Through the years following the attack, I never allowed myself to own my anger. I had been told by my mother
and a teacher, whom I trusted, that I should just accept what those boys were doing. My mother said it was something all women
had to deal with, and my teacher said I should be flattered instead of furious. Because of that, I didn't feel that I was
allowed to be angry. I never thought about the assault, or the months of abuse that preceded it. I locked all my rage inside.
As a result, my anger was turned inward. I acted it out upon myself -- I would batter my fists against stone or brick
walls until my knuckles swelled, I scraped my skin with a serrated knife, and I refused to take care of my health or even
visit a gynecologist until I was 25 years old, even though I had a probable miscarriage and other health problems. I hated
myself. Just looking into my own eyes in the mirror was enough to disgust me. I even shut myself away from the amibitions
I'd had in the past. I didn't go anywhere, because I didn't want to be seen -- I knew that other people would be as disgusted
with me as I was. I didn't finish college, rarely took jobs, and withdrew from my family and my friends.
Coming to understand
that my self-hatred had evolved from the sexual assault was a gradual process. When my marriage was threatened, I had to look
at myself and try to realize why I was so anti-social, where this disgust and anxiety came from. I prayed about it, and I
sifted through my past. That's when I discovered that after my thirteenth year, everything about me was different. Even my
diary entries had changed quality from upbeat and optimistic to dark and depressing. It was like a switch had been flipped
I began asking myself questions about my problems. Why was I so reluctant to be seen in public? Because I was
afraid. What was I afraid of? Being assaulted. Why? Because I'd been assaulted. The answers came so automatically that they
must have been right there, just below the surface.
After I understood my anxiety, I started examining my self-hatred.
Why was I disgusted with myself? Because I had let it happen. Why did I hurt myself? Because I deserved pain. Why did I neglect
my health? Because I was furious at myself. Why was I angry at myself? Because I wasn't allowed to be angry at my attackers.
As a Christian, I believe in the importance of forgiving. Forgiveness doesn't really affect your enemy as much
as it affects you. It frees you of the negative emotions that can control your life, it lifts your spirit, and it allows you
to rise above the circumstances that caused your rage and pain.
I had been turning my anger inward until I recognized
that in order to forgive, I needed to apply the rage to the incident that had caused it. For a short while, I allowed myself
to rage at the people who had hurt me, to feel the fury and grief I had never been allowed to feel. What a powerful cleansing
flame! My guilt and shame were burned away. I had done nothing wrong, and for the first time, I really believed it. I had
tried to deal with the attack as flattery, as something I should just accept. I had never dealt with it as I should have --
by being angry at the boys who attacked me and at the adults who failed me.
Once I had acknowledged my own needs, true
healing began. I don't condone their actions against me -- abuse and rape are terrible crimes and should never be condoned
or even tolerated -- but I harbor no hatred toward them. Forgiving my teacher and my mother was harder. But I know that in
both cases, they thought they were acting for the best. Neither of them would intentionally have hurt me.
My final gift
of forgiveness is for myself. I'm still working on it. I bear no guilt regarding the abuse or assault, but I have damaged
my body and my spirit with all that misplaced anger. I'm trying to remember that part of me is still that thirteen year old
girl, wounded and ashamed, who stared into a bathroom mirror and for the first time, hated what she saw. I'm ten years behind
in the plans I once made for myself because of the anxiety and low self-esteem, but inside, I know that those things aren't
my fault. I'm not angry at myself anymore. I've started taking care of my health and I've picked up my old plans and ambitions
One thing that really helped me was the knowledge that even when I hated me, God loved me -- He loved me enough
to listen as I poured out the fury and sorrow of years, and He loved me enough to lead me through that darkness. Whenever
I feel down or angry at myself, I just remember that God loves me. How can I dare not love me, too?