I remember the night like it was yesterday. I woke up sweating, terrified, clenching the blanket, sitting straight up in the darkness of the room – the only light available was from the moon through the blinds, and one thing was evidently clear… I wasn’t able to draw breath. For the longest time, I was terrified of the dark – I was sure I was being watched or someone would jump out because I was very certain that I wouldn’t be able to have my own life to myself ever again. The feeling of exposure you feel after facing this type of abuse does that – you feel invaded, vulnerable, and utterly exposed.
I want to tell you about this specific night terror and anxiety attack because it was a pivotal point in my relationship with the man that would become my husband. Before I can though, I have to give you some more understanding about our relationship and where we were in our journey at that point.
Josh and I met in college. I was a new freshman, fresh out of high school, with a boyfriend I was obsessed with and shouldn’t have been. He was a new Dad, legally able to buy himself a beer, with a fun group of friends, and a baby girl he was obsessed with. Like a gross love story – he can still tell me what I was wearing the day I walked into communications class and truth be told, I didn’t even really know his name until at least the third week of class… guys, the class was maybe 20 people – I should’ve known his name.
He friended me on Facebook and long story short – he checked in every once in awhile. He respected the fact I had a boyfriend and that I (likely) seemed rudely disinterested. Thank the Lord Jesus above, he kept pursuing, gently, just being a genuinely good guy. Two years later he asks me if I worked at a preschool (I did) since they had been looking for a new school for his daughter. Two days after back to school night he asked me out. I’ll fast forward through the perfectly simple first date and first kiss and just let you know that despite my angry effort to not allow myself to love anyone and my desperate attempt to refuse letting anyone in, Josh loved me. He loved me in a way that I had never known before. He loved me in action and saw my demons before I told him about them. He never asked about them but he fought them from day one.
Three months after I gave in and let him call me his girlfriend and about 2 months after the first “I Love You” (from me, believe it or not), the doctors told us he had a brain tumor. Three days later, one day after Christmas, he underwent a nine hour surgery – that turned into eleven hours- with knowledge that it would be at least one year until he was functioning at his normal 100% and an intense six months of healing and radiation to begin with. Before this major event, Josh and I talked about my abuse in short, non-descriptive conversation. Roughly one month after surgery was the night I woke up in a full fledged panic attack – the worst and first one he has ever seen. Thankfully, he was healed a lot by this point, we hadn’t reached radiation yet (which would set him back steps), and on a day to day basis, he was getting around rather well.
So – there I am. Sweaty. Terrified. Unable to get my brain to communicate to my lungs to take in a breath. Instantly, Josh is awake and he’s aware of what’s happening. He doesn’t touch me right away – boundaries he is too familiar with, but rather speaks very low and steady, reminding me of his presence and simultaneously telling me to take a breath, then another, and another. Finally, once I am drawing breath without reminders, he places his hand on my back. Not long after, I retreat to the bathroom because my brain finally kicked into the realization of what was happening, for the first time in front of another human, I was having an anxiety attack – in the spare bedroom of his mom’s house where we stayed during his recovery.
Later he told me he knew something was very wrong because I didn’t turn the light on before entering the bathroom and closing the door – a habit he had apparently learned about me in our time together. A few minutes later, overcoming the nausea that always comes with these attacks, I braved going back into the room where he was sitting, worried. I told him that I had woken up from a dream – one of the few I remember, likely because it has been a recurring one since the abuse. I allowed myself to break – completely – in front of someone else. He just held me, he allowed me to be broken, he allowed it all to spill out in my tears and he listened between sobs. After about an hour I calmed down enough to fall asleep against him. I’m not even sure he slept the rest of the early hours of that morning, but for the first time in my life since childhood, I felt utterly safe. A feeling I didn’t realize I had been searching for in my healing.
Since that night my husband has celebrated every high and waded through every low. He has hurt with me and even because of me in this healing. This healing that, to my knowledge, doesn’t ever really go away. He has cried with and for me. He has encouraged me to chase my passion in changing the future of others and he, for some reason, has chosen to love me each day for as long as he lives.
Tomorrow we will celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary and this month we celebrate finding love six years ago – a love we thank God for orchestrating before either one of us truly realized our place in this world with each other. My husband married a sexual abuse survivor, he chose to not only accept but help God mend my brokenness. I can be so deeply thankful for it because I know just how hard moments of this relationship has been because of my abuse, because of my healing process and my stubbornness and even my feelings of worthlessness at times.
I promised at the start of this journey that I would be real and honest. So hear me when I say this – to the person in tears reading, sure it will never get better, yes YOU – You hear me loud and clear here: It. Does. Get. Better. You are already so loved by your creator and He wants nothing more than to give you a life of love and joy. He will hear and heal your brokenness, too. Then, one day… probably when you’re wearing worn out sweat pants and not looking for love… probably hating everything about the idea of love… someone will come along and see you in a way no one else ever has. If you’re like me, you’ll push him out and away. If he’s like Josh, he will take up the challenge. He will pray for you. Then one day… driving to the bank and being silly- the words “I Love You” will slip out of your mouth and you’ll freak out while he grins… It will be the best thing. So just hang in there and in the meantime, know you have a friend in me, just don’t be fearful to reach out.
Much love always.