Transparency, Truth and Deconstruction

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My name is Heather. I am 44 years old. I am a survivor of rape and sexual assault. I have PTSD, GAD with OCD tendencies, Disordered Eating NOS, and take Lexapro. I also have nasty migraines and take a script when needed for these as well.

This past year has been a roller coaster of a year. There have been some extremely high highs and wicked, valley lows. I won’t say I wanted to see this year end, like I have the past two. I have been challenged in ways I never expected. Difficult boundaries were set. When I say difficult, I mean many tears shed, prayed and sought out godly counsel before I made any decisions. There is nothing easy about this post. It’s long and filled with hard things. You will want to settle into a quiet place and might even want a glass of wine to get through the whole thing. My goal is not to be petty or vindictive, but for you to see me as I am and not who you think I “should” be.

I’m a part of an amazing group of badass ladies, called #the4500. I would need an entire separate post to talk about all I’ve seen the Lord do in and through these ladies. We are literally a group of launch team rejects, who were all picked to a part of another launch team and the Lord allowed us to bond online. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of these magnificent ladies in real life. We have been on online community for five years now. When they pray, things happen. Lives are changed.

All of that to say, every year we are challenged to pick a “Word of the Year.” My word for 2021 was “Forward.” I had NO clue as to what that was going to mean. I had no idea the Lord was going to open the door for an incredible full time job. I had no clue it was going to mean setting boundaries like I’ve never had to before. Certain friendships were fortified. I had a group of friends surround me like I never imaged. They have hugged me as the tears fell. They prayed over me and with me. They cheered me on and encouraged me when I started my new job. These same friends surrounded me when other relationships came to a screeching halt. It hasn’t always been easy, but they have been by me through the good, the bad and the ugly of this year. I don’t even want to think about where I’d be without them.

My “Word of the Year” for 2022 is “Truth.” Honestly, this word has been on my heart for months. When the “Word of the Year” conversation in #the4500 came up, I didn’t even have to hesitate or pause before I responded. I am a people pleaser in recovery. I never in a million years would have ever thought I would identify as a people pleaser. Through five years of intense therapy, it’s a reality. I can’t stand for people to be upset with me. It terrifies me. I have spent my life hiding the reality of my past. I have spent most of my life pretending my childhood was wonderful. I “honored” a certain person by keeping things secret, so as not to bring “shame” to them or anyone else around us.

I am DONE hiding. I am DONE pretending. I AM a sexual assault SURVIVOR. To let you in on the depth of my “acting” skills, I was a raped as a 5th grader and then had another perp sexually assault me through all of 6th grade. It was during this time, my temperament changed. I had a quick temper. My hygiene changed. My weight greatly increased. I did have one teacher notice the changes, but she NEVER asked a single question. I was “reminded” about the importance of good hygiene, diet and exercise. I am guessing that others noticed the changes, but chose to stay silent. I don’t know if I would have opened up if asked, but it would have been nice to have at least one adult in my life to keep asking questions and to see through the anger and the weight changes.

The brain is an incredible thing. It has the ability to “file” things away and “protect” you. While the overeating and the anger issues continued, the memories of the assaults disappeared. Fast forward to my junior year of college. Several friends were volleyball players. I was a Human Performance minor, and often called lines at tournaments held on our college campus. It was during a volleyball tournament when the second perp walked into our college gym, as a coach for one of the visiting teams. He saw me and hugged me like I was a long lost friend. I felt the urge to punch him and throw up all at the same time. Pretty sure I didn’t call lines correctly that night. Once the night was over, I went back to my room and ate until I literally got sick to my stomach. At that point, I “liked” the sensation of eating to the point of being sick and then “losing” it. Honestly, when he hugged me, ALL the memories came flooding back. Binging and purging became a constant part of my life for the next two years.

Once I graduated from college, the Lord called me northwest to Wyoming to serve as a Semester Missionary through the North American Mission Board. When I arrived, my new housemates were all in TN for a conference. I was completely alone in the apartment. On one of my first nights there I went to the grocery store. Looking at what was in my buggy, one would have thought I was having a get together with friends. The harsh reality was I set myself up for one my largest binge and purges sessions I have ever had. I sat on the floor, with my back against the kitchen wall, with food all around me. I ate until I was sick. I returned to my spot and did it one more time. Eventually, I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep. The next morning, I threw everything in a garbage bag and placed it in the dumpster. No one was any wiser as to what I’d done.

