In 2009, I was ending a relationship that had me completely mesmerized! I was involved with this man for the previous five years in what was called, by today’s standards, a “situationship.” In other words, I was madly in love with a man who had no intention of honoring our relationship with validity or legitimacy.
Each of my close friends would ask me what our status was, and my standard answer was, “We’re taking it day by day.” In my heart, I knew this wasn’t the love that was designed for me, but I also did not want to let go of the good conversation, the companionship, the intellectual stimulation, or the familiarity that it provided. I allowed that fear to blind me from what I should have been letting go of: the comparisons to other women, the criticism of who I was, and the insecurity that I felt internally and externally. I laid in bed nightly with a troubled heart, questioning why I didn’t fit his bill for a “good woman.” It was, without a doubt, driving me to mental and emotional lows that I didn’t think I would ever experience. Eventually, he ended our friendship, as I was not strong enough to, and I didn’t think I would ever love someone in the way I loved him. Spoiler alert: that’s a good thing!
After he decided we should go our separate ways, I moved from Illinois to California and began the season that I considered, at the time, a fall from grace. I moved in with my parents and isolated myself in brokenness. At the behest of a good friend, I created an online dating profile and accepted a message from someone who showed interest. We spoke back and forth for a couple of weeks, and he asked me to meet him at a local restaurant on January 2, 2010. I was reluctant but figured I’d be in a public place and with friends, so nothing could go wrong.
Not Completely Comfortable or Outright Uncomfortable
It felt amazing to have someone engage me again and to hold the feeling that I was desired. It felt comforting to know the dating road, at the age of 23, didn’t end with my previous friendship. We met and were all having a nice evening at our local hang out spot, and then my friends decided they were ready to leave. We didn’t drive together and were going separate places, but they assured me I was safe and leaving prematurely wouldn’t be problematic.
My date and I stayed until the restaurant closed, and I didn’t feel completely comfortable, but I wasn’t outright uncomfortable. Then, the night took a turn that I wasn’t expecting and still struggle to come to terms with. My date attacked and raped me. I froze like a deer in headlights and felt as if my vocal chords were cut. He told me I was so pretty and he couldn’t help himself. I could not utter words in that moment, and for many moments thereafter.
I wasn’t ready to report my crime to the police, but I did tell the women’s clinic that I went to the day after about my attack. The only question they asked me was if I had a support system. Although it may sound weird, I knew I was pregnant even before the pregnancy test came back positive. I didn’t contact the police right away because I thought I would be able to go to them later on down the road because they could use DNA to find my predator. That’s what happens when you watch too much Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Forensic Files, sigh. When I did report my rape in May 2010, the police operator picked up my call from the lobby phone of the department, and I told her I wanted to report a rape. She asked me when it occurred and I told her in January. Her response was, “Why’d you wait so long to report it?” I almost walked out, but decided to see it through.
The Numbness and Shame Was Heavy
I walked around trying to mask my shame and violation in each interaction I had after my assault. Pregnancy was lonely. I began counseling at a pregnancy center because abortion wasn’t an option for me. I had to figure out how to navigate and process through my numbness. During prenatal visits, doctors asked me why I wasn’t terminating my pregnancy. Crying became my daily practice. Friends started distancing themselves from me in confusion, as they too couldn’t understand why I was carrying the life within me. Even the police officer who took my statement insinuated through the entire process that I welcomed my attack.
Settling into motherhood and holding the tensions that existed between working, bonding with my baby, forgiving, and healing was excruciating. Numbness became my default, and when I began to thaw, the emotions were too heavy for me to handle on my own. In one specific visit with my counselor, she told me, “Well, you now have to accept your new normal.”
Have you ever had a life experience where you’ve been told, or heard that phrase? Why is the new normal typically associated with some diminishment or erosion of who you once were, or how you once lived? Why is it a negative thing, often presented with sadness?
Seeing Light in the “New Normal”
I couldn’t see it then, but now, eight years later, I am grateful for a new normal! At the end of 2009, I was 24-year-old, young professional with no concept of self-love. I understood what it meant to stay in unhealthy relationships pacified by material offerings, to wrap my worth in my occupation and job title, and to strive to please all those around me, even at the cost of myself. I did not know, however, what it meant to love others through the context of loving me. I had a life growing inside of me, while my heart felt dead, limp, and lifeless.
When I was told that I was embarking upon a new normal, there was no hope in that declaration. But, I’ve learned that a new normal can be an opportunity to come alive, to grow in ways that prepare you for a full life, bursting with destiny, promise, and hope. Had I stayed in my situationship, would I have ever realized that I could command respect and value? Would I have recognized that my worth is not tied to someone’s treatment of me? Had I not been sexually assaulted and had a piece of my soul shattered, would I ever have come to the intersection of life and death to test the depth of my beliefs? Had I not had my beautiful daughter, would I ever experience a love that revolutionized my heart and opened my eyes to the truth that my body was not a disposable entity to be used and abused?
The new normal isn’t, indeed, a punishment or step down from where we once lived. Contrary to social
connotation, the new normal is another chance to live out of the ashes of your experience and into the beauty of what your experiences qualify you for. Although I once believed having a child out of wedlock, even in light of being raped, disqualified me for the plans and ideas I had for myself, it actually qualified me. I could now speak to moving forward after heartbreak, the internal and systemic struggle of single motherhood, and how to approach life with grit to move you from survival mode into abundant joy and flourishment, and to receive the grace that is there for you with every single step along your path.
Life is this collection of great and terrible moments, each of which creates a tapestry of who you are. Instead of brokenness and heartbreak as my ultimate definition, I can say that my new normal has given me the wings I needed to love myself, create healthy boundaries in relationships, be an imperfect but very devoted mom to a little girl that makes my heart swell with joy, and to shed the shame that kept me silent and afraid. My challenge and encouragement to you, and me, as you read this is that you accept the newness of each day with a hope that destroys the fear, doubt, insecurity, shame, and self-deprecation that creeps into your heart to steal the purpose and destiny for which you were created. You are stronger than you know and your story is needed, no matter how pretty or ugly it may be. Run in the freedom of that truth today and shine in all your beauty!
Read what other writers said about a strong woman’s grit and relationships:
When Life Gives You a New Normal
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Posttraumatic Growth: Finding Meaning in the Pain
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3 Reasons You Should Share Your Story
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