Baptized and Traumatized

I grew up believing the world was going to end at any minute.

It’s funny, I remember a time that my mom and I were traveling through the fog and mountains and three lit-up crucifixes had me in a near panic attack thinking that this was finally it, the end of my life. The second coming. 

It never sat right with me. The second coming, I mean. The sheer thought of leaving everything I knew for a paradise that would not even welcome my own cat, where I would be forced to sing and dance about God forever. I would be safe and happy while my friends suffered and were tormented —  and I just wouldn’t think about it? or remember it was happening because I would be safe in Heaven?

Just blissfully dancing and singing over the screams down below. How the hell is that paradise?

And until Heaven, my “great reward,” I had to spend my life in terror. Terror because I never felt “safe” that I was “saved.” 

I used to repeat my salvation prayer over and over at night because I was so scared that I hadn’t “really meant it, hadn’t really believed” when I had said it all those times before.

I think that the concept of the rapture and Heaven made me realize how cruel religion could be. 

There is a paradise but you can only go if you have heard of Jesus and accepted him.
If you hear and don’t accept him, you burn in hell.
If you accept him and then reject him, you burn in hell.
If you don’t hear and don’t accept him, you burn in hell.

*Unless the rapture comes, then you might actually have a chance.

I had the distinct privilege of growing up in an Independent Baptist Church.
What does that mean?

It means women are treated as second-class to men. Women must ask their husbands for permission to do things. Women must not wear bright nail polish, ankle bracelets or two-piece swimsuits, because the male gaze is ever-present, and you see, they can’t help it. God made them that way. It is our job to make sure they don’t act on it. If they act on it, men are weak, and women are lustful.

I remember being allowed to carry the offering plate one Sunday evening. I remember the way I felt when I was finally chosen. It made my entire day, I was finally able to hold a basket and pass it up and down the rows. So minor, but in my 13 years of life, I had always been passed over. The two boys my age, and the younger ones that came after, would always be chosen instead of me. But not this time. Me, an usher. I was absolutely elated.

Years later, I remember being told that the man that allowed me to do that was punished by my pastor, He was told to never allow that to happen again. Being an usher is an honor, and it is not a job for women. It will never be. If a woman wants to honor the Lord, the kitchen and the children she raises are her trophy cases where she can hang her rewards.  

At church, I remember they would *wink* not talk about politics *wink* because they could lose their tax-exempt status. It didn’t stop political jokes and nods and winks from the pulpit. It didn’t stop a pastor from another church printing out my Facebook page and smearing the word “Democrat” with a highlighter before handing it off to my pastor for judgment. It didn’t stop a church member from tearing the Barack Obama sticker off of my bumper and having a good laugh about it with my mom. Why would I ruin a perfectly good Buick like that?

What the church mostly meant though, was Fear.

Fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention, fear of letting the evil and dangerous “World” swallow me whole, fear of telling my mom the truth, fear of loving sinners, fear of people different from me, fear of new ideas that might contaminate me, fear of dying and going to hell, fear that my grandparents were going to hell.

It is said that God is the epitome of grace, love, and mercy. But during my time as a believer, I never felt more abandoned, lost, and alone.

me too.

It’s funny how much impact these two words, consisting of only five letters, can have on the person that says them. Over the past 24 hours, thousands of women have come forward about times they have been harassed or assaulted by men, in an effort to increase awareness and visibility of victims of unsolicited sexual advances. My facebook feed has been filled with one “me too” after the other.

As someone that has also found myself in the “me too” category, the response was overwhelming. In a sort of “fucked up” way, I found it comforting, there are other women who have been through something similar. I have allies and confidants I did not know before.But more than anything, It was painful to read each one.

The group of assault and harassment survivors is the group no one wants to be a part of. No one joined this group willingly, no one consented to it. And up until the “me toos”, this group was largely silent.

Think of all the women you know that have come forward in the last 24 hours and admitted to being harassed or touched without their consent. Now consider the women whose jobs would be at stake if they posted, the women who are sexually assaulted in their homes every night, the women who cannot access a computer that would also reply, “me too.” I still think about the victims of Trump’s sexual assaults and how their “me toos” fell on thousands disbelieving ears.  The magnitude of the “me toos” is astonishing. As a victim of sexual assault, I am overwhelmed by those who have come forward.

TRIGGER WARNING 

This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors

My story is one that I only began to tell about a year ago, after 5 years of silence. The election stirred something up in me, something painful that I had avoided, fought, silenced, buried, ran away from, and cried countless nights over. It started where many assaults (unfortunately) start, in a frat house. I point this out because according to the Guardian, fraternal brothers are 300% more likely to rape and women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women (Source).

One cold night in March, I went to a frat I frequented many times before. On this particular night, I was drunk beyond coherence. Unfortunately, after having my heart broken the previous fall, that was my state more often than not during those days. I could not tell you who I was with or how I got into the room where my assault would occur, or even how I got home that night. I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t protect myself. I had entered a room with only one other person in it, when I tried to leave, I was met with a demand. I couldn’t leave, not without “paying to get out.”

Without going into detail, I will tell you that the payment was not a cash transaction. I screamed for help but the house music was too loud. It was too late before someone heard me.

It was too late for me.

To this day, I could not tell you what the face of my attacker looked like, I was too drunk to remember. Does that cheapen my experience? Does that make me a liar? Absolutely not. But these are the exact same excuses hurled at women, like me, that have been assaulted. I wrestled with what happened to me for years trying to figure out if I could have done anything different to stop that experience from happening.

The sad answer is, I couldn’t have. Because even if I had been sober at that party, someone else would have ended up in that room in my place and I would not have heard someone crying for help over the loud music. If not me, then someone else. That is the sad truth about sexual assault.

The hardest part about my assault was the anonymity of my attacker. I did not know if I was interacting with him because I did not remember their face. I stopped going to that frat because I was fearful of whom I was talking to, I developed anxiety and depression, I gained weight, I couldn’t leave my bed, I would spend so many afternoons crying because I felt so helpless. I felt all alone in this world and with this pain. To this day I am afraid to be alone with adult men, to be alone in my home, or to be alone in an unfamiliar environment. I am battling this attack every day and have battled it since it first happened 5 years ago. I wanted to die. I felt worthless. I felt alone.

As the anniversary of me coming to terms with my assault fast approaches, I felt the need to tell my story. When I share that awful experience, I feel catharsis. The hold of my attacker over me fades, even if it is ever so slightly. My therapist refers to this as “taking my power back.”

So to all my fellow “me toos” out there, thank you for sharing, thank you for making yourself vulnerable so others can feel they are not alone. Thank you for taking your power back.

If you’re sitting here wondering why we still need to do these things to get Congress and men and anyone we can find to listen to us. To get the legislation to work for victims, to test the backlog of rape kits, to allow women access to the morning after pill when they have been assaulted (and even when they haven’t), to believe women when they report assaults, and to not blame the victim for their dress/inebriation/sexual history…

me too.