Glenna Cooper/Muscogee (Creek) citizen
Women serving in the United States Armed Forces make up 16.5% and one in four women report sexual assault. My story began over a decade ago while I was serving in the military on active duty overseas. It was a cold winter night with snow on the ground and it became the night that would change my life forever. A part of me died that night. In the course of the evening, I was drugged, raped, and the stranger responsible attempted to end my life, but somehow, for some reason, I survived. Sometime afterwards, I began sinking into a dark hole, abusing alcohol, trying to bury the memories. I locked that night away into my soul, I tried running from it, but it began to consume my life. Until one day, almost a decade after, a flash of memories hit me head-on. It felt as if someone had taken a baseball bat and unleashed the consuming pain of that night.
Shortly after, I began prolonged exposure therapy at Veterans Affairs which is approximately 12-15 sessions, one session per week and 90 minutes per session. I sat in a non-descript room with my psychologist and recorded the events of that night that I could recall over and over and nauseatingly over again. It was disgusting, gut-wrenching, exhausting hard work! Most times, I would be drenched in sweat, extremely nauseous, always sobbing, confronting so many emotions and my stomach never failed to make horrible sounds. It seemed to me as if the trauma, pain, memories, and emotions were living and warring in my stomach. Re-living the trauma was extremely depleting and I never left her office without feeling exhausted and numb. My homework after each appointment was to listen to my recorded sessions repeatedly as much as I could. And each time I listened to those tapes, the nausea, the grief and the pain would wash over me.
Yet I was determined to finish the therapy. During one session, my therapist told me patients with combat trauma and victims of rape often experience a visceral hatred of God. In the darkest and most vulnerable experiences, where is God? That was my question. As my treatment continued, I began to discover that within the deep recesses of my soul festered a bitterness toward God. This bitterness consumed me. I began to question why He could let this happen and why He could perform so many miracles and yet (I felt) abandon me when I needed Him the most. By this point, the pain was becoming unbearable, the depression pulling me down into some dark abyss and despair choked the pin-point light of hope.
This is not a fairytale story; it is an ugly, gut-wrenching fight to Never Quit. During my journey over the past several years, I have found peace with God. In my therapy sessions, I began to realize God was slowly, and ever so painstakingly, healing those deep wounds created by the trauma, grief, and pain one layer at a time, a broken piece at a time. My daughter told me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, an ancient art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Every break is unique and instead of repairing an item like new, the 400-year-old technique actually highlights the “scars” as a part of the design.
One day while shopping with my sister-in-law at a thrift store, we found two genuine Kutani Japanese lamps and purchased them. On first sight of my lamp and on close inspection, there were tiny, extensive ‘cracks’ filled with a gold color but as I began to research, I found that these lamps are finished with real gold. I placed my lamp in my room and as the light filtered in from my window the lamp had the most beautiful golden glow I have ever seen. From far away, those miniscule lines or ‘cracks’ were not visible at all. What was most visible was the glow of the gold that filled the lines. So, for me, I have come to embrace and accept the broken pieces. Is my journey complete? No. But there is hope and what I have gained has been more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. I have found my voice and a purpose for the pain.
So, I want to say — THERE IS HOPE. You are not alone. There is a peace that passes all understanding. And in the darkest moments of life, when the storm rages and your heart breaks, and you are floundering in the fight; as you take labored breaths, steeling yourself to stand and face the wreckage, there is a light that awaits you. There are good plans for you and when you are ready, the pain, memories and the darkness will subside leaving strength forged by fire, mended with gold, shining a bright light into the world. I am not a victim of my past, my traumatic event, nor am I the girl that I once was but, with God’s mercy and help, I will never quit. During my therapy, my therapist gave me the nickname ‘Girl with the Sword’, paying homage to what she saw – the fighter in me. I will always be so grateful for her and for her courage and strength in walking through the pain and darkness with me. She has truly been my battle buddy in this fight. Never quit.