I’ve tried to avoid, as much as possible, all of the “me too” stories, controversies, and conversations. This has been somewhat challenging in that they seem to be everywhere lately, and that my dear friend has recently written and released her first book, which happens to be in many ways her own “me too” story. While deep within I am incredibly proud of her and all the other individuals stepping forward with such courage to speak their truth, I’ve wanted to distance myself from all of it. The truth is these stories poke at a wound that I thought I had healed. I thought I was done with my own version of a “me too” story and have just wanted to throw it in the rear view and keep it there. Yet, it’s still a wound, it’s still painful, and that can only mean one thing¬– it’s not fully healed.
The thorn that keeps inflicting pain deep within and the thing that I so don’t want anyone to know is that I’m not certain if I was raped. Wow, that’s hard to say. This has haunted me for the last 24 years. How can you not know? What if I wasn’t? Have I been lying? What does that awful night mean if I wasn’t raped?
The truth. To fully understand what happened that night we need to go back. For me, the first thoughts of dating and boys started in 6th grade. We would ask each other out and a yes would mean you were “going out.” It was all a status thing. Going out didn’t mean you spent time with that person or held hands or anything like that. It just meant that you were one of the cool ones who had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Little did I know at the time how this game would be the source of my undoing.
I started junior high and now this “going out” thing felt desperate. To me, a boyfriend was validation and proof that I was good enough. I guess I had already started to doubt that. I didn’t want to believe fears that were starting creep in– that I was ugly, stupid, and ultimately not good. A boyfriend could fix all of this. Unfortunately, the more I clung on to the idea of needing this approval, the harder it was to come by. My self-confidence tanked. My worst fear seemed true, I was unlovable.
The negative view of myself, particularly as girlfriend material, spiraled in a frightening way. I couldn’t stand myself to the point of wanting to kill myself. I hated my ugliness and just wanted to disappear. Every year seemed to get worse.
I started college and still had never had a boyfriend. I hadn’t had my first kiss, and this felt humiliating to me. I so wanted to belong and thought a boyfriend was the magic ticket. I prayed for a boyfriend, bargained, and begged. Still nothing. One night at a fraternity party a good-looking guy came up to me and started talking to me. I couldn’t believe it! Finally! Finally, I was going to lovable. I was in shock. I tried to play it cool and reveled in his attention. However, there was something I didn’t understand. He kept asking if I was drunk. I kept telling him no and he kept giving me more beer. I thought maybe he was asking that because maybe, just maybe, he couldn’t believe I liked him too. Maybe he, too, needed reassurance that I liked him. This was so far from the truth.
He kept giving me beer and insisting that I drink out of his cup. I thought it was cool. He asked if I would go for a walk with him. Of course! I had dreamed of this so many times. Holding hands, walking with a boy. I couldn’t believe it was happening. We went for a walk in the woods and then he kissed me. My first kiss! Yes!! I was now part of the belonging group! I felt relief… but wait. The more we kissed the weirder it felt. Something felt off, I couldn’t figure it out. I tried to shut myself up and just go with it. After all, this is what I wanted.
Things got more physical and I felt my stomach drop. Why didn’t this feel good? What was wrong with me? I began to panic? OH MY GOD! IT’S TRUE… I REALLY AM UNLOVABLE. I felt my body start to tremble. He kept going. I felt numb. I just went along with it. I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know the confusion that was racking my mind, body, and soul. I felt myself slipping away.
We were having sex. He was inside me. I wanted to scream. This was not what I wanted. I didn’t want to do this. I felt the most profound stupidity. How did I get here? What have I done? Something fractured in me and I just froze. He finished and got up. He helped me get my clothes on. I don’t remember a lot of this, but I think I was in shock. I just couldn’t seem to move. He grabbed my arm hard and told me never to tell anyone what happened. Are you kidding me??!! WHY ON EARTH WOULD I EVER TELL A SOUL WHAT JUST HAPPENED? I felt so stupid and ashamed. I felt worse than a prostitute. I felt discarded, used, and like trash. He left with a very strange smirk or smile. I felt sick.
I went back to my dorm and ran into the proctor. He looked at me and his face went white. “What happened?” he asked. I fell to the floor and started sobbing. I couldn’t stop. He took me to the ER and they wanted to do a rape kit. What? No way!! I wasn’t raped. I asked for this. I let this happen. I gave away my virginity to someone I don’t even know. He didn’t want anything to do with me. “I’m disgusting,” I screamed to myself. I wouldn’t press charges or let anyone do any kind of investigating because I didn’t think I was raped.
Was I raped? What happened in those woods? Why did it break me so severely? Why was it so painful? Why did I feel so much shame? I cried for my lost innocence. I cried for how dirty I felt. I cried for my brokenness, ugliness, shame, humiliation, and unworthiness. The pain was unspeakable. I cried in my room for days. Something had shattered.
I never spoke of this event, but thoughts or reminders of it haunted me. I HATED this about myself. It took me over 20 years to finally speak of this night. I spoke the truth as I knew it. Still, confused and uncertain about what had really happened. In sharing my truth, I did feel better. I decided to look up the definition of rape. I found some version of this,
“unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person’s will or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception.”
