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Friday, June 12, 2015


"A leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed."

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Being physically assaulted is no mental walk in the park. It’s more like a personal war zone in your mind that creates cracks upon your spirit. I was assaulted in the summer of 1994, and the experience helped shape me into the woman I am today. 

Although I've always been spiritual, religion wasn't a big part of my childhood. In my late teenage years, I found solace for a brief while in religion. My brother and I were Mormon converts, and we both embraced the faith. He had recently returned from a religious two-year mission, and my parents were hosting one of his missionary companions for the summer.

Having religion in my life was a balm on an open wound. Three members of my family were murdered the year before, and I found comfort joining a church. It was a place of healing during a traumatic time in my life as it offered a stability that my growing-up years lacked. In my young and impressionable mind, I idolized the missionaries, thinking they had all the answers to help me heal in my grief. 

Over the summer I befriended my brother's friend who was staying in our home. It was a fun summer creating memories, like driving up to San Francisco to ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, fishing for crawdads and listening to the Lion King soundtrack over and over. It was a time of just being innocent, young and carefree. But the sparkle of summer sunshine faded to darkness on the last night of his stay. Something horrible happened that affected my life for two decades. 

While I was sleeping someone came into my room, straddled me, and put a pillow over my face, pressing down hard. I was asleep and to wake up to this experience, to say the least, was terrifying. I still remember the feeling of absolute horror and trying to scream through the fluffy down pillow, trying to get my attacker off of me. My attacker was relentless with holding the pillow on my face. I thought I was going to be suffocated.

Then my attacker stopped and took the pillow off my face. Quickly, he leaned down and I could feel his hot breath and feel his hard stare. And, in a split second, I instantly recognized my attacker.  It was my brother's friend, his missionary companion, someone I had come to trust. Stunned, I stared up at him in the darkness, unable to speak. His cold, brown eyes bore into mine, and then he took that pillow and put it back on my face and pressed down hard again. 

I fought like crazy. I bucked my body and put everything I had into fighting him. He stopped and, without words, he stood up and walked out of the room with the pillow in hand. Like a deer blinded by headlights, I was frozen in place. Traumatized, my heart was beating wildly, a scream trapped in my throat. I was in shock and my young mind was trying to make sense of what happened. It was a very scary and weird experience. The black shadows in my bedroom covered me and in that ebony cloak, I hid what happened to me. 

The following day, my mother and my brother asked me what was wrong because I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't tell them what he did. I felt shame. I thought I must have done something to cause this. I thought there was something wrong with me. After all, he was a return missionary, a lifelong member of the church. He was good; therefore, I must be bad. 

Later, I went to a bishop in the church and shared what happened. He dealt with the situation, and I tried to move on with my life. I never did find out if or how my attacker was disciplined. 

Eventually, I told my brother what happened, but he didn't believe me. How could his religious missionary companion, his dear friend, be capable of an offense? And why didn’t I say something after it happened? I didn't say anything because I was in shock. I was traumatized by the incident. I thought I must be a bad person if my own family didn't believe me. My sibling’s disbelief in the attack was hurtful and caused a rift between us for years. 

I learned to compartmentalize the experience of the attack, but subconsciously it haunted me. For 20 years I have had a reoccurring nightmare of being attacked in my home. Sometimes I die in my dream, waking up gasping for air, taking goldfish gulps of empty oxygen. Sometimes I wake up just before my attacker grabs me. Every time I have had that dream, I wake up terrified, my heart thumping erratically in my chest.

Being attacked affected me on a deep level. It was like the terror of the attack crawled under my skin and lived in my cells where, every now and then, it came up to traumatize me once again. 

If that same experience happened today, I would handle it differently. But I'm mature and have life experience under my belt. I'm more confident and educated in the ways of the world. I would have told my parents instead of hiding it from everyone. I hid that experience for a long time because my young mind couldn't process the attack; I internalized it, assuming that the experience must have been my fault. 

Having a crush on my brother's friend, I had flirted with him, and so I believed I was responsible for the attack. If I hadn't flirted with him, maybe he wouldn't have attacked me? That nonsense floated around my brain creating a scared, confused young woman. Through my studies over the years regarding attacks on women, this confusion and wanting to blame oneself is a common reaction in assault situations when the victim knows the attacker.

Two decades later I still reflect back on that night after another dream where I wake up scared in the dark. I have worked through the issue of thinking I caused the attack. I'm not responsible for other people's actions.

Through my healing of that dark experience, I have counseled other women who have been attacked. My empathy is deep because I can relate, so that experience gave me a gift of awareness that I now share with other women. 

Everything that happens to us is an opportunity for personal growth. I've heard the caterpillar screams during its butterfly transformation because the pain of change is great. Just because we cannot hear the scream doesn't mean the pain doesn't exist. It doesn't mean the painful event didn't happen. Sometimes pain isn't vocally expressed; it's simply felt. 

I have overcome many abusive events throughout my life and each and every one has shaped me into a woman I love and respect. Looking back, I wouldn't trade the gifts I gained from the abusive experiences. The gifts of increased empathy and compassion have helped me be a healer to other broken spirits. 

A month ago I was driving through the Arizona desert heading to Sedona. Nature is now my church and jagged red rocks are the cathedrals to my soul. Stopping at a rest stop to take pictures of the big white clouds resting against the baby blue sky, I checked my e-mail. My attacker had found my author website and waiting in my inbox, 20 years later, was an apology for the attack upon me.

Shocked, I stared at the words, wanting to hate him, but I could feel the emotions, the shame in his quiet voice. I have to hand it to him as he took full responsibility for his actions and wrote a heartfelt apology. He said to this day he didn't know why he put a pillow over my face; he didn't know why he attacked me, but he recognized it was wrong, and he wanted me to know that he was sorry. 

Tears burned in my eyes while anger raged through my body. All these years I have lived with the result of the attack and felt betrayal by those that didn't believe me. Why couldn't he have written this letter years ago so I had proof to show everyone? Maybe my life would have unfolded in a more positive light. I have often wondered where I would be if that event had never happened to me. 

But the reality? I like who I am. I appreciate my strength of character, my learned wisdom, and extending compassion to others comes easily for me. That painful experience along with other painful experiences were my greatest teachers. 

That experience was a part of the steady stream of water that made the seed bloom within me. Growing tall and strong, I reached for the light to guide me. My roots grasped deep into the soil, holding me tight, grounding me to the earth. All the pain, the fear, the betrayal, the screams and the tears over the years have tore me open and reshaped me. Like the caterpillar, I emerged more beautiful. I accept the journey that got me here. 

I had a dream a week after reading the apology letter. In my dream a man broke into my home, and I saw him running up the stairs towards me. I could feel his aggression, and I knew he was going to hurt me. Once again I was running, but in this dream, I made it into a white closet with a steel door. I locked the door just before he got to me, and then I woke up with the same racing heart, an old enemy in my darkness. 

Then I realized he didn't get me this time. The dream had changed. Additionally, the symbolic meaning of the steel door and white walls stilled my racing mind. In this stillness I embraced the realization that I am safe. I have been safe for a long time, and it is time to let painful experiences go.

Time has softened the emotional pain and wisdom has left me appreciative of the hidden spiritual gifts. I learned a lesson out of this chaos. It's a lesson so important I feel moved to share it with the reader of this post. 

It's never too late to apologize, as your apologetic words might heal the crack upon another person's spirit. 

I have forgiven my attacker for his mistake. This forgiveness is as much for me as it is for him because withholding forgiveness only hurts us. I have a feeling that old dream won't be visiting me anymore, and I am not going to miss it.