As part of sexual assault awareness month, we are proud to re-present Lauren’s brave, personal reflections on Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. To read her review of the book itself, click here. Due to the sensitive and highly personal nature of this post, we have decided to turn off the comments section. However, if you would like for any reason to be in touch with Lauren, you may use the form at the bottom of the post.
Nearly 18 years ago, I was sexually assaulted by two young men, both of whom I knew. The incident ended with them threatening my life if I told anyone. A year later, I was raped by one of them–a fact which I denied to myself (completely and totally), until two and a half years later, I suffered twice more, at the hands of different men.
Then I completely shut down. I remember telling a friend, “This will no longer be taken from me.” I withdrew inward. My thinking function overruled my feeling function, resolving that I would cease to feel. The pain was too great, the shame and guilt too palpable — something had to intervene and save the ship from going down into the pit of despair. So I put my feelings in a box, under lock and key. Some sexual assault victims retreat; some aggress. I decided to aggress. I decided I would take the reigns, and dominate rather than ever be dominated again. Men became, for me, both the plaything and the enemy. Over the four years that frame the first and last incidents, my mind deduced that love, specifically love and desire from men, was always violent, that domination was ‘normal’. So I entered the fight, armed with wit, mind and figure, aware of the power I thought I had, and I reveled in it.
In the midst of this experience, I stumbled across two books which had a particularly powerful effect on me.
Enter Ayn Rand. Between the years of 1996/7 and 2000 (when I became Christian) I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged three times…each. Rand affirmed my deductions about the violence of love. And she affirmed my default approach to dealing with emotions: don’t have them. To love is to take and dominate; to feel is to be weak. The characters that feel emotion in Rand’s novels are the wishy-washy characters, the characters you couldn’t really respect in the way that you could the heroes and heroines of her novels. Thus, I studied Dominque Francon (female protagonist in The Fountainhead) and Dagney Taggart (in Atlas Shrugged). I studied them with the same ferocity then that I study the Gospel now and can still remember the deep desire to be them. From the outside I looked the part: hard, cool, unaffected and unapproachable. I did not need ‘love’ or anyone else; I only needed my pride and myself.
As it is with all façades, you can only maintain them for a while before cracks appear. Or someone gets too close. Suddenly, all the emotions you’ve been blocking so fervently come to the surface. Shame, guilt, rejection. What would surface in me was always anger. I would slip into a deep hatred of myself. Between the years of 1996 and December of 2000, this self-hatred manifested itself in a variety of self-destructive tendencies, some of them very severe. It makes sense: all that locked up pain had to go somewhere. Many mornings, I would wake up, steeped in the muck and mire of extreme shame and guilt and self-hatred and the only way to deal with it was to stuff it all down and begin again: pretending that I had it together and that I was in control.
But I hated myself and my existence. I ‘looked’ in control—I looked like and appeared to be the Dagney or the Dominique—but on the inside I was imploding. The continuous circuit of thoughts would wind its way through my mind went like this: you’re just a self-destructive person, this is your life; you are a miserable excuse for a person; your existence, Lauren, is a joke; you are a waste of space, complete trash, and no one will ever or could love you, well at least not the real you, the broken you.
The shame and aggression only heightened my natural introversion. There would be many times, when someone got too close or tried to get close (emotionally), and I would reject them. People were sources of pain, and the pain I had received from those men who assaulted me I projected onto others. I would often find myself seeking to dislike people; people in general, not just men, became the enemy I had to protect myself from.
I wish I could say that when I became Christian at the end of 2000 all those thoughts, the shame and guilt, the tendency to despair, to hate myself and self-destruct ended. While there was ‘change’ in me, I still felt had to control myself. And when I failed or slipped up—“sinned”—I tumbled down the same viscous self-destructive cycle, only now it was worse, as I believed that as a Christian I now possessed the ability to be ‘better,’ to actually ‘be in control.’ I also believed, wholeheartedly, that I could just walk away from my past. That was history, it was over and it was time to move on. I was ignoring how wounded my six-year battle (with myself) had left me. I had just become a “Christian” version of whatever Rand heroine was in my head. I was in control; I had to be in control or it would all unravel. I could just forget my past because I was a ‘new creation’. On the other hand, because I couldn’t actually forget my past, I strongly doubted that any good Christian man would be able to love me: I was used, second-hand, who would ever want me as their wife when they could marry someone purer? I spent another seven years living in this struggle. I did get married during this time, by my inability to address my past (as in: deal with it on an emotional level), the sexual assaults that had wounded me so deeply, affected my marriage on many levels. I was/am totally incapable of emotional intimacy.
Looking back, I can see why I so vehemently rejected the gospel when I finally heard it, the message of God’s one-way love for us, that we are broken and not in control, that Christianity is about the cross and not about glory. I wanted it to be about glory…I needed to be holy (read: in control of my sin) because that would save me from my wasted existence. I could finally be counted worthy. I couldn’t fathom a God who ‘loved’ me tenderly and not violently. I couldn’t comprehend being desired and not dominated. I couldn’t imagine a Holy God loving such an unholy person. I couldn’t hear the “yes” when my life had proven to me that it would always be ‘no’.
But I did hear it, finally. Near the end of 2007, I heard the gospel. I was desperate and thirsty, it was finally dawning on me that I couldn’t control a thing. That was my first confession. Over the past four years my heart has been successively, as if by chambers, turned from stone to flesh by the message of the gospel, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, by Jesus Christ. And it culminates in this moment and with Rid of My Disgrace. Not that I’m perfected or don’t still need to hear the gospel message every day, just that I can turn and not run from a past that causes me shame. I no longer have to pretend that it didn’t happen or refuse to feel the emotions I need to feel about it. I am finally able to admit that I am a victim, that I have shame and guilt because of what happened to me, and I can face these very strong emotions/feelings without retreating into self-destruction and self-hatred. The book, along with my academic work, has placed me on a secure gospel platform from which to reach out for help, and for the first time ever (that I can remember), I have no shame about that.
I have always referred to my past as ‘very dark.’ But that description has ceased to make sense after reading the Holcombs’ book. Yes, the Light has come and illuminated horrific events. Yet I need not be afraid to look to see where it shines – and neither do you. We have been declared justified by faith apart from works—even those that have been done to us. The light does not call these things good, it merely illuminates them; in being illuminated, we see that they have been separated from us. In light, we stand not as a shame-ridden, guilt-ridden people, but broken and desperately in love with and dependent upon our saviour for hope and help and healing—healing that begins with the pages of this book and continues with counseling. We might even notice ourselves becoming less afraid of others getting close to us, or that we no longer see other people (exclusively) as the enemy.
I am grateful for Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. I am grateful for their passion for the gospel message, and for their call to proclaim to those who have suffered sexual assault. Most of all, I am grateful to the Spirit who emboldened them to write this book. Amen.