Undying Hope – Bravelets

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Undying Hope

Posted on June 01 2017

Undying Hope
Undying Hope:
This is not easy. No, in fact every part of me rejected the idea of publishing this. But this is why I started a blog in the first place. To be vulnerable. To express that vulnerability and brokenness is real. And to tell others that it's okay to step into your vulnerability and that it is most likely required of you, in order to transform your life. 

I have found that once you are able to be authentically real with yourself is when true healing begins. My intention is not to draw unnecessary attention to the details of my life. It is not to prove to myself or others that I triumphed over my 'sad story'. Because this is not a sad story. This is my hope story.

I want to expose the truth to those who are reading this and to tell you that life can be really difficult and that it is okay to not be okay sometimes. We were taught from a young age to conceal our emotions, appear strong in the face of adversity, and to not crumble under emotional distress. But the great flaw in this way of thinking is that we are human and at some point in our lives we will all fall apart and suffer greatly. Suffering comes in many forms; the death of a loved one, a traumatic life event, a major life change, etc. We are much more alike then we perceive ourselves to be, yet we fight so valiantly to remain separate; to fight our battles alone. There is truth that our interconnected-ness can be found in our weaknesses. My hope story is about how something tragic brought me closer to my faith in God, closer to the people I love, and inspired me to change and renew my life. I have found that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to be completely vulnerable in front of others in order to transform into the person we were truly meant to be. This story is my personal expression of vulnerability. A story I buried deep within and never had any intention of sharing with anyone. But now it's time for me to let it go.

When I was 19 years old, I was raped by the person I had been in a relationship with for over five years.

I had not consented. I verbally said no.

It happened in my own home. I was stone cold sober. And just like that the foundation of my life, which was based on security and trust, was shaken. 

I thought I could trust this person. Our relationship in high school was awkward, loving, and good. But when I went to college and realized many of our values no longer aligned, our exchanges became unhealthy, destructive, and at times violent. I was publicly humiliated, emotionally shamed, and more then once, physically assaulted. There were no respectful boundaries established and when I attempted to distance myself from him, I found myself trapped in a series of his insecurities and rage.

No part of me felt comfortable disclosing this information to anyone. Especially the people I loved. My parents knew something was wrong, but at the time I didn't have the courage to tell them the truth. I just told them I needed their help, because I was, in fact, afraid of him. Without probing, they did what parents do best, and they protected me. We changed our garage code. I changed my passwords and any personal information he knew about me. If he came to the door, my mother would answer and tell him I wasn't home. He would unexpectedly show up at my workplace. My co-workers would cover for me and we'd awkwardly laugh it off, despite the fact that it was much more serious than I made it seem. He would knock on my ground-floor window at night, leave threatening voice-mails and take advantage of my compassion and empathy. I felt obligated to respond because I thought he was a threat to himself and those around him. I didn't want him to be in pain, despite the fact that he had caused so much turmoil in my heart. I knew what a broken heart could do to someone. It can make you go mad. But it didn't excuse his behavior and I was forced to cut all ties and communication with him.

For over two years, I was in denial that the rape was real, because I refused to believe it had happened to me. 

These are the stereotypes our culture had taught me and reinforced over the years:

Sexual assault happens with strangers. It occurs if you are promiscuous or put yourself in dangerous situations. If you are assaulted, it's your fault, because you wanted it, or because you allowed yourself to be in that kind of a relationship. If you report it, it because you feel guilty about what happened and you want revenge. And by 'you', I mean the hundreds of thousands of women and men whose lives have been affected by the devastating consequences of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Let me give you some sobering statistics:

Sexual assault affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men in their lifetime. The false reporting of sexual assault crimes only happens 1-4% of the time, which is consistent with the false reporting rates for all other felonies. 31% of cases are reported, 6% of cases lead to arrest, and only .7% lead to a felony conviction. Meaning nearly 99% of abusers will walk free. Perpetrators of sexual trauma are less likely to go to prison than other criminals as nearly 70% of all cases are never reported to the police.

