Friday, January 31, 2014

What a Gift

I’ve started counseling here in Columbus with a sexual assault therapist who also attends my church. In our first session together she asked me how much I wanted faith to play into our counseling together. With a sigh I said, “It’s gotta be important. I need it.” My previous counselor was a Christian too, and knowing that these women were able to ask the ultimate Healer for wisdom made my inability to pray easier to handle. 

Gabriel and I both grew up in Christian homes but in college, waking up for church on Sunday mornings after an inevitably late Saturday night wasn’t so easy. I never lost my faith in God. I just wasn’t interested in the Christians that honestly seemed to dislike the somewhat ‘edgy’, artsy theatre people I hung around with. I still believed in God, I just didn’t think I needed His input too often. Things were going well. 

It’s funny how when life starts to not go so well…or in my case, life completely explodes, God suddenly seems very distant—also very necessary. I cried for Him during the attack. I prayed and sang little lullabies and hymns to myself in the hospital while waiting for someone to come get me. I thanked Him when the doctor told me I was pregnant. There was a lot of God interaction that morning, but soon after, the communication lines tapered off. My impulse to pray is shrouded in layers of distrust, anger, gratefulness, desperation and brokenness. I know I need Him. I’ve always needed Him, but I need Him now and He doesn’t always seem to be around. 

       I can feel the image of His love shifting inside of me, just as I feel our little babe toss and turn. Sometimes His love feels cold and unseeing. Other times it is breathtakingly personal and present. I’m afraid of how the last seven months have warped my understanding of God. I want to be able to model real faith and trust in God for my son. I need to believe He is good and won’t abandon me—because if He’s a God that doesn’t care, then what’s the point? 

       I’ve been as unproductive as an infant the last seven months—spending 80% of my day laying in bed, alternating between reading, napping, facebooking and then napping again. Mostly I wait for Gabriel to be home from work. When he’s home, he just joins me and we cuddle, talk and rest the days away. Now that we’re finally in a more permanent place this idyll routine is less relaxing and more numbing. So today I somehow found the energy to try something new. I did nap, but I set an alarm. I made myself lunch (a bagel and clementines) and headed to the nursery. There were shelves of miscellaneous items that needed to find homes all around the house, and a small stack of baby clothes that needed to be sorted. 

       I got to work, huffing away as I pirouetted to the ground, reaching around my big belly to pick things up. I saved the baby clothes for last, knowing that would be the best part. Settling on the floor I began placing accessories in one pile, blankets in another, bibs and wash clothes on the left and different onesies into the appropriate sizes. A few minutes into the process I picked up a particularly soft newborn sleeper with brown and white stripes and a little fox sewn onto it. I paused and stared at the little garment. My baby—my son—will close his eyes and dream in this sweet sleeper. He will trust, love and learn without layers of pain and confusion distancing him from God’s love. Tears of joy and gratitude fell from my eyes for the first time in months. 

       What a gift. 

       I heard those words the first time I was told I was pregnant, and today my heart swelled with that truth again. Clutching this little sleeper, my heart was compelled to pray and thank God for this baby—no regrets or hesitation or pain blanketed that prayer. Just thankfulness. 

       If God is the Almighty, the Creator and the Healer then I think He understands my confused heart better than I do. Oftentimes, I don’t feel like I can trust Him, but I do have faith in Him. He says there is nothing He can’t restore. I cling to that with all my hope. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


       Two nights ago I turned to Gabriel as we were reading in bed and said: “I’m starting to get anxious. I feel like we have nothing prepared! We have space here, but nothing is set up for the baby, our room is still in shambles, the guest bedroom doesn’t even have a bed yet…we haven’t even set up the crib!” As my negative list grew longer, a small smile grew wider on Gabriel’s face. “Why are you laughing at me!?” I very emotionally accused. 

“I’m not laughing at you! I promise. Honey, do you see what this is?” I shook my head no. “Nesting! You’re nesting!” He smiled, kissed me and promised that tomorrow we would do some work on the house. And we did. My Aunt Debby had generously offered to buy us any crib we picked out.  Our choice had been delivered to us last week, but sat untouched in the corner of the living room. Yesterday we bravely ripped open the cardboard packages containing the Ikea Hensvik crib, promising each other that we wouldn’t get angry or flustered no matter how confusing the set up instructions were. To our surprise and delight the picture-only instructions weren’t too confusing! We could identify all the parts and decipher which tool the little gingerbread people were using, and within an hour our sweet little crib was standing. We were both giddy. 