I was able to get away with a few more bring and purge sessions before Christmas of 2000. All of the people I was serving with, across the state had a Christmas Party. I ate until I was beyond full. The urge to purge was strong, but I didn’t want anyone to hear me get “sick.” Later on that night, when I thought everyone was asleep, I went to the bathroom to release all the food. The next morning, there was a knock on my bedroom door. One of the other girls came in and sat on my bed. She was the first person to ever ask me point blank what I had done. She had been there and earned the Bulimia t-shirt. I was embarrassed and scared. I knew if she told one of the pastors over us, I would be sent home. I had zero desire to be sent home in disgrace. At this time, I was also working part time for the local YMCA. She understood me better than I realized and made me promise I would confide in the fitness director, who was also one of my bosses. I went from binging and purging to restricting and working out for several hours a day. My boss at the Y made me keep a journal of what I was eating. She made me track my workouts. I started working out with her. Thanks to 500 calories a day, I dropped to the smallest I had ever been. From then until now, my weight has continued to fluctuate. About the time I think I have a handle on my weight and health, something happens and I tailspin in a downward spiral.

Fast forward several years, two engagements, seminary/ grad school, marriage, several miscarriages and three kids later to 2014. My husband and I were in the process of buying our first home. My brain had once again put the assaults back into their “files” and I was living life. Food and weight were still very much an issue. That summer, the memories and flash backs came back with a vengeance. My husband and our realtor, a long time friend, both thought my emotional outbursts were due to the stress of the homebuying process. What they didn’t know is that I wasn’t really sleeping at night. Every time I fell asleep, it was like I was being assaulted all over again. I could almost physically feel the assaults. I was far too embarrassed to tell them what was really going on.

This season was one of the darkest I would ever walk. To be completely truthful and transparent, I wanted to die. I prayed the Lord would call me home and/or for the courage to end it all. There is a picture of my daughter that sits on my dashboard, taken when she was in day school. Every time I thought I was ready to follow through, I would see that picture of my daughter. When I looked at her picture, I knew I didn’t want to punish her, the boys, or my husband. The guilt was wicked. I was also way too embarrassed to let anyone in on what I was feeling. I also feared the Lord would send me to Hell, if I chose to end my life before He was ready to call me home. It took almost 3 years of therapy before I was able to state out loud, I wanted to die.

It would take another 2 years before I finally spoke up. It seemed my brain refused to “file” the assaults away again. A long time friend and someone I greatly respected shared his story on Facebook. I loved and hated him for it. His story let me know I really wasn’t alone. Why couldn’t I be that brave? Why couldn’t I speak up? At the end of February of that year, I finally told my two closest and dearest friends. What I expected was to be met with shame, or to be told I wasn’t believed. I expected to be asked ” Why didn’t you speak up sooner?” Instead, I was met with love, support and encouragement. The one friend “strongly” encouraged me to find a therapist. If you know her, you know the “suggestion” was more of a command. It was all in love, but she was not afraid to speak truth in love to tell me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear. Therein was the problem for me. I hold a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling. I “know” healthy coping skills. I “know” how to help others through their issues. I “shouldn’t” need anyone to deal with my past. I “should” be able to cope with all the things and move on. Truth, I had no idea how to move forward. I hated that she was right, because I honestly wanted her to be wrong. She was far from wrong. Even though it was hard to hear, deep down, I knew she was right.

I made the decision to wait to another couple of weeks to tell my husband. I was afraid he would see me as less than. I was afraid he would see me as dirty, used and not worthy to be his wife. Even though I know him to be a great man of honor and dignity, I was afraid he would feel he married me under false pretenses and leave me. Instead, he met me with the same response as my two friends. I waited until the craziness of the Easter season was over before I even had the courage to look online for a therapist and finally make a phone call. The counseling center I felt the most comfortable with had a waiting list. Even though I made my first call towards the end of April, had an intake at the end of May, it was the beginning of July 2016 before I started my counseling journey. My original therapist moved over to private practice less than a year in. Due to insurance issues, I couldn’t follow her. She transferred me over to one of the most experienced therapists in the center. She knew the type of therapist I needed. I was hesitant, but I made the switch.

Honestly, it took a little over two years before I could finally even attempt to go below the surface with the new therapist. I said all the “right” things, but my therapist knew I was blowing smoke, and yes, she called me on it more times than I can count. She showed and has continued to show a great deal of patience over the past several years. She has allowed me to say ALL the things. I find I can speak freely in her office and not have to filter anything. When I say no filter, that means certain words I don’t say in regular conversation come out frequently. You see, in therapy, words fly and they are often needed in order to move forward. She is better at reading me and what I’m not saying than I’d like. She has known when to push and when to let me sit in silence. She has given great “homework” and “homework” I’d rather not do. It’s only been in the past year that I have been able to face certain things with certain people in my life.

