This is technically the cliff note version, but it is still pretty long. All names besides that of my husband (Dean) have been changed to protect their privacy. As a note, if you want the truly full version - Click on the link for "When The Light Meets The Dark" - the book I wrote detailing my healing journey, my faith journey and my path to finding forgiveness.
This contains some details of how I was raped as a teenager. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, please read with caution and only if you are in a safe place.
My abuse started when I was 15 years old. I was dating Matt, who was a year older than me. We had been dating for a little over a year, and he started pressuring me to have sex with him. I knew I wasn’t ready for that step in our relationship. My biggest fear was that I would become pregnant. My second biggest fear was that my parents would find out. I knew they would be so disappointed. For a couple of months, I continued to turn him down. Every time I turned him down, he moved away from me and sat on the other end of the couch. He wouldn’t talk to me or touch me in any way. When I asked him about this behavior, he replied that he couldn’t be near me because “he had such strong feelings for me – it would be too painful.” After about 3 months of this, I was tired one night at his house, and when he started pressuring me, I turned to him and said “If I sleep with you, will you f***ing shut up about it.” He turned to me and said “Yes.” So I gave in to him and ended up having sex with him that night. I went home feeling ashamed, guilty, and like I was a huge disappointment to my parents. I had sex with Matt a few more times over the next few months, but each time, knew that it was something that I was not ready for, and felt like if I didn’t sleep with him, I would lose him. (Which, in hindsight, would have been better). After a few months, he broke up with me. Since he was my first “love”, it broke my heart. But, slowly I started to heal. It wasn't until numerous years later that I realized just how much dating violence was occurring in this relationship and how unhealthy it was.
About 7 months later it was the beginning of my Junior year. My dad was on school board that year and was butting heads with the superintendent of the school. It kind of culminated with my dad uncovering some unpleasant (and illegal) facts about the superintendent. Since the superintendent couldn't really do anything to my dad, he decided to use his son (who was also in my high school) against me. I was being harassed emotionally and sometimes physically on a daily basis at my high school. Unfortunately, this was before all the bullying laws that are in existence now. About this time, my ex boyfriend, Matt (from the paragraph above) called me. He said he wanted to try to have a friendship with me again, and that he knew how hard things had been for me at school lately. I needed a friend at that point in time like a lifeline, and this guy had been my best friend for about two years. I told him I wanted a friendship, but that I would not have sex with him again. I only wanted friendship. I repeated this comment in several phone conversations, and eventually agreed to see him in person.
I went to Matt's house that night and had a short conversation with his mother who was sitting in their kitchen. Then Matt and I headed downstairs. I repeated as we went down there that I only wanted friendship and did not have any intention of having sex with him. Throughout the evening, he made advances toward me several times. Each time he would start, I would suggest that I leave. He would immediately apologize to me and tell me to stay. I would stay, but repeat that the advances were not wanted. At one point in the night, I was even thinking to myself how proud of myself I was because I was finally standing up to him and saying no, and not giving in. I was standing my ground. Eventually, he started tickling me and tickled me until he was able to get me on the floor and get on top of me. Although I tried to push him off some, I quickly realized that I didn't have the strength to push him off me. He proceeded to rape me. I was so in shock, it didn't even occur to me to scream out for help even though his mom was sitting directly above us. I may have thought about it, but was mortified at the thought of her finding me that way. I just cried through the whole thing. At one point, I remember him even asking why I was crying, he said “You know you want this.”
After I left his house that night I remember driving home thinking that I should tell someone, but not knowing who to tell. The few people who I immediately thought of, were actually friends of Matt, so I wasn't sure how they would respond if I told them. I went home that night, went to bed, and tried to pretend like nothing was wrong.
Seeking Help, But Not Finding It
During the next week, I attempted to tell a few of my closest girl friends (at separate times). I didn't use the word rape, I don’t even know if I really said he forced me – truthfully, I didn't know how to describe what had happened. I believe I was just hoping they would “read between the lines” and know what happened. None of them was all that supportive (possibly because I wasn't able to really convey what had happened to me). The first one didn't really say much at all, the second asked if I had “led him on” and the third asked if I felt bad for “cheating” on a guy that I was just starting to date (we’d been on about 2 dates at that point). Deep down, I was really hoping that one of these three girls would tell someone about what happened to me – lets face it, gossip is kind of a staple in a teenage girls’ life! But of course, this secret, they kept! After their response, I didn't feel comfortable telling anyone else. I didn't feel close enough to Jake, the guy I was starting to date, to tell him at that point. I decided to just try to get through each day and pretend like this had never happened. I have to say that I don’t believe my friends were unsupportive intentionally – they were kids, just like I was, kids who had been taught the same stereotypes that rape victims were partygirls, or walking in a dark alley alone. I don’t think they really knew how to handle what had happened to me any more than I did.