My due date is in less than two months, and I can’t stop thinking and talking about our little man. I can almost always tell when he’s going to move, before he does and his constant company has brought me such comfort. I feel like I know him already. It’s harder for Gabriel to connect the idea of my pregnancy to the reality of a little human being given to us, but that’s normal for fathers, I hear. It’s mostly factual to him, which I can understand—he doesn’t have little feet digging into his ribs at three a.m.! I cannot wait for him to meet his son. 

Because being raped led straight to the hospital for me, hospitals are not empowering or safe places. They represent powerlessness, humiliation, fear and loneliness. I don’t want even a whisper of those negative emotions to touch the birth of my son. I don’t think they have to. When we lived in Nashville we thought a hospital birth was inevitable. We didn’t really have our own home, and only knew of one trusted midwifery practice that worked out of a hospital. I was not excited about the prospect of vaginal examinations in cold labor rooms or hospital gowns exposing my bum to the world of strangers filtering in and out. For many mothers, being in a medical setting feels safer to them, but for me it means no control. Labor is hard enough with out all of that baggage. 

Gabriel and I have decided that because we now have a space to call our own, we will have our baby right here in our home. I know the idea of a home birth sounds dirty, scary and dangerous to most people, but for me that’s how going to a hospital would feel. I trust our home. I feel safe with Gabriel. I know my body is capable of bringing this little babe into the world. I have faith that with some proper guidance and help, we can turn our family of two into a family of three without further trauma. 

       Before we moved to Columbus I did some researching and asking around for trusted midwives and I was given a few names. I called them all, explained the entirety of our situation and set up consultations with some of them. After meeting with one midwife in particular Gabriel and I both felt really jazzed. She met us in our home, on our own turf and sat with us for two hours discussing our pregnancy and our ideal birthing experience, along with her practices. We fired question after question and when we ran out of ideas, she handed us a sheet of paper with more questions we might want to consider. She offered to lend me her book When Survivors Give Birth as another way of emotionally preparing for birth. Her confidence and humility gave us a new sense of security. We knew as soon as we closed the door behind her that we trusted her to be with us for the birth. We waited till the next day to call her, so she knew we gave it a proper amount of thinking. 

       Having our son at home and un-medicated is an exciting and overwhelming thought sometimes. But just the idea of having a baby at all right now is overwhelming—but it’s not like I can just cross my legs until the timing is right. In two months this little boy will be ready to meet us, whether we are prepared or not. Getting the house in order is just a start. I’ve been reading a host of books, including Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin, (contrary to how it may sound, it’s not about witchcraft—just a bunch of positive natural birth stories). I’ve been praying, journaling and talking with anyone who will listen about the amazing things my body will do. Of course it will hurt, but I’m honestly more afraid of the mental and emotional pain that labor can potentially throw my way. I’ll be more prepared to handle those obstacles at home.

       Every time I walk down the hallway I pause in the doorway of the nursery and look at our son’s room—empty but for a small white crib. We don’t have a lot, but we have enough. I love this boy already and I haven’t even seen his face. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

An Old Picture

       I spent nearly the whole day at my sister Becca’s house yesterday, reading, doing some transcription work and just not being alone. Gabriel worked 11 to 7. Becca was cleaning out and organizing a desk in her house when she turned to me and said, “Sis! Look what I found!” 

It was a black and white photo of 11-year-old me, sitting sideways in an overstuffed chair, reading a book with wet hair and a matching pajama set on. Something twisted in my chest. 

“Huh. Let me see that.” I took the picture from her and she continued about her sorting and filing. As I stared at the picture, unfamiliar feelings danced and warred within me. A warmth spread through my chest, remembering that young girl. Eleven was a good age for me. I was goofy and confident, feeling comfortable in my own prepubescent body. I hadn’t yet hit the age of body insecurity or boy obsession or major middle school drama. I loved reading and visiting the library (I routinely completed the summer reading program and sometimes even volunteered to work for it). I still played make believe with my friends. We pretended to be a pack of foxes. I was always a large black, male fox named Shadow. I knew the males were the alphas, and I wanted to be in charge—that might deserve a therapeutic look at someday, but for now that’s not my problem. I thrived in school and felt a deep sense of home. 

The fingers of a deep chill inched their way into my fond reminiscences and the young girl before me became a distant memory. I am not her. That deep sense of home has been replaced with a deep sense of shame and ever-present distrust of the world. Her free spirit has been chased off and a spirit of sadness and fear has filled the void. My body is not my vessel for play anymore, but a crime scene. My body isn’t an instrument of exploration or imagination, but a vulnerable, damaged, weak and betraying cage. 