This was not sexual activity carried out forcibly. He didn’t try to choke me or threaten me while it was happening. He was on top of me and I couldn’t get up, but was that force? Again, it was confusing. I was not beneath a certain age, I was 19. What about incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception? Yes, technically I did fall into several of those categories. Ok. With 100% certainty I know he made sure I was drunk. I was intoxicated and by this definition, he did not have my consent, so it was rape. It sure felt like rape to me. So, I called it rape. I wrote a book and shared that I was raped.
I thought I was finally free of this. I spoke my truth to the best I knew. Why was the pit not yet gone? Why did this still haunt me? I couldn’t face it again, so I buried it. For the next 5 years I went on thinking I was fine with all of this. Yet, I still very rarely spoke of it.
Recently, this began to surface again. My conscience didn’t feel clean. Was I really raped? Did I just want it to be rape so I wouldn’t feel so stupid? Have I now given false testimony? Have I lied? This is my albatross.
This morning, everything shifted. I was doing a bible study and was guided to read Genesis particularly the line, “Listen, your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you.” The bible study guide said, “We all console ourselves in one way or another when things go wrong, especially when we feel overlooked, rejected, or cheated.” How do I console myself when things go wrong? Hmm… very curious. I immediately thought of my relationship. When things go wrong, I run, I quit, I withdraw and hide. How do you console yourself when things go wrong in your life? The guide continued, “Our consolations over the wrongs done to us can turn out to be more destructive than the wrongs themselves.” My world stopped.
OH MY GOD. I’ve been running from relationships my whole life. I ran home from the day in the woods and have never stopped running. I’ve quit every romantic relationship I’ve ever been in. I keep trying to quit my current relationship, yet he doesn’t seem to let me. I felt like a fraud just like Jacob. I felt like the beast in Beauty in the Beast. The more I thought about it, the more I could relate. In so many ways I’ve isolated myself in a dark lonely world. I don’t let anyone in when I get in a romantic relationship and I’m mean. Ouch. Hard to confess that one. I’ve been a real bitch and I know it. As much as I want to love myself and my neighbor something keeps getting in the way and I behave in ways I don’t like. I think this is the thing getting in the way!
God told Jacob to go back to the land of his ancestors. Isn’t it just the kicker that we have to face our worst fears and darkest ugliness on the road to freedom and fulfillment of God’s promise? Why do I need to go back to that night? Please, anything but that.
In Jacob’s wrestling with God he is asked, “What is your name?” I tried this on for myself. I asked myself and was again, floored. I didn’t know. Am I Molly Booker Fiore? Or Molly Fiore? Or Molly Booker? OH MY GOD. I remembered writing the name BOOKER on the side of all of my textbooks in school so one day I could tell my kids this was my maiden name. My whole life I thought changing my last name would change me! I’ve been divorced for years and still haven’t change my name back. I was still wanting the approval of a boyfriend all these years later. Jacob wrestled with God and came out with a limp. But this encounter changed him as a man. He had finally come to terms with his sin.
I went back into the woods and, too, wrestled with God. This is where I cracked and shattered, where my innocence was lost. I felt I had disappointed God. I ruined my body, mind, and soul that night and I wanted to hide from God, from everyone, especially from men. I’ve been hiding, running, and humiliated my whole life. Finally, I was ready to stop hiding. Ok, God, here I am. In this moment, I saw it. God was never disappointed in me. The point was not to be perfect for God. The point was not to avoid the fruit forever! The point was to sin AND to be forgiven. This is how God can show the fullness of his love. It’s not conditional, it’s not earned, it’s never lost, and it can’t be ruined.
My limp has been a curse of perceived ugliness; being the beast. I fought this curse that night in the woods and I lost. I hid myself away deep within a mask of ugliness. I thought I was forever the beast. Innocence wasn’t what I thought it was. It was never about saving my “perfectness.” All along the ultimate prize was not my virginity, it was my redemption. For this is for the first time really knowing how deeply, truly, unconditionally loved I am.
So, what really happened that night in the woods? Yes, he saw to it that my judgement was impaired by getting me drunk. But that was not the greatest sin. He played on my vulnerability and my weakness. He deceived me. He led me to think that he cared about me, that he had my best interested at heart, and that I was special to him. This was not true. He just wanted to have sex with me. I think this is one of the most devastating aspects of abuse– deception. For me, it tore apart an already thin understanding of my sense of belonging and love. It took my trust and decimated it. It has been so hard to rebuild trust when it was so misused. Rape isn’t always black and white. It isn’t always clear. I think the deception aspect can rock someone to their core. What I do know is that rape is always painful beyond imagine. It shows us what God is not. It creates separation.
It’s been a long journey back to those woods. I still have a limp, but I no longer need to hide it. This is the very thing that has me walking so close to God. My limp is not the beast in me, it’s the beauty.
What is your limp? What if it wasn’t your curse, but your blessing? What would that make possible in your life?