Note: This post is about sexual assault. If you need to, set it aside to read at a better time. Or skip it altogether.

Take steps to heal from sexual assault

You’ve probably seen the letter written by the Stanford sexual assault survivor.

It is a letter that resonated with far too many of us.

Like some of you, I, too, am a survivor of sexual assault. There are parts of my story that aren’t too different from that of the young woman who penned such powerful words.

Last year we saw an empty chair on the cover of New York Magazine, devoted to Bill Cosby’s accusers. Now we see a letter that describes what it is like to be a survivor of sexual assault. Our news feeds are filled with pieces about rape culture, forgiveness, the dangers of alcohol abuse, privilege, power, parenting, protection, and more.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, it isn’t so easy to see the news or our social media feeds right now, is it?

We are reminded of what we would prefer we had not experienced, of the sexual brokenness we experienced as part of the aftermath.

Sexual assault affects us all differently. While there are some common ways that many of us respond, carrying the emotional wounds of rape or other sexual assault is highly personal. Each woman’s story is her own, even when it seems similar to what many others have experienced.

It may have affected your sense of self, your ability to trust, your enjoyment of sexual pleasure, your sense of worth, and your ability to try certain sexual positions or activities. It might have shaped your relationship with God and your relationship with your husband. Being a sexual assault survivor has likely shaped who you are as a woman and as a wife. As Christians, our healing carries the added work of learning to forgive.

Even if you are mostly healed, you may encounter remnants of that brokenness from time to time.

You may experience a road block, habit, or temptation that you realize is in connected in some way to your sexual assault.

A sexual assault from years ago can affect you and your marriage today. Being a survivor means that we have learned to live with the assault. It doesn’t guarantee that we have healed.

~~~

Dear sister survivor, it was not your fault, no matter what you were wearing, what you’d been doing, where you were, or who you were with.

Whether your rape was your first sexual experience or your hundredth, you were violated.

Whether you reported your assault or have kept it secret for many years, you were wronged. It was still sexual assault. You have survived a violent crime.

You, created in the image of God, deserve the comfort of God’s great Fatherly arms wrapped around you in healing.

~~~

I want to beckon you onward in your healing. I invite you to make steps forward, from wherever you are.

Healing for you may not look like healing for another woman.

For some, professional or pastoral counseling is the best way to go. For others, healing without help is preferred because it can feel so empowering. The pursuit of healing may involve a bible study specifically relating to trauma or sexual brokenness. Some women find that journaling or drawing can build a path for healing.

I recently was in touch with a friend who wants to work on her healing on her own. I shared with her what this has looked like in my own life:

Here’s what “working on it” often looks like for me, once I’ve identified something specific that I need to address: I sit at my desk and cry for a while, allowing myself to feel sad that I experienced what I did and annoyed that I have to deal with it. I pray—not for healing, but for God to lead me to what I need to read and do. I do one of those “okay, God I’m going to open the bible, so you need to make the page open to where you want me to read” things. I usually open to the Psalms, conveniently located smack dab in the middle of the bible.   And always, wherever I land is something that helps—about comfort, forgiveness, focusing on what I should do rather than on what I can expect from others, or whatever. I pray again, asking God to help me internalize what I’ve read. I have a journal where I copy out bible verses, so I write those verses into my journal. Then I always make a point of praying for my rapist and his family. I have found that praying for his family has helped me forgive him in a way nothing else has.  The rape has lost most of its grip on me now. I was recently reading some new Bill Cosby stuff, and it didn’t pull at me as much as it did even last year.

There have been times when the work has left me raw—but the rawness is always followed by healthy new skin. The rawness is part of the healing for me.

~~~

If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the media coverage of sexual assault right now, it might be a good time to take active steps toward healing.

I would like to point you to my series on healing from sexual trauma. It was written for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and for sexual assault survivors.

You’ll find encouragement and, in the last post, specific things you can do to release the hold the assault has on your life.

One thing that helped me tremendously last year was to write out my story.

I encourage you to do the same thing. Write your sexual assault story. Own what is yours to own, but don’t own what was someone else’s. Read it aloud to yourself. There is great power in giving voice to part of your own life story. When I wrote about my experience, I saw patterns that I hadn’t recognized before. I had one of those epiphanies where just for a moment, everything made sense. And then I sat and sobbed for a very cathartic hour.

If you would like to share your story here, you may send it to me at chris@forgivenwife.com, with SURVIVOR in the subject. I will compile the stories into a post or page here. Not only can telling your own story be healing, reading the stories of others, knowing that you are not alone, can be healing as well.

~~~

Dear sister survivor,

It was not your fault.

You are not alone.

With God, you are never, ever alone.

Visit RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) at rainn.org for information and support.

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9 Thoughts on “Mending the Remnants of Brokenness

  1. Thank you for continuing to minister to survivor sisters.

  2. IntimacySeeker on June 10, 2016 at 8:06 am said:

    Thank you.

  3. Mike on June 12, 2016 at 7:28 pm said:

    I do not think men understand the impact and devastation this act of rape has on women. We men don’t seem to have a similar act that devastates us to that extent. Even though we are told that sexual assault is painful and life changing, those words don’t seem to give us that same visceral feelings as it does with women. What do you think is the difference? How can we men better identify with women’s anguish and fear?

    • These are good questions, and I don’t have the answers. Rape violates our very sense of self. It is a physical invasion through the most private part of the body, but it is far more than a physical experience. It shreds our sense of power. It tells us that our bodies are not our own. The whole of who we are is rendered irrelevant by one man’s focus on forcing his sexual pleasure on us. Lying there immobilized makes us feel trapped, with no way out. I don’t know what would be comparable for a man in terms of having his sense of self violated, his body trapped, and all his power and value sucked away.

      I wish I knew how men could better understand this. The letter written by Stanford rapist is long, but read that and imagine what it would be like to be that person. Read the stories of rape survivors and imagine that it is your wife, your sister, your daughter telling that story. You might feel a little rage. Now imagine that you can do absolutely nothing with that rage. You re completely powerless to take away the pain. Maybe that’s a little what it is like: a violation that invades and renders you with impotence.

  4. Mike on June 12, 2016 at 9:33 pm said:

    You write a powerful statement!! I have read the letters by the Stanford rapist and his victim. I have felt some of the pain that both feel. But I still don’t think the Stanford swimmer gets it. I think he is more concerned with the damage getting caught did to his future rather than to the 23 year old. The victim’s statement was very well written, and I can see how she is damaged by the rape. Yet, I don’t feel the damage viscerally as I wish I could, and how you describe it. I wish I could teach boys and men what great damage they are doing to girls and women when they take non-consensual sex so lightly and selfishly.. Your are helping me get an understanding about the damage done. I am going to try to do something with this information and help others. Thank you!!

  5. IntimacySeeker on June 13, 2016 at 12:49 pm said:

    I appreciate Mike’s questions here. I think rape is one symptom of a broader issue, namely patriarchy. This article speaks powerfully and calls the church to repentance.

    https://elcayacohort.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/the-deification-of-maleness-masculinity/

    • That is a powerful article. Although I’m sure some folks will bristle at parts of it, I hope people are able to look past that and really think about what it is like to never be able to fully relate to how the church talks about God.

      Maybe that’s part of thing about rape. We can say it is dehumanizing, because it is. It reduces the victim to an object upon which is played a rapist’s desire for power. But this isn’t enough. Beyond the dehumanizing nature of rape, rape dismisses the part of us that bears God’s image. If I am truly an image-bearer of God, how is it possible that someone would actually do what he did? In that regard, it is a spiritual violation as much as it is a physical one.

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