Note: This is a real experience shared from a survivor of abuse. Names and identifying information have been changed.
When I was a teenager, I was physically assaulted and raped by a family friend. He was a man I had once respected and trusted. Everything I thought I knew about life changed.
I grew up being taught to be happy when I was around other people. It was how I handled every challenge in life, and the aftermath of the attack was no different. To the people around me, I appeared successful. I continued to get good grades and participated on an after-school sports team, as well as other extracurricular activities. I was active in my ward and at youth activities. I did not want anyone to know what had happened, so I did everything I could to appear normal.
But as much as I tried, I couldn’t hide from what had happened. Despite my appearance, I was struggling with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I stopped letting anyone touch me—even my parents, brothers, and sisters. By day, I relived the assault through flashbacks; by night, I relived it in my dreams. Even the once-comforting act of prayer felt too vulnerable and often ended with panic attacks.
My attacker had threatened to kill me, and there were many times I thought it would have been better if he had just followed through with his words.
Seeking control and a reprieve from the emotional pain, I turned to self-harm as an escape. I was filled with so much shame and self-contempt about what had been done to my body that it didn’t seem to matter what else happened to it. I struggled to believe I had any worth. Unable to separate what had been done to me from who I was, I felt so dirty. How could God ever truly love me? I did not understand what the Savior’s sacrifice meant for me, and I felt beyond repair. These distorted, unhealthy beliefs led to a lack of trust in Heavenly Father and kept me from approaching Him authentically.
During this time, I sought the help of both a licensed therapist and a psychiatrist. I knew I needed help and was blessed with parents who took me to see a therapist. The process of healing from trauma is a long and painful one, but as I allowed her to, she helped me learn how to handle my trauma in a
healthy way, replacing the destructive coping mechanisms I had been utilizing. Through therapy I realized how the unhealthy thought patterns I had developed after the attack were impacting my life.
I realized that I had also distanced myself from God. Yes, I had made a conscious choice to keep going to church. Yes, I knew I wanted—and needed—the gospel in my life, but my testimony was not strong enough to hold up against my self-doubt. These beliefs were the hardest thing for me to address and see success with in a therapeutic setting.
A few years after I was raped, I started attending college. This new season in my life came with a challenge from my bishop to better develop my relationship with Heavenly Father. I was still unsure if I could do it, or if I even deserved what I was told He offered, but I determined to try.
The scripture in Alma 32:27 became a lifeline for me: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” And I had a desire to come closer to my Heavenly Father.
I knew I had a lot of work to do, and I wanted to know where to start. At the time, the strongest part of my testimony centered on the Restoration. I knew Joseph Smith had received an answer to his question, so I decided to ask Heavenly Father how I could draw closer to Him.
The answer came in the quiet thought, “Learn who I am.”
I followed this direction by placing myself in situations where I could learn the gospel. I started to realize that Heavenly Father was always right there waiting for me to open myself up to receive Him. Breaking down the walls I had built over the previous few years was a slow, but steady, process. During this time, my prayers often echoed the father who pled to the Savior on behalf of his child, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). As I learned more about the gospel, my testimony grew and I pushed Heavenly Father away less.
I had always enjoyed learning, but for the first time in my life I fell in love with studying the gospel. The more I learned, the more I believed and the more I wanted to know. I began to see changes in my life, and the impact of the assault began to lessen.
I continue to see a therapist when needed. That professional help has been a vital part of healing from my sexual trauma. I have learned how to recognize my emotions and address my thoughts and behaviors. The coping skills I learned in therapy have saved my life on more than one occasion. Focusing on both my spiritual development and psychological health was just what I needed to help me grow.
I will always be a woman who was raped, but that event does not affect who I am as a daughter of God. The feelings of being damaged, dirty, or not good enough still pop up in my mind, but now I am able to remember eternal truths to challenge them. With every step I take, I believe those truths more and more.
I have learned about the magnitude of Christ’s Atonement and the power He has not only to redeem us from our sins, but to sanctify us and enable us to reach our divine potential. I believe in the power to change that comes through the Savior and His Atonement. I have come to believe in my worth as a daughter of Heavenly Father, and I know now that my Father and my Savior love me more deeply than I can comprehend.
Most of all, I have learned about the nature of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. By following the prompting to learn more about who They truly are, I have been shown that I can trust Them completely and how to put that trust and faith into action.
I used to feel so much darkness. But choosing to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought His incomparable light into my life. Now, as I look ahead, I have hope.
If you or someone you know has been abused, seek help immediately from civil authorities, child protective services, or adult protective services. You may also seek help from a victim advocate or counseling or medical professional. These services can help protect you and prevent further abuse. See the “In Crisis” page for more information.