It is clear that the prevalence of sexual assault and intimate partner violence is unfathomably common. But the real question I was faced with was this: Why is it so difficult for survivors like me to step forward? Before I shared my story with anyone, I was a health educator on my college campus speaking out about these issues. I became president of the student health organization that was leading the national campaigns 'Step Up' and 'It's On Us' for bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention. I wanted to help create awareness about this epidemic and help others feel safe and supported, even when I did not. No one was aware it had also happened to me. I sat through countless board and committee meetings with other students and faculty members to collaborate on how the university could create better policies, programs, and awareness campaigns. It became apparent that whenever someone's personal experiences were brought into a conversation, a daunting silence and awkwardness filled the room. Did a personal account of sexual assault somehow make a person less competent or credible while trying to create sustainable policy change? Did we not know how to support survivors, or did we simply forget how to empress empathy and compassion towards one another?

I quickly realized we weren't just fighting a battle trying to prevent the issue, as survivors we were also fighting the shame, guilt and cultural stigmas that made people so uncomfortable and intolerant of survivors speaking out. I was raised in a Catholic home and saw the value in sharing intimacy with only one person in marriage. At my very core, I believed in being united with one person in intimacy. The problem is that I was too immature to understand why waiting until marriage had extreme merit and value. And after the rape occurred, my entire spiritual foundation was shaken. I realized I had remained in an abusive relationship because I intended to marry the person I gave my virginity to. And now I felt like I had failed God and my future spouse. 

By coming forward, I also didn't want to be labeled as 'sexually deviant', 'promiscuous', 'stupid' or 'weak'.

So I buried the secret deep within. Away from exposure. Away from reality. Away from the truth. I made the subconscious choice to live in denial and avoidance. I was a high-achiever and learned that if I could achieve my way through life, there was never a reason for me to be considered a failure in the eyes of others. In fact, I knew I could draw attention away from this tragedy in my life by dazzling others with my accolades. And it worked for while...

Until I met the love of life.

When I met him, everything changed. Instantly, I became vulnerable all over again. I exposed to him my scars because I knew he had pain of his own. I wanted him to accept me as I was, and he did. It was a relief to finally be able to tell someone else the truth. He made me feel bright once again, and very slowly I gained the courage to expose my scars to others as well. In the spring of my senior year of college, we marched in a parade together in solidarity with other survivors. It was the first time I openly attended an event for my own healing. Everyone thought I was there to oversee the event, but in reality I was there for myself. And so was he. And that meant the world to me.

And I thought it would end there. We would march until the demonstration was over. I'd let the tears continue to fall to the pavement over my grief and I could leave the past behind.  It was over now. And together we would live happily ever after. The end.

But that's when the PTSD symptoms started kicking in. And then everything fell apart.

At first it came on slowly. But then there was an onset all at once. I began experiencing hyper arousal disturbances, exaggerated startle response, night terrors, and physiological reactivity to trauma cues that caused cognitive disturbances. I didn't know it was possible for memories I had buried so deeply to resurface so vividly and intrusively, let alone that PTSD symptoms could arise years after a trauma has occurred. But according to the National Women's Study, about 33 percent of rape victims develop PTSD at any point during their lifetime. It felt like someone had taken over my mind and body and was re-playing a video reel of disturbing and intrusive images. Every day presented an onset of new triggers and emotional/physical reactions. Loud noises brought on panic attacks, stressful situations made me want to lie down and give up, and I couldn't find the words to communicate to others what was happening to me. Why was I suffering the consequences of something that happened two years ago in the present day? Why did I feel ashamed, guilty, and broken when I wasn't the person that had caused this pain to begin with?