A few months later, Jake started pressuring me to become more intimate with him. I finally told him what had happened. He wasn't overly unsupportive, but he wasn't real supportive either. He broke up with me a little over a month later because “I had sex with Matt, but wouldn't have sex with him.” Clearly, he didn't quite get it.
Beginning to Heal
After the lack of support I got from my high school friends, I didn't speak of the assault and was convinced I was going to pretend it didn't happen and “put it behind me.” That worked until the next year when I was at college (I had ended up graduating at the end of my junior year because of the harassment at my school). I started dating a guy at college, when things started to get more physical between us; I realized I wasn't sure if I could handle that type of intimacy because of the rape. I felt I at least owed it to him to explain what happened. I ended up telling him during a car ride back to my hometown. This was horrible timing. We are in a 2.5 hour car ride, he was going to be meeting family for the first time, and I told him about being assaulted! At that time, I couldn't say the word Rape. I described the assault as “he forced me to sleep with him.” Ross, (my boyfriend) was the first person to call the assault what it was, RAPE. Before saying that though, he just sat there for several seconds (it felt like hours). I finally asked what he was thinking, and he said – “I never thought I’d know the one.” I was confused and said “What?” He said “They've always said 1 in 4 women is a victim of Rape, I never thought I’d actually know the 1.” He told me that he would support me, and that he would like to hear more about what happened if I was willing to tell him. He was really instrumental in helping me learn to talk about what happened. He also dealt really well with the nightmares and flashbacks that came when I started to actually process what I'd been through. Ross was also understanding and supportive about being intimate. When he told me he’d like to have sex with me at some point, I told him I didn't know when or if I’d be able to do that. He said, “I completely understand, I just want you to know that I would like to, but it’s up to you as to when. And, I will treat you better than the last guy.” After more time with him, and a lot of talking about what happened, I decided I wanted to try to have sex with Ross. In my mind, I wanted to prove that I wasn't “damaged.” Ross wanted to change the association I had with my “first time.” So he said that we would make it really romantic, but that if at any point, it was too much, just to tell him, we’d stop, cuddle the rest of the night, and we’d try again when I thought I was ready again. It was really helpful to have someone who cared so much. I eventually did have sex with Ross. I had some difficult feelings and associations to process throught, but having him there to ask if I was OK, and if I really was ready to move further, really helped.
Ross and I eventually broke up. A short time later I met and then started dating Dean. (who is now my husband). Dean was incredibly helpful to me in other ways than Ross was. Ross got me to talk about the rape. Dean helped me deal with the fact that I had been raped, and that it was someone I really trusted who did it. Dean had suggested I see a therapist, but I couldn't imagine ever being able to tell a stranger about what had happened – I struggled to tell people I was close to. Over time, I started to learn to deal with what had happened. I definitely had triggers, such as anytime my hands were restrained, and being tickled, but I had started to learn to deal with them.
Dean and I dated for about 3.5 years and started having problems. He was dealing with some major health issues, and I was living half way across the country attending grad school. In the middle of this, Matt, the person who raped me, contacted me. He sent me an email (which I ignored), and then I came home from school that day to find a message on my answering machine. I was scared and had no idea what to do if I had to talk to him. Later that night, I was expecting a call from Dean and I answered the phone without checking caller ID, and it was MattI ended up talking to him because I realized, I wanted to confront him. I didn't get the guts in that conversation. But, several conversations later, I basically told him he had raped me. He denied it (of course) saying he thought I wanted it. This led to all sorts of doubts on my part. Maybe I had really misunderstood what happened. I think part of me, hoped that was true. Then it would mean that my best friend didn’t really betray my trust in such a huge way. I maintained contact with Matt. In another conversation we were talking about self defense. He described the exact position he held me in during the rape and looked at me and said “You don’t ever want to be in this position – you have no leverage, you can’t fight back or get out of it. My older brother taught me this position when I was a kid.” I looked in his eyes, and knew that he knew what he had done, and that he had gotten away with it. I broke off all contact with him after that conversation. In the phone call where I broke off the contact he made some comments that led me to believe he would rape me again if he had the chance.
