I am a victim of sexual assault. The first time it occurred I was 13 years old, the second time I was 16 years old, and the third time I was 18 years old. I suffer from nightmare flashbacks, panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Some days are really hard and I don’t want to leave my bed. I do. I have to have some semblance of normal in my life. I work hard each day just to feel like I am strong, I do better on some days than others. I didn’t want to write this down at first because that would make everything that happened to be real. I wanted to pretend.
When I was 13 years old, I was at a pool with my sister and a friend. My friend invited her boyfriend. During the course of the events that day I was alone with him for a few minutes and that’s when it occurred.
I didn’t fully comprehend what had happened, it happened so fast. I knew that he hurt me and touched me in places that he shouldn’t, but I was too scared to tell my parents when they came to pick me up. I didn’t want to worry them and I was scared that my parents wouldn’t believe me and think I made it up. Another part of me was scared because by telling my parents it would make what happened real.
Around the same time, I developed an eating disorder. I learned later that this was a way that I dealt with the trauma of being assaulted.
I was being bullied in school as well. I even thought that these people who were bullying me were my friends. Although they sure didn’t act like it. The boys in the group would slam me against the wall of the school and take stuff from me. Usually my jacket or cell phone for the day. They would call me names and make fun of me. This happened all throughout middle school and high school. At times it felt like my whole world was crashing down on me.
When I was 16 years old I was over at a friend’s house and a guy she was seeing was over. This was a different boy from the first sexual assault. My friend left the living room to go upstairs and talk to her mom and then it happened. This was by far the worst and awful one. I was hurt and it happened close to home. At the time I was too scared and too naive to understand what was happening I just froze and my body couldn’t respond to my thoughts. When I was 18, I was touched again by a different boy.
The Dilemma of Telling My Parents
I didn’t want to tell my parents about anything that had happened to me because I was afraid of what the consequences would be for me. The people that I thought were my friends terrified me and I didn’t want them to get mad at me and hurt me worse if my parents did something about the bullying or the sexual assault. Another part of me wondered if what they called me was true and if I was ruined, undeserving, and simply not worth helping.
About a year ago, during the summer, the panic attacks and nightmares intensified. They were coming every night and day. I could feel myself slipping away into a place where I didn’t care about anyone, and I just wanted to hide away so that no one could ever hurt me again. I needed support, but I was scared to tell my parents. I told myself that I should have been able to get away, I don’t want to disappoint them, and I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had been assaulted.
When I finally told them I had been assaulted, they were quiet and just listened to me talk. When they asked me if I knew who the person was, I had to say no. I was acquainted with the boys who assaulted me, but I just can’t remember anything about them. My mind blocked any details about them. All I see in the flashbacks is a shadowy figure with glowing red eyes, pointy teeth, and claws. You can’t report a shadow.
My parents were very supportive, this was an eye-opening experience for me. I realized that all the fears that I had thought up in my head about being mistaken about what happened, disappointing my parents, being worthless were wrong. It felt liberating to finally say what had happened to me.
Talking to a Therapist and more Panic Attacks
It was really hard to make the decision to tell my therapist. I had already been in therapy because of my eating disorder and I hadn’t mentioned anything about the assault. It took awhile for me to gather the courage to tell what happened to me, but she understood why I didn’t tell her. I was told that eating disorders are common in people that have been assaulted. It is a way for them to control what happens to their bodies.
Returning to college after that summer was hard because I was surrounded by males in some of my classes. When the professor would turn off the lights for a movie, I would feel a panic attack coming. A panic attack is the worst possible feeling. It sucks the breath from your body until you can’t breathe, your chest feels restricted, the person that hurt you is right in front of you, a wave of dizziness comes over you, you have to breathe faster because you are not getting enough air. You are stuck in a panic attack until you, or someone else can pull you out of it.