For a month, I had to sleep with a light on in my room because I would wake up from night terrors and forget where I was. I was jumpy and easily startled. I became extremely paranoid and fearful that my perpetrator was going to show up unannounced like he had done many times before. If I overheard a couple loudly arguing in a public space, I would have nervous breakdown. I became overly-sensitive to criticism, unresponsive to suggestions or encouragement, and was verbally abusive when I felt attacked. When I drank alcohol, the symptoms and my reactions only grew worse. On the night of my graduation, I remember running down the street to my house with my significant other close behind me. I turned around and started screaming at him in sheer panic not to hurt me. Of course he wasn't going to hurt me. But my brain couldn't understand the context of the situation. In my mind, I was right there, experiencing the trauma all over again. I can't imagine the pure heartbreak he felt, time and time again when I pushed him away. No one told him it was okay to feel the way that he did. Because in many ways, he was being traumatized too. He was fighting off ghosts and tried appearing like it wasn't affecting him also. But he continued fighting my battles and held my hand through the worst of it. Because he knew I needed help. The truth is, there was a lot of help available, but I was far too prideful to consider it. Which is why I don't blame him for leaving. Because I knew why he had to get away. It still burned my heart from the inside out and I fell into an even deeper depression than I was before.

I was broken and brokenhearted in every way. My pride quickly dissolved and was replaced with extreme self-pity. The activities I once loved and found enjoyable turned grey. I stopped exercising. I gained weight. I didn't care anymore. No one loved me, so why should I? I couldn't make it through an 8 hour work day without several trips to a single stall bathroom, where I would allow myself 2-3 minutes to completely fall apart. Sometimes I numb myself out completely. I had developed a habit of self-harm in high school to deal with the emotional scars of rumors and the abuse I'd taken from teenage girls. I could hide it in discrete places along my leg or upper thigh and no one ever suspected a thing. It was my own unhealthy way of dealing with emotional stress. For the first time in years, I had resorted back to cutting to take the edge off the PTSD symptoms. When I was triggered, the world, for several minutes, would go fuzzy. There was an actual ringing noise I could hear inside my head. Sometimes just knowing that I was still capable of feeling pain would lessen the numbing. Suicidal thoughts became more concrete. What's the point? Why am I here? It doesn't matter anymore.

I became immobilized and spiteful towards the world around me. Fear and emotional instability was crippling my life. That was my reality. It was not pretty. It was down-right atrocious.

Until I reached out for help and allowed the pain to wash me clean.

It started with a three day trip to a psychiatric ward. Yes, I did, in fact, spend three days in one of these institutions. My parents picked me up from a Mustard Seed parking only a few miles away from my office after having a major anxiety attack. They found me curled up in the fetal position, shaking uncontrollably. I told them I couldn't go home, and I didn't trust myself to be left alone.

I had taken several stabs at my wrist with a pen the week before while waiting for a cab.

The only reason I got home safely was because I had called my best friend to tell her I loved her. I told her I couldn't handle the pain anymore and I just wanted it to be over.  

I recognize now that it's not because I didn't want to live; I just wanted the pain to go away. No one wants to be in pain. That is completely human. We avoid pain at any cost, for all kinds of reasons. To avoid confrontation, humiliation, rejection, loneliness, and vulnerability. We would rather lay down and die then appear weak or vulnerable in the face of adversity. But that is also why pain is the ultimate paradox. Through suffering, we are purified and forced to grow into something new.We must learn to start over. To let go. We must die inside to let the light back in.

That night my best friend and my sister fought for me, when I wasn't capable of fighting for myself. These two are the real heroes of this story. Without them, there wouldn't be a hope story. And they will never understand how grateful I am for the selfless love they both displayed so courageously to protect me. It was the kind of love that my parents displayed the day they took me to the hospital. The kind of love my significant other held me with in moments of despair. It was the kind of love that never fails.

