On September 11th 2010, I was raped on my college campus. I was a junior at Maryville College... A liberal arts college in my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee.
If you know anything about East Tennessee, you'll know the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This vast, majestic forest is minutes away from my driveway and through exploring her very parts, I was able to discover myself.
I struggled for a long while, particularly with anger... just pure anger. It altered every aspect of my being. I hated myself. I hated my friends. I hated my coworkers. I hated my school, my professors, my family, and my therapist... The anger even consumed and began to control my relationship with Christ. I hated Him. I did and it breaks my heart to admit I did as such. And the anger fed my depression. Following my assault, I had absolutely no foundation of my being. Every part of the "Paige" I once knew was missing... she was destroyed... gone. I was left devastated and alone, having to repair my heart, mind, and soul and rebuild myself. I got up and went through the daily motions, but that does not mean I was making any strides or progress.
I struggled, I did. But, today I consider my struggles a blessing. I rebuilt myself from the ground up... through the journey of reclaiming my body, mind and soul... I found myself. I learned to love myself. I learned to explore, to love and through these things... I found joy.
As lame as it may sound, I didn't start to turn to the light until I heard a phrase on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Detective Olivia Benson, portrayed by actress Mariska Hargitay, passionately spoke the phrase, "Healing begins when someone bears witness." Those words resounded in my mind and kick started the fire I needed to overcome every obstacle standing in my way. I was bearing an untold story. I was carrying that burden around deep inside and by remaining quiet, by not even accepting it on my own behalf, I was causing more heartache and grief. I needed to bear my story. I needed to accept the crime that was committed against me and I needed to be a witness and testament simply for the respect of my survival.
So, I did. I began to embrace life in ways I had yet to do. I went easy on myself. I didn't take myself so seriously. I began hiking to locations I'd only heard of... I began swimming in the rivers and streams and at the bases of waterfalls all throughout the Smokies. I began to kayak and fish and camp... I began to explore nature all while letting nature explore and inspire me. There's something about feeling the movement of the wind move with you. Sometimes, it moves against you or a gust is slightly stronger than planned, but you just have to adjust your path and the wind journeys alongside you.
I know what brings me happiness. I know what joy feels like. I know these things and I have every intention of hanging onto them for I've waited four long years to feel joy and peace. I say now, "I'm happier and healthier now than I was before my assault." I stand by that statement, but I don't truly remember who I was before my assault. She's a person of my past and I will never see her again, but the person I see in the mirror everyday is who I am and I'm proud of her. I know I have courage, bravery, peace, joy, and love living inside me. Through my healing journey (following my assault) I was able to grow and discover... myself. And that's the greatest gift of them all. I truly love myself and I want to experience life to the fullest... rapists be damned.
I've graduated college. I have a steady, measly 8-5 job, but I have stability. Where I am today, working behind a desk answering phones, was that where I planned to be? Absolutely not. But you know what? I don't resent it. I know that working at Staley Marble & Granite is only a stepping-stone and there's something out there for me. My time and place will come, but in the meantime I will stay here, work, be responsible, and wait until I'm called to the place I'm meant to be... Bloom where you're planted.
So, how does this lead to my custom engraved pendant? I was stuck between choosing "Be OK" and "Let It Be" as a custom design, but after further talk, thought, and consideration I chose "Let It Be." Let me explain: Where I'm at in life right now, "let it be," suits my soul. I know I'm in this current place and I know it is what's right at the moment in time, even though it's not where I'm meant to be forever. I just have to let it be and wait for life to change and be called to move on when the time is right. I have faith that call will come and I'll be ready for it... I'm here, waiting to be sent.
I made sure my necklace was with me so I could wear the accessory on the four year mark of my sexual assault. And I did. And it empowered me. I've worn it daily since I've received it, to be exact. When I think back to that September night, I get emotional. I'm heartbroken, still, that I had to experience such injustice and just pure evil, but in this growth, this finding myself... I've allowed myself to feel emotions, really feel them, and I look at how far I've come and I can't help but to cry. I'm proud of who I am, where I've been, and where I'm still going. Comparing myself mentally and emotionally to that little college girl who was victimized that night to who I am today... I'm truly overcome with emotion. I mean it. I know I've repeated myself, but I've come so far. I have grown so much in ways I cannot fathom growing if I had not gone through the experience (of healing from my assault). But, at the same time, I know I have so much growing still do to. I'm 24 and I'll be 25 in a little over a month... that scares me, but at the same time it doesn't.
So, "let it be" just fits. I could look back on everything that happened to me and I could dwell and wallow in my own misery, but I don't and I refuse to ever do so. I look back and say, "Look at how far I've come." I hope that says something about my character, about my strength, and gratitude towards life. I could have let the assault affect me differently. I worked hard to get where I am today, but at the same time I understand I just need to "let it be" and trust the universe (and my God) will give me what I need and lead me to the direction and job that will fulfill my life, heart, and ministry.
I can't control anything. I just have to have faith, carry it, allow it to consume me and in the meantime... let it be.
(Oh! I should tell you... That quote from Law & Order: SVU I mentioned above, I have the sound wave of the quote inked on my bicep. So, like those words, I carry "let it be" around with me everyday).