Not all stories need to be told on the public stage. My story first needed to be told in a therapist’s office. Lying on the couch in my living room. Crying with my husband. Punching my pillow. Breaking glass on a country road.
All stories, however, need to be told; we need to be known; our experiences must be named. Because when someone finally gives you the gift of explaining that you have been a victim, you can stop living as one.
Keeping the truth of our stories in the darkness destroys our souls. Darkness cannot overtake light, neither scientifically nor biblically. Darkness, by definition, is only the absence of light. Darkness has no power in and of itself because the light overtakes it.
And like in the person of Jesus, Truth and Light go together.
So while darkness cannot swallow up light, it can swallow up our lives. When our stories are not told, the truth lives in darkness. The truth that could set us free is wrapped in chains that imprison us.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize what I experienced was rape until several years later after my personality suffered, my confidence tanked, and my relationships were affected. For years I referred to his actions as “forceful” and something that made me uncomfortable. I thought the word rape was for movies and urban legends, and for really dramatic encounters that included slapping, pushing, shoving, ripping clothes off, or slitting ankles while one got into their car. And certainly it can include those things.
This rape happened with someone I was dating, someone I thought I loved. Someone I trusted. It was daytime. I wasn’t drinking. I wasn’t asking for it. I didn’t say yes. And he was a Christian.
In the following days after he was “forceful,” I confronted him. He told me I had wanted it, as if I’d never spoken of my discomfort. As if I had never pushed his body away from me. He told me that he had never respected me during our relationship anyway.
Those words penetrated my heart with a sort of death, just like he had done to my body days before. I questioned myself. I blamed myself. I began to make excuses for him. Maybe I did want that? Maybe he thought I was just kidding, that I was playing around when I pushed him away? That must have been hard for him to understand. I mean, I had been told men have a hard time controlling themselves, right? Maybe I looked really cute that day; it was probably more difficult for him to walk away.
I left that conversation subconsciously determined to prove that I was respectable as a human, as a woman. I would spend years looking for my worth, spinning my wheels trying to convince myself that I was capable and strong, all the while denying circumstances that showed me it was true. I was losing my life’s energy running away from the truth of what happened.
It took me multiple breakdowns over many years before I finally walked into the light. It started as I began to get close to my husband; he was then just my friend. I felt safe with him and that scared me. I thought I was safe before. I had lost trust in my own instincts—a most insidious loss for those who have experienced trauma. I hadn’t even kissed this new friend of mine, but I was terrified.
Before a camping trip for which we were preparing, I shared with my new friend the “forcefulness” with which I had been treated years prior. He listened empathetically. He didn’t name anything for me; he simple carried my story with him, and remained with me. He, yes he, set up boundaries for our camping trip to make me feel safe. He told me what I could expect from him physically, how to know I would be safe. Then he followed through on everything he had said. A crack of light begin to illuminate some truth. Maybe men could control themselves?
It wasn’t until I married this friend who carried my story that my hidden truth began to disrupt my life in a way I could no longer ignore. Since we had chosen not to have a sexual relationship until we were married, it began on our honeymoon. I had disturbing dreams in which I was manipulated to perform sexual acts, lest the entire world be destroyed. It was a lot of pressure on me, akin to the pressure that had been building inside of me, brewing in the darkness of a story untold.
It took PTSD, Panic Disorder, and becoming a shell of myself before I told my story. We had been married for mere months when I could no longer trust myself to go to the grocery store without a full-blown panic attack. We had several ER visits because I was sure I was dying. That’s a common thought for a person experiencing a panic attack. When the diagnostic tests kept coming back clear, it was time to find out what else was going on.
Finally, I walked into a therapist’s office, except it wasn’t just an office; it was a weeks-long outpatient day program, because I could no longer function through most of my daily life. I remember turning that handle beneath the small sign that said “outpatient mental hospital.” Failure and relief strangely danced together. I was not who I thought I was, but then again, maybe I was really not who I thought I was.
During the individual sessions my therapist began breaking the news to me of what I had experienced. The “forcefulness” story I had told myself was actually called rape. She said it would be helpful for me to name this truth. But I couldn’t speak the words, so I tried to write about it. My journal from that time reads like this: My therapist says it was ___________, and I think I believe her, but I have a hard time writing it out. There’s something about seeing it. I actually thought writing it might help me name it, but it seems that bringing it into the light is the most difficult part, whether spoken or written. I actually drew a line where there should have been the word rape.
Eventually, I got there. I brought it into the light. With my husband, with my therapist, with my sister. I named it. I called it what it was. It was rape, and it had put a darkness in my soul that had damaged me for years. But, remember, darkness is only the absence of light. And I was done living in darkness. I was a victim of rape. And the irony was that naming that truth of being a victim was the beginning of being set free from living like a victim. Like when someone says condescendingly, “Oh, don’t be such a victim,” they connote powerlessness.
But when I named that I was a victim, it was the beginning of something powerful: it was the beginning of me.
When I told myself the truth, I began to have a clearer picture of what really was inside of me. When lies and flesh had penetrated my being many years prior, they had shrouded the core truth of me in darkness. And when light came in, worth, belonging, and confidence were revealed. They had been there all along. Indeed, I was not who I thought I was after all. I was much more.
And so are you.
You are more than any darkness may suggest. When darkness hides the truth, lies fester. It doesn’t matter if you are a leader, a parent, a pastor. It doesn’t matter if it happened last night or last millennium; your story must be told. You can’t outrun your story. Tell your story to someone safe, to someone you trust. Live in light. Experience how the truth can set you free.
Shedding light into dark corners at first feels like fear. So if you are feeling fear, you just might be heading in the right direction. But you don’t have to do it alone. Bring the truth of your story into the light and experience how the truth really can truly set you free.