So when I was in the hospital, I promised myself I had to get better for the people I loved. I wrote the word 'Excelsior' on a piece of paper and hung it up in my room in light of Silver linings Playbook. It was my best friend's favorite movie. I remembered the line, "This is what I learned in the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining." I realized that I, too, had the choice to quit, or find the silver linings in my life. My sister and mom came to visit me every day, twice a day, and we would make light-hearted jokes about the cold coffee and the woman who wouldn't stop shouting at the telephone. I survived using humor and grace.  I had several exhausting interviews with different doctors and nursing staff members and was required to attend a community group therapy session daily. The one thing that provided me the most relief was craft time. We weren't allowed to use scissors or glue, which was limiting in many ways. I did however find a way to collage ripped pieces of paper I had taken from a magazine and paste it together with gold paint. I formed a heart out of the magazine clippings and shockingly, it turned out quite beautiful. That day, I found an innate truth: that I am capable of making beautiful things out of hopeless situations.

I never wanted to forget what I had learned, so when I returned home I framed it and hung it up on my bedroom wall.

In my vulnerability and brokenness, I found an undeniable truth. In that truth, I found hope. And with hope, I began to heal my life.

After I was hospitalized, I discovered things inside of me were still broken. There wasn't a magic pill that was going to fix everything (although the doctors did send me on my way with several). This time, I knew I had to take full ownership of my pain. I could no longer live in denial of the fact that I needed help or that I could do it alone. Every day I would have to be vulnerable and expose myself to others in order to get better. It didn't happen all at once, but slowly I was able to find new resources that were able to better support me and equip me with the tools I needed to heal. The best and most humbling resource I came to first and foremost, was God. 

When I was a child, I had a very strong relationship with God. I attended mass regularly, said bedtime prayers every evening, and knew with all my heart that He was with me. I did not doubt any part of His existence. A few months ago I found a note I had written my grandfather when I was twelve, confirming this unyielding faith. The note said, "Dear Pa, I hope you like the cross I made for you! If you feel alone you are not, because God and Jesus are always with you. I really hope you always remember that! Love, Megan." In addition to the note, there was a wooden cross I had whittled out of sticks. I remember how long it took me to carve the cavity on one piece of wood that would allow the other to fit, just right. As I grew older, I started asking myself how Christianity could fit 'just right' into the various aspects of my life, and I didn't have a clear answer.

I knew that Jesus Christ was our 'Savior' but how could that change or be intimately connected to my circumstances here on earth? As I started experiencing heartbreak, loss, and suffering, I became rather unconvinced that He alone was capable of saving me. I grew quieter in my faith and stopped speaking out about my own personal beliefs because I didn't really know what they were any more. As a child, my heart was pure, but as I grew older, I allowed the cultural norms, materialism, and modern media to draw me further away from the church and from God.

The rebirth of my relationship with Him this year played an extremely pivotal role in my healing and made what was once broken, brand new.

It happened on a particularly difficult day. Two important relationships in my life came to a screeching halt. I drove to my church and took refuge in the only place I could think would give me solitude and peace. The church was empty and I kneeled in a pew in the back and cried. It was an out-pour of my vulnerability. After listing my grievances, I cupped my hands in front of me, as if I was holding something very precious. I slowly raised them upward and said, "Here. I am giving this up to you God because I don't know what else to do with it. You are the only one I can trust. I don't know where I am going, what I am doing, or how I am supposed to fix this mess of a life, but I am giving it back you." It was in that moment that the Holy Spirit unleashed my soul. It was a moment that changed me in my faith. God didn't need me to be this perfect version of myself I had falsely created in front of others. He desired a relationship with me in my brokenness. I begged him for mercy. I asked him to forgive me for not coming to him sooner. I had to come to this place of weakness to fully understand that in my suffering there was renewal and hope. God was my undying hope, and I was capable of leaning on Him for all of my needs, especially the things I did not have answers to. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" -Proverbs 3:5

For many years I relied too heavily on the affirmations of others to know that I was sufficient, and that I was pursuing the right path in life. But God alone is capable of healing our hearts and providing us refuge. I realized that many of us turn away from Him when we are broken because we are either angry with our circumstances or feel insufficient to humble ourselves before Him and ask for help. But He is our loving Father and the creator of all things, and we often forget that He alone knows completely of our individual suffering. 