It is awful to have a panic attack in a classroom full of people and have to explain to them what happened. After I was pulled out of an attack by a girl that sat next to me, I just left class after giving a short explanation to the professor. I went to my apartment, curled up in my bed and just cried about everything. That was the first time that I cried about the sexual assault and what had happened to me.
Managing panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and more every day was wearing on my soul. I pulled away from God because I was angry at Him. Why would He let that happen to me? Why did it have to happen in the first place? How can I ever recover from something like that? Will I ever be able to feel strong again? These were the questions that bounced around in my head every day. The nightmares were similar to the flashback nightmares, but they always changed something about the actual assault. Like where it happened, what happened, and other stuff like that.
After finally talking in depth about the whole experience to my therapist, I started to feel less angry at God and more angry at myself for not being able to get away. I started to pray for God to help me heal from this and to take my nightmares away instead of praying and telling God that I was angry at Him. The nightmares didn’t disappear completely, but praying to God helped them not stick in my mind for the whole day. Despite this progress, I was still having panic attacks.
I talked with my therapist about ways to pull myself out of a panic attack. The method she shared that I liked best was to focus on my sleeve and count each individual thread. It focused my mind on something else and I’m able to pull myself out of a panic attack faster now that I know that method. Another method I liked was to sit in a place where my feet are firmly on the ground and assess each part of my body and see if it felt positive, neutral, or negative.
These methods did not help the nightmares and panic attacks to go away completely. I still suffer from them about once a week right now. Some days are still better than others. I know now that there are good days that come after the bad days. Even if the bad days last for two weeks. I want to quit on those bad days, but somehow each morning I find just enough strength to get through the day.
Feeling Strong Again
Strangely enough, it was in a weightlifting class I took that helped me be able to feel like I was strong again. It was just a normal class, but I was able to lift weights that I never thought I would be able to do. I got my body stronger doing this class and I felt stronger and it felt like I could be okay.
Talking with My Bishop
I decided to talk with my bishop up at school. At that point, I was having the flashback nightmares every night. I only got about one hour of sleep before I was able to wake myself up. I told him about what had happened to me and I told him about how I felt guilty that I didn’t get away or say stop.
My bishop looked me in the eye and told me that I was not responsible for what had happened and that I was clean. He told me that he could feel God’s love for me in the room and that if he could he would “flamboozle” the people that hurt me. Then he gave me a blessing. He asked for angels to protect me, that the nightmares would not hold power over me, and that I would find strength in myself to overcome what had happened.
I Am Not Alone
When the Larry Nassar story came out, I watched the news coverage. The girls were afraid to talk at first because they had told an adult who didn’t listen. Somehow, what the girls were saying spoke to me. It gave me the courage I needed to be able to write this down. This is a big step for me because up till now I haven’t been able to write down what happened to me, I was too scared to even try. It all started with one girl speaking up about what he did to them. The young women that spoke against Nassar gave me the strength to speak about what happened to me and that people would listen.
Benjamin M. Ogles, a professor at Brigham Young University, said the following in a devotional on January 30, 2018, saying, “To those who have had traumatic experiences, please know there are people, many people, who are concerned for your welfare, and many people who have experienced on a personal level what you have experienced. You are not alone. We know you were unjustly harmed and you may continue to have negative thoughts and feelings. … Some of you are already on the road to recovery and beginning to understand you were not responsible when someone violated your agency—you are not damaged or worthless because of the incident, you are children of God and He stands ready to assist you. … Your healing can occur either with or without professional help depending on your circumstances. Yet, we know the road you now travel is often filled with suffering and doubt and we are ready to help” (Agency, Accountability, and The Atonement of Jesus Christ: Application to Sexual Assault, Benjamin M. Ogles).
I know that while I am writing this article, I won’t be the last person that sexual assault touches. The only reason I got this far is that I know that I am not alone and that God and my family have given me extra strength to get through the extremely hard days. I haven’t healed completely yet. I am still working on forgiving everyone involved… and that’s okay. This is a journey.