15 years ago, March 3rd, my life was changed forever. I was raped. I became a different person. So much so that my family and friends didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was too ashamed to share what happened. I remember lying in bed crying at night, every night. I remember very distinctly the prayer I would utter ‘Please, God, if you are there….if you are listening…..please let tonight be my last breath. I don’t want to live another day.’
Each morning I’d wake and the tears would come again because I would have to breathe again.
The pain was more than I could bear. I felt like I was ruined. I felt like I’d never be ‘enough’ for someone (a husband). I felt like that night my life was forever ruined and I’d be better off dead.
My journey to who I am today was long. And hard. And there were many defining moments. I met my best friend who helped me through the initial feelings. I could have easily scared him off, after all my first words to Jason were ‘we can be friends, but never NEVER anything more. I don’t date.’ Somehow, the man saw through my wall. And for a long time we were just friends. I thought I was doing well. We eventually got married and started a family.
For many years, I got really good at pretending to be happy. I put on a brave face. In my head, I told myself as long as I never EVER went back to St. George I would be okay. I would pretend nothing happened. But each year, March was always bad. Real bad. Especially the 3rd – 6th. All those emotions I once felt would come rushing back. The panic, the hurt, the guilt, the shame, the fear, the anger, the tears. It would all come flooding in and I’d be a total wreck, sometimes unable to even get out of bed.
Then, somehow I did. Until I got the news. I found out my husband’s job was going to take me back to live in St. George. At this point in my life I had 2 young girls, and it had been 6 years since I was last in the city so full of terrible memories.
We moved to St. George and I basically lost it. I got to the point that I wouldn’t get out of bed. If I did, I’d begin to have a massive panic attack. I was a terrible mother. I couldn’t function. I ate my feelings away. Jason asked me to get help.
This was the first time I began counseling. And this counseling was the first time I started to live again. It was also the first time that I finally shared more openly about my past. During my therapy I was adamant that I could work on finding happiness again, but I told my counselor that I would never, NEVER forgive the men who raped me. It was at that moment that my counselor encouraged to do something I felt was un-doable. We talked a lot about the ‘un-doable’ things, and what makes them un-doable. One that stuck out was run a marathon.
Never, had I ran a race. Ever. But I started training for a marathon. My runs were therapeutic. I typically ran alone because it was a moment I could have to just allow myself to feel. Some runs I’d cry, like full on sobbing, ugly cry. I remember many times stopping and sitting on the curb and just bawling. Other times I’d feel powerful and strong. Sometimes I’d be running and start cursing and screaming. Yes, there were probably people who thought I was literally insane. Maybe I was. But I needed to let out everything I had bottled in for so long.
Slowly, I started making progress. I started seeing so many who had been there for me, despite the person I’d become. I started seeing how the anger I was holding on to was ruining me.
I remember running the marathon in 2007. I remember how it was the first year in like 30 years that it rained. And boy did it rain. But it’s funny, because looking back I feel like the rain was the last moment I needed to wash away all those feelings I had. During that run, I dedicated each mile to someone that had made a difference or had helped pull me through the darkest time of my life. I wrote letters to each person, thanking them. It was my way of gaining back the strength.
I finished the race that day, but it was never about the time. It was just about finishing. I learned that I was so much stronger than I ever knew. That race really summed up my life to that point. It began with excitement, like the excitement I had when I went off to school. It started with energy. Then slowly it got hard. And just after Veyo hill, it was pouring hail. The uphill was hard. SO hard. I cried. I wanted to quit the race, just like I wanted to quit life after the hardest moment of my life.
But I made a choice. I put one foot in front of the other. I continued. Many tears were spilled on the last half of that course. And when I was about 6 miles out, I remember wondering if this was worth the effort anymore. (Much like I wondered if the work to move forward with my life was worth it.) I remember about that point that I looked up and saw my dad. He had known I was struggling on the course. My family all knew I wanted to quit. I had called and told them I’d go as far as I possibly could, but to prepare for me not to finish. So in that moment, when I looked up and saw my dad who had easily walked over 5 miles to get to me, I cried. My dad held me up as I cried. I will never forget that moment in my life. I learned that despite feeling so alone for so long, the truth was I was never really alone. Not only was my dad there for me, but so was God. I knew I still had a long ways to go in being okay with who I was, but in that moment on that day I knew that life was worth living again. I finally knew I was strong enough to live again.
I learned that day that I could do hard things. I could forgive the worst of offenses because forgiving isn’t about accepting what someone has done, forgiving is about allowing yourself to heal. I learned how anger and grudges can change a person into someone they don’t recognize. And finally, finally I had found a way to move forward and forgive. Does that mean I’m okay with being raped? No. Rape should not happen. No means no. Period. But, I can tell you that before being raped I never knew how strong I was. I never knew what I was capable of. I never knew the person I could be.
In my journey to forgiveness, I found a reason to stand again. And that reason was me. I realized that I was worth the effort. I realized that my worth was not linked in any way to what happened to me. I realized that God had been there all along, loving me for who I was, even when I couldn’t love myself. The God I felt had deserted me, or been embarrassed of me, had actually been standing next to me holding me up the entire time.
After the marathon in 2007 I thought I was “fixed.” But what I didn’t realize is the work that still needed to be done. I didn’t realize the feelings I still had in my own self worth. I still had ‘deserve-level’ issues to deal with, and to be honest my journey will always be in progress. I have to work each and every day, it’s a choice I make. And it started long ago. I chose to live. And some days that choice was easy, other days I had to fight my inner self. But looking at where I am today, 15 years later, I am so grateful I made the choice to live. I chose to share my story for many years on my blog because I want others to know that it’s okay to fall down sometimes, just make the choice to stand back up.
Hard happens to all of us, every single person! But don’t let that hard keep you down. Life is worth living, even when it doesn’t seem that way. The sun will come up again, just find a way to keep standing. And more than anything know that you are surrounded by God’s love. Nothing you will ever do, nothing that will ever happen to you will taint the love He has for you. So stand, and show the world how strong you are!
by Alisha Bowling
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