A Year Ago Today

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A picture taken at my old school’s sexual assault awareness clothesline project last year- a week before I, myself, was assaulted.

If you could’ve seen me a year ago today, you probably wouldn’t have recognized me. I didn’t put effort into what clothes I put on, I walked with my head down and though I spent most hours of the day holding in deep sobs, I would often break down into tears in public. My social life was shot. I couldn’t think straight and was forgetting to eat meals throughout the day. My eyes were swollen and red with bags underneath them. I looked exactly like what I was going through.

What was I going through, you ask? Well, I had just been sexually assaulted and terrorized by a man I was in a relationship with for almost two years.

I had never felt so detached and numb to life while still feeling so much pain at the same time. It was impossible to hold a thought. I was fighting panic attacks throughout the day, just trying my hardest to get through the last weeks of classes. At the rate I was going, I didn’t think i’d ever see my way through. By God’s grace, I finished the semester with As and Bs. I decided to leave the school and transfer somewhere closer to home, where I hoped to have peace. Just didn’t make sense to stay and be reminded everyday of what happened.

It is such an uncomfortable feeling to go from a situation thats made you feel disgusting and exposed, to being placed into a brand new environment with brand new people. All I wanted was to be back with my friends and the people I came to know as family. But who knows if I would’ve ever gotten peace staying there. I really had no choice but to be in this unfamiliar place and try my best to make it feel like home.

During this year my faith has been tested probably more than ever before. I didn’t blame God for what happened to me, but I blamed him for not intervening. I’ve always known Him as having power over all things, so I couldn’t understand how His power couldn’t be used to stop what happened. While its still a concept I don’t fully understand, what I know is that I’ve been through similarly painful things before and He saw me through each one of them. Deep down I knew that He would see me through this too, but I could still feel myself growing distant from my relationship with Him. It was like being disappointed in a loved one- of course you still love that person but you usually need some time to work through what bothered you before you can genuinely show that love again.

My disappointment phase lasted about 10 months. I didn’t want to talk about God, I didn’t want to go to church, I felt uncomfortable in church settings, like bible studies. But I still went. I knew the way I was feeling was only temporary. I just needed to fight through it. Only recently have I been feeling a change occur. The walls of fear, pride and mistrust that I’ve built this whole year are finally crumbling down, and I can literally feel the freeness and peace within me. My mindset of “Why has this happened?” is turning into “Okay, this happened. What can I do with my experience now?” I’m focusing on the future and how I can use my hard times to uplift others and give them hope for a better, less crazed future.

I know good and well that there’s more healing to come and that these things don’t just go away. I still have nightmares some nights and I still cry until I have a headache and swollen eyes from time to time, but there’s such a peace just knowing I’m not alone in it.

I am Thankful

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I laid there- in vast amounts of tears, quickly scrolling through my contacts, looking for someone, anyone, to reach out to. “Pray for me” is what I was planning to say to them if they would happen to be up, like me, at 2 in the morning. But as I searched and searched, I realized that no matter how many people I looked for in my phone or how many people I wished were nearby to give me the hug I so desperately needed, I wasn’t going to feel much better. So I got on my knees and I prayed. And though I could barely formulate legible words to express myself, I said what I could. I already knew that He knew what was in my heart, and just my efforts were enough. And there it was- that rush of peace, that feeling of my eyes drying up.

There’s something special about a moment when you’re so upset, so crippled with pain that you find yourself on the floor of your bedroom, out of breath from how hard you’re crying, that you feel God’s presence ever-so-clearly. That moment a sense of peace comes over and through you. When the headache goes away and the hyperventilating slows. You just know He is there, comforting you the way you thought you needed other people to. There hasn’t been a time I’ve hit rock bottom that He hasn’t shown up and for that, I am thankful.

Combating Anxiety

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Racing thoughts, feelings of overwhelming fear, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, heart racing. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever had anxiety before you have experienced at least one of these things. A good friend of mine describes it as feeling like something is sitting on her heart.

Anxiety is the total opposite of serenity. It can be caused by a wide variety of things like excessive stress, depression and going through (or watching a friend go through) something traumatic. Personally, my anxiety comes from trauma and excessive stress. Sometimes I describe it as feeling like a bunch of waves that knock me down when I least expect it. Over the years I’ve learned a few important things about anxiety and panic attacks:

1) It is extremely helpful to identify what exactly is causing/triggering it
2) Its important to plan coping methods in advance for when it happens. Things that have helped me include listening to music, drawing, journaling about how I feel, praying and talking with friends about it.
3) God does not want us to experience fear and anxiety. He wants us to be at peace.

Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT) gives some helpful instruction on how to best handle anxiety.

Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT)

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

These verses are explaining that in times of anxiety and uneasiness we shouldn’t spend time worrying. Instead we should replace worry with prayer. All you have to do is start an open and honest conversation with Him about what you’re experiencing. Tell him how you feel and why you think those feelings are occurring. Thank Him for the things He has done for you. We are called to focus on God no matter what our circumstances are because He is in control. If you practice what is said in these verses you will be sure to find peace in any worrisome situation.

Helpful tip: Try writing these verses on an index card and carrying it with you so that it is easily accessible when anxiety creeps up.