You will never say that name again, he screamed… Hitting me on my shoulder and leg with a metal bar of some kind. I didn’t feel the pain in that moment but saw the bruises later in the morning light. In the middle of the night, before my friend’s wedding the next day, my then fiancé and I were brutally woken up by someone banging loudly on my dorm room door. Open up! He shouted.
I never made it to the wedding. I lied to my friend and told her I had food poisoning.
You see, my flatmate and I had filed a complaint on advice of the student housing agency that we rented from against our other flatmate (not cool I know!). My flatmate had behaved very unkindly and we were fed up with her behaviour. I truly wish I hadn’t done that and had minded my own business back then because of what followed after that complaint. That night her family (two men and one woman) came to attack us in our sleep. My other flatmate wasn’t at home. One man kicked down the door of my room and whilst I was desperately trying to call the police, my phone was taken from me and chucked down the hallway. They started beating us up, kicking and shouting. It was a mess. I ran to the hallway to shout for help, when no one answered, I started screaming the name of Jesus as I knew He would come and help me in my time of need.
16As for me, I call to God, and the LORD saves me. 17Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.Psalm 55:16-17
In the end, someone did wake up and phoned the police. An answer to my cry for help. The police came and took them in. My fiancé was pretty blue all over with some very bruised ribs and I had a very black eye. But the damage was way more than just physical.
As a consequence of this attack, I developed PTSD like symptoms which lasted for years. Many victims of abuse do. I would struggle to sleep at night, would get dizzy when I went into town because I could bump into the perpetrator of the abuse, I would start to get panic attacks, have headaches and be very scared in the dark. Talking about the event would leave me with a racing heartbeat, being very angry and physically shaking every time I would talk about the attack. After the abuse was over I lost a lot of hair (strange I know, apparently this can happen when the body suffers shock) and it took me a year more than I needed to graduate and write my Master’s thesis as I struggled to concentrate, having many flashbacks of the event.
See the thing was…it came from someone I trusted. She used to be a friend, or a good flatmate in the beginning and this betrayal was hard to swallow. Some would say it was my own fault, I had called it upon myself by filing a complaint, others would say it was a punishment for sin in my life. People say the nicest things! I just needed to forgive my enemies and keep smiling. That’s what good Christians do, right? And so I tried to do that. But it didn’t quite work. Not because I didn’t want to forgive, I even dreamed about reconciliation! But because my body’s response was to stay in shock, to constantly be on alert, I couldn’t relax anymore and this wasn’t a great place to be when you’re newly married (we got married less than 2 months later).
He set me free from the fear related to this traumatic event. It took a few years. And it didn’t go away in one go. It took prayer, lots of tears and some EMDR therapy with a Christian therapist to get free. Now I can type up this story and my heart doesn’t race, I don’t feel fear. I don’t even get sweaty like I used to when talking about my trauma. I can honestly say I have forgiven the perpetrators but would’ve wished it never had happened to any of us.
EMDR therapy is a form of therapy that stimulates both hemispheres of the brain and by doing this whilst you talk about your traumatic experience with the therapist, the brain can heal and process the trauma much better and faster. In my case it only took 5 two-hour sessions, from the intake until the end. The therapist asks questions about the event, taking you back to the event in great detail while you tell them how you feel. On a scale of 1-10 how stressed are you right now? and then again after the therapy: how do you feel now? If you don’t feel like a 1 or a 0 you continue to go back deeper into the memory of the trauma until you get that score. In the meantime you’re wearing a headphone that gives soft bleeps into the right and then your left ear whilst you speak. You barely notice this btw. This causes the brain to be stimulated and unlocks other memories, positive or neutral memories, that have been blocked out by the trauma.
I suddenly remembered, during a therapy session, what was laying on my table in my student room (my passport) and which colour pyjama’s I was wearing (blue ones) when they had barged in. I also could remember in great detail that I had been feeling excited about getting married, but this emotion had been completely erased or crowded out by my traumatic experience. So when it was my wedding day a few months after the event, I felt emotionally numb, tainted with anxiety.
The therapy was a God send. And I can’t recommend it enough if you are struggling with trauma and anxiety, have a go at EMDR therapy. It is very effective in merging your trauma (not erasing it, I haven’t forgotten it, but dealing with it properly) with positive experiences in your life. These positive emotions/feelings and relationships will then start to function as a buffer of the pain related to trauma. And you don’t need to have been through big traumatic experiences, as long as it was hard for you and makes you anxious you can have EMDR. Research has shown EMDR to be more effective than cognitive therapy in dealing with PTSD and anxiety but no significant differences were found relating to dealing with depression (see link).
Because I am a Christian and so was my therapist I also greatly used this EMDR opportunity to see what God spoke to me during the sessions. In one session I remember a divine intervention that greatly helped me in dealing with the pain and fear I was feeling. One of the positive memories or thoughts that came to me in the session in response to the details of the physical abuse I suffered was a children’s song. It was God whispering to me:
don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, I will hold your hand, don’t be scared, we will go together from now on, I have called you by name!Isaiah 43:1-4
This is a fragment from Isaiah 43:1-4 but it came in the form of a song from my childhood. A song I had heard thousands of times and sang along to. This song was stored deep in my memory and it helped me a lot to think of God taking me by the hand out of my pain and leading me out of fear.
The song by Jonathan and Melissa Helser: “No longer slaves” has been instrumental in my understanding what God does when He heals our broken hearts. He unravels us. I remember when my mum used to knit. She would knit a new jumper for my siblings almost every winter. When something was wrong, she had made a mistake or the pattern didn’t line up with the instructions, she would have to unravel it back to where the knitting was right, where it followed the pattern… I feel this is what God did in me, he unravelled me back to the place where my heart was not full of fear!
I was 24 when the abuse happened, I was 35 when I was finally free.
God called my name and said I was safe. No greater protection possible.
To be continued…
Next time: But why then did this happen to me? The big question everyone asks: why do bad things happen to good people? I questioned a lot and did a lot of soul searching.
Slowly, I grew very bitter. I thought I had forgiven, but had I? It took another few years for me to be released of my bitterness and my hatred. How? Read about it in my next blog post.