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Trust Issues **TW: Sexual Assault**

23 December 2022

"The actions that occurred in August with your family triggered your sexual assault and now you are taking it out on your husband."

This is what the nurse told me back in August while I was hospitalized, and it was the first time in a year's worth of therapy where I felt I had a lead on what was happening to me. Why I was failing to overcome my depression this time around. By this point my psychiatrist, a counselor with one of the intensive therapy programs, the Marriage and Family Life Counselor (MFLC) and my mental health provider had brought up my sexual assault from college and asked me if it had any impact on how I'm feeling today. My answer remained the same, "NO. I don't think about it. I did therapy after it occurred. I spent years to myself where I didn't date anyone and worked on myself, I gave back to the community to help others in this department; I can acknowledge that it happened to me, without issue. I've healed. I've moved on. I don’t see it being related to the problems I'm experiencing today."

Despite my very clear response, it seemed like over time, different therapists kept bringing it up. The psychiatrist in the inpatient care asked me, "when you went through therapy for the sexual assault, did they ever have you retell what happened in detail to the therapist?" I told him I don't recall that. I don't remember that. Truthfully, by the time I saw a therapist, I went to two sessions, was diagnosed with Acute Traumatic Stress Disorder, felt encouraged to not let this hold me back from my college and career goals and decided to move on. After the incident, working out became a form of therapy for me. I worked out five days a week and was in phenomenal shape. I completed two marathons within that same year. I was ranked at the top of my class within ROTC going into Field Training. While I did experience some concentration issues while studying, I was passing academically in all my classes. With the help of friends, I was able to turn my pain into purpose, and gave sexual assault awareness and bystander intervention trainings to high schools and junior colleges. Yes, I had the occasional break downs, flashbacks, and tearful nights, but I was training myself to become a professional. I pushed through it.

All of these actions in my eyes, were evidence of my healing. I didn’t allow what happened to me to hold me back from any of my goals. I pushed through. I persevered. My time was now, and now only. These were the things I told myself.

What I failed to realize over the past year is that I've been telling myself the same thing for over 10 years now. And when I finally allowed myself to dig way deep within my memories to go over in my mind what had happened, I fell apart. I fell apart, BADLY.

This break down was in mid-August after returning home from the hospital and remaining on convalescent leave as I waited for my outpatient therapy course to begin. I went to a yoga class to distract myself from my thoughts and toward the tail end of class, the opposite happened. I had a flashback and felt a surge of pain go through my body. I left the class and sat in my car and cried. "How am I not over this?" I thought. "Am I going to be plagued by this forever? Am I just damaged goods?"

The truth was, I was stuck and had no idea why. I didn't know how to connect the dots on my own.

The more self-aware I become the more I see the progress within myself but still see the areas that need healing. A few Sunday's ago as I did my new "unwind and get ready for the work week" routine, I had an alarming experience. As I lied in bed with my face mask on, mood therapy lamp glowing, and calming cozy cabin scented candle burning, I listened to a podcast for healing. It was a combination of women telling stories on life lessons while calming music played during the intermission periods. I felt my mind and body repair itself and gain strength for the week. I felt safe and proud that I was taking care of myself, shamelessly. With no guilt. I was fully present in the moment and it was AMAZING. Then all of the sudden the next storyteller on the podcasts had a masculine sounding voice... My mind detected that the speaker was indeed, a man. My entire mind and body felt intense anger and discomfort. I turned off the podcast immediately and finished my calming session in silence.

At my next therapy session my therapist reminded me that we are going to start the final portion of my therapy which is the trauma treatment. Her recommendation was for me to go through Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. She gave me the education on it and explained how within each session it will allow me to process my trauma in my own mind. She asked me if I was willing to do the therapy and I said yes.

This weekend I talked to my friend about it, and she told me she's done it and found it to be really helpful in processing some of her trauma. I told her that I don't even know where to start and she said, "the feeling of anger you felt when you heard the man's voice on the podcast, maybe start there." I thought that was a great idea. When I go to my next session, I will start there.

One thing I’ve learned throughout this entire process is that old wounds can be reopened again. Things you thought you healed from, can be resurrected and present the pain in different ways. This concept was shared with me by my MFLC counselor and explained that it is a natural response. Just because you healed from something in the past, a new experience can trigger it and you are in need of healing again. It’s not something I needed to run from or avoid, but to embrace.

Michael was telling me for years that he felt I didn't trust him, but I didn't know what he meant. I did my work on myself - was the rationale of my younger self. I've moved on, I'm ready for love, a relationship, for marriage. Again, while all of this was true, what was also true was that I still had trust issues. And despite my efforts to move on from the pain, I learned that sometimes I will just have to sit in it to heal. No problem solving or distracting, just processing it. Acknowledge each step that happened. Acknowledge the hurt. Even if the timing of doing so is inconvenient.

So here I am, now a Major in the USAF, newly married, and finally making the choice to sit in my pain regardless of how inconvenient for my career and personal goals it may be. For many, this would be the time to enjoy the honeymoon season of marriage. Or to take on more work as a Field Grade officer. To lead units from the front and shape the culture. My leading right now is taking my ass to therapy and acknowledging that I have unhealed trauma to process. This is definitely not the place I saw myself at this phase of my life or career, but it is unapologetically, where I am at.

I used to be so scared that if I "let this hold me back" that I would never be able to recover. That others would see me as damaged, or incapable. Lose confidence in my ability to lead others, particularly in leading men. I don't know what will come from all of this, but I do know that I'm tired of feeling anger, distress or pain at the slightest trigger of a perceived threat. I want to see clearly again and have peace of mind. I want to trust my husband and other people again. I want to pray and not feel disgust or danger when people refer to God as "He." I don't want to be afraid everywhere I go, and I want to be so secure within myself that no external "perceived threat" can shake what’s within me. While I'm nervous, I'm looking forward to the EMDR therapy at my next session and am thankful that I have a provider whose trained to administer it.


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