And yet—she has my lips—thin and slightly down turned in thought. And the subtle slope of her nose is the same as mine. And even the look of comfortably being lost in her book isn’t so foreign—I do still have a profound love of stories. I am no longer this girl and I never will be again. I feel outside myself and trapped inside myself all at once as I look at this faded photograph. Accepting the change trauma has forced upon my life isn’t easy. Waves of grief, relief, understanding and disorientation swirl in my mind as I awkwardly step from day to day in an unrecognizable life. 

I suppose it was folly to assume I knew where my life was going. The illusion of control was sickeningly strong before July 8, 2013. The smooth brow and tangled hair of that 11-year-old girl seem like fragments of another story, another life—but her stories and memories are my own. I miss her and her light, innocent stride. I wish I could whisper to her some instruction or preparation for future comfort, but not a single word comes to mind. She could not prepare, protect or alter the life that would eventually lead her here.

Grand and detailed visions of my future used to swim before my eyes giving hope and confidence to my steps. I knew what I wanted and I was going to get it. I marched blindly forward on the path spread out before me. Now it’s a laborious task to conjure up any wispy, ghostlike apparitions of my future. Sometimes if I focus, I think I can imagine our son. But I mostly wonder about him. Will he have deep set eyes like Gabriel? Blue eyes like me? Will his hair be blonde, thick and curly like both of us when we were toddlers? But my future trails off into a grey, dangerous fog in my mind. I no longer trust the “path” I was marching before. It led me to a gangway in Chicago, abandoned, beaten and utterly alone. 

This trauma takes away who I formerly was. This, I know is true. 
       A friend of mine sent me this article. Its well written wisdom resonated deeply with me. Read it. It might help make sense of trauma in your own life. Or it might help you understand a trauma survivor you know. I’m still trying to understand it myself. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Burnt Toast

Gabriel and I left our Tennessee home praying that we had strapped on the car top carrier the right way and that our car could manage the weight. Every crack and crevice of our little four-door stick shift was jammed with everything we owned. My lap even was piled high with a terrarium, some blankets and an over stuffed purse.

       Waking up the morning of the move I felt the heaviness of an era ending. Gabriel and I were often sad in Nashville.  We would have been sad anywhere. The last six months have been full of anxiety, fear, and real life trauma that put any previous college drama to shame. But in Nashville we had a safe space to live and still be able save some money for this next independent venture. We could often press snooze for an hour, just laying in bed holding each other and resting. It was a lonely time in many ways, but it was a unique time for Gabriel and I to lean on each other. We were blessed to be able to be together nearly always, whether we were sad or happy or anxious or just tired. The freedom and lack of responsibility was a gift. I am so grateful to my sister Katherine and her husband Josh for hosting that restful era. Now we’re on to the next stage of life. 

       We moved on the coldest day of the year. When we arrived in Columbus, my sister Becca and her husband Teddy were there to help unload, along with two of their friends. I mostly opened and closed the door for people, attempting to keep the heat inside and be as helpful as I could. Gabriel’s hands were blue from the chill and clouds of labored breath billowed in front of the kind people trekking heavy loads up multiple flights of stairs. With their help, our car was unpacked in 15 minutes. 

       Our new home is more than I could ever have imagined. Each room is a different color. The kitchen is a bright yellow with matching black counters and backsplash. I’ve done more legitimate cooking there already than I ever did in Nashville. (Luckily my sister Katherine is a fabulous and generous cook who fed Gabriel and I often.) 

       The downstairs bathroom is an alarming, almost comical bright green. The living room is a dark purple, chocolate color with a light blue accent wall, and best of all, there’s a piano. Gabriel was studying music and theatre performance in college and not having a piano for him to play for the last six months has been such a disappointment. Now Gabriel plays for a few hours everyday, giving me a chance to rest on the couch, napping, reading, and enjoying the stunning musical gift my love has. 

       The second floor is all ours. Our bedroom is still a mess. Clothes unsorted and dressers in the middle of the room, but my parents bought us a new mattress as a gift and having our own bed has been wonderful. That’s the only room we plan to paint. Purple walls don’t really suit my fancy. The nursery is my favorite room of the house. It’s a small room with light, pale green grey walls and one tall window. We haven’t sorted anything in there, but something about that room feels fresh and sweet and safe. I can’t wait to show it to our son. Our bathroom is a dusty dark blue, and the bathtub has the perfect back incline with plenty of hot water. It’s heaven. The guest room has the most natural light of any room in the house with warm orange walls and three east-facing windows. Family and friends will always have a place to stay with us. We’ve set up my new sewing machine on a small table under an east-facing windows. Hopefully I will get used to having so much space and I’ll be able to venture from room to room boldly. Breaking my habit of hiding in bed will be even easier when I have a baby to tend to in the next room. 

