Disclaimer: This story contains explicit details of child abuse, suicidal ideation, and domestic and sexual violence that may be upsetting to some.
“There’s so much that needs to change within our society and in our justice system. I want my voice to be heard. Every step I take it seems as though I’m being silenced. But I’ve just found my voice; I’m not willing to be silent anymore.
There’s more I have to say.
I grew up with sandy brown hair, blue eyes, average weight and height in a two-story house in the suburbs of a small American town alongside my married parents and two siblings. We went to church twice a week. I was in ballet and took piano lessons.
Only it wasn’t.
Lately, there’s been new light pointed toward religious trauma. I’ve been hearing so many more stories from those who have lived through religious trauma, and I don’t even think that we are at a place where we as a society can even grasp the magnitude of the children, people, and families that have been destroyed because of corrupt religions.
The immense pressure of perfectionism. You must do good, be good, and see good, or you are not worthy.
You are not worthy.
You are not worthy of love, you are not worthy of God, you are not worthy of good.
You, as you are, with your flaws, and imperfections, are not enough.
How are we as humans supposed to carry this burden of unattainable perfectionism that is demanded but unconquerable?
My mother chose to pull me out of the school system in first grade to ‘homeschool’ me.
It was what all the other moms in the church were doing. It was all about image. We must look the part, right? So, we had to follow along.
Only my mom was abhorrently neglectful, and I spend all my educational years without receiving an education.
No education, no great abilities, and my imperfections were all my mother could see. Soon they were all I could see.
I never heard ‘I love you,’ unless she berated me so much mentally and emotionally that she felt some feeling of ‘guilt’ afterward, so she would beg me to tell her that I still loved her, that way she could feel better about the abuse. I consoled her guilt and I had no one to console my pain.
The only other times I heard the word love, was when she told me that she loved my sister more than me.
That’s around the first time I experienced my first suicidal thoughts.
I was completely alone in this world. Too young to comprehend the level of abuse and neglect. Too broken to know there was such thing as self-love, self-respect, and inner strength. Those are things I never knew existed.
I was desperate to run away from this life. I wanted so badly to create a life of my own, where I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, and where I could live a life free from the crushing disappointment of my mother and my church.
So, I ran.
I ran right into another abusive relationship. Though it took me a while to realize it. I didn’t know what it looked like to be loved and cared for; I had nothing to compare it to. This relationship started as a friendship, though he wanted it to be more. We spend two years forming this ‘bond’ and ‘trust.’ He was the first person I felt cared for me.
During this time, I never really understood what mental illness was. I had an internal pain that I couldn’t grasp or understand and didn’t know how to react to what I was feeling. I shut down, I internalized everything. I didn’t know it then, but I was disassociating. A term often used now as a coping mechanism for those who have suffered through great trauma, where our minds close off the traumatic memories so that we can ‘function’ and survive the day-to-day.
Part of that disassociating was that I wouldn’t cry. I didn’t cry, for years. Even though I felt like this friend cared, and I felt that I could trust him, I never cried in front of him, I never let that boundary down.
He always tried to kiss me, I would just push him away, and he would laugh. He spent endless conversations trying to convince me that we could be more than just friends, but I just wasn’t interested. Then one night, he got tired of me saying no, so he stopped listening to me. Even when I begged no, please stop, don’t do this…he wouldn’t listen. He sexually assaulted me. And I cried.
When he was done, I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in. I sat in the shower and cried until the water went cold. He sat outside the door for a while to make sure I didn’t run. He said he was sorry and eventually went to bed. The next day, he incessantly apologized. He promised that he would never hurt me like that again.
But he did. He did it again, and again, and again. The last time, I could sense that it was coming. As soon as he started to move towards me, I pushed him away, and what seems like within a mere second, I grabbed my car keys and ran. Just down the hall one of his friends was sitting on the floor talking to his girlfriend on the phone. When I ran out of the room he yelled to his friend, ‘GRAB HER!’ Somehow, I was able to jump over him and run down the stairs. I made it outside, and within just feet from my car, he grabbed me from behind and ripped the keys from my hand. He threw the keys to his friend and carried me back inside as I begged him to let me go. They took me back upstairs and laid me on the floor. His friend grabbed the doorknob and went to leave the room. He said, ‘I’ll sit right here, so she doesn’t try again.’ With his friend sitting on the other side of the door, he raped me for the last time.
I didn’t report my rapes to the police. There are so many reasons why I didn’t.
I felt so much shame. I could only think about what my parents, family, and church would think. I would be even more flawed, imperfect, and unworthy. I felt unworthy. Why would a stranger fight for me and my justice (Police and Prosecutor)? I had never seen anyone choose to do something good for me; I didn’t believe this would be any different. My PTSD and my coping mechanisms also made it very difficult to understand or process what had happened.
The trauma reaction is something most people don’t understand, it’s like they assume there’s a ‘right way’ to act or feel after you’re raped.
