Rising panic. I can’t get away. I feel used. I’m dirty. Disposable. There is pain. And darkness. All I see is darkness. Just hurry and get it over with…
My eyes flashed open with the clash of conflicting emotion and the pounding of my heart against my rib cage. There was relief that came with realizing it was just another nightmare. Yet the dream felt so utterly real, and my anxious mind was still reeling. The unwelcome physical sensations lingered as I fought to catch my breath.
I wish my sleeping subconscious didn’t insist on reliving that terrible and confusing night, though there was a drastic difference between these dreams and the night they referenced. In these dreams, I felt everything, emotionally and physically. But the night “it” happened, I shut down and didn’t feel a thing, like a lifeless rag doll with blank staring eyes, swallowed up in the sound of crashing ocean waves and hypnotized by their foaming white caps.
A young woman, with the spirit of a naive little girl, went on vacation with her friend and friend’s family to a blissful beach resort city in Mexico. Desperate for approval, she believed that the attention she was getting from a local young man was a fairy tale in the making. After a drink at the resort bar, a star-lit walk on the beach sounded innocent and romantic. As she watched her friend walk off with a native of her own, she felt uneasy. She didn’t feel safe being left alone with a guy she barely knew. Fearing she would be a burden or inconvenience to her friend, she watched her walk away without sharing her concerns.
The ‘desperate for approval girl’ on the beach was me. What happened on the beach that night would change the course of my life.
Hours later…I blamed myself. I hated myself for what I’d done. I told my friend I had lost my virginity and pretended it was no big deal. I was still in shock and hadn’t yet processed what happened on the beach. I took complete ownership and responsibility for what happened. My friend was angry, even grabbing my shoulders and shoving me a little, out of disbelief that I would do such a thing. I have no idea how long I stood in the shower and cried as I scrubbed my skin raw before I went to bed that night. In my mind, even though I didn’t want “it” to happen and I had said, “NO!” I had not fought hard enough. Actually, I had frozen in fear. I could barely find my own voice.
When something or someone is threatened, they have three options: fight, flight, or tonic immobility. Tonic immobility is a state of apparent paralysis that happens when there is a perceived, inescapable threat.
I couldn’t understand why I didn’t fight the guy off or get up and run. And I hated myself for it. But then I came to understand that my body went into a paralyzed state. I was unable to move and so everything within me shut down in order to survive what was happening to me.
A year later, I was living in a small residential treatment home for yet another eating disorder relapse. How many times was this now? Six? Seven? I had lost count. Before going to Mexico, I had been holding my own. Although things were far from perfect, I was able to function and eat enough to get through the day. After returning from Mexico, however, I had spiraled back out of control. I had overdosed a handful of times, lost any semblance of normality, and had landed back in rehab.
One year after being raped, I awoke with an awareness of the milestone of the day and the shame that came with it. I carried it with me, as always, as I walked down the hall past the sole staff member on duty and into the living area to flip on a light. I flipped the switch and heard a firm yet kind voice say out loud, “You don’t have to keep punishing yourself. I’ve already paid that price for you.”
I was in such shock I stopped in my tracks and couldn’t move for the next couple of minutes as I attempted to process what I had just heard. The only other person awake at the moment was a woman in another room down the hall. There was no other explanation, but none was needed, as I knew immediately it was Jesus. The voice was authoritative but also like an embrace. As a believer, I always knew that technically I was forgiven, but somehow I couldn’t bear to accept it. I felt I deserved to be punished. I believed I was dirty and would tarnish Jesus’ robe if I allowed myself to touch it. And yet, it was clear the lengths my Savior would go to prove His redemptive love.
It wasn’t instant healing. That light switch wasn’t flipped to make me instantly better. God can heal instantly, but many times He heals over a longer period of time. For me, it was a two year process of growing and learning. There were twists and turns. I had to learn to live in His unconditional love before I was able to fully let go of the shame and self-hate.
The day I heard Jesus speak, I knew He had forgiven me. While the weight I felt was lifted considerably, I still had to learn how to forgive myself. Of course, I needed to forgive myself for what happened in Mexico. But there were other lies that I had believed about myself long before that horrible night on the beach. For most of my life, I had believed I was worthless and unlovable.
After years of hating myself, it took time to learn to turn my thinking around. Despite the extended hand of God, for two more years I tried to fill myself with worldly things, and I gave my body away in desperate search for love and belonging. I greatly disrespected His temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20). I continued to chase the darkness, and all I found was more emptiness. Then again, I guess it makes sense. When you’ve been lost and alone in the middle of the dark ocean, and you finally have land and freedom within your sights, that is when Satan fights the hardest because he knows he is about to lose you.
Have you ever been to the beach at high tide when the waves come faster and crash harder? They can be merciless and unapologetic. Have you ever gotten stuck in those shallow waves just before the shoreline that seem the most violent? That’s sort of how life was for me at that time. When the water is shallow, you may feel the sand under your feet. But when the waves get bigger, it can be difficult and exhausting to stand up and walk out of the rough waters.
Even as I thrashed around just offshore, Jesus never gave up on me. He never withdrew His hand. He stood there next to me, constantly nudging me, urging me to my feet. He provided steady healing a little at a time, allowing me to kick harder, until eventually the waves didn’t seem so big anymore, and I gladly took his outstretched hand and let him guide me out of the water.