My sister, Becca, set up a Welcome Registry on for people to welcome us and help us settle into our new home. People have been so overwhelmingly generous and Gabriel so gracious at receiving. We’ve quite nearly finished furnishing our whole house and with multiple Kroger gift cards we’ve been able to stock up on some much-needed groceries. We’ve been well taken care of. 
I mostly feel humbled, grateful and anxious. I’m just now entering the thirty-first week of my pregnancy and I read online that our little babe is entering a growth spurt. I would argue that he’s already hit his growth spurt and my body couldn’t possibly handle a baby bigger than he already is but, sadly I know there are two more months of intense baby growing. My shifting center of gravity, the weight on my lungs and the near constant kicking has begun to wake me several times a night. Pair that with the crazy, vivid pregnancy dreams and I have had some restless nights. But I expected this. The physical exhaustion from settling in, mental fatigue from meeting new people and making decisions, plus little sound sleep has resulted in many a hairpin emotional swing. 

       Friday was particularly weepy. It started with a nightmare, ended with the horrifying news that a friend of mine was raped again and in-between, I burnt the toast. The toast may seem trivial, and yes, it is, but I cried over the toast, too. I remember thinking as I put the toast into the toaster oven, ‘Wow, we’re already almost done with a loaf of bread. Will we have enough?’ And then, I burnt it. And Gabriel burnt his hand twice trying to take it out of the toaster oven. I went into the bathroom and cried. I tried to collect myself that whole day, but tears would suddenly spring into my eyes and I couldn’t explain them or fight them away. I was scared when we went to the store that night for some food essentials to get us by. I was anxious that night when we laid down to sleep. 

       The next day was better, and Sunday even better, but today is hard. Sleep has been bad, and Gabriel and I have had some tough conversations. Today is Gabriel’s first day of work and the first time I’ve been alone in our new home. I had lunch with my sister and her husband and spent some time at my sister’s work, but now I’m home and waiting. I made myself stay downstairs in the living room to keep myself from crawling back into bed. These familiar grey Ohio skies seem as weary as I am. But this dark green overstuffed chair that was given to us is holding me just right so my back doesn’t hurt and I can breathe a little better. We have received so many gifts, and met so many friendly faces, but our escape is over. Our baby is coming soon and I can’t hide anymore. We have a responsibility to move our lives forward and today I choose to sit downstairs with the blinds raised, alone in a new house. A little step forward. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Moving Forward

       Gabriel and I have been packing for days. We have to fit a stroller, four or five large boxes of books, countless wedding gifts and all of our clothes into our small Chevy Prizm for our big move. After visiting Chicago and not feeling very confident about moving there we decided to step back and look at our other options. I realized that we couldn’t have the life I honestly desired in Chicago. We couldn’t have a life full of friends, school, going out, auditions, rehearsals, and work. I can’t have that right now when I’m afraid to leave the house without Gabriel. I can’t have that life now that my life has become about our family, and not about me. 

       Gabriel and I were awesome at being a couple of individuals. We had our dreams, our ambitions, our desires. We respected and encouraged each other, but we were simply two separate people who happened to really love each other. That won’t work anymore. We needed to make a family centered decision about where we ought to be. Chicago was perfect for us as individuals, but for our family it was scary, expensive and isolating. 

       My sister, Becca, had written me a letter months ago asking Gabriel and I to come live with them in Columbus, Ohio, the city I grew up in. Becca has always been my best friend. We haven’t lived in the same state for nearly 7 years, and I miss being near her.  When I initially received her letter I cried and sadly set it aside, wishing so deeply I could say ‘yes’ to her, but it didn’t seem to be where Gabriel and I were heading. 

       After our visit to Chicago, I took that letter out again. Gabriel and I Skyped with Becca and her husband Teddy. We prayed. Gabriel and I talked some more. We didn’t want to live physically with family again. As much of a blessing as it has been, we need some autonomy as a couple. Standing on our own feet, as shaking and young as they may be, will unite us. Becca had the answer. A friend of hers moved into a three-story house a block away from Becca and Ted, and was looking for roommates. Gabriel called her. They talked details. And our plans clicked into place. Gabriel and I are moving to Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday. We’ll be living a block away from my beloved sister, but with our own space and room to grow. 

