I recently saw this farewell sign in the Caribbean. In Antigua, banner signs are hung to communicate the funeral notice of beloved members of a church. On the sign, it denotes the sunrise (birth) and sunset (death) of the person.
It reminded me that after my sexual assault, I felt like I had experienced a “death” of sorts. I grieved that I no longer felt safe in the world. I was sad that my free spirit had been stripped from my soul. I wanted the old Jenny Lynn back. Despite my desire to be happy again, I was stuck and had PTSD, depression, and anxiety for 20 years. I was sick of being mentally sick.
Finally, I got help from a psychologist and psychiatrist to regain my footing. This required work, diligence and resilience, but it proved to be effective and allowed me to start feeling normal again.
If you believe you will never recover from your sexual assault or rape, you are wrong. There is help and hope. Read my book, “Room 939” and it’s proof that you can live abundantly again.
Today, on November 28, 2022, on the 32nd anniversary of my sexual assault, I celebrate life and happiness.
Surviving a traumatic experience can leave residual pain, suffering and loss for years. It did for me after I was sexually assaulted in 1990. I knew I had an overwhelming sense of loss of faith in the world as I had known it, but it would be years before I connected it to having grief.
For anyone who is experiencing grief, brace yourself because the holiday season of merriment and cheer is upon us and may bring about profound feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Here are some tips to help you navigate this time of year:
Acknowledge the holidays aren’t going to be the same.
Putting The Serenity Prayer in a prominent place and reading it daily is a great way to start each morning. It says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” It takes courage to try something new. No one says you have to “do life” as you have in the past. How about starting a new tradition? If you know your home is going to remind you of the loss and will make you sad, consider making new memories in a new environment. Take a trip with a friend or family member. Point your compass in a new direction and take a chance you may find some solace and happiness along the way.
Take care of yourself.
There are many things that can numb us and make us forget the pain for a brief time, but it’s never the answer because the negative consequences of alcohol, painkillers and mood-altering substances are greater than the brief lift you may feel. Instead, invest in positive choices for your body and soul.
Give yourself a gift of massage.
Listen to your body and mind. What does it tell you it needs? Tune into Yoga with Adriene and select a playlist based on your needs.
Avoid social media as much as you can. There’s no need to compare yourself to others.
Fill your body with foods and drinks that will make you thrive.
Write it down. Start journaling. It will allow you to do a mind dump and process your feelings.
Spend time reflecting in nature. Leave your phone and the television behind and enjoy the peace and quiet that a brisk walk or jog will allow.
Work out at the gym or at home. Encouraging the endorphins and adrenaline course through your body will heal your soul, as well as your body.
Spend time with friends and loved ones – people that you care about and that care about you.
Open up about your pain and suffering.
When you find the courage to “let it out,” you free yourself of the cycle of rumination. When you ruminate, you make yourself more isolated. The goal is to stop the negative chatter and self-talk in your mind and redirect your thought patterns to something more productive and positive. Rather than allowing the negative thoughts to gain momentum, stop them in their tracks. Talk to a friend, family member or counselor who can offer an objective perspective. Be proactive and you’ll likely realize that the troubling thoughts often aren’t accurate at all and make little sense. The best gift you can give yourself is to reach out to someone and share your true feelings.
When tragedy strikes, the world seems to stop. It’s hard to imagine moving — much less moving forward — ever again.
If you were anywhere on social media or the news this month, you saw the massive container ship ‘Ever Given’ get stuck in the Suez Canal. For almost a week, this one ship paralyzed shipping around the world, holding up billions of dollars in revenue.
I think that ship is a lot like tragedy in our lives.
In my own life, tragedy paralyzed me for years. In 1990, I was a 27-year-old with great aspirations. My public relations career was building momentum. I was happy in my marriage and loved life and the vast opportunities that lay ahead.
Then, in a hotel hall, I was attacked. In just 15 minutes, the assailant stopped me in my tracks, overpowered me, held a knife to my neck and took me hostage. He gave me an ultimatum to open my hotel door or kill me, and then he robbed me and sexually assaulted me.
In essence, he stripped me of all sense of security I had ever known.
And I became stuck…for a very long time.
Fortunately, two decades later, I finally got the counseling I needed to navigate life successfully again. I believe if I can accomplish this, anyone can because I was firmly cemented in fear, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Here’s the five methods that unlodged me and led me back to a purposeful and peaceful existence.
Search for a new perspective. Tragedy can make us feel like victims, like the universe is working against us. That’s how I felt. Until I wrote my book, Room 939, I felt like a crime statistic. I identified as a victim and clung to a victim mentality. But the truth is, I was actually a survivor. I survived something so horrific and didn’t die that night in the downtown Atlanta hotel room. I learned that my survival was something that I needed to celebrate every day. I found the goodness in everything around me; and I thanked God each day for the simple gifts given to me. I was able to see that so many people around me had it far worse than I. Women struggling with chemo and breast cancer. A man losing his family because of drug addiction. Mothers and children suffering in poverty and living in their cars. What had I lost? Nothing, compared to these people. I had an abundant life!
