Hello all. Buckle in because this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Or, you know, get out of this caboose before we get going.
I’m about to talk about my PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
So here are some warnings: If you are a relative and this isn’t how you want to hear my story, stop reading. Especially you and you, little sisters. Yes, I’m talking to you.
Also, trigger warning: Childhood trauma. If you are super sensitive and you don’t want to hear about this sort of uncomfortable thing today, just stop reading.
RIGHT HERE: IF YOU WANT TO HEAR THE STORY FROM MY OWN MOUTH, OR IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, STOP HERE.
One last disclaimer: I want to make sure that you guys aren’t going to go on a witch hunt for things of the past. What happened happened and it is gone now. Don’t try to ruin the lives of people who may have been involved and who have turned their lives around. And even though I was a child at the time, I don’t want you to think that my family had anything to do with this: They had no idea what was going on. K, thanks.
All right. Let’s do this.
I was sexually assaulted when I was seven years old. It wasn’t rape or molestation, so it could have been worse. Assault can still be very traumatizing though, especially if you’re too young to understand what’s happening. A young man took me into a room, laid on top of me, and kissed me, sticking his tongue into my mouth. Apparently this is normal behavior…IF YOU’RE AN ADULT. I was too young to understand what he was doing. I hated it, though. It made me uncomfortable, disgusted me, and scared me. I pulled back, he tried it again, and I pushed him off and went and washed my mouth out.
He was a teen and had a lot of issues. I want to make it clear right now that he has since changed. His life and his choices have improved so, SO much. It’s an amazing thing for me to see what the atonement and Christ have done for him, his heart, and his life.
At the time though, he was really messed up. He was struggling with an addiction to pornography at the time, I believe, as well as other things, and mental illnesses. I was just seven, and had no comprehension of anything sexual at all.
Plus, apparently I’ve always been asexual, which I’ll explain in more detail later or in another post, but which basically means that I don’t experience sexual attraction. Hi.
So with my very limited understanding of such things, I tried to tell one of my older brothers that I thought this dude had a crush on me. My brother was like, “No…he doesn’t! Why would you think that?!” I told him what happened, he said no way…and then went and asked the guy about what I had said happened.
He denied it, of course, and was fuming. I could tell. This was someone who was in my life practically all the time, and now I was terrified. I managed to avoid him for a little bit, but then he caught me on a sofa, pushed his fists into the cushions on either side of my head, and whispered, “I only did it because you rough house with us.”
Which, of course, made zero sense then and still doesn’t. I mean, yes, I was a bit of a tomboy and I would fight with anyone and everyone (still do, actually), but OBVIOUSLY that doesn’t give ANYONE license to touch or treat you in a way that you dislike or are uncomfortable with.
Anyhow, it scared me so bad that I didn’t try to tell anyone again. I kept it to myself.
I was only assaulted once, but there were a few other times that I was genuinely scared it would happen again. I can’t remember if it was before or after I told my brother about him, but there were times when the guy would watch me play, or he’d take me to some workout equipment and try to get me to do things. Then there were times, often following these instances, when he would pick me up and try to carry me to a room. I learned how to evade capture, running once he put me down, or making myself impossible to keep a hold of. Tip: Curling up in a ball doesn’t help; you’re still easy to carry. However, straightening your body like a board is VERY helpful and makes it extremely difficult for someone to hold you, even if you are just tiny: I think it’s something about balance.
Anyway, eventually it stopped happening, and I put it from my mind and went on with my little life.
Until I was about eleven, that is. See, that was when I began to have some little comprehension about sensuality and sexuality, and started to realize that what had happened was really messed up. I started to learn that sexual sin was an abomination, and one of the worst sins that could be committed. Plus, I read a book called “Julie and the Wolves,” or something similar, which is a children’s book, but has an assault scene where Julie is attacked in essentially the same way I was, while the man says something about mating.
So the next conclusion my little brain made was that I had actually HAD sex (don’t worry, guys, I’ve since been educated).