       As piles of our possessions get pulled out and sorted—covering every surface of our room—my anxiety increases. We are so excited to be settling somewhere. We’ll have our own bedroom, a nursery and even a guest bedroom for family to stay in. But all of this change means I have to move. I’ve become comfortable holed up in our bedroom here, just waiting for Gabriel to come home from work. I’m not happy being stuck, but I feel safe. Moving means I won’t have this room to lock myself into and wait out the panic and sadness. Moving means I won’t have my therapist to go to several times a week to work on the issues she knows I have. Moving means I won’t be able to see the beautiful women in my group therapy every Tuesday night. The Sexual Assault Center that I’ve been receiving treatment from was the only place I went besides our bedroom (except for maybe the occasional Barnes and Noble visit). I have found places here that feel safe to me and now I have to leave them. 

       I know forward movement is positive. I see the wonderful opportunities we have in Columbus, and I’m so jazzed  to attend the church I have missed since high school, and living so near to Becca will be a blessing. But that doesn’t mean forward movement isn’t hard. Sorting through our things and throwing away old notebooks full of diligent notes, highlighted and well used scripts in the trash, seeing old photos—all of these things reminding me once again of the life we were ripped out of. I still grieve losing that life, just as I grieve losing Chicago. 

       People try to tell me all the time that “he didn’t take anything from you when he raped you!” But that’s not the truth. Being raped has taken much from me. My sense of safety. My independence. My confidence. My home. My body. My trust in people. Having PTSD and anxiety attacks makes it feel like even my mind was taken from me. Holing myself up in our bedroom, afraid of what might be behind the closet doors, makes me feel like my spirit was taken away, too. Maybe these things are only lost. Maybe I will find them again. But things have been taken. But I will move forward—I have to. 
I’m terrified to meet new people. Not only am I afraid they might hurt me, but what if they don’t like me? Insecurity burns hotter than fear half the time, and I’m not sure why. I cannot wait to unpack our things and start nesting in our new home, but what if I don’t feel safe there? What if I’m just as lonely? Just as afraid? Just as broken? What if there isn’t a place for me there, like there was at the Sexual Assault Center? What if people I used to know, don’t understand why I’m so different? 

       Today is rainy, grey and warm like it was on July 8, 2013. I don’t feel very strong as I wait in our bedroom for Gabriel to return from work. I know we made the right choice for our family, but there are no certainties beyond that. A brain hijacked by trauma doesn’t process change well—every unknown can set off the alarm system warning that everything is unsafe. 

       I found a piece a paper in my purse from an early counseling session that had a list of ‘Coping Skills’ on it. One of the cognitive coping skills was to ‘lower your expectations of a situation.’ When I first read that—my heart sank. It said don’t expect anything to be too good anymore. After seeing my distress Gabriel helped me realize it was more about having an open heart and an open mind. I know I am different than I once was. I won’t expect to behave or feel the same strength I once did. Transitioning will be hard, but simply because I’m afraid doesn’t mean it can’t also be wonderful.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Heights and the Depths

       In my favorite book A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken writes, “great joy through love seemed always to go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still…still, the joy would be worth the pain…here and now [choose] the heights and the depths.” It is tempting to say that 2013 was a year of horrible terror and pain. It certainly was that. But to only remember the darkness is to only half remember the year. This past year I discovered great reserves of personal strength through the horror of being raped. But I also became a mother and watched my body change from a single souled being into something much greater and far more complex. And, I fell in love this year.  

Last night, laying in bed sharing tears and whispers, I asked Gabriel, “Do you think we have true love?” He stroked my hair and kissed my nose. 
“Yes. You are my true love.” 

There are so many dark, painful things in our lives, and 2014 will still be a year of mourning—but it will also be a year of celebration. Our son will meet the world this year, and our world will be forever changed. We are moving and settling into our first home together—putting down roots as a new family for the first time. I know there will be days when our brokenness will overwhelm us, but there will be days of healing and triumph as well. The heights and the depths. 

Someone who has been a great encouragement to me through this trial recently said, with tears in her eyes, “I don’t know why God allowed this to happen to you. But I know he has good things ahead of you.” 

The year 2013 taught me just how swiftly life can change, and just how unprepared we are for it. I had ambitious plans. Those plans aren’t necessarily thrown out the window—but they will certainly look different. Everything looks different now. A myriad of life changes on top of trauma makes it hard for my brain to catch up and process it all (I have learned there is science behind this), but I know the days will roll by, one right after the other. My mom often reminds me that ‘Life is fluid. Tomorrow won’t be the same as today.’ That’s important to remember on the days that are crowded with fear, insecurity and sadness. Just like 2013, 2014 will be full of both great fear and great love. The heights and the depths.