It’s been 9,862 days since my sexual assault occured 27 years ago today. Over the decades, I have been tormented by fear, anxiety, and loss of trust in the world. I have wept, grieved, and experienced one of the most horrific things a woman can endure.
But today, I stand here a stronger woman. The man who sodomized me did not destroy me. The man who robbed me did not steal my pursuit of happiness. The man who fled from that hotel room didn’t have within him what I had. I had resilence. Determination. God’s grace. The love of family.
I came out the victor.
But how about all the other women who get harrassed, assaulted, raped? Will they recover? Will they have the belief to not give up hope of restoration?
Restoration came to me from many different places. In honor of 27 years, I’ll give you 27 of the most important things that helped me.
Counseling from a Psychologist
Counseling from a Psychiatrist
Beth Moore Bible Study
Community Bible Study
Writing my memoir
Being a mentor to other survivors
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
The Anxiety Disease by David Sheehan, MD
Writing a blog
Writing in a journal
Speaking at sexual assault conferences
Reading about post traumatic stress disorder
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Learning to say no
Recognizing when exhaustion can turn into depression
Learning about anxiety and depression and how they are cousins and often travel together
After I was robbed and sexually assaulted in 1990, my body, mind and spirit went into overdrive. It’s the fight/flight syndrome that’s common when people experience something horrific whether it be a natural disaster, crime, or any life-threatening event. My nervous system stayed in this perpetual state for 20 plus years which unfortunately led to anxiety and ultimately depression. Sometimes, depression would come first and its ugly cousin anxiety would tag along and show up later. Of course, all this didn’t happen overnight. It crept upon me little by little and by the time our first daughter Morgan was a freshman at University of Georgia, I was literally a basket case on some days. I remember one such UGA parents’ weekend that Mark and I were invited to attend. On the way to Athens in my husband’s truck, I sat beside Mark and begged him to turn around. I was too exhausted to “fake it.” I didn’t want to have to pretend to be a happy, proud, normal mother at the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority event. I was unraveling. He held my hand, told me I was going to be okay, and we made the three-hour drive. I sat shotgun all the while having intermittent crying spells.
I made it through that weekend (barely), and at times had to excuse myself to find a women’s restroom where I could weep. I’d pull myself together and Morgan never knew a thing. Upon arriving back home I made two important decisions. I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist and I started attending yoga classes at the Episcopal Church.
Now, seven years later, I still see that same doctor two times a year for a mental maintenance checkup and am a dedicated yogi. I discovered that what I needed more than anything was to breathe. Yes…breathe. I had essentially held my breath and gasped for breath for two decades due to anxiety and fear to the point my nervous system was in ruins.
What I have learned through yoga is that if we quiet our monkey minds and slow our breath, we can retrain ourselves to be calm in the midst of any storm. We have to learn to be still. That’s hard for the ones of us living with angst, worry, and panic.
Anxiety and panic are not a part of my everyday being anymore. I’m not saying I don’t get overwhelmed. But if I start feeling engulfed with fear and worry , I get myself to a yoga mat. One session of 30 to 60 minutes has a clearing and calming effect. And, of course, the more yoga and meditation you do, the better you rewire your brain and the sympathetic nervous system to find healing.
Yoga has changed my life and it can for you too. The practice of yoga allows us to balance body and mind. It can energize you, align you to attain both physical and emotional pain relief, and open your heart and inner being to find peace. Do you believe you can find peace? I do. But we must commit to seek it every day.
I recently was asked to speak to a group of high school girls about violence against women. As I got dressed for this speaking engagement, I decided on a whim to do something I had never done before. I would layer my clothing so that I would reveal a strapless dress underneath my maxi dress and reiterate one of the most common rape myths out there — that women “invite” assault by dressing a certain way. The fact is that no one has ever been able to show a correlation between how a victim dresses and her chances of sexual assault. Women get sexually assaulted because the male wants to dominate and control the victim. It is not an act of impulsive, uncontrolled passion; rather a premeditated act of violence. Research shows that 50% of rapes are planned; and in my case it was definitely a premeditated violent crime. Over the years, I too have been asked dozens of times what clothing I had on.
Katherine Cambareri, a young photographer from Arcadia University, has done an excellent job showing that sexual assault has nothing to do with the clothes a woman wears in her “Well what were you wearing” series. I applaud her for keeping the conversation going regarding this topic.
And, if you were wondering, I was wearing a below-the-knee black and white skirt with matching blouse.