I reluctantly moved back to my hometown after that. I didn’t really know where to go. I once again found myself completely alone and broken. My PTSD from the rapes blocked a lot of the memories from each assault. It wasn’t until about a year later, that I started to get horrific flashbacks and the memories came back. It was a shock to my system. Again, I didn’t understand what mental illness was, so I couldn’t process what I was feeling. It was a flood of horrifying emotions and feelings that I had never felt before. And I had no idea how to get help, or even that I needed help.
Right around this time, I met a man that worked for the same company as me. We worked at different locations, but our paths crossed at one point. After we spoke a few times, I noticed he was coming around more frequently. It was very quickly clear that his attention was looming in my direction. His behavior was surreptitious and odd. The behavior I didn’t really understand at first. My coworkers warned that he was ‘creepy,’ and they felt like he was stalking me. He would show up to my work very frequently and just sit there for hours. He would wait until I closed, so he could walk me ‘safely’ to my car, but it made me uncomfortable.
He wasn’t someone that I was attracted to, but I did like that he listened, and that’s what our relationship grew off, as we got closer and closer. Fairly quickly, I confided in him that I had been raped the year before. At that point, it was very hard to hide the internal warfare going on inside of me. He was a Psychology Major, so he was ‘fascinated’ with learning how victims react and cope after being raped. He said he wanted to help me.
Little did I know, he was studying me as a victim. He knew how weak and broken I was. He manipulated that into a two-year relationship. I had no idea that I was being groomed by him the whole time.
Throughout those two years, our relationship seemed normal to me, but I also didn’t even know what normal looked like. We didn’t argue, we got along, and enjoyed a lot of the same things. The fact that it wasn’t a volatile relationship made me feel like it was a good relationship.
As he met more of my friends and family, I kept getting the same reactions; everyone felt weird and uncomfortable around him. They would say that they would get a bad feeling when they were around him. I wanted so badly to belong to someone and be loved by someone, I desperately tried to ignore the red flags. And ignoring the red flags led to us getting engaged.
A couple of weeks before our wedding day, my aunt took me out to lunch. It was her last stitch intervention and plea for me to call off the wedding. What she said got through to me. I found what little strength I had, and I called off the wedding. He was devastated.
He lost it. He went crazy. He stalked me every day. Called, texted, showed up at my work, watched me from the parking lot. He would follow me home after I got off work. He would break into my apartment and leave little clues that he was there, so I knew he had been in there.
I was terrified. When my boss saw how scared I was he banned him from coming in there. I changed my locks. I did everything I could think of to try and protect myself, but it didn’t work.
After closing my job at 2 a.m., I went home, took a shower, and headed upstairs towards my bed. When I walked around the corner, he was crouched down hiding. I immediately screamed and said, ‘What are you doing!’ He grabbed me and put his hand over my mouth. The only thing I could do instinctively was to become deadweight and drop to the ground. I tried to crawl away, but he grabbed me and threw me on the bed and assaulted me. I was so scared that he was trying to get me pregnant on purpose so that I would stay with him. Again, I didn’t report it to the police. I was a very broken person. Having this happen destroyed my soul.
It didn’t take long for the next predator to spot my vulnerability. It only took one month to be exact. I met a man at my work. He was kind, timid, and soft-spoken. These characteristics felt so safe to me, so I took a chance. I never really had the chance to get to know him or learn his true personality before I got pregnant. Him getting me pregnant the first time we slept together was part of his plan. We got married a month later.
He screamed, yelled, and called me stupid as we drove to our wedding destination. I was horrified, but I didn’t know what else to do. We had two daughters together. Our marriage lasted 8 years. I was a prisoner for eight years.
He controlled everything. He made me quit my job, he pushed away all my friends, he monitored my phone daily. The only time I left the house was with him, to go eat, get groceries, or go to church. The only other person I left with was my mom, and I had to check in with him constantly. I never had access to credit cards or cash, he stopped paying my car lease, so I lost that piece of independence too. I had to walk to take our daughter to school every day. It got so bad that he would leave for extended periods of time, leaving my daughters and me without food or money to buy food.
He named me Worthless. It was even the name he listed me under in his phone. I was completely isolated, with absolutely no means, ability, or strength to leave. At night, I would kiss my daughters’ goodnight and goodbye because I didn’t know if that would be the night that he would kill me.
They say when people drown, it’s silent. Nobody around them can see them, hear them, or help them. The person drowning is slipping further and further beneath the surface, slowly suffocating. That’s what it felt like to live through my marriage. I felt like I was drowning every day, suffocating, desperate for a breath, watching to the world around me carry on, with no idea that I was dying.
One day, after he attacked me while he was driving with our daughters in the backseat, he was finally arrested.
Broken isn’t even a word to describe the mental, emotional, and physical state that I was in. Had it not been for my girls, I would have killed myself. The pain was unfathomable. I had no hope in this world.
The night that he was arrested, was the first night in years where I could go to sleep and know I would wake up in the morning.
