*Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Hilary Jerome Scarsella, originally published in the Spring 2014 issue–a special issue on sexualized violence–of Timbrel Magazine, a publication by Mennonite Women USA. To purchase a copy of this issue for a special discounted price of $5, click here.– RH
In each issue of Timbrel, a section called “Three Windows, Three Women” highlights three women’s stories that relate to the theme of the issue. In the current issue on sexualized violence, this story – my story – appeared as one of those three. It is one of many stories I could tell about the trauma of abuse and shape of healing, and it goes like this:
As a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, I was sexually, verbally, and emotionally abused on a number of occasions by a number of different boys and men. All the while, I appeared highly successful—good grades, socially competent, goal-oriented, and frequently complimented by my elders. No one close to me knew I was repeatedly experiencing traumatic violence, and I didn’t know it either. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I learned to name it for what it was.
That moment was a sea change for me. While I’d been suffering the trauma of violence my whole life, becoming conscious of that trauma unleashed a flood of terror and a heavy dose of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During that time, I remember feeling afraid and unsafe 100% of the time. Nightmares. Every night for three solid years, I’d wake up shaking, crying or paralyzed—literally paralyzed—with fear. On occasion, I opted not to go to sleep at all so as to avoid the risk of coming into contact with my dreams. I was being routinely flooded with anger so intense I feared I might hurt myself just so I had a way to express it. (Instead, I bought a collection of old coffee mugs from Goodwill and as often as I felt the need threw them as hard as I could against a concrete wall near my house.)
I remember having incredible difficulty finding the energy to keep up with life’s simplest tasks: finding something to eat, washing dishes, attending meetings, watering the plants. I felt profoundly betrayed by God and gave God an earful often, daily, sometimes by the hour.
Early in this period of my life I decided God was strong enough to handle the intensity of my pain, and I think that decision may have been one of the most important in paving my way toward healing. In my prayers, I held back nothing. I accused God of being a monster, of not caring about vulnerable children, of being anything but loving and trustworthy. If I felt it, God heard about it. No filter.
One ordinary day, I was sitting at my kitchen counter eating breakfast and pondering the relevance of Jesus to my life. I closed my eyes and brought Jesus to mind. As I envisioned it, we were standing in the desert. Looking straight at him, I informed this Jesus of my mind that while I was not kicking him out of my life entirely, our relationship needed boundaries because I did not trust him. I drew a line in the sand between us and told him to stay on his side. He was to wait there until I came to a decision about what should happen next.
To my surprise, the Jesus standing with me in the desert image of my mind did something I didn’t instruct or expect him to do. He sat down on his side of the line, and without the faintest hint of irritation said, “Okay.”
It was just one simple moment but whole entire worlds shifted within me. It was in experiencing Jesus’ willingness to respect my boundaries that I learned my boundaries should be respected by all. It was in experiencing his willingness to trust me that I began to trust myself. And, experiencing Jesus’ loving respect and acceptance in the desert of my mind turned out to also serve as my first step toward developing renewed trust in God. Finding renewed, sincere, authentically cultivated trust in God was and continues to be an essential ingredient in the healing journey I’ve since experienced and will continue to travel for the rest of my life.
I still get out those coffee mugs every now and again. The pain of trauma is never completely gone. But, it also no longer serves as the primary lens through which I experience life. Joy, gratitude, abundance. These are a few of the gifts I’ve picked up while traveling the path of healing.