(Today I’m stepping aside from the posts about forgiveness to share this story with you. It is written by Nikki Wolvert Feller, whom I have known for over 30 years. It is in her own words, and it is powerful because it is honest.)
“I’m here only because my friend said I had to come, not because I need it.” That was the biggest lie I have ever told myself. The question was, “What is it that brought you to Hope Alliance Crisis Center?”
Rape. That was what brought me to Hope Alliance. My rape. Even now, seeing that word and knowing it belongs to me makes me catch my breath. And that’s after I remind myself to breathe, after the shaking stops, after the gut-wrenching pain rips through my soul. It still makes me catch my breath after months of therapy, which, when I started going, I literally could not say that word, or bear having someone say it to me.
But how did I stumble into a crisis center for therapy? Me, of all people? I am the strong one, I am the one described as a chihuahua who fights like a pit bull. I am the one about whom, when our son died in my arms, people said that if anyone could handle it, I could (as a side note, never tell someone that). And I did. I survived a level of hell that only exists in most people’s nightmares. I was invincible and wasn’t afraid of anything, or anybody. Until I was.
The day it happened was such an ordinary day, as are most days that turn our lives upside down. We don’t have the benefit of background music to warn us that hell is just around the next bend, so don’t go that way. Instead, I got up, packed a bag and headed to Dallas to spend the weekend with one of my best friends. We’d both been having bad days that didn’t seem to end, and we knew laughing until we cried, or crying until we laughed, was the cure. And regardless of how the weekend ended, I still cherish those memories.
I was drugged and I was raped. That’s how the weekend ended. When you hear about a woman who has this happen to her, you picture her already a little drunk, scantily clad and in a crowded bar, because that’s what a society of ignorant people has taught us to believe. We’re taught that it only happens to “those” women in “those” places, flirting with strange men. Well, guess what? I’m here to tell you and all of society that it can happen in the safety of someone’s home, drinking diet coke, with men who are not strangers. Evil doesn’t just lurk in the shadows, in the places where “those” people go and the “good” people don’t. It’s in every place you are; some are just fortunate never to have met it.
But meet him I did. And after: After the hospital, where I had to go because it was the only way to get the drugs to prevent an STD or a pregnancy. After I had to tell the nurses what had happened (and in my mind, I had allowed) and was humiliated and embarrassed; after they held my head while I threw up, and my body was wracked with sobs so fierce the bed shook; after they held my hand to still the shaking so I could take the dreaded pills. After I had to have my best friend tell my mom because I didn’t have the strength; after I had to decide to either ignore the man I was seeing (who is a police officer and the reason why I finally reported it) or tell him what happened and that it might affect our relationship for a while, and after he told me to leave (and later to come back) and after he had to reconcile it with himself ; after I was fired from my job because my boss (who was a woman) would question me about it and then complain because I was “distracted” and finally told me that “I shouldn’t have to suffer because of what happened to you.” After one of the most important people in my life broke my heart by refusing to talk to me about it; after I counted out my sleeping pills to my mom because I was so tired I ached and just needed to sleep; after I was nothing but a heap of ugly crying on the floor, the kind that leaves you in the fetal position, struggling for air, too exhausted to drag yourself off the floor; after this I say to life or God or whatever is out there, “Thank you.”
Thank you? After all of those afters, how can I say thank you? I can because I finally realized that feeling weak, vulnerable and afraid doesn’t make me weak, vulnerable and afraid. I am no longer arrogant enough to think that I am above those emotions, because those are what make us, us. Mostly, I’m thankful I was left a heap on my bathroom floor, unable to pick myself up, because it forced me to swallow my arrogance, stubbornness and pride and do what I have never permitted myself to do before – accept the hands that were reaching down to lift me up.
Accepting those hands has catapulted me on a journey that has been hell, a beautiful, scorching hell. I had to let myself fall apart, and for a Type A control freak, there is nothing more unacceptable. I have been forced to stand toe to toe with demons who wanted nothing more than to see me burn. I stood against the demon of self-loathing for allowing that man to do what he did, for not seeing what he was planning, for falling apart. I stood against the demon of insecurities that tried to convince me that of course all he wanted was sex, that’s all any man would want from me. I stood against the demon of guilt that all women face when raped, that society has slapped us with because of what we were wearing, where we were, or how we were acting.
It wasn’t easy. It was a mountain with ragged cliffs and deep crevices. I fell apart, I had panic attacks at my gym. I refused to go out for weeks. I stopped talking to people I didn’t know. I was diagnosed with PTSD. But I learned how to stand up to the hell and the demon, to look it in the eye and acknowledge its presence. Then I learned to walk away. I learned to depend on other people and, as scary as that still is, I know that I would not have been able to make it up this mountain on my own. No one can.
When I started on this journey, that first day in my therapist’s office, I told her she had her work cut out for her and she was going to earn every penny she made (and it’s a non-profit, she didn’t make a lot of pennies!). She shot right back “I have the easy job, the work is up to you.” And make no mistake, it is work repairing what you spent a lifetime breaking. It is grueling. It will leave you bleeding, bruised and scarred. Embrace those scars; they are beautiful and they represent your strength. Someone once said, “Scars are proof that we survived something that tried to kill us.” My best friend, Rachael – who has stood beside me through all my hells and never once let go of my hand – said this: “Scars can be a beautiful thing when we let others see them and show them that they can survive, too.” So wear your scars with pride, show them off. You fought for every one of them.
“I was raped.” I stuttered, stumbled and choked those words out between sobs on my last day of therapy. This was my last demon, but oh how powerful he was. The grip he had on me was suffocating. But now I was no longer alone. I was standing with my family and friends who had stood beside me, had picked up swords to fight for me when I couldn’t fight for myself, whose faith in me was unwavering. And we stood strong.
I have a friend who said something so simple yet so profound I need to share it. He said that he has seen hundreds of women in varying degrees of undress, and he never once thought of raping them. The profoundness of this statement is that it is true for the majority of men. So why then, does society put the responsibility of preventing rape on women by dictating what we can safely wear, where we can go and with whom? More importantly, what is it going to take to teach that ignorant society to put the blame on the person who committed the crime?
I will never be able to utter rape without catching my breath and probably crying. But that’s ok, because rape is an ugly word that should never be easy to say. But it is what happened to me, it is not who I am.