Survivor Story # 3
How I moved from darkness into the light of healing and learned to embrace the quiet power of forgiveness.
By Kara Greenspun
When I was younger, my family rented a beach house every summer. It was the highlight of the season for me, days filled with sunshine and the salty ocean air; it was freedom.
The summer after my 13th birthday, there was a cute boy staying next door. He was strong, tan and a few years older. He took an interest in me, and the excitement I felt was weird but undeniable. Just as I started to find words to my feelings, he turned my crush into chaos.
I didn't understand what was happening, but I knew it felt wrong. I was afraid-afraid of the pain, afraid of what my parents would say, afraid to fight. I didn't know what to do, so I hardly did anything. I was a child and I was ill-equipped to understand what was happening, what it meant, what it was called. In retrospect, of course things become clearer: I know now that he raped me, even if this is still something that I struggle to put into words, or to understand at all. I don't like going over the details of exactly what happened. The details aren't what is important anyway. What matters is what the rape did not just to my body, but to my soul.
Like the riot of confusion that follows when a wave knocks you down and pulls you under, I was engulfed by his betrayal, which was not just physical, but spiritual and emotional too. In an instant, my life changed. I couldn't pull myself toward the surface. A week passed, where twisted memories and dream-like events blurred together. I remember screaming. I remember yelling "NO!" But did I? The questions flooded my mind: What happened? Did I do this? Did he?
The week ended. I went home with my family. I left the beach and the boy behind, along with many pieces of myself. But I didn't realize they were missing until much later. Alone with my confusion, I tried to understand how this had happened. I struggled even to put a name to it. Rape was not a word I would use to describe what happened until years later. When I started receiving love letters from that boy, the explanation-the only one that my 13-year-old mind could accept-became clear: it had been my choice. It must have been.
What I didn't know then is that, often, when a traumatic event occurs, we humans have the ability-a coping mechanism of sorts-to create a narrative about what happened. We smooth out the rough edges of our pain and paint over the darkest spots of our hurt, creating a different, less painful "reality" for ourselves. In other words, if I convinced myself that what had happened-what had been done to me-was a choice of mine, then I could somehow mitigate the feeling of complete powerlessness. And so, my story was born.
I was sure that I had done something to bring this sexual violation upon myself. I knew-or thought I did-that it was my sexuality, new and mysterious to me. I made a conscious decision that I never, ever wanted to feel vulnerable again.
So, I embraced this newfound sexuality and combined it with what this boy-this perpetrator-had taught me about power by vivid, terrifying example. Power and sex became synonymous to me. I wore my sexuality like a uniform; it defined me. I worked hard to maintain total control. I was still only 13-years-old.
I had always dreamt that, one day, I would have a trusting husband and a loving family. After that summer, all of that seemed impossible. I was so filled with shame at what I was convinced I had done that I couldn't imagine ever deserving the future I had once taken for granted. I was deeply angry. My dream was broken.
By the age of 14, I was doing drugs, drinking, having sex and slitting my wrists. By the age of 19, I was drinking and taking sleeping pills daily.
I was also throwing up my food and exercising obsessively, an attempt to control my own body and all it represented to me. No one asked me why I was behaving this way. Instead, my behavior was punished and its causes never explored. Rather than risk the pain of betrayal, I simply stopped trusting others. I hated myself and I was alone.
My body and mind were suffering. And my heart was breaking. I had put up an impenetrable wall between me and the thing I wanted most: true intimacy.
At the age of 20, an injury pushed me into yoga. I didn't know it then, but I was on the verge of transformation. Yoga cradled me as I slowly peeled away all the layers of addiction, one soul- killing habit at a time. I stopped the bulimia, the smoking, the drinking, the obsessive running, the pills and the sex. On a daily basis I prayed for help. There was a long period of real and metaphorical darkness when I just sat alone and cried.
My tears eventually dried and my walls began to crumble. That's when the floodgates of healing opened and my soul was inundated with light. I was referred to the Joyful Heart Foundation by Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles-based non-profit committed to ended violence against women, and invited to participate in a JHF retreat. I felt as if I had been found-it was almost as if they knew exactly where I was in my life and that I was finally ready to heal.
It was on that retreat to Hawaii with other survivors of rape-women like the ocean that surrounded us, strong, beautiful and deep-that I began to remember who I really am. For the first time in many years I could remember myself as a child. I was happy. I was loved. And I never questioned that I deserved these things.
The days on that island with those women changed my life forever. I learned during that time that nourishing oneself wholly and completely-mind, body and spirit-is not greedy. I learned that I deserved all of the healing experiences we had there. And I forgave myself for all the times I hurt myself. I realized that I was doing the best I could with what I knew at the time. As I forgave myself, I also learned to forgive others. When I look beyond the human mistakes and see the frightened child, it's easier to understand that we are all just on our own paths, learning lessons in our own time. Knowing this, I believe, is knowing compassion.
In letting go of my past, where my very existence was based on sexuality, power and pain, I had to create a new belief system. I had to learn to accept, value and love myself exactly as I am. And I had to learn to trust myself. The healing that began on my retreat had taken hold. I was on my way back to me.
I began with affirmations, declaring my worth out loud. I would even give myself a hug or a playful wink in the mirror, all in an effort to get out of the self-destructive rut I'd been stuck in for so long. I was starting to like the company I kept, even when I was alone. It was not easy, but I was rewriting my story.
I don't know why painful events happen in life. Maybe it's karmic. I do know that I am grateful for all of my experiences-the falling down, the getting back up, and everything in between. I understand now that healing is not selfish, because when we heal ourselves we become a source of healing for others. I have joy in my life again, in abundance. And joy is contagious.
I am now a healer in my own right. I am a Yoga Teacher and Thai Massage Therapist. I truly believe it is a gift to help guide others towards setting their own hearts free and to help them to see-as I understand it-that we are all the creative manifesters of our own destinies. I have also been blessed with true, honest love. I am engaged to be married to an amazing man who loves me for who I am at my center.
He is for me, as I am for him, a dream come true.
I still look at those pictures of myself as a child. But now, when I do, I stare into those familiar, twinkling eyes and I whisper, "I know who you are, and I love you very, very much."
Editor's Note: Research conducted by Liz Claiborne revealed that despite a large media focus on the issue of teen dating abuse and sexual assault, 74 percent of sons and 66 percent of daughters say they have not had a conversation about the issue with their parents. This lack of communication between parents and their teens is a serious challenge in the effort to prevent abuse among teens or address the impact of past abuse. For more information on how to begin a dialogue with your teens visit http://loveisnotabuse.com.
Originally posted on: http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/firstperson_rm01.htm