Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The New Normal

I think I’ve found a kindred spirit. I’ve been reading Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott and though in the past I thought her writing was a bit egotistical and too self-deprecating, right now it is right on the money. Not because I have suddenly become a self-centered person, therefore I understand, but because she is a woman who understands depression, anxiety, fear and loss, and it makes me feel less alone to hear someone else talk about it. In the past four months I have encountered more terror, sadness, and change than I ever imagined possible. PTSD graciously set in to protect my mind in a lot of ways, but nothing could protect me from the shock.
On July 8, 2013, I was raped at a bus stop on my way to work. I caught the 5:08 49 bus every weekday morning to supply all the early downtown risers with their morning coffee and scone for another day’s work. But that Monday morning I was beaten, shaken, ripped apart and destroyed in a moment. A moment of immense darkness that my heart and mind can still not understand. Police were immediately called to the scene and I was taken to the hospital where many treatments and tests were conducted. CAT scans, blood work, rape kits, preventative HIV medication and police interviews filled the longest, loneliest four hours of my life. About an hour after the attack a doctor came into my room with some results.

“Well, it turns out you’re already about 3 weeks pregnant…so that’s a positive…literally.”

What a gift. I smiled, closed my eyes and rested my head. What a gift from God. My boyfriend Gabriel arrived at the hospital after receiving a horrifying facebook message from me: 'Hey. I was raped this morning on my way to work. I'm at St. Mary's, room 12. Please wake gabe up or someone come to get me.' My phone was stolen and using a nurses iPhone to facebook message my roommates was the only thing I could think of. (Needless to say I’ve memorized a few numbers since then.) Gabriel rushed into the room with tears in his eyes. He had brought me a change of clothes. Sweet man. They had impounded my clothes as evidence. He crawled onto my hospital bed with me, wrapping his arms around me gently. He has become a safe place.

That morning my father flew from Baltimore to Chicago and brought Gabriel and I back to my parents’ new home. All of my sisters were there waiting for me. Support and sanctuary. Since that day Gabriel and I have been in at least four different states, countless counseling and doctors’ waiting rooms, and fearfully we’ve clutched each other’s hands through it all. Our whole lives changed in a moment.
On Sunday, August 13, 2013, Gabriel took me on walk around Lake Agnes while we were visiting his family in Minnesota. I was feeling really depressed that day–but still the lake was beautiful and Gabriel was with me. We stopped on a dock to take in the Minnesotan splendor, and my sweet man got down on his knee and asked me to marry him. Hope leapt vigorously in my heart. October 4, 2013, we were married.

In all of this pain, trauma, beauty and love it is endlessly encouraging to read the words of another damaged, less than glowing new mom like Anne Lamott. Alongside individual counseling twice a week, I go to a rape survivors group on Tuesday nights. One of the girls asked, “What’s the point of coming to group therapy? Can’t I just google ‘coping skills,’ and read articles about trauma?” My therapist nodded slowly and then replied:
“You could. But there’s something magic about a group. There’s something healing about coming together, seeing other people hurting just like you and feeling their strength pulling you together.”
She’s right. When one woman shares more about her story and tears stream down her face we nod, we pray, and tears spill over our own lashes as solidarity weaves us together. Some of us email, some of us text. We’re all screwed up, but knowing that makes it a little bit easier.
That’s why I’m writing this blog. I’m writing because I want other young pregnant women to not feel like such monsters when they more often than not feel terrified and sick inside about how becoming a mom will change their life. I hope another rape survivor might read this and feel less hopeless when they realize that they’re not the only one who can’t sleep with the lights off. If facing a completely ordinary day feels like the hardest thing you’ve yet to do, and you can’t even consider getting out of bed, well, then you’ve found a kindred spirit in me. Solidarity in pain is magic, and healing.
I always assumed life changed slowly, and I would be able to see the turns coming in my headlights—it always had before. But sometimes life turns 180 degrees without warning, without hesitation when you’re on your way to work Monday morning, thinking about the date your boyfriend and you plan to go on that afternoon. Sometimes life 180s again with a few simple words from a doctor. Those are the hardest parts (I’ve been told). But getting to know the new you is a pretty hard thing to do, too.
With this space I hope to stand by those who have 180 life changes, or just have some really hard and glorious days collide. I want to record some of these moments that have flown past me without warning. I want to remember them. I used to want to forget, but I’ve grown to want to remember. 
I’ve already come to remember that the world isn’t all evil. It isn’t even mostly evil. Blessings are also really hard things, and really hard things can be made into blessings if you let them. And although my life will invariably never be the same, I will be okay. I will never be what I thought was “normal” before being raped, and before finding out I was pregnant, but I will discover a new normal.


  1. You are such a strong and beautiful woman of God, Thank you so so much for sharing this.

  2. You are brave and wonderful. I am so proud of you.

  3. This was amazingly inspirational to me. You may not know who I am, but I am distantly related to your boyfriend, Gabriel. My mother, Cristy Rajdl (formerly Soreson) is a cousin of Gabriel's mom. I was raped when I was 10 years old and I could relate to so many of the things you wrote about. I am so glad you are able to find happiness through all the trauma and suffering. Your enormous courage in being able to put this into words so graciously is something to be very proud of. Thank-you for positively impacting my life as well. I wish you the best.

  4. Love you Emily . . . you write so eloquently even about things that are dark and difficult. I've quite never understood why those who love the Lord have to suffer. If it were up to me we would be protected forever and never have any bad things happen to us until we meet our Creator. Obviously that is not reality here on earth . . . but what I do know is your are loved all around you from near to far, and my prayer is with each passing day God will renew your strength and spirit and that you will be able to Shine again fully like I have always known you to do . . . You are "gift" Emily a precious gift to Gabriel, your Mom and Dad, Sisters, Aunts, Cousins and friends. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the healing words that have already touched many and I'm sure many more to come. Love you ~

  5. Emily I loved reading this..I even cried. I have always admired how strong and independent you are. Thank you so much for writing this, even though I haven't been through the technical trauma of rape, I felt like I could relate in so many ways from the traumas I have been through. You are an amazingly talented writer and I cannot wait to read more. You are going to be an amazing mother. I wish you the best in your journey into marriage and motherhood.

  6. Hey. Please, don't stop writing. You say what some of us can't. Thanks.

  7. Emily, Thank you for sharing your story. May your journey of finding a new normal in the painful aftermath of rape be often softened by moments of refuge with your safe place, feeling the support and sanctuary of your family, the gentle warmth of sunshine, and lots and lots of self-compassion. You are a talented writer and a remarkable young woman. May putting these memories, thoughts, and feelings into words be healing for you as I know it is for many of your readers.

  8. Thank you for writing. I just read all your blog posts in one sitting and am so touched by the challenge you are facing to move forward after such a hard thing.
    Praying every blessing on your future, especially as you look toward the birth of your little son.