During the time that Dean and I were broken up I dated several guys -sleeping with many of them way too early in the relationship to convince them (or myself) I wasn't “damaged.” Throughout this time, I continued to heal and deal with my “triggers.” In some ways, I was making progress learning to deal with triggers, but in others I was staying just where I was by sleeping with guys way to early in the relationship. Each time I told my partner about being raped, they were always supportive about it, at least at first. I had one boyfriend that a month or so after I told him, we were messing around and wrestling with each other and he pinned me on the bed in the same position that I had described Matt holding me in during the rape. The “fun” ended there for me and I quickly ended things. A short time later, I asked him if he realized why I my attitude had changed. He said he knew it was because of the position I was in. I asked why he would do that, and he replied “I wanted to see if you could handle it, see if you were really ‘over’ the rape.” Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last too long.
Several months after Dean and I broke up, I finished graduate school and moved halfway across the country (again) to start a new job. Dean and I were back in touch with each other, but the relationship remained platonic. About a year into my new job, I met a guy who ultimately introduced me to his church. I had grown up unchurched, so starting to attend church was really intimidating for me. My mom had been suggesting I find a church for some time, but I didn't even know which denomination to start with. My first time in church was both an intimidating experience and a good experience. The next time I attended the church, I had an incredible sense of peace come over me, and just knew that I was taking the right step. Six months later or so, I couldn't even imagine my life without my faith, my church and God. Everyone at the church was so welcoming and friendly. Plus, I had learned that there was someone else for me to lean on for support and ask for help – it was God. After finding Faith, I started to think about being raped and why God would “allow” that to happen. I was learning that God wouldn't do it to punish me, but that he can use everything that we go through for His ultimate Glory. I started to think that maybe He was making me a much stronger person through this event. I started to see (in hindsight) how He had always been there for me, even during that traumatic time and how He hadn't let me down. That gave me a lot of comfort, even if it may not have made sense to a lot of other people.
I had really become involved with the church and an adult Sunday school group there. I even started facilitating some of the discussions that the group had for each Sunday. I took turns with two other members of the group who also facilitated discussions.
One week, I was studying the material we were supposed to discuss in class the following Sunday that I was going to lead the discussion for. A large theme of the message was on forgiveness. I had heard other lessons and sermons on forgiveness, and when it came to the rape, I always told myself – it doesn't apply to that. During that week though, I became very convicted that maybe forgiveness did apply to even the rape. I was very upset by this; I couldn't imagine ever forgiving the guy who raped me. “Why should I forgive him – what he did was wrong. He doesn't deserve it.” I went to the other two discussion leaders, and told them how I was feeling. They were very supportive (most of the group besides these two didn't know that I had been raped).
They gave me some great advice. They said that I needed to realize that I could not find forgiveness on my own. I needed to rely on God’s help for it. I admitted to them that I didn't even WANT to forgive Matt. What he did was morally and legally wrong. “Why should I forgive him, he doesn't deserve it.” They didn't disagree with me. But they just said to take it to God in prayer, and I did. The first thing that I learned from God, was God’s definition of forgiveness. It doesn't mean that what the person did isn't all that bad, nor does it take away the hurt of what they did. Forgiveness really means giving the anger and hurt about what happened to you up to God. Letting Him deal with it. I then went to God in prayer and said “God, right now I don’t want to forgive Matt. Can you help me to even have the desire to forgive him? I've got to start with the desire to forgive before I can work on the actual process.” That prayer became part of my daily prayers for several months. I realized a few months later though, that I had started to truly want to forgive Matt. I hadn't forgiven him yet, but I wanted to. I went back to God in prayer (again) and said “Ok, now I want to forgive, how do I get there.” I continued to pray that God would help me forgive. Several more months passed, during that time, when I told close friends of what happened, I would tell them that “I’m forgiving him.” One day, I realized I really had. I truly did forgive Matt for raping me. What he did was still wrong, but I no longer held the anger towards him I once had. I realized that God would deal with him when the time was right.
With that forgiveness, I found a healing that I didn't know was possible. Up until that time, I thought I had “dealt” with the rape, at least as much as I was ever going to. But after finding forgiveness, I realized I healed even more. I felt “whole” again (if that can make any sense at all). It’s really hard for me to describe how I felt after this. But one reaction was that I stopped sleeping with guys early on in a relationship. I no longer felt the need to prove that I wasn't “damaged”. I recently read a great quote about forgiveness. “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” Holding the anger in about Matt raping me wasn't hurting him at all, it was only hurting me.
About a year after this, Dean and I started dating again. He moved to where I was living. He was glad to see that I had found faith, and was glad to know that I had continued to heal from the rape. Shortly after he moved to where I lived, I was offered a job in forensics (my current job) that required me to move back to my home state. Since this was also Dean's home state, it was a good move for us.
It was also about this time that I found out through a grapevine source that Matt had moved to about an hour from where I lived. This caused some concern for me because I knew that he didn't know anyone in that area. He worked for a company as a consultant and basically worked from wherever he lived. This was only about 3 years after I had broken off contact with him. I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't a coincidence that he had moved so close to where I was living. (Which was about 10 hours away from our hometown).
