They say you never know how you'll react until you're there. They are right.
It's easy to sit back and be a Monday morning armchair quarterback. To sit and say "Oh, I'd have done it this way." or "I don't understand how someone could let that happen."
That's the point - You don't understand. In fact, there's a lot of misunderstanding going on today. Too many assumptions and assertions of other ways things can or "should" be done. But until you're there; Until you're in it, you won't understand And even then, you still can't fully understand. I didn't.
I still don't.
I don't remember the first time I learned about fight or flight. It was probably in school somewhere along the way. They tell you that in a fateful moment - usually one that involves circumstances entirely out of your control - you'll have one of two responses. You'll either fight back or you'll flee. In most cases I suppose that's right. I certainly believed that those were the norm. Because of that, I felt confused and alienated at my own response when faced with life-or-death. I didn't understand how I couldn't find it in myself to fight, to scream. But I didn't run away either.
No one ever told me was that there is a third response. FREEZE.
It wasn't until after my rape, when I worked through what all had happened that my therapist told me that what my body chose to do was a completely NORMAL response to the life-or-death situation I was in. In that place free from judgement, my natural reaction was normalized. There is tremendous power in that.
After I'd been tackled and spun to the ground at the foot of my bed, I froze. Froze in fear. As I looked up at a man I'd never seen before and felt the push of the knife's blade at my neck and the pressure of his arm and body holding me to the carpet.
And that decision, I'm convinced, saved my life. Because in that moment where I froze, I wasn't fighting. My lack of a physical fight response allowed my attacker to calm, and allowed me to slow my breathing and calm myself, too. Well, as much as possible. In that moment, the Holy Spirit, came in and worked to help me think and plan my next move.
Freezing allowed me to fight in a way most people don't think of. I fought mentally. When there's a weapon involved, fighting physically might not be the best move. I hear all the time how people tell women in particular to fight back against attackers.
"Go for the groin."
"Go for the eyes."
"Find a way to incapacitate them."
Thankfully, those in my circles never questioned my natural reaction. They understood that God created my inner workings intentionally. It's becoming clearer each day, how the little girl I was at age 5 laid the foundation for my reactions, responses and thoughts when I was a teenager. Moreover, how those building blocks led me to the career I'm on and helped me to see, observe and react to stress and terror in the way I do. I was created intentionally and the natural response my body was created to have in that situation was NOT to fight - it was to freeze.
So when I hear society tell women to fight or run, I cringe.
Sometimes that's not possible. Had my body reacted with a fight response, I might not be alive. Preferring not to think about that very real possibility, I instead choose to celebrate the fact that a freeze response is a real - and normal - reaction. Let's teach our sons and daughters that fight or flight aren't the only responses. Let's teach them that freeze can allow the time to choose a deliberate way to fight, or flee.
That night after I froze, I began to think. The gears started grinding faster than they've ever gone before and I had to reason a way out of my predicament. Reality was that fleeing wasn't going to be an option - at least not immediately. Fighting physicaly against a man with a knife would likely get me killed or seriously hurt. So I outwitted and outsmarted him. While it didn't change the outcome or the irreparable harm he did cause by raping me - it did spare my life.
By freezing, I asked him a question. I asked him to use the bathroom. I hoped it would give me just a minute alone to think - but as he refused to allow me to shut the door I instead used that time to study him. To memorize as best I could his physical features, his clothing and anything identifiable that I could use WHEN I made it out of that ordeal. Giving myself something to focus on - focusing on my future and how I desperately wanted to live to see it - kept me from surrendering.
I didn't fight back during the worst part of the assault either. My freeze response allowed me to gaze into the corner of my ceiling and breathe. Focus on my breathing and escape to another place in my mind and to think of each and every move that would follow. I thought carefully about what to say, when to say it and judged each reaction he made to figure out how I might survive.
