Today marks the last significant one year anniversary of anything related to my assault. Praise and glory to God! One year ago today I stood before a judge, the man who assaulted me, and a courtroom full of convicts, attorneys, guards, and other individuals awaiting their hearings. Before them all, I shared the hell that had been my previous year and a half and how the assault had affected me. That day was one of the worst of my life; and yet, now a year later, none of it seems to matter much anymore. It doesn’t matter that the man who stole so much of my life, only received a month sentence, or that I had to fly directly from my own birthday vacation in Florida to be there, or that the court only agreed to the plea because my assailant agreed to feign remorse after clearly revealing that he had none. None of it matters because that terrible, awful, no good, very bad day, was also the start of my resurrection from the death of PTSD, depression, anxiety, nightmares, impaired relationships, and life post-assault.
That day I was freed from ever again having to be the victim. That day I walked away a survivor, ready for the new life the Lord had waiting for me. That day marked the start of my year long journey to this day. How grateful I am for this day. This day I celebrate the beauty and restoration of my relationship with God, without whom I could not have withstood the tempests of these past years. This day I celebrate the gift of friends and family, who weathered my darkest days alongside me with resilience and love. This day I celebrate the start of new adventures that will come to pass this year…mission trips, a Master’s degree, and, I trust, so much more.
So, while in some people’s minds, today might be the anniversary of the day the justice system failed to live up to all that it could be. For me, today is the anniversary of the day I was free to truly begin the work of healing and allowing God to make me a new creation. And, today is the start of a brand new year…good or bad…may the adventures begin…because one thing I know for sure now, is that I am capable of more than I could have ever imagined.
What exactly does life after trauma look like? There’s no one answer. The truth is everyone survives trauma differently. What does healing look like? What does it mean to be healed? At what point can I claim that I’ve arrived? I don’t know what that answer looks like for everyone, but I have seen a glimpse of what it looks like for me. These past weeks have been filled with opportunity after opportunity to see the immense progress that has been made in my journey post-assault.
Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at a Pennsylvania Law Enforcement training on a victim’s perspective of Law Enforcement. As such, I shared, alongside the ADA who prosecuted my case, the facts surrounding my assault, I broke down why it took me three months to report the crime from a mental and emotional standpoint, and touched on what it’s like to relive the crime as you comb through every detail again and again for the report, investigation, and testifying. They were an incredibly attentive group of officers and I was humbled by their hunger to know how they could better serve the future victims of crime they would undoubtedly encounter. Perhaps the most incredible moment of the whole day, though, was the moment I left the building and walked to my car. I began my self check, something I believe vital after revisiting traumatic experiences. I sat in the silence of my vehicle, expecting to feel the emotional exhaustion and mental instability which often accompanied sharing my story. But, it never came. To the contrary, I found, much to my surprise and delight, that when evaluating my emotional, mental, and physical state following the day of training, I felt energized, free, and so so good! Over the next few days, I would check in every so often with myself expecting the depression to creep in, as it so often did over the past years, wrapping it’s tentacles around my mind and suffocating my spirit, but it never did.
For me, this was a sign of true healing, a testament of true freedom.
Back in April, I was asked to write an article for a local Pennsylvania magazine for Sexual Assault Awareness month. In my article, Surviving the Storm: A Call for Change, I shared a vivid account of my assault and the aftermath of victim blaming that followed. I proposed that on a cultural level our mindset regarding these crimes is skewed. We are so prone to inquire, “why do victims get victimized,” as opposed to “why to rapists rape.” The reality, as it stands, is that we’re far more likely to focus on the victim, what they were wearing, were they drinking, why were they alone with that group of guys to begin with, etc. I believe we’re going about this all wrong. I recently came across this incredible Ted Talk, Violence against Women: It’s a Men’s Issue, that emulates exactly what I’m trying to suggest. Jackson Katz, does an amazing job brining to light the most poignant changes necessary if we are to see an actual decrease in violence. I invite you to WATCH this Ted Talk, SHARE this Ted Talk, and then ENACT it in your own life. Let’s become true leaders in the movement for cultural change regarding gender violence.
I had the privilege this past May to participate in a Public Service Announcement for RAINN, who runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline. The video aired yesterday as part of their Campus Sexual Assault Awareness week. If you know anyone who has been directly affected by sexual assault, or indirectly through the experience of a loved one, I invite you to share this video with them and encourage them to #TalkToRAINN. This is a vulnerable thing to have gone viral, but I also invite you to share it on your own social media, as you never know who, in your life, may need to see it. Share with the caption #TalkToRAINN.