My story began over a decade ago while I was serving in the military. It was a cold winter night with snow on the ground and at the time, a ‘normal’ evening spent with friends. But it would become the night that would change my life forever. A part of me died that night. In the course of the evening, I was drugged, raped, and the stranger responsible also attempted to silence me forever, but somehow, for some reason, I survived. Sometime afterwards, I began sinking into a dark hole, abusing alcohol, trying to bury the memories. I locked that night away into my soul, I tried running from it, but it began to consume my life. Until one day, almost a decade after, a flash of memories hit me head-on. It felt as if someone took a baseball bat and shattered the glass I had built around that night into a million pieces. I broke down, and as if it had been divinely planned, there were three women present that told me of a program of therapy for survivors of sexual assault.
The day I walked into the mental health department is the day my journey of healing began. I was assigned to a psychologist, and we started Prolonged Exposure Therapy. Prolonged Exposure therapy is approximately 12-15 sessions, one session per week and 90 minutes per session. I sat in a non-descript room with my therapist and while clutching my teddy bear, I began recording the events of that night over and over and nauseatingly over again. It was disgusting, gut-wrenching, exhausting hard work! Most times, I would be drenched in sweat, extremely nauseous, always sobbing, confronting so many emotions and my stomach never failed to make horrible sounds. It seemed to me as if the trauma, pain, memories, and emotions were living and warring in my stomach. Re-living the trauma was extremely depleting and I never left her office without feeling I had fought a battle. My homework after each appointment was to listen to my recorded sessions. Hearing my voice for the first time telling the story was completely heartbreaking. It was if I were listening to a stranger tell the darkest and most evil tale. And each time I listened to those tapes, the nausea, the grief and the pain would wash over me.
One day as I was sitting in my therapist’s office she told me that some patients with combat trauma and victims of rape experience a visceral hatred of God. In the darkest and most vulnerable experiences, where is God? As my treatment continued, I began to discover that within the deep recesses of my soul festered a bitterness toward God. This bitterness consumed me. I began to question why He could let this happen and why He could abandon me when I needed Him the most. By this point, the screams in my mind became louder, the depression pulling me down into some dark abyss and despair choked the pin-point light of hope. This is not a fairytale story; it is an ugly, gut-wrenching fight to Never Quit. During my journey over the past several years, I have found peace with God, but it has not been easy. I began to realize God was slowly, and ever so painstakingly, healing those deep wounds created by the trauma, grief, and pain one layer at a time, a broken piece at a time. My daughter told me of the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi. The definition of Kintsugi is “the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Every break is unique and instead of repairing an item like new, the 400-year-old technique actually highlights the “scars” as a part of the design”.
One day while shopping at a thrift store, I found a genuine Kutani Japanese lamp and purchased it. On first sight of the lamp and on close inspection, there were tiny, extensive ‘cracks’ filled with a gold color. I placed my lamp in my room and as the light filtered in from a window the lamp had the most beautiful golden glow. From far away, those miniscule lines or ‘cracks’ were not visible at all. What was most visible was the glow of the gold that filled the lines. So, for me, I have come to embrace and accept the broken pieces. Is my journey complete? No. Along the way, I have lost many dear things to my heart; BUT what I have gained has been more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. I have gained peace with God and with myself. I have found my voice. And I have found a purpose for the pain.
So, I want to say — THERE IS HOPE. You are not alone. And in the darkest moments of life, when the storm rages and your heart breaks, and you are floundering in the fight; as you take labored breaths, steeling yourself to stand and face the wreckage, there is a light that awaits you. There are good plans for you and when you are ready, the broken pieces, the pain, the memories and the darkness can subside leaving strength forged by fire, mended with gold, shining a bright light into the world. I am not the girl that I once was, and I still have much work to do in my healing process. But, with God’s mercy, I will never quit. During my therapy, my therapist gave me the nickname ‘Girl with the Sword’, paying homage to what she saw – the fighter in me. I will always be so grateful for her and for her courage and strength in walking through the pain and darkness with me. She has truly been my battle buddy in this fight. Never quit.