This is when my PTSD actually started to develop. I thought I had committed an unforgivable and gross sexual sin; I thought I might get pregnant (although part of my brain knew that pregnancies only last nine months; fear is illogical); and the guy was still around.
I developed avoidance tendencies. I wouldn’t touch him, anything he owned, or anything he or his things touched. If I accidentally made eye contact with him, I wouldn’t blink again until I had made eye contact with someone else. I wouldn’t allow myself to be in a room alone with him, and would refuse to stand closer to him than I was to someone else. I thought it would show submission and that he would take it as license to assault me again. I was washing my hands CONSTANTLY, so much so that they would be raw and cracked and bleeding.
I kept looking down at my stomach and wondering if it would grow, and feared having to explain my sin to my parents and church leaders.
I got on my knees by my bedside every night, begging God to forgive me, even though I thought what I’d done was unforgivable. I thoroughly believed that I was damned.
This went on for months. I was afraid, and guilt-ridden, and angry. I contemplated suicide, but only briefly, realizing that it would hasten my return to God…and I lived in awful fear of His righteous judgment. I looked forward to the rest of my life and only saw darkness and pain. It never looked like it would be a long life, either.
It was hell. Living hell.
Don’t worry, though: It gets better.
The first inkling I had that things might eventually be bearable again was when I stood by my bedside, getting ready to say that hopeless prayer for redemption yet again. I thought to myself, “Why do I bother getting on my knees and praying every night, offering up this prayer for forgiveness, when I know I cannot be forgiven?” Why not give up? Why not just accept my damnation and allow my life to descend into darkness?
Thankfully, due to thinking I was damned, I’d been doing a lot of studying. I remembered reading 2 Nephi 32:8-9, which states that only an evil spirit teaches a man not to pray, as well as something I’d read in True to the Faith: that Heavenly Father always wants to hear from you, no matter what you’ve done.
I got on my knees anyway. I kept praying that hopeless prayer of a girl who thought she was going to hell. There was one night, after that same experience or not, I can’t remember, when I prayed to feel peace, and just for once, I felt hope.
This experience still ranks as one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I felt so much hope, and life, and light, and goodness, it was amazing. I “felt to sing the song of redeeming love,” and it was so, so beautiful.
It only lasted that one night, but it’s been a reminder to me of God’s mindfulness and love ever since.
I was still hanging on to a slim hope that maybe, someday, I could find redemption.
The December after I turned twelve, there was a ward youth temple trip. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when you turn twelve you can enter the temples to perform saving ordinances for those who have passed on, vicariously. In order to enter the temple, however, you have to have a temple recommend, and in order to have that, you need to talk to a priesthood leader who ensures your worthiness.
I thought I was going to hell, so naturally I didn’t plan on entering the house of the Lord. I was hoping that I would just slip through the cracks and go unnoticed, but one Sunday I was called out of Sunday School to meet with a councilor in the Bishopric. He was also the father of one of my friends, and in a wheelchair at the time, but that’s all beside the point. I went into the classroom where he was holding his interviews, sat down, feeling sick to my stomach, and he started to ask me the standard questions. I was clear, I was clear…things were going good. I might pass? What?!
And then he asked: “Is there anything in your past that should have been resolved with a priesthood leader, that wasn’t?”
I gulped out a yes, and was ready to confess right there, but he stopped me and said that I should talk to the Bishop about it. He suggested, kindly, that I talk to my parents first.
I don’t think he had any idea what was on my mind. I was considered a very naive and innocent girl for most of my life…still am, sometimes.
I left the room feeling lightheaded, returned to class distracted and confused. Weeks passed and nothing happened.
Two days after Christmas and the night before the temple trip, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my Mom and one of my older brothers as they discussed his going on the temple trip the next day. Mom turned to me and asked, “Why aren’t you going?”
My stomach dropped. “I need to talk to you and Dad about something.”
…This is turning out to be a really long post, and it’s really heavy, so let’s have a picture break.
I think I was four when that was taken.
Anyway, Mom grabbed Dad and we went back to their bedroom. I perched on the edge of their bed, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I felt awful. They waited, watching me. I blurted it out.