People often ask "Why do bad things happen to good people?" or exclaim "I don't believe in a God that would allow something like this to happen," because I believe it is easier for us to harden our hearts and turn away from God, then to examine the truth the lies within. Sometimes we prefer that our lives be a different story than the one God seems to be writing. In our fragile existence it doesn't make much sense to turn a romance into a drama, or an adventure into a tragedy. But when we push God away, it's more often than not a mere reflection of our own brokenness, pride, selfishness, or insecurities. That was certainly the case in my own life. I had to come to God on my own terms to understand how merciful and glorious he truly is. The truth is that we all have free will. This is both a blessing God has bestowed upon us and an enormous responsibility. Because free will exists in the world, so does sin. And with sin comes evil. Evil that creates wars and death, induces fear, and silences truth. Sin only exists because we all have the choice to either live a life of integrity and love, or use our words and actions to cause pain and suffering in the lives of others. God does not take away life or create situations that inflicts suffering. Suffering and pain is the result of our own sin. And God wants us to turn away from the things that cause us suffering and return back to Him. The word 'sin' in literal translation means to 'miss the mark'. When I began to examine the areas in my own life that I had been falling short of or missing the mark in, I found what was truly important. Love. And in order to truly love, we must also learn how to forgive.

I came to know that the people who had caused me the most pain in my life had also experienced extreme pain of their own. It was not a reflection of something I had done to them, but rather a reflection of their own insecurities, grief, and sin. With this in mind, I started changing my thought patterns and behavior. I stopped criticizing myself and others and chose to pray about it instead. When someone hurt me, instead of wishing they would come to understand the consequences of their actions, I prayed for good things in their life. I chose to forgive and pardon them anyway. It may sound like a naive way of interacting with the world, but it created new space for happiness and more time for letting go of the things that no longer helped me flourish. I gave up social media for six months. The more I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, the unhappier I was with my own life. Because no one wants to admit they may be suffering too. We only allow others to see the beautiful parts of our lives. But that's not reality. I asked myself, 'how many likes does it take to actually live a happy life?' When I finally created a space without distractions, I discovered God was the only 'like' that truly mattered in my life and He willingly accepted me as I came. I stopped watching Netflix and cable television all together. I realized so much of the content in modern media was disturbing, violent, sexualized, or completely incongruent with the way I actually wanted to live my life. It wasn't until I starting living in this extremely filtered way that I understood how desensitized and brain-washed our society has become. When I stopped listening to pop culture music I became more aware of my own language and use of profanity and I decided to start speaking with more integrity. Because I had more free time on my hands, I read more books then I've probably read in three years. I became a volunteer at my church mentoring teens on Sundays. I cut out alcohol for Lent and gained exceptional clarity about the way alcohol affected my life. I was inspired by the documentary, 'The Minimalists' and decided to minimize my life by cutting my closet in half. I sold my clothes to a local thrift shop and donated the rest to Goodwill.

At first it was really difficult; especially when it came to letting go of parts of my life that were comfortable or familiar. It was easier to try and find a 'quick fix' and a temporary kind of happiness that resulted from buying a new pair of shoes or 'vegging out' and watching TV. But the further I removed myself from the everyday trends of our world, the happier and more at peace I felt with myself. I was on a journey that set my soul free.

The things I did not understand, I gave back to God, and more often then not, He began revealing answers to me that I wasn't expecting. I learned how to forgive myself and be gentle in my own thoughts once again.

I discovered that the world wasn't against me, but that we are born inherently good; sometimes we just get stuck. Things will never be perfect, but as we begin seeking the light in our own lives and the good in the lives of others, God's love reflects brightly back at us.

The moment I accepted Christ into my heart, the more choices I starting making out of love rather than fear and everything around me began to flourish once again. Even my closest friends who helped dig me out of the abyss I was once in, noticed that something was different about me.