Create a new soundtrack in your mind. Take some time in the next few days and explore what you are telling yourself repeatedly? Are there self-sabotaging thoughts on instant replay? Carry a notebook around and record these untruths in a journal. What I discovered was there were about 10 negative “self-talk” messages that I kept on a continual reel. One was that I was going to be assaulted again. This became a pattern of belief. The good news is you can hack into your brain and reprogram it. I started doing cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist and I retrained my brain to stop the negative thoughts and replace them with others. Major takeaway: thoughts become things. Get control of your thoughts and change your destiny.
Do the work to get back to normal living. Most of us have a fear of ripping the bandaid off of our painful past because we believe if we do so, it will hurt more, bleed more and reopen the wound in such a way the pain will be unbearable. That’s what I believed, but I was wrong! By hitting rock bottom with depression in 2010, I had no place to go but in a new direction. I found enough courage to reopen the wound and began counseling. In my great desire to get well again, I found a strength I didn’t know I possessed. The commitment to do cognitive behavioral therapy was arduous, but it led to wellness. Ahhh….peace, wellness, happiness. The gift of peace is priceless!
Allow grief to play its role. If you are reading this blog, you most certainly have experienced grief in your life. It’s important to allow the process to take place because to disregard it is to prolong your suffering. I mourned the loss of innocence in the world as I had known it. I felt despair, vulnerability, sadness, anger, loss of self, and most importantly, loss of the future I had envisioned. Years later, I learned I had experienced disenfranchised grief because if we are honest, no one wants to talk about rape and sexual assault. It’s ugly to the core, horrifying, messy. It’s easier for families and friends to not talk about it and keep it swept neatly under the rug.
Open up and talk about it. This last point is the mother of all advice to get unstuck. It’s a tough one, no doubt! You must talk about the life event that causes you pain and suffering. Air your laundry. Get it out in the open. Claim it. Openly admit and discuss that you are incapable of doing this alone. Your friends and family will likely fail to have the right words and advice. But there are hundreds of thousands of therapists that can help you. To listen and to guide you to a better place in life. Joy is attainable, but you cannot remain in a silent bubble if you are to heal. The toolkit is there. You just have to pick it up and start using the tools to get the job done. The most useful keys to my recovery were and continue to be yoga, meditation, mindfulness, reading the Bible, spirituality, speaking to groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and journaling to find restoration.
What life experience is keeping you from moving forward today? Help is out there. You don’t have to remain the lone ship lodged forever in immobility. There are plenty of dredgers and tugboats out there to pull you out of your despair. You just have to be willing to let them get close enough to help free you.
I recently completed a bible study and we used “Choosing Forgiveness” by Nancy DeMoss as the guide. Throughout the three-month study, I was reminded how pockets of bitterness can take hold and thrust me into a backslide to an unforgiving heart. Here are a few takeaways from her book that helped me grow as a Christian:
1)The more we hold on to bitterness, blame and anger, the more we become slaves to unforgiveness.
2)Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to deal with another’s sin and when you do so, you wipe the slate clean. It’s permanent!
3)Sometimes we say we have forgiven the person. However, if you find yourself continually bringing up the the way someone has sinned against you, you have not truly forgiven the person.
4)It will never be in your power, in the depth of your love, in the ANYTHING of you that allows you to forgive. It is only through love of Jesus Christ placed into your believer’s heart that can enable you to forgive the offender.
5)”I’m going to making him/her pay!!” Isn’t that what our response is as humans? We take justice into our hands and spend our lifetimes thinking of how we will revenge the wrongdoer because we think they got off scot-free. However, we must trust God’s process and believe that justice will still be served if we forgive the person. It is not up to us to administer justice to the person who hurts us. God is the ONLY ONE who rights all wrongs. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Basically, God is saying to us, “You don’t have be the keeper of the keys and hold that person in prison. Justice is my job so give the keys to me and let me to do the job!” God is the most righteous of judges and we can trust Him…..meaning He’s going to do a heck of a lot better job. 🙂
6) Satan will tell you over and over not to forgive the person. What are the lies that the devil tells you to prompt you not to forgive? Often, I have thought and have wanted to scream out loud, “He doesn’t deserve it!!!” But then, I have to ask myself, “Did I deserve for Jesus to hang on the cross for me?”
7)By God’s grace, forgiveness doesn’t have to take a long time. It can be done in a moment of time. It allow healing to begin, restoration to take place so that we don’t have to live in a prison of bitterness, sorrow, sadness, anger and blame.
Forgiveness is hard. Forgiving someone who has hurt you is absolutely one of the most challenging things to do in life….it was for me. You might say you have forgiven, but what happens when you don’t FORGET. If you are like most of us, you can get to a point of forgiveness and actually feel like you have forgiven, but then the bitterness re-emerges, creeps back in and all the feelings of hurt, disgust, pain and anger start all over again.
That’s not true forgiveness.
If we turn to God’s word, He specifically tells us in Ephesians 4:31-32: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
The greatest thing that forgiveness has brought to my life is peace. Forgiveness is not for the person who created the pain and suffering. Forgiveness is for YOU! Remember, forgiveness never justifies the terrible deed and/or the person who hurt you. It does not provide God’s forgiveness for their actions, because only God can do that.
Forgiving others makes a way for our own healing to begin.
God is saying that the act of forgiveness is the only path if we want to find true peace. A spirit of unforgiveness (and not forgetting) puts a roadblock with our daily walk with God. Forgiving others releases us from anger and allows us to journey with Him and feel His presence and love daily.
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