She was able to walk me through the things I thought was going to cost me my marriage and even a great relationship with my kids. There were boundaries I was terrified to set because of guilt. I also knew the cost of not setting those boundaries. I honestly felt and still to a certain extent still feel like I can’t win. To work towards a healthy marriage and relationship with my kids, unfortunately meant stepping away from another relationship in my life. I pray it’s not a permanent stepping away, but I had to for my own mental health and other relationships my in life. My peace and my future were on the line. I had to decide what and who I wanted more. I will choose my husband and children every day of the week. They are truly God given gifts and I won’t blow it with them.

I had a confrontation with someone who “should” have been there to protect me. This person, once they knew the truth “should” have comforted me. Instead, this person sided with my rapist. They spoke his name in comparison to and over my children. The last time I spoke to this person and reminded them of what I walked, they shushed me and they went on the defensive. Later, this person accused me of being “controlling” and was angry I refused to have a conversation on their terms. I laid out a strict set of boundaries and was met with anger and defiance. My heart aches and it’s not at all what I wanted. I “know” the Lord calls for peace and reconciliation. I have no idea as to whether or not that will happen this side of eternity, but I do pray it does.

As I have walked the past five years, I’ll be honest, my faith has taken a massive hit. Deconstruction is a term I didn’t know existed until I was well into my healing journey. It’s a path I never expected to walk. I believe my foundation is strong, but also believe I was given subpar materials to build my “house of faith.” I have questioned and still question everything I was taught growing up. Many women who have walked this same journey have landed as agnostics, or non-believers altogether. I can say I have seen and experienced way too much to land there. I have watched the power of prayer and faith from others work. I still identify as Christian. I still believe in the virgin birth, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. I still believe in the cross and a relationship with Christ is required for salvation. All of the other things, I just don’t know at this point.

I know I have a stronger personality. I can’t believe Christ made a mistake there. I can’t believe the way I was wired was a mistake. Reading books by women like Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Dr. Beth Allison Barr, and the current teachings of Beth Moore have opened my eyes to a different interpretation of Scripture. I have seen women viewed in a different light. While I hold to the basic tenants of my faith, the other seemingly manmade, overly patriarchal rules don’t really make sense to me. I no longer identify as conservative, but more as moderate. While I do hold to the absolute core of what the SBC believe, I don’t know that I completely identify as SBC at this point. It’s an ongoing process. I can’t say when or where I will land. There are those whom I know will cheer me on and support regardless and others may get a case of the vapers based on what I say and come to believe. I just know my faith needs to be truly mine and not what someone else tells me it needs to be. As one who likes to do what is “expected,” this is a difficult path to walk. I promise, it’s not one of defiance, but one of wanting a complete and genuine faith, that is mine and mine alone.

I haven’t shared all of this for attention, or for anyone to feel sorry for me. I have shared this because I am beyond exhausted from pretending to be someone I’m not. I’m tired of trying to be the person other people want me to be. I just can’t and won’t do it anymore. There are things about myself I know to be 100% true. Other parts of me I believe have only been an act. I am trying to discover who I truly am and who the Lord created ME to be. If you have made it this far, thank you. If read to the end, please don’t make any snide comments. They aren’t what I need. If you’ve made it this far, I hope only to receive support and encouragement as I move forward. I love my hubby and kiddos more than life itself. They are my top priority. If your choice is to cause drama in my life, I can’t and won’t deal with it anymore. If your choice is cheer me on in my healing and faith journey, along with cheering me on as a wife and mother, I welcome you with open arms. Again, my word for 2022 is “TRUTH.” I only need people who are truly willing to listen to the truth of my story and the truth of healing journey. If you can’t. I respect that and will allow you to quietly depart from my life. I am ready to turn a new page and write a whole new chapter. My truth will no longer be hidden to make those around me comfortable. I am Heather. In the words of a song that has carried me through this season:

I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make NO apologies, this is me!
(“This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman”).

If you are a victim/ survivor of rape/ incest/ sexual assault, please know there is help. Please call R.A.I.N at 1-800-656-4673 for assistance. You are NOT alone!!! I am here for you. I was encouraged to speak up because of a long time friend and mentor. I hope you will also find your voice and speak up as well. We are in this together. We can’t walk a healing journey alone. Please reach out and speak up. You are braver than you think! Share your story and speak your TRUTH!!! Let’s face 2022 head on!

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