It doesn't mean that the circumstances of my life immediately got better, but there was an inner peace that helped ground me. I sought out therapy from a trauma specialist.We did two particular types of treatment including sensory motor psychotherapy and EMDR, which is an abbreviated version of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. We began examining my attachment theories, generational attachments, and worked through my conscious thoughts and cognitive disturbances. I admitted to her that after a few weeks of working together, I seriously considered not coming back. Therapy was hard work. It was unbearable at times to sit in front of someone and expose such vulnerable and raw things about myself. It was difficult to release the deeply seeded attachments I had formed in early childhood and carried with me all my life. But I also recognized how necessary it was for me to continue showing up in order to step into a greater awareness of myself and learn how I related to the world around me. I didn't have to allow the actions of others to disturb my healing or the way I viewed myself.

I would highly recommend to anyone reading this, take the time to go to therapy. You do not have to have some traumatic life experience as a prerequisite excuse to go. You will discover and uncover things you never had any idea had such influence or hold over you. I learned that a car accident I had gotten into when I was sixteen year old was still affecting me every time I am a passenger in someone else's car. I learned that the way I formed my attachments in early childhood influenced every relationship I made in early adulthood. Experiences in childhood friendships, sports teams, and child-adult relationships, all lead back to the same overlapping theme that I believed I was not worthy enough. So naturally, I became my own worst enemy and self-critic. No wonder I tried achieving my way through life in order to offset this extremely limiting self-belief. Most people throughout my life have misjudged me as living this 'picture-perfect-privileged' life. Yet I went through seasons of extreme self-hatred and grief.

We are all facing great battles inside our own heads and hearts. How deceitful and judgmental we are of ourselves and one another!

It was extraordinary to discover how much information my subconscious was capable of latching onto and refusing to let go of. We all have those deeply rooted subconscious memories. It takes courage to step into that kind of vulnerability, but it is also amazing how freeing it can be to step into a new awareness that allows you to rise above it. If it is important enough to you, you will be able to find the resources and the time to go.

I also started seeking treatment from a reiki practitioner. Reiki is the activation of 'chi' which is considered our 'life energy'. I experienced a lot of pain in my physical body because of the rape. There were many blockages throughout my body including unexplainable hip pain, extreme heaviness and grief surrounding my heart, and a lack of lung capacity. I had severe anemia my senior year of college which quite literally means 'a lack of energy' or a lack of oxygen to the red blood cells inside your body. It is not a coincidence that the anemia manifested during the onset of the PTSD symptoms.

I discovered reiki through my mother who had been seeking treatment of her own for six months. She has an autoimmune condition and was completely healed of the inflammation in her blood cells through diet changes and reiki alone. It was nothing short of miraculous, so I sought out treatment for myself to help ease my anxiety. The more exposed I became to it, the more my physical and emotional symptoms subsided.

It is a scientific fact that there is an energetic field in our bodies that cannot be detected once we die. I consider this our spiritual body, or the soul. I came to understand that Reiki, in it's purest form, is the Holy Spirit moving through people. Everyone is capable of harnessing the Holy Spirit, therefore it is possible for us to heal ourselves and one another. Reiki originated in Japan as an ancient form of healing and clears blockages throughout the physical and energetic body. I started taking classes from my therapist to help continue my healing journey, and am humbled to say I am now a certified Reiki Master. The most incredible part of my reiki journey was discovering that in order to become a practitioner, you must first experience a healing journey of your own. There were times throughout my practice that I was so sure of God's presence, that not a single bone in my body could ever deny His existence. Reiki may have been the umbrella under which I helped hear God's call, but it is His voice that ultimately lead me to Him. We are but humble vessels doing His work.
In the fall of last year I also called the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and was put on waiting list to join a free support group for women. There were only a certain number of people allowed per session which met over a 10 week period of time. The center required individuals to have at least four to six months of personal counseling or therapy before attending, and at the time I only had two. So I was wait-listed until the spring of 2017, which I was initially very impatient and distraught about.  I just wanted to be 'back to normal' and check group therapy off of my list of things to do - as if getting back to 'normal' was as easy as changing the washer setting. But healing doesn't work that way - you never go back to 'being normal' and transformation at times can be extremely painful. The good news is that transformation usually turns you into something even more wholesome and good then you were before; it just takes a lot more time than I initially thought it would. "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." -Maya Angelou

