denial. I had so many questions on repeat in my mind. I felt like a record skipping. I was confused. I felt powerless.
I later asked my counselor when the moment PTSD set in for me. She said, “the moment you saw that photo.”
– – –
“Ma’am?” The FBI agent said.
“Do you want to press charges?”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Do you want to press charges and have your name officially added to his list of charges? Your name will go in the official indictment and you will always be linked to this crime.”
– – –
The next eleven months leading up to the trial were brutal. The trial date kept getting pushed back. I felt like I was living in a cloud. My life was on hold. Trying to learn Greek was impossible. I was obsessive about cleaning my house. I washed my car every day. Controlling the things I could. I now know what I was experiencing is called Complex Trauma. It is a real thing. I wasn’t crazy, lazy, or unmotivated like people said I was. I was traumatized.
When you are a victim of sexual assault no one shows up on the first day and gives you a handbook with a list of what to expect. There are no notes in the margins, disclaimers, or tabbed pages with helpful hints. It just hits you like a tidal wave, and you do the best you can at trying to teach yourself to swim in uncharted waters.
So from me to you here are a few pro tips from my eight years of swimming.
“NORMAL” THINGS YOU WILL EXPERIENCE WITHIN THE FIRST FEW WEEKS:
Flashbacks (to this trauma and others you might not even be aware of)
Outbursts of rage
Not wanting to be touched
Inability to make eye contact (especially with the gender that abused you)
THINGS THAT HELP:
Counseling (weekly with a trained professional)
Massage (physical touch in a non-sexual way is very important for healing)
Talking to other victims
Yoga (reconnecting to your body after detachment)
Sleep (8-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night)
Epsom salt baths (with essentials oils like lavender)
Creating a safe home environment
Being alone in nature
Animals (especially baby animals)
RESOURCES THAT CHANGED MY LIFE:
Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
How Clergy Sexual Misconduct Happens: A Qualitative Study of First-Hand Accounts by Diana R. Garland & Christen Argueta (https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/96038.pdf)