**TRIGGER WARNING** This story contains content related to physical and sexual violence.
“Savannah’s Resilience” is an honest story of survival written by author Christine Hassing. Our most heartful of thanks belongs to Savannah for her bravery in sharing her story.
One night I dreamed a dream.
I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
When the last scene of my life shot before me I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only one set of footprints.
I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.
“Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I just don’t understand why, when I need You most, You leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you,
never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.”
― Margaret Fishback Powers
There is an expression that says something about the third time being good luck or a charm or something like that. I like to interpret it as when one and two are bad, the third is about saving the best for last. My first experience with a man, not counting family, taught me in a male’s eyes I was only worth one thing. It also taught me to find a way to escape the reality of what was happening. Alcohol is a great catalyst for numbing any and all feelings. My second experience further solidified what the first experience taught me. That one thing is meant to be taken without my permission, at least according to the ones doing the taking.
I think it was Tina Turner who sang What’s Love Got to Do with It and that I certainly learned from the age of fourteen. Making love with and being loved by a partner merely expressions I would hear but not know personally. I have two wonderful sons that I love with my whole heart, but love was not present when they were conceived.
Well, I should rephrase that for love was present by the One who was carrying me through the sand and keeping watch over me. God had a plan for my life that I couldn’t yet see.
I mentioned a couple of moments ago about how the third was saving the best for last when one and two were so horribly bad. I have given my heart to Someone now who loves me unconditionally. The only thing He asks in return is that I ask for His help whenever I am in need. I’m still trying to get used to how He always responds with Yes! and ensures that I am never lacking.
I have given my heart to God, and you know what is most amazing. He accepts me with all my imperfections, and He doesn’t try to take anything from me I am not offering willingly.
In a moment I will share with you details of my story that led to the two greatest joys of my life. Before I do, I would like to share with you the why. The why being the purpose for me in sharing my story with you. I share for anyone else who is trying to find a way out of a traumatic and victimizing situation and is unsure what to do. In a few minutes I will offer three suggestions, and now you may be asking why three? Don’t misunderstand that there are certainly more than three options you have in gaining back your safety and well-being.
I pick three because three has become a very special number for me. There is a lot of empowerments in the number three. There is the biblical aspect of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and that is certainly one of the reasons I find three has a special meaning. It is also because I have the three most important males in my life who I love dearly. My two sons and God are a triangle of unconditional love that surround me. And three is also special because I have two very important females in my life who are my anchors, my teachers, my safety net, and I feel that I am their legacy. A triangle of generational women power between my grandmother, my mother, and me.
Before I offer three suggestions, let me first share my story from the beginning. The first time I experienced sexual trauma I was fourteen. I thought I was being offered a good-paying job by the husband of a family I babysat for routinely. If I worked for six hours, 4:00 p.m. to – 10:00 p.m., I would earn fifty dollars which was great money. I could earn five dollars in comparison babysitting.
I kept telling myself that I could tolerate his very uncomfortable compliments if it meant I would soon have fifty dollars I was taking home with me. I figured my continual saying no and my reminders to him he had a wife were keeping him from acting inappropriately. I was not expecting him to tell me I wasn’t getting paid at the end of the day, that the day had only been for training. I wish I had been wiser to his tactic that telling me I will buy you whatever you want had an ulterior motive in its offering. I wish my naivetes would have been wisdom instead to call my mom for a ride home. I wish I had been more aware that alcohol would numb my awareness to a point I couldn’t find my voice to demand No!
Though this individual was punished in the court system for his actions, I internalized one of the hardest feelings to then leave behind. I became intimate with a deep sense of shame that I was not married for my “first time”. As I held the hand of shame, a choice was made subconsciously. Because I did not have a healthy way of processing the trauma that had happened to me, the traumatic experience was finding a way to stay in the lead. Because I perceived someone twenty years older than me must know what it means to be an adult, and if this adult had pushed to have a sexual relationship with me, then that must be how I am worthy.
Or so I believed.
And what else had to always be present if someone was going to require my body was alcohol to for being in a drunken state. I didn’t want to remember what had happened the next day. Since I wasn’t being listened to when I said No then at least I would still have control over something. I could control my consciousness and my ability to be incoherent while more was taken from me.
Then I met someone older, more mature, smarter, and always trying to get me to do the right things. You know, things like discovering I didn’t need to seek worth in only one-night encounters to be worthy. Here was someone that was communicating he liked me for more than what he thought he could take from me.
Or so I believed.
Initially I didn’t know that our continual fighting was actual toxicity. That I was finding a voice to push back a little was more what I was thinking. Here is something else about me, and I was very honest with him about it, too. I am pretty forgetful, focusing on details not my strong suit. I was not always consistent with the daily routine of preventative birth control asking him to partner with me in ensuring we did not conceive. Yes, as you are already thinking, it was not a partnership, for it became my fault and I the one responsible for ruining everything. You have ruined my life and you should terminate immediately.
How quickly someone dissolves themselves of owning their part in what is happening. He seemed to discount that my Nos had validity. Taking what he wanted no matter my voice was his priority. How quickly he shifted, or perhaps it wasn’t a change but was a revealing of his true feelings for me. At the moment I said I am pregnant, his hatred became my now I am completely alone on this journey.
That is until our son was born, and he had a change of heart about his ruined life. Ah, but let me be clear it was not in a way that he wished we were a family and that I become his wife. It was in a way to portray me as evil, manipulating, and unworthy. It was in a way to fight for custody. I was alone in pregnancy, and I learned alone could get even lonelier when people begin taking sides. Once again, that my voice was something not worth being heard I continued to learn to internalize.
