Following my rape and wrongful discharge from the Air Force in 1977, the “One Size Fits All” counseling I received never addressed the specific needs of a rape victim. Although they served me well at the age of nineteen, the skills I developed on my own turned out to be more damaging than I could have ever predicted. Anger and resentment were becoming familiar tastes in my mouth yet I masked them in a variety of artificial behaviors. Despite living a life that follows Jesus Christ and believing in absolution for the true believer, I had a silent wish for my rapist that was also harming me. Holding on to the desire for quiet revenge was etching a groove on my soul as it played over and over again. I didn’t want my rapist to wait until the day he died to seek forgiveness; I silently hoped pain would befall him while he is here and alive on earth. I wanted him to know what it feels like to see someone in his family hurt. It’s this specific belief that turned into a coping skill that gave me peace until the day I was confronted head-on with love and compassion.
I was traveling so frequently to speak and give seminars that close friendships near my home were very rare. Thankfully, I was at a neighborhood woman’s club meeting when I met a special woman and our personalities immediately clicked. Lunch was scheduled and we were both excited to get to know each other better and become friends. Sitting in the middle of the restaurant and anxious to discover all about the other, we started to laugh when we simultaneously began to ask the same questions. I said, “You go first and tell me all about yourself”. While she began to share and I asked questions, I felt the emotional earthquake begin in my soul. Her son is in prison for rape. I can hear her voice; I see her lips move; but, it’s the loud crumbling noise coming from the tumbling and collapse of my coping skills that is most distracting. In an earthquake I would have run to stand under a door frame but in my psyche there is no place to run; no table where I can crawl and hide. My physical senses were heightened and I became fixated with the texture of the white napkin draped across my lap. I thought I was going to rub a hole in the fabric as I rolled it between my thumb and finger tips. Suddenly the sound made by the droplets of water trickling down the outside of my water glass caught my attention. I watched her tears pour from her eyes and I felt the blood from my face as it drained down into my chest; leaving me pasty and pale. The cold groves etched by years of misdirected coping were softened while she shared her pain and heartache; I could never wish harm upon her. It was clear to me she was also a victim and like me, she was suffering. It is this exact moment where our two worlds collide with incredible force.
I sat motionless and contemplated how far I was willing to open myself up to her. It doesn’t matter if someone is in physical or emotional pain; I am overwhelmingly driven to give them comfort. My way of comforting usually starts with a touch; I wanted to touch her; I needed to touch her and wipe away her tears. I was prepared to use this opportunity to share my experience of rape and reach out to touch her hand but then she says, “It really bothers me when a women claims rape and they actually haven’t been.” It was all I could do to resist falling back upon my outdated coping skill and closing myself off to a new friendship. Thankfully I used this opportunity to heal two hearts at one time. With one deep breath I was filled with the courage to reach across the table and take her hand. To this day, I am amazed by how quickly the tear drops streaming down my face turned into rivers and poured out my heart to my new friend. It was such a joy to finally shatter and adjust a misaligned coping skill.
I have a great compassion and true understanding for the nineteen year old girl who lives inside me. I accept that my private bitterness “was” a coping skill I needed “at that time” to survive; I was doing the best I could to make it through a day. I have been very good friends with this woman for over a decade; we smile and reminisce about the specific moment we looked at each other across the table and found such a common bond.
Take a moment to review the defenses and walls you’ve built up due to a bad experience. Open yourself up to discover who you are “today” and see if your old beliefs still benefit you. Be willing to explore and change who you are today and who you want to be tomorrow…….you are likely to make a new friend.
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