Oh, they were so shocked, so horrified. My poor parents. What a bomb to drop on them.
But let me tell you a thing, something that’s always stuck in my memory: The first thing I remember my Mom doing was taking me by the shoulders, looking me in the eyes, and saying in a firm voice, “It was NOT. YOUR. FAULT.”
That was what I needed to hear! No, it didn’t cure me, but it did start to lift the weight of guilt I felt. I could believe that I could still be redeemed.
What followed was meetings with the Bishop, fairly frequently, so that he could check up on me. My parents tried to talk me out of my extreme paranoia, but I still remember one night when I dissolved into hysterics because the guy’s shoes touched my boots, which, of course, obviously meant that I could never, never wear those boots again.
It took a long time to beat those habits, to overcome those fears.
My parents had gone to the man immediately after I spoke with them. At first, he claimed to not remember what I said he’d done, but the next day he recalled it. After he talked to people who tried to help him, my parents had all of us meet together. I remember he cried. He wept, and said that he was so, so sorry.
Keep in mind that by this point, it had been five years. Something that had been so long ago to him was still plaguing every hour of my day, every day.
He said he was sorry, and eventually, after a long, awkward period where he cried and my parents were silent, I muttered a terse, “Okay.” I wasn’t ready to forgive yet.
We tried to move forward with our lives.
But now I’m going to break down for you the long term effects of my post-traumatic stress disorder.
From when I was almost twelve till about fifteen, I was afraid of dressing in a way that would pique sexual interest. Luckily, I had three older brothers who had a lot of old clothes. Que the cross-dressing tomboy. Yes, I would still wear girl’s shirts and dresses: But nothing even remotely form fitting; nothing cut to flatter my developing form; nothing low cut. Baggy t-shirts and my brothers’ cast off jeans were my go-to. I had absolutely NO interest in romance, and that lasted until I was at at least sixteen, maybe even seventeen, when I finally accepted that maybe guys weren’t an utter waste of my time after all.
Well, plus I’m asexual, so I still don’t get all jittery for handsome men. I mean, sure, you’re aesthetically put together in a manner that fits the modern, subjective standards of beauty, but that just doesn’t DO anything for me. I mean, cool, good for you?
More of that later.
See, the fear of male interest lasted for a really long time. When I was a teen, any guy who even remotely showed interest in me became an annoyance, especially if he didn’t even seem the type that I would associate with if he WASN’T interested in me.
I was eighteen and in college before I was asked on my first date, and good glory, what havoc that wreaked on my mind! This kid in my science class that I’d never spoken to before asked me out, and I was terrified. See, as an asexual, the idea of love or even interest at first sight is pure NONSENSE. You can’t claim to be truly interested in someone that you don’t even know.
Ergo, if someone is interested in you after just one meeting, it means they’re interested in your body.
I felt like a victim again. I felt endangered.
I went on the date, but made it a double date with my roommate and one of the guy’s friends. He tried to ask me out again, and I promptly stopped texting him back and totally ignored him.
This happened whenever someone asked me out. I would go on one date, which was terrifying enough, and then when he would express further interest I would lock the floodgates, throw away the key, and climb my tower.
My first experiences with dating coincided with my first major depressive episode. I started counseling shortly after, finally realizing that there was something very, very wrong with the function of my brain.
I can’t say it helped much at first.
I went through three psychologists during my four semesters at BYU-Idaho. The first I never got far with, mainly because of my extreme trust issues…I thought that if I was honest about everything I experienced and felt, I would be put in the hospital and my agency would be stripped away from me, “for my own safety.”
The second one was more helpful, especially with my anxiety.
It was the third one who made the biggest difference, though. He was the one who finally cracked the code.
I told him that I felt endangered and unsafe whenever a man showed even a little bit of interest in me, and he said, “You feel like that little girl again. But you’re not! You’re not a frightened, helpless little girl anymore! You are a grown woman.”
Boom. That was it. Any time a man showed interest in me, I reverted into that little girl, a victim, someone who didn’t know how to defend herself, and who was so, so frightened.
