Six years ago, when I told my pastor and his wife that my psychiatrist and church elder had sexually assaulted me, I was flooded with shame. Conquering that shame seemed an impossible task. I was merely trying to escape. I couldn’t imagine my healing going any farther than that.
Regardless of how it played out, my life was over. The betrayal was crushing. Would anyone believe me? Would I ever be able to trust? And what about the grief? I believed nothing positive would come from it if I survived at all. And I for sure couldn’t imagine God using it for good.
Healing seemed an insurmountable task, akin to standing at the bottom of a mountain and looking straight up. How would I reach the top much less begin climbing? Shame and self-hatred piled so high I couldn’t even see the peak. I would need to climb over that self-loathing in order to reach the summit, but how? I did the only thing I knew to do. I began moving—small, tentative steps.
First, I told my pastor and his wife about the abuse. There was healing just in the telling and being believed, in the unloading of the secret. After that, I allowed myself time to grieve and process what happened. I spent that first week in survival mode, trying only to eat and sleep. Once I felt that I was on more steady ground, I began the overwhelming task of sorting through the wreckage. To my shock and horror, I realized I had been groomed. The doctor had systematically and methodically manipulated me for his benefit. That didn’t eliminate the self-blame, but it was a huge leap forward.
The next very necessary and painful step in reducing my shame was to tell my husband. It was a terrifying prospect. He might blame me, at least initially, but it had to be done. Then, I had to give him time and permission to sort through his own emotions whatever that looked like.
I noticed that each little accomplishment, each fear faced, brought me a little bit higher up the mountain. There were times that I thought I was not making any progress at all, that the pain would never subside. Sometimes, the incline was so subtle that it felt as if the path was flat. But when I stopped to look back, to take in the landscape around me, I could see just how far I’d come.
In those early months, I needed support more than anything. I wanted to commiserate with women who had been through a similar betrayal. I needed them to tell me that it was not my fault. Had this even happened to anyone else? Was I the only one? I read book after book trying to find a situation like mine.
I googled therapist abuse and found a group called T.E.L.L., Therapy Exploitation Link Line. http://www.therapyabuse.org I realized that I was simply one of many, and that provided comfort. Thousands of victims of therapist or clergy abuse have contacted T.E.L.L. over the years, and those are just the ones who spoke up.
I couldn’t have moved past the trauma without professional help, and that meant facing my fear and reentering a therapist’s office. I sought out a psychologist skilled in EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing, a technique that aids the healing of traumatic memories in the brain. After working with her every week for a year, the abuse was no longer the most emotionally charged event in my life. It was also healing to work with a mental health professional with ethical boundaries. I could walk in, do the work, pay and leave. No strings attached. As it should be.
Without my relationship with Jesus Christ, I couldn’t have made it off the ground. He has been my constant guide and companion during this arduous journey—steering me away from danger and carrying me when my feet were too blistered and bloodied to walk.
In order to fully heal, I had to confront the lies I’d been bound by with His truth—with who He says I am. In my memoir, PRAYED UPON, I list a set of rules. Rules that allowed me to become victimized. Rules based on who the world said I was, not who God said I was.
Replacing these old messages proved challenging, after all, they had become a part of me. But I kept at it, writing letters to myself from Him, speaking life into myself as I trusted He would until His words began to penetrate my walls. The change was ever so slight, but in time, a new person began to emerge. I began reaching new heights!
Another thing that moved me up that mountain was the decision to report my abuser to the medical board. Although the process was intimidating, it was empowering. In addition, I pursued a civil suit. It was a three-year journey that carried its own stressors, but again, it was therapeutic to take action against the injustice. To stand up. To push back. To move forward.
I forgave my perpetrator. I reasoned that if God restored the doctor to the person He designed, not the evil one that I encountered, that I would be okay seeing that person in Heaven. I began to pray for the doctor’s salvation, and I continued until I sensed a peace. I also needed to forgive my spouse for his initial unbelief and my friend, Lori, for not believing me when I initially went to her with allegations of abuse. The last person I had to forgive proved the most challenging—myself.
However, I kept climbing because I desired the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” I tried to be patient with myself along the way. Triggers came and went, but I’ve learned that triggers aren’t permanent, and over time, they have lessened in intensity and pass more quickly. They didn’t mean I was backsliding, and they were not failures.
I wrote my story initially because I wanted to understand how an otherwise healthy adult could be duped by a predator. Why did my body betray me? Why did I continue going back even when I knew the doctor was hurting me?
I shared my story because I wanted victims to know that they were not alone and that there was hope on the other side, great healing to be found. My abuse led to a closer, stronger marriage, a more meaningful relationship with God, and a healthier sense of self. So wherever you are in your journey, I urge you to keep climbing—whether you are at the very bottom or halfway up the mountain. Stop and rest when you need to, but don’t give up.
Make Jesus your compass and He will lead you all the way to the top. And although I have yet to reach the summit, I have come a long way and I can tell you that the view from up here is spectacular.