Warning: trigger alert-explicit content.
Faith is a deeply personal experience. People come to it in many ways. Although proof of God exists all around us, my personal proof for the existence of a loving God came to me in the most unlikely of circumstances. I had an out of body experience when I was being sexually assaulted at the age of fourteen. I documented this moment in my novel, The Fishfly. But there was always something missing from that narrative, an insight which came to me only recently.
I’m nearing completion of a difficult therapeutic process called “Prolonged Exposure Therapy.” In PET, the subject retells the trauma story over and over, reliving the experience, very slowly, and in vivid sensory detail. The goal of the therapy is for me to lower the emotional impact of the memory by grounding myself and reminding myself that it is only a memory; that I am safe now in the present, even as I recall this horrific event. As I recalled the memory of being locked in Dr. Gusto Fernandez’s apartment after a long grooming process, feeling trapped and helpless as he gyrated his hips into me, his eyes rolling back in his head, I projected into what seemed to be my inevitable, horrific future, where I was his slave, his eternal fuck-pig.
In that moment, while Gusto was sodomizing me, when my innocence was being ripped away from me, when I felt I was losing myself completely, falling into a pit of servitude, something amazing happened. In the next moment, I vividly recall looking down on the situation from about ten feet above and feeling a certain serenity. Yes, that’s right. I said serenity.
From this perspective, I saw what was happening to me, from a safe distance. Psychologists call what happened to me dissociation; it is the body’s way of protecting itself during trauma. I accepted this explanation over many years of therapy and spiritual alienation. I embraced and internalized my feelings of abandonment and betrayal, accepting them as truth; I blamed God for my misfortune, very much like the self, depicted in my painting, The Skeptic, above. Eventually, I learned how to cope with the feelings of shame and acute separation from myself and others, even though I didn’t fully comprehend them.
There was something missing from all this talk therapy. Was it possible that my out of body experience was God’s way of somehow allowing me to see, to understand, maybe even forgive these two very troubled souls, mine and yes, even the perpetrator?
As I recalled what happened so many years ago, I remember I was only able to find my way back into myself, as it were, when I gave up trying to save myself and let God take over. I had to accept that I had completely lost control of the situation. But even then, I could never explain how or why I felt that certain peace and safety, in the midst of that terrible ordeal. It didn’t make sense until I read this:
There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
The Bible promises God will never give us more than we can bear. Was my out-of-body experience His way of helping me cope with this horrific ordeal? As hard as this may be to believe, it makes perfect sense to me now. God was protecting me by giving me a glimpse of my eternal spirit-self, where matters of the flesh lose their grip on us. In that moment, from that other-worldly perspective, I felt a certain compassion, peace, awe. I experienced a deep realization of how fleeting and insignificant this corporeal existence really is. And at the same time, how holy and precious it is.
After a recent session of Prolonged Exposure Therapy, it came to me that my out-of-body experience was really a moment of deep exegesis with God. This brief glimpse into the eternal ended with a gentle prodding by the Holy Spirit, who said to me, “it’s time to go back into your body now.” So I did. I chose to return into my body and break away from the perpetrator. I pushed him out of my body, excused myself, without provoking or escalating further aggression, apologizing for not complying with his desires. He had clearly demonstrated a violent intent when he dead bolted the exits, introduced drugs to a minor and repeatedly bragged of his aggressiveness toward those who’d crossed him in the past. Confrontation was not an option.
My quiet, meek, half-hearted attempt at self-preservation, I now realize, was my first act as a survivor. Up to that particular retelling of that all too familiar trauma, I had not taken the time to really explore that moment of quiet defiance, recognizing it as the moment that would determine the trajectory of the rest of my life. Not as a slave to abusive authority (he was a Doctor of Radiology at Children’s Hospital), but as an assertive, mission driven self-starter, able to find creative solutions to life’s inevitable conflicts. I now know that this was the moment when God called me not only to find creative ways for me to survive, but to help others discover their unique abilities to survive as well.
I’m sure many would agree this was a profound existential experience. Others, might write it off as a disassociative hallucination. Most would call it just plain awful and put it out of their minds altogether, because it is too painful even to think about. Sadly, it is this denial, that is the reason CSA persists in our society to this day.
However one may “explain” this experience, I choose to connect to that deep knowledge, that miraculous feeling of being protected and reassured by the Holy Spirit in my darkest moment. Ultimately, giving myself daily over to Christ and after years of diligent work on myself, I have received now a certain clarity around what I’d experienced so many years ago. Thanks be to God.