Because I froze, when the time came for me to re-dress, I slipped on sneakers in case there was an opportunity to flee. You see, those two natural responses everyone tells you about, they're real and I wanted to do both - but I was made to think and calculate. So while my body wanted to fight and run, my inner workings told me the best way to do both was to outwit. I fought back by asking him questions and telling half-truths that both bought me time and likely confused my attacker. I'd be willing to be that I wasn't what he expected.
Victims of crimes, especially rape, are often asked why they didn't fight back or run away. The truth is that that isn't always an option. Before my attack, I sometimes had these thoughts too when reading about other victims. I get it now. Fighting to survive is more important than fighting off an attacker.
Instead of teaching our girls to fight back - let's teach them to survive. To think and then to act. Let's teach them that by not fighting physically, they might save their lives and that at the end of the day life is more important. My attacker still raped me. He still took something very precious to me, but I am alive. Praise God, I am alive.
When I reflect on the past three weeks and the events in my life, the most overwhelming feeling I have is gratitude. In the midst of one of the most undeniably challenging seasons of my life, I've been surrounded with a myriad of blessings. People who've come into my mess and stood there with me. Not to try to fix things, but just to be.
I've been thinking for some time now for a way to put my thoughts on what I've experienced out there and to be honest, there isn't an easy answer. I'm very much a verbal processor, but for me, words on a page seems more doable than a conversation. Because while I want to process what's gone on, I don't think I can do it if I'm constantly reading the facial expressions and body language of those I speak with. Thoughts have swirled in my head as I've processed internally what I've experienced, and there's a huge part of me that feels it is important to share those thoughts with whoever will read. Putting it in writing is better than face-to-face for the moment because my tendency to observe and analyze would make it too difficult to say what I need to.
It's a blessing and a curse, being observant. It helps me in my job and it saved my life. That same observance, however, means I'm hyper aware of how the things I say affect people and I read into those reactions - sometimes in a way that limits my ability to express what I need to. So here we are.
What's gone on can be best broken into three time frames, and over the next several posts I plan to unpack most of it. Those three time frames are the past 18 months, trial week, everything since.
In total, since my life changed 18 months ago, I've been in a season of tremendous challenges. I never could have imagined the path I'd be walking on. It's not one I would ever have wished on myself or anyone else, but it is my journey now, and I'm grateful.
Perspective changes things. In September 2014, I knew I'd eventually emerge on the other side of this nightmare. One day, I'd be stronger. One day I'd see how all of this fit into the larger plan for my life that God was working. There'd be a greater purpose, and one day I'd see how some of the pieces fit. Perhaps I imagined a light bulb moment... as if one morning I'd wake up and feel different. Or maybe it would come when the verdicts were read and he would finally face real punishment for what he did. Neither of those things happened. You see there wasn't a single moment when I felt differently, had more clarity or could see where God was weaving this into the fabric of my story. Instead I've trekked on - step by step - I've had days where I've felt stronger and piece by piece I've begun to heal.
If you're still reading at this point, you might be wondering what it is I'm even talking about. To be honest, I've lost track of who knows and who doesn't. None of that really matters because it's not a dirty secret. To hide in the shadows of what happened to me would be to imply that somehow I'm in the wrong here. That simply isn't the case.
In September 2014, I was raped.
I became one of millions of women who joined the survivors club. One in 5 women will join our ranks in her lifetime. I never imagined I'd be in this club, but life is surprising like that. On that September night I feared for my life and wondered how I would survive. But survive I did.
In the days, weeks and months that have passed since that night, I've had a lot to be thankful for. For family who endured my stress mood swings and irritability, for friends who helped me move in a hurry and then escorted me into my apartment every night after work until I felt safe and secure and for the countless others who've sent prayers up on my behalf and good vibes my way.
Thank you seems hollow when I reflect on the officers who responded to my house, the detectives who worked on my case the prosecutors who got to know me and won justice on my behalf.
Thank you isn't nearly enough.