It’s still something I repeat to myself on the days when I start to slip into paranoia: You’re not a little girl anymore.
It’s oddly empowering.
The purpose of writing all of this is to explain the experience of PTSD, so I guess I might as well go ahead and delve into that phrase deeper: You’re not a little girl anymore.
You see, by the extension of reverting to thinking of myself as a child, all the men who showed interest in me became pedophiles. Because I was a girl, a child, in my subconscious, you know? It meant that as soon as a man asked me out or acted differently towards me, he became a creep, a disgusting degenerate. It meant that I felt he was trying to take advantage of my youth and helplessness…even though I had grown up.
You’re not a little girl anymore. It made so many things click into place.
I was nineteen when my counselor told me that, but I was twenty before I could handle being the object of interest with at least semi-calm, convincing myself that “being interested in me doesn’t make him a pervert.”
I was almost twenty-one before I went on a date that I actually wanted to go on.
I was twenty-one when I realized that I’d been assigning threat levels to all of the men I met, based on two criteria: social behaviors and physical fitness. Basically, “Does he seem like the person who might EVER take advantage of a woman?” and “Could I fight him off or run faster than him?” For a long time most guys were a five or six threat-level on a scale of 0-10. When I consciously realized what I was doing, I was able to start fighting this urge to size people up. I started getting mostly twos and threes on the scale. Some were ones. Some were .5s. Years before, I’d had FHE brothers who were only ones and twos. God bless those boys. But even my own blood brothers had threat levels.
I’m glad to report that most of the guys I associate with now I am perfectly comfortable with. I haven’t assigned threat levels to anyone in a good while. I’ve even dated a few guys…not that it ever went far, you know, with my whole emotionally phlegmatic and sexually uncomprehending personality.
Let’s have another picture break.
This is me now. Rocking the platinum pixie and black leather jacket. Go me.
I’m twenty-two now. I can go on dates without feeling as if rape is imminent. I can flirt (poorly, though, it’s true) without thinking I’m setting myself up for assault. I can stand alone with a man without subconsciously plotting an escape route. I can enter a room where it is just the two of us without my heart rate instantly sky rocketing. I’m not afraid of being seen as submissive, and weak, and easy prey, even though I’m only 5’2″ and about 110 lbs.
(Plus, I know jiu-jitsu and am almost always carrying pepper spray AND a taser, so, you know, there’s that…)
And him, that teen who assaulted me fifteen years ago, he’s changed his life around. I was fourteen when I realized I could stand alone with him and feel fierce even though I was terrified, and I was fifteen when I began to realize he wasn’t a threat anymore. He told me about the girl he fell in love with after they broke up. When he was engaged he asked me, anxiously, if I thought he could be trusted to be around children and to be a father. I was sixteen. I said yes, and I told him I forgave him.
He’s married now to a strong woman. He’s a father to a beautiful child. When I see him, the things that happened so long ago are NEVER the first things to come to mind. I see him for who he is now, a good man, who, like everyone, has passed through darkness in his life.
The boy who hurt me so long ago no longer exists. He died when a broken heart came unto Jesus.
I can say that much, at least, that I have forgiven him and he has changed.
I don’t know if I’ll ever completely heal, though. I still have moments where I recoil, still seconds where I feel like that victim child again.
I’m a woman now. I can stand on my own two feet and tell a man to leave me alone. I can assert my agency.
This was a really heavy post, but I hope you guys made it through it all right. I’m okay, really! There was a time in my life that I wasn’t, when my PTSD ruled my actions, but that time isn’t now. I struggle with other mental illnesses, too, but you know, there’s sunshine between the showers.
For the injured: It may take a long time. It may take fifteen+ years. It may never entirely go away. BUT YOU WILL LIVE. YOU WILL CONTINUE ON, AND THERE WILL BE HAPPINESS AGAIN. Christ will carry you when you cannot walk.
For those who have injured others: You can find peace, too. The haunting sins don’t have to plague you forever. Offer them up at the altar, change, become a guardian of goodness.
I know it’s possible. I’ve seen it.