This post was anonymously written by a courageous friend. We are honored to share her story.
I was raped in my bedroom while wearing a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants by an acquaintance who I had invited over. I wasn’t brutally attacked in a dark alley or drugged at a party, and the only visible injuries were a few bruises.
But the emotional trauma that followed nearly shattered me. I felt my entire world had crumbled, and there were days I wondered if I would ever feel peace. I felt betrayed by God and I wondered if I could trust him again.
This post is not meant to be a how-to on rape recovery — there is no quick fix for the devastation I felt, and to suggest there is would be offensive to anyone who has experienced it. But as I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the amount of healing I have been able to find, I felt compelled to share how I’ve found it.
For the first 48 hours after I was raped I experienced memory loss, pain and shaking in my body, and nightmares. I relived the experience over and over. I blamed myself for it day in and day out, even managing to convince myself I had broken the law of chastity and was now going to be excommunicated.
So I did what any good Mormon girl would do — I made an appointment with my bishop.
I didn’t know him well, and I think he could sense I felt uneasy. So he simply asked me to tell him about myself. We talked about my conversion to Mormonism, my schooling at BYU, about some of my difficult relationships and heartbreaks, and times when I had doubted my faith. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to tell him I had made a mistake — that I had had sex but hadn’t wanted to. As I began unloading my guilt, he quickly stopped me. He helped me see that I was not in the wrong; that I had not broken the law of chastity, I had been raped. We went over some symptoms of Rape Trauma Syndrome and he made sure I was not in immediate need of medical help. He was concerned about my nightmares, about the physical pain I was in, and especially that I was blaming myself.
Over the next four months, we met every week. We focused on helping me let go of the blame I still felt, and worked towards finding healing through the Savior’s atonement. Those are words we throw around a lot at church, and yet it can be hard to define what they actually mean. For me, here’s what it looked like.
The first step: denial.
For a month I refused to cry. I told myself I needed to be brave in order to get through it. Instead of allowing myself to feel, I hardened my heart; the pain was too great to let in, so I figured I would shut it out.
I shut out God, too. When I wasn’t blaming myself, I was blaming Him.
But the more I refused to feel the pain, the worse things got. Through therapy I learned that our bodies are designed to release negativity. Since I wasn’t crying or releasing emotional stress, my mind released it when I was sleeping in the form of nightmares.
I so badly did not want to cry that I started working out twice a day, six days a week, thinking maybe that would release the stress. The problem was, I wasn’t eating because eating triggered the same physical pain I felt the night I was raped. I lost 16 pounds and sustained an injury from exertion.
When I finally let myself cry, it was so painful that I screamed until I physically couldn’t anymore. I gradually made myself accept that crying is not a sign of weakness, it is a necessary step towards healing. I cry multiple times a day now, and I am proud of myself for it. I have less nightmares, I have gained back half the weight I lost, and work out just once a day. I am proud of my body because I have retaken control of it.
I started taking baby steps towards the Savior. I attended all three hours of church when I didn’t want to. I went to the temple when I didn’t want to. I made myself pray, fast, pay my tithing, etc. when I really, really didn’t want to. Eventually my disdain for God turned into a desire to restore our relationship. I started praying to see myself as my father in heaven saw me, which is as a clean, whole daughter of God.
I started writing in a journal
I’d never previously written in a journal — I found it pointless and awkward. But I read a study that said recording thoughts for even twenty minutes a day has been shown to drastically improve our mental state and help us to have greater confidence, and I found that to be true.
Over the last six months I have often felt insecure, broken, or helpless, and sometimes the time I set aside to write in my journal becomes sacred as I am reminded of my worth. Doctrine and Covenants 121:45 states, “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong…” When I need to be strong, I need to be reminded of the virtue of Christ.
Often we associate virtue with sexual purity, but virtue is anything of high moral standard. This includes seeing ourselves as God sees us, having respect for and forgiving ourselves, being kind, and recognizing God’s hand in our lives. This kind of virtue is what has brought me confidence.
I began sincerely praying
One day, I went to the temple and sat in the Celestial Room and cried. I told my Father in Heaven I was so sick of trying to do this by myself and that nothing was working. I told Him I just wanted to be okay and believe good things would eventually come. After pouring out my heart, I sat in silence, determined not to leave until I got some sort of guidance. Eventually I received this very simple answer: “You are my daughter and I love you. Come here to be healed. The Atonement will heal you.” As I have tried to follow that counsel, I have quickly come to know that He really is the answer to taking away our pain.
I have come to know the Savior more personally
One of my favorite paintings of the Savior is by Del Parson where the Savior is depicted smiling in his red robes. I have a small one framed in my home and it always reminds me that Christ is not just my Savior, he is also my friend. When I feel hopeless, His smiling face reminds me that he is not only there for me, but also pleased with me and my small efforts to be better.
I have learned not to confuse using the Atonement with going through the repentance process. It isn’t the same thing. The repentance process is about changing yourself on the inside so that you can change sinful behaviors on the outside. It’s for when you’ve done something wrong. But the Atonement encompasses so much more than that. Using the Atonement means letting Christ work through every painful space in your heart and replace it with His pure love.