In December, I got an intriguing email from Angela Klocke who asked if she could “walk” in my honor. Interested and a bit surprised, I asked what this meant. She explained she leads a project called Scars and Tiaras where she focuses on speaking out and creating awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault. Angela had read the article about me in The Washington Post and felt compelled to walk on my behalf. Man! Talk about being honored….I couldn’t believe a mere stranger would do this. It proves we do indeed live in a caring world! My Georgia Southern University intern, Daniela West, did a Q and A with Angela recently, and here’s what Angela shared:
Daniela- So can you tell me what Scars and Tiaras is about? How do you choose who to walk for?
Angela- The site is a combination of information on healing from a painful history of childhood, domestic or sexual abuse. I have experience with all these types of abuse. It’s not a pretty story, but the point of Scars and Tiaras is basically a reclamation of self. To be loved, adored, and worthy. Abusers fill our heads with comments such as: you’re ugly, you’re worthless, you’re stupid so you’re left with scars. The tiaras have more to do with the reclamation of self. The beautiful person that you always were and you’re coming back and realizing who that is. That seems to be a recurring theme–this journey to try to reclaim who each person once was versus what people told them they were.
Daniela- Tell us more about how you walk for people.
Angela- In late 2013 I was out taking a walk and I had this idea when the lyrics “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more” popped into my head. I developed the goal to walk 1000 miles in 2014. So I would take a person’s name and I’m always asking may I walk for you. For Jenny Lynn, I became familiar with her book through Twitter at some point in time. And though I haven’t been able to read the book yet I just started following her.
Daniela- So when you walk for someone is there any place in particular you walk, or is it a group event or do people walk with you?
Angela- I mostly walk alone. I’m not opposed to anyone walking with me, but I tend to just walk the streets in my town. I’m not in a position where I’m going to walk a thousands miles away from home. It’s just a concentrated time spent thinking about this person’s story, how can I share this person’s story.
Daniela- I saw on your website people walk in your honor. Do they reach out to you or do you reach out to them to walk for you?
Angela- I haven’t asked anyone to walk for me. In December, it became very apparent I wasn’t going to reach a thousand miles in 2014. I shared my challenges on Facebook and several friends stepped forward and said I would be happy to walk in your name.
Daniela- It’s amazing how much people care. When you walk for people, does it help you in your personal healing process?
Angela- Absolutely. It gives me that chance to not live in the past, but to reflect where I’ve been so I don’t forget that passion and that empathy that’s so necessary to help the next person who contacts me.
Daniela- What would you say your ultimate goal is?
Angela- My overall goal is to be able to keep the conversation about abuse going. And for people to understand that it’s not a black and white issue. There’s so much more involved and unfortunately I think for most people unless they experience it they never know how they will respond in that situation.
Daniela- Is there anything you would want someone in that situation to know?
Angela- If abuse occurs, just know you are not alone and there is somebody out there who can help you. There’s so much hope for healing.
It’s difficult to sit down with a reporter and entrust that person with your story. You fear the column won’t come out right, will somehow misrepresent your life–will be just …wrong. But not so with Gracie Bonds Staples, a veteran newspaper writer who wrote about my sexual assault in the Atlanta Journal Constitution last week. Gracie interviewed me in early February in a north Atlanta hotel and I immediately felt comfortable with her as I tried to describe what rape victims experience. After an extensive two-hour interview, she penned a succinct, accurate portrayal of a quarter-century of my life’s struggles and pursuit of restoration.
Thanks, Gracie, for helping me share this story so that others will have hope for recovery as well!
I read an editorial by James Alan Fox, a Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northwestern University in which Mr. Fox concluded that guns won’t deter college sexual assault. He reasoned carrying guns on campus will only create more problems.
Guns will never be the remedy to combat sexual assault on campus. Instead, we must arm women AND men with the right kind of weaponry. It’s called knowledge…information that will empower them to make changes in behavior on campuses nationwide.
Here’s what students need to know before they set foot on a college campus their freshman year:
Between 85%-90% of reported sexual assaults against female students are committed by an acquaintance.
Alcohol is the number 1 date drug, often incapacitating students and rendering the university student incapable of consent to any sexual act.
Rape is a crime of violence and young men will face lifelong consequences due to their behavior and choices made while inebriated.
Only when all students can be taught to be “active” bystanders, will we really make significant strides in preventing sexual assault on campuses.