We have joint custody of my oldest son where we alternate weeks. I choose to focus on my gratitude that at least some of my voice was not ignored completely.
Single, focused on taking care of me, cautiously dating for companionship and not physically. I met someone and immediately drew boundaries. Our date will not involve sexual intercourse; if you were expecting differently then we will not meet. Without argument, he immediately agreed. Great! At long last my No’s are heard and respected and maybe it is ok to believe that I am worthy for more than my body.
Flight, Fight, or Freeze. Our choices to make continually. I wish it was as easy as always choosing flight or fight, but I guess internalized traumas can make it very complex for the mind. Hindsight and reflection are really great at showing how next time we can choose differently. I am really working on focusing forward and letting go of those gremlins of “could haves, should haves, would haves” for they are boxing gloves if you ask me. That kind of “could, should, would” thinking must be cousins to my long-ago friend Shame who likes to knock on my door periodically to say Hello. The more I walk this really, REALLY, hard journey to self-worth, the more I don’t hear the knocks and if I do, I very firmly state go!
So, this date agreed verbally but not in reality. I found myself frozen as once again what I didn’t want to give was taken from me. I stayed in a frozen mode as attention turned to stalking. Within weeks he had control over my vehicle, my phone, and my financial means. He was also responsible for one more thing. One very precious, sacred, breathing life now growing inside of me. I was pregnant with my second son, love born out of stealing. Love striving to win out over sexual assault and non-stop lying.
And this is where lying met fight, before it would meet flight. I was no longer someone who believed she had no right to her voice. Though I was trying to make a relationship work with this person for the sake of my child, I was also not going to continue believing the story I had been making my certainty. I was – and AM – worthy!
I would catch him in lies, and I would confront the untruths he was speaking. This took our relationship to another abusive level when he began choking me. And now we get to the part of my story where I will revisit my earlier comment about the power of three. Dear reader, let me introduce you to an amazing role model, mentor, and HUGE inspiration for me. My grandma, one who likes everyone and is a straight shooter in her intuition and in her honesty. My grandma has always been my safe place whenever I was in need. She has always been one to love me unconditionally.
During one particular family gathering I introduced him to my grandma as a final test if I should stay with him or I should leave. I was already thinking to myself that perhaps I needed to find a way out before he might kill me. Before she even said the words, I knew from Grandma’s conversation with him over football what she was thinking. She did not approve, and I should find a way to leave immediately. She feared for my well-being, she feared for my life. She feared for the safety of my child I was carrying inside.
My grandma and I developed an exit strategy. One that would first get a considerable amount of money from him that he owed me. And then I would go to my mom’s and call the police. The strategy was put into action, though I didn’t plan for what would happen between getting my money and getting to safety among family. I first had to experience the threats to my life, choking, and sexual assault forcefully.
Now that is all in the past, except for my journey of healing.
One step at a time I walk, empowered by five great loves and a sixth that is learning how to give love unconditionally. God, my two sons, my grandma, my mother, and myself is the sixth as I continue to learn to love the person that I see in the mirror looking back at me. The gifts out of the first chapters of my life include a closer relationship with my family. Visiting my grandma or my mom’s home are two of my most favorite places to be. I have been able to find a great support system through therapy. And I am part of a wonderful community. My church is an additional favorite place for me to go. It is another place in which I feel a sense of belonging, acceptance, and home.
Now for me to offer three suggestions that helped me. My hope is that at least one of them can inspire you on your journey. Resilience, Faith, and Family.
Resilience as an organization that provides incredible support and love, yes, and resilience as something to recognize is within you, even if it currently feels out of reach. You have the strength, the bravery, and the worth in you to keep fighting. Love yourself through the moments you might freeze. But dear reader, know that your voice matters, and someone who can help will hear it so continue to speak.
Which connects me to faith – keep it no matter the moments that seem hopeless or very bleak. Never stop believing. And, speaking of someone who will hear and come to your aid. There is Someone we all have who is only a prayer away. If you are feeling afraid or uncertain know that you are not walking alone on this journey. As the start to my story says, right now you are being carried. Have faith. In yourself and that there is a way out of this bad time you face.
And family. I am not naïve to think that everyone has a wonderful grandma and mother like me. I know for some, family is unavailable, absent, or part of the struggle in what you are experiencing. But family isn’t only those we are related to through blood or adoption that define us to one another as parent, sibling, child, grandchild, niece, uncle, and well you get my meaning. Family can be a neighbor, a church, a shelter, a colleague. Family are those souls who offer you support and hand you back what you are currently missing. Family is anyone who hands you back knowing you are worthy. Family is those who hand you non-judgment when they whisper in you, I believe. You will be safe and it is ok if you leave.
Gosh, so much story I have lived in such a short time. It’s a good feeling to now be excited for the rest of my life. It’s a really good feeling to have a new priority. In addition to raising my sons to be kind, loving, respectful, honest, gentle, faithful, and to honor a partner’s voice when that partner speaks, I am now holding as priority to take care of my own well-being. It’s new to me to feel important enough to look out for what is best for me. Now I’m beginning to understand when I do, I’m even better at being mother, daughter, granddaughter, and the kind of person God wishes me to be.
I don’t know all that the future holds but I now know it will be filled with two very important things. It will be filled with overflowing love and an understanding that I am, in fact.