Meanwhile, Dean and I prepared to move. I moved back to our home state first, and he found a job and moved back a few months later. I was at a training a few months after Dean moved here. Someone from my hometown was also in the same training. When she heard my name, she asked if I knew Matt. I said “Yes, I knew him in high school.” She replied that he had just moved back to the state, and was really excited because I had gotten this job and had moved back. She thought we were still really “good” friends based on what he had told her about me. This really shook me up. I told Dean and we discussed the fact that Matt may still be keeping “tabs” on where I was. However, he hadn't actually broken any stalking laws that we could prove because we had no solid evidence he was following me, and he hadn't contacted me. It was definitely disconcerting, but there was really nothing I could do about it, so I just continued with my life, although I did become very aware of what was around me. (I also learned to shoot a gun and got a permit to carry a concealed weapon). I don’t carry, but it’s nice to know I can if I feel I need to.
Happily Ever After
Matt has never contacted me. We still don’t know if he is/was actually “stalking” me or not. Dean and I got married in the fall of 2008. We added a son to our family in 2013 and are expecting another one in late 2015. We both feel that if Matt was going to contact me, he probably would have done so either when my engagement or when our wedding was announced in our hometown papers. I have made the choice that I can’t live in fear of him, I do what I can to be safe, but trust that God will protect me.
My Faith had become very important to me. I quickly became involved in a new church after moving back to Iowa. I was a part of the worship team at one site of this church. As part of that team, we often knew sermon information months in advance to plan the worship songs for the service.
A few years ago, I knew that our pastor was planning on a service on healing from being hurt. He was going to have a time for people to share how they had been hurt, and he had planned an “altar call” of sorts for people to receive prayers at the end of the service. I started to think that this might be a time to share my story with others. I had asked God during prayer for the entire week before the service whether I should speak out. I had wanted to give my pastor a “head’s up” about what I was going to say (he also didn't know my past). I never got a clear answer from God during the week, so that morning, I sat on my bed and prayed “God, I don’t know if you are calling me to speak out or not, but I know that you’ll let me know when the time comes whether to speak up or not. I trust you.” That time of the service came, and at first no one said anything. I heard this “voice” in the back of my head say “If you speak up others will share too. They just don’t want to be first.” Then as I sat there pondering what I heard, it was as if someone else raised my hand for me. The pastor called on me, and shaking, I stood up and told my congregation that I had been raped, and then told them about finding forgiveness. My church is a very large church with three separate sites of worship. The site that I attend is the smallest site. There were maybe 30 people in worship that day. My pastor followed what I said by saying “Someone here needs to hear that particular story, I don’t know who it is, but I really believe there was someone here who needs to hear it.” I thought he was just trying to cover the surprise he felt about what I’d said, as well as make me feel more comfortable with sharing such a vulnerable detail about my past.
A week later, the pastor pulled me aside after service. He told me that he couldn't reveal who, but that a teenage girl in the congregation had been raped a year earlier. She had never told anyone, and hearing my testimony prompted her to tell her parents and seek help. I was floored. Never in a million years did I think I would have that kind of impact. She later wrote me an anonymous letter telling me of the healing that had already started because of hearing me speak out. That letter hit me like a brick – I realized how important it is for survivors who have found their voice to speak out so others know that they aren't alone. In the years since, I've began to speak more about my experience from rape. I have written a book discussing the details of the abusive relationship, my healing journey and my faith journey which will hopefully be published in the early summer of 2015. There will be a link on this webpage to the book once it is available.
A Side note on Forgiveness
A few years after moving to Iowa, I realized some truths about forgiveness. Forgiveness does not take away the hurt of the crime. I was on facebook and got an email saying a friend (from high school) had posted a picture of me. I didn't think much about it and clicked “view the picture”. The picture that popped up was a high school dance picture of Matt and I (obviously before the rape). It was as if someone punched me in the stomach. I was horrified at seeing the picture; I didn't want to be associated with him in any way. I hadn't seen any picture of him since I had broken off contact.
My reaction bothered me. Had I really not forgiven him? If I had, why did seeing that picture hurt so much. After much prayer, I realized that the forgiveness didn't take away the pain of what he did or what he took from me. I also realized, I didn't have anger toward him when I saw the picture; I had the pain of remembering what he had caused me, and what I had lost throughout the ordeal. It’s just something to keep in mind – even when we heal, or forgive, there are going to be days that our abuse takes us back to our knees. And that’s Ok. It doesn't go away or disappear just because we heal and hopefully even forgive, but it does not define us either.