Him being arrested was a small step forward, and I clung to that. Each day after, I would take another step. Something as simple as setting a 9 a.m. schedule to sit with a cup of coffee, a bag of cookies, and listening to a self-help podcast gave me consistent positivity, which led to bigger steps forward, and the beginning of my healing journey.
I found that I love to hike and take nature photography. Being out in nature on the trails is the place I find the most healing, it’s where I can hear my soul. Since then, I’ve been in therapy and seen a psychiatrist.
After working with my therapist, I came to the decision to report my rapist to the police. It’s been over a decade, so it’s hard, there’s no physical evidence left. I chose to do recorded phone calls with each of my rapists, where I confronted them about what they had done, how much pain they have caused me, and asked them why they did it.
My first rapist apologized. He said had he known how much pain he caused, he would have never done it. He also said, if there was anything he could do to help me heal, he would. Even though it doesn’t undo the damage and pain he caused, his apology and his recognition of his responsibility for my pain was in a way healing for me. That case is currently pending with the Prosecutor.
The call with my ex-fiancé, he wouldn’t acknowledge raping me, my pain, or what I had to say to him. He said things like, ‘Well, if that’s what you remember, then I’m sorry’ and then after that, ‘I don’t want the last memory you have of us to be a bad one, I just want you to remember the good.’ He lawyered up immediately and refused to give a statement to the police. The Detectives did an amazing job on this case. They investigated every piece of evidence and spoke with every witness.
The downfall of this case was when it made it to the Prosecutor’s Office. The Prosecutor’s office in the county where this rape took place, grossly misgoverned this case. The Prosecutor’s denied the warrant request earlier this fall. When I received notice of their decision, we reached out to them, in hopes of better understanding and/or to see if they would reconsider. After hearing my victim statement, they agreed to reopen the case but warned me that it may not have a different outcome.
The prosecuting attorney that I spoke with that day said that she has a 99% success rate on her cases, as she was trying to explain to me why she wasn’t pushing to move this case forward. Even though she said that she believed me, and believed the rape happened, without physical evidence, she wasn’t sure it was worth the risk…the risk of her near-perfect record. That was the beginning of the misconduct within this prosecutor’s office.
When I received the official final letter of the arrest warrant denial from the prosecutor’s office, they had only written one sentence. I read through all of the Police Reports, Witness Statements, and all of the compiled evidence, with the prosecutor’s single sentence answer at the very bottom. The Prosecutor said, there is NO corroborating evidence.
*Note* I had to read through all of the Police Reports, Witness Statements, and evidence. But they said, no corroborating evidence?
Define corroborate. ‘Corroborate: suggests the strengthening of what is already partially established.’ Another reason stated in their single sentence denial was the fact that I have been raped before. Let that sink in. Statistically, rape victims are 35 times more likely to be victimized again.
My rapist preyed on the fact that I had been raped before. He knew how broken and weak I was. He knew I wouldn’t report. He knew exactly what to do, and he knew he would get away with it…and the prosecutor let him. He’s a free man. Free to prey on more innocents. Free to destroy more lives.
We are currently working with an attorney to bring a complaint against the prosecutor’s office. Furthermore, we’re in the process of submitting the case to the Attorney General in hopes of receiving help towards justice and hope outside the hands of a corrupt political office. In this case, I’m not sure what justice or healing will look like, but I’m still pushing forward.
As a result of all the trauma, I have been clinically diagnosed with C-PTSD, agoraphobia, anxiety disorder, clinical depression, panic disorder, debilitating OCD, sleep disorder, and ADHD. I have been diagnosed with a trauma-induced autoimmune disease. As a result, I must take a substantial amount of daily medication for my mental and physical health, to just imperceptibly normalize my body.
It is incalculable the damage and pain my abusers caused in my life. A burden I carry every day, but every day I work towards healing. I may have many hard days, but no matter how hard, I always choose to keep going.”
If you or a loved one are in an abusive situation please reach out to the National abuse hotline: 1-800-799-7233
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Megan Morningstar. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
Read more empowering stories from sexual assault survivors:
‘There’s a problem in our relationship.’ My father stopped the car. I had an instant sick feeling. In a blink, my hero was gone.’: Woman overcomes abandonment issues, sexual trauma, ‘I can finally stand tall after 36 years’
‘I recall sitting in the dark on the couch after the worst of it all. I knew I was being hurt. It was the day where from beneath him I screamed, ‘DAD! STOOOOOPPPPP!’’
‘Papa, please back up!’ He doesn’t move. ‘Oh, relax. I can play how I want with her,’ he ruffles her blonde hair.’: Mom stands up to grandfather for inappropriate touching, teaches 3-year-old daughter she is ‘allowed, expected’ to say no
‘I don’t want to do it.’ Our little girl looked at me in tears, apologizing for her own choices about her body.’: Dad urges us to let our kids ‘decide what they do with their bodies,’ says it’s ‘never too early to emphasize consent’
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