Dark Night

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Illuminated by streetlights and oncoming headlights, raindrops chased each other down the window of the car. This isn’t happening. I studied the raindrops bumping, merging, and colliding, as if I’d find a subtext of sanity embedded in single drops of H2O. Tears rolled down my face in sync with the raindrops on the window. No matter how intently I studied the raindrops, nothing made sense.

Riding in the backseat of a police car on the way to the nearest hospital, I had entered the world of crime statistics. This isn’t me. This didn’t happen to me. God, if going to prison can change this guy’s heart, let him get caught. If prison would only make him worse, more violent, don’t let them find him. Was that really my prayer? Of all the words that could take shape in my mind, those were the words that emerged? Years of Sunday school training must have had some effect. I prayed those words without thinking. But the next raindrop race brought some return of reasoned thought. I won’t let something that occupied no more than an hour of my time affect the rest of my life, I vowed to myself. Four days later I went back to work.

Statistically, I should have never been included in the one-in-every-four women raped or sexually assaulted. The stranger who knocked on my door one Friday night after work, forcing his way in with a hunting knife, put this crime into the small percentage of assaults committed by a perpetrator unknown to the victim. That we were of different skin color further lessened the odds. That I was in my own apartment reduced the statistical risk factors even more. What happened to me that night was a statistical anomaly.

But what I did with the ugly reality of sexual assault was as statistically common as having babies or buying groceries. I pretended it didn’t happen. I told no one. I moved to a new apartment and prayed my way through the recurring fear of dark nights, creaky floors, and wind-blown tree limbs scratching at my bedroom windows. I refused to admit what happened had any significant effect on my life. I wanted life to be “normal.” So I went to church. Read my Bible. Worked. Played. Fell in love. Got married. Had babies. That I popped Advil like M&Ms for frequent headaches or awoke in the middle of the night with inexplicable feelings of fear and anxiety never struck me as unusual. I never wondered why stomachaches were as common for me as business meetings and deadlines. I struggled with an eating disorder I kept hidden from everyone but my husband and somehow managed to hold everything together through lifelong spiritual practices of prayer, journaling, Bible study, and structuring my life around the church.

Until . . .

Until the statistics caught up with me.

Twenty-three years later, the headaches, stomachaches, unnamed insomnia, and free-floating anxiety exploded into full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression. Any semblance of “normal” imploded.

The spiritual crisis that came unbidden with rape recovery brought darkness virtually impenetrable by the light of Christ. The deep faith that defined my life—the well-ordered beliefs that had nurtured and sustained me—did little to prepare me for the intense pain, grief, and confusion of rape recovery. Prayer as I knew it was impossible. Worship brought only profound sadness and alienation. Little did I know that with rape recovery, I had entered what the ancient monastics called the “dark night of the soul,” a place of deep desolation, inner torment, and emotional anguish.

Yet the dark night of the soul is as true to the Christian tradition as the psalms of lament are true to the Bible. Through the gentle wisdom of a spiritual director, the expertise of a gifted therapist, the unfailing support of family, the compassion of a community of faith, and the miracle of medications, I came through the darkness. But my well-ordered faith of earlier decades has changed. My understanding and practice of prayer has deepened, broadened, shifted, expanded. My compassion for the woundedness of others has redefined my life, because I now know that trauma, betrayal, desolation, and assault come in many forms.

• Anyone who’s battled a life-threatening illness or chronic pain knows what it means to be assaulted by the impersonal maze of needles and tests and procedures inflicted in the name of healing.

• Anyone facing the harsh reality of a marriage ending experiences the shattering of everything he or she knew to be true.

• Anyone who’s lost a child knows what it means to have a sacred trust betrayed.

• Anyone who’s faced financial devastation knows the anguished uncertainty that places a chokehold on the future.

The healing work of recovery from trauma is soul work. And soul work takes time. Like growing things and mending things, soul work takes patience, attentiveness, persistence. Soul work doesn’t cooperate with our preferences or dovetail with careers, marriages, or life plans. And soul work can seldom be done alone.

But given patience, attentiveness, persistence . . . healing does come. And the presence of God is as true in the silent darkness as in the sunny spirituality of new-found faith—perhaps more so in the darkness.