When I got a call in early February that the group was starting, I remember being both terrified and relieved. What if it was uncomfortable and weird? At least I would have a group of people to talk to. Who cares if they think I'm weird. It can't be any weirder then having to spend three days in a psychiatric ward. I struggled the most with not being able to relate to others. I often felt shame or guilt when I would disclose personal information to a person and then feel pitied or invalidated because of it. I didn't need to be fixed, or ignored, or shamed; I just needed to talk to someone who could actually relate to the experiences I had endured.

Previously when I had tried relaying things to my significant other, he often interpreted it as 'bringing up the past' or 'talking about my ex' when in reality I had no idea how to express myself and convey the amount of pain I was in. I felt inauthentic because I couldn't speak the truth openly without it resurfacing in inappropriate ways or being condemned because of it. I just wanted someone to understand and listen to what I had to say without judgement. I wanted to be present once again and feel close to the people who were trying to offer me support.

And all of the women in this group did exactly that for me. They gave me the support I needed to no longer view myself as a victim, but rather as a survivor. We were able to talk openly without judgement. My expressiveness became natural once again and together we created goals as individuals and as a group to help continue our healing. I started writing in the fall as a personal form of self-expression. I never planned to share my work with anyone, but the more I wrote, the more compelled I felt to share my story with others to shed light on the reality of mental health, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. It became my individual goal to publish this blog and share my 'hope story' with the world. It was the one thing I was most fearful of: being exposed and vulnerable in front of others in such a public way; which is exactly why it was the thing I knew I needed to do the most.

These women were all so strong in their convictions and courageous in their loving words and together we discovered that our voices did matter. They gave me the ammunition I needed to continue writing and publish something that was completely authentic and real. It became less about me and more about combating the negative cultural stigmas that suppressed our stories. I wanted to expose how often it happens in our communities, on our campuses, and in the lives of those closest to us. We all have a choice to speak up and do something about it. We all have the ability to not tolerate that kind of behavior when we see it happening around us.

It is also my hope to draw others who are facing the same battle, closer to a place of healing and understanding. You need to know that you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not incomplete. You are completely entitled to the pain and heartache you are experiencing, but it will not last forever. You are whole and worthy of love.

There lies an inherent truth in every single one of us. We can drown those voices out by the noise of life, or we can take the time to listen. In my time of healing, I learned I had to withdraw from the world to withdraw from within that which was truly special and courageous in me. When I started paying attention, this is the truth I heard from my heart:

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am both a masterpiece and a work of art simultaneously. I know the real value of my own self-worth. I can make beautiful things out of hopeless situations. I have a heart that can survive unyielding storms and have a foundation of faith that knows something better lies ahead. In my brokenness I have found strength. I found God. I am whole. I am enough. I am worthy of a loving, healthy relationship, and deserving of a plentiful, prosperous marriage. I desire purity and unity with God and with my spouse. One person's actions were not my fault or responsibility, nor do they have to haunt me for the rest of my life. I am grateful for these trials, for they have served me well and strengthened my faith and extended my empathy and compassion for others. I do in fact forgive those that have wounded me deeply, because I know that they too experienced suffering of their own. But the abuse ends with me. Every day I have a choice to believe in the lies of other's untruths and injustices, or I can give myself permission to love and heal myself completely. I can reach outward to help heal the lives of others. I can expose the truth without feeling shame or guilt. I choose forgiveness. I choose love. Through both, we are granted the permission to be free. I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.

-M.ELIZABETH

I would like to give a special thanks to my family, my dear friends, my therapist, my reiki master, and all the beautiful, empowered women in my support group who inspired me to share my 'hope story' with the world. You were my strength and courage when I thought i had nothing left. Thank you for the sacrifices you made to bring me closer to love. May you always remember that your words and deeds are capable of transforming the lives around you.

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