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How My New Job on the Other Side of the Criminal Justice System Impacts My Recovery

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Have you ever felt like you have been through so much that there is no way to overcome it? I feel like that much more than I care about the admission. Sometimes everything in life starts to build up in my chest, and I can’t breathe from all the pressure. Today, however, I was reminded of the hope that I have in life. Even when everything feels too heavy to carry, there I find my rainbow.

• What is PTSD?

I recently started a new job in a field that I was so scared about getting into because of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I, unfortunately, had to sit on the victim side of the criminal justice system at just 16 years old. I have done so much healing and recovery throughout the past six years since my abuser was first arrested and sentenced.

Today, in almost exactly a month, I am reminded of where I was all that time ago. A scared child who had just experienced so many horrific things that my brain couldn’t quite process. A little girl who was desperate for protection but pushed everyone away because of how scared she was. Today, I look back at that little girl, and I still feel her. I still cry her tears and see those things, but I am not her anymore. As I walked into the courthouse today for one of my job’s daily tasks, one I have dreaded since I applied for the position, I dissociated back to my trauma while going through the system. I watched a young girl walk out of the courthouse in floods of tears while her mum was carrying her to the parking lot. That girl was once me. My heart broke not just for her but myself as I remembered where I once was. I remembered testifying in front of my former youth pastor and abuser. I remembered my mum walking me out of the courtroom and holding me up while I cried after that sentencing hearing. While the reporter took notes that he would then graphically post about me as “the young petite girl with an orange bow in her hair.”

For a moment today, the bitterness came into me as I remembered the words of that reporter. Saying that the young teenager “confessed” to her family. That she testified about a “sexual relationship that she had.” As if I chose those things. While I didn’t share all the horrible details of what happened to anyone, I will never forget. I did not consent to anything. I was a child. On top of that, I was scared. This man was a scary and intimidating person. I fully believe that the situation could have been so much worse if I hadn’t gotten through. By getting through, I mean that I made the choices I had to make to get through. That does not mean I consented or wanted anything that my abuser did to me. It does mean that I survived. I got to continue my life with my family. Though I will never forget the emotional and physical pain of what that man did to me, I get to have a life filled with choices and opportunities. That is because I chose to survive.

What’s more, I will never forget the pain of the court system and how the public and media treated me. Today, that bitterness slipped away, and my heart broke for that young girl walking out of the courthouse today. I don’t know her story, and I’m sure neither does her mother, who was trying her very best to bear every burden of that pain that her daughter was ready to share. Regardless of what she experienced that brought her to that courthouse today, I see that she has a future. I know for her what I didn’t know for myself. I felt like there was no tomorrow. How could I ever move forward?

Today, I finished another term of my psychology/criminal justice degree. Today, I started my second week at a fantastic job that will open many doors for me in life. Today, I saw exactly where I was almost six years ago and am looking at where I am now. Today, I am reminded of exactly how much I have overcome. Exactly how strong I am and how much progress I have made. Today is another beautiful and hard day towards never-ending hope. Today, I will continue to love myself with every up and down that complex PTSD has brought me. Today, I had grace for myself in my downs and so much hope for myself for the future.

I have spoken my truth aloud to myself and have been slowly sharing it with loved ones when I feel ready. I have done everything the way I needed and on my schedule when it comes to my healing journey. I don’t regret one part of my journey, as it is all a part of what made me who I am today. As Elizabeth Smart has similarly spoken about, I made the choices I had to make to be here and alive today.

Tonight, I will cry again in my despair and pain as I remember my trauma. But today, I will appreciate my progress and my journey.

Never be discouraged by the pain and drawbacks that you feel because we all have them. Don’t fall so far into despair that you can’t find the little things to help you back up. Be kind to yourself in everything that you do. It will hurt. Being a victim of violence and abuse is a forever kind of pain, but there is endless hope. Today, remind yourself of that and find your rainbow.

Originally published: April 11, 2023
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