I have realized the Atonement is individual
The truth is, I don’t think there’s a standard list of instructions on how to literally use the Atonement, but I do think we can create an individual plan with Christ. Throughout this experience, I have kept a list of everything that has caused me pain. With that list, I have made it my goal to find the good in contrast to the bitter like in Moses 6:55. Elder Bruce C. Hafen said, “tasting the bitter in all its forms is a deliberate part of the great plan of life.” How can tasting bitterness lead to goodness? The same way Adam and Eve tasted the bitter fruit to start the process of us returning to live with our Heavenly Father again. It is a process and it will hurt, but we can be healed. Otherwise we risk remaining in a state of bitterness.
I’ve seen this as I’ve confided in other friends who have been raped. Many of them have left the LDS Church because they didn’t feel loved anymore. And I get it. I can’t tell them they should just seek love in church settings or around ward members, because frankly sometimes it isn’t there. But instead of trying to seek love, I’ve been focusing on trying to create it. It’s been simple things — a phone call or an invite to hang out. I figure if I can create love, I’m making efforts to be like Christ which in turn allows Him to work in me and heal me.
I am not completely healed. I don’t know when I will be. I hate to admit that I have lost friends in this process. Some people simply don’t understand or know how to handle a person who is experiencing trauma, and I can’t fault them for that, I think they tried their best to be there for me. Some friends called me crazy because of my behavior. I refuse to ever use that word to describe anyone.
I learned that the friends who are meant to be there for you will not accept you pushing them away. They will do anything to make sure you know you are loved. I believe those people are more than friends, they are angels sent straight from God.
What I’ve learned
I do not see rape as something the universe sent me to teach me a lesson. But as with every good or bad thing that happens in our lives, we get to choose what we learn from it.
I have gained empathy
Sometimes we don’t know how to be there for others until we’ve experienced heartache ourselves. The scriptures teach us, “for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom…that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.” Again, I don’t think I experienced this because God intended to humble me, but I do think God allowed me to seek the good. He allowed me to see how my trials and heartaches can create opportunities to feel compassion and to be understanding of the suffering of others.
I have been humbled
Humility does not mean you become weak, it means you become strong enough to take off your worldly glasses and see things with spiritual eyes. It’s a humbling experience to cry curled up in a ball, desperately seeking peace when it would be easier to be angry and pretend you don’t need the Savior’s help. It’s a humbling experience to admit you aren’t doing well and to seek out professional help. It’s a humbling experience to ask for divine assistance and protection. It’s a humbling experience to become lonely in order to recognize the angels in your life. It’s a humbling experience to reflect on the times you’ve been less compassionate towards others and wish you could go back and change that. It’s a humbling experience to hope for good things to happen in your life when you can’t see past what is right in front of you and there’s no guarantee of receiving the desires of your heart.
I have learned that I have nothing to prove
For a long time, I had this fear that somehow everyone knew what had happened and was judging me for it, almost like I was walking around with a scarlet A around my neck. I wanted to believe it wasn’t my fault, but couldn’t accept it overnight. I didn’t want anyone to suspect anything, which led to me posting anything and everything I was doing for all to see. I wanted people to think I was having a BLAST in the grocery store, so I snapchatted every excursion to Smith’s. I tweeted like crazy because I thought if I was tweeting funny things, no one would suspect I was struggling inside. Here’s the thing — too much of a good thing is still too much. I learned that I don’t need to pretend or go above and beyond to show that everything is okay when it isn’t. In fact, I learned that when things aren’t okay, I should show some respect for my own privacy and heal without everyone in my business.
Most importantly, I learned to find hope
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to hope, especially in the wake of trauma. But as I have had to remind myself daily, the Savior is the greatest source of hope. Disappointments come, but there are also really are good things ahead! As Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “I have learned that not shrinking is more important than surviving.” There are many moments where I shrink, but I have less of them because I fight to find hope.
It’s painful to hope, but it is also what gives us strength when we are so tempted to shrink. Every sincere effort counts! I have learned that you never fail as long as you keep trying.
My relationship with God suffered a lot after I was raped, and I have had to work hard to repair it. But together, the Savior and I are rebuilding a stronger foundation that will in the future be able to withstand whatever comes my way. I’m hopeful for that because every effort to trust Him again helps me see that this wasn’t His fault either. God doesn’t need me to forgive Him, but I need to or else I create a barrier between us. That wall is coming down and I am learning what it means to turn to Christ. He is the perfect example of how to endure this life and not shrink.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you need to know it is okay to be upset and have moments where you feel like your world has fallen apart. But you need to also know that even if it’s still a ways off, one day you can feel peace. There is no timeline in which you are expected to be okay — healing comes through moving at your own pace with God’s divine help.
I can tell you that because I’ve lived it. I have been in the darkest possible place, and have come out on the other side with the most important gift of all: hope.