Standing in the Fire

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If I have to choose between either a warm or cold climate – 9 times out of 10 I will choose warm.   Now there are certain times when cold, chilly, snowy weather is quite appealing to me.  Building snowmen and wearing coats, knit hats and winter gloves.  Sounds magical! Then reality sets in and playing in the snow also equals cold, wet, soggy clothing.  Frozen toes and other body parts that make you feel utterly miserable – until I sit by a roaring fire drinking a cup of delicious HOT cocoa under a plush, WARM blanket.  It’s in these moments I realize I truly LOVE and ADORE almost all things warm/hot.

Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in the Grand Canyon State?  Could be.  Arizona appeals to visitors during the spring and winter months.  I mean who wouldn’t enjoy wearing sweatshirts, shorts and flip-flops on Christmas or Valentines Day?  Perfect weather for playing golf or watching Spring Training baseball games or hiking one of our beautiful mountains.  Don’t get me wrong I love these times of the year too, but my absolute favorite is summer.  I’m sure you are thinking I am out of my mind!  And to that I say: could be. 

There is just something about hot weather that just completely suits me.  There is a certain taste in the atmosphere that I completely embrace.  Yes, it is similar to sticking your head in an oven.  Yes, the sweltering heat can drain your energy in minutes too.  If you are ever brave enough to withstand our summer season please keep these things in mind:

Master the art of driving with just your index and middle finger because the steering wheel is so, incredibly, scorching hot!
If you’re not careful the seat belt buckle in the car might brand you.
You might receive a message on your cell phone: ” IPhone needs to cool down before you can use it”
You can actually cook an egg on the asphalt or bake cookies in your car.
An umbrella is used more to guard against the sun rather than the rain.
The appeal of a parking spot depends not on its distance, but on the amount of shade it provides.
Leather seats + shorts = big mistake!

Ok, so maybe I am mildly insane but summer in Arizona just soothes my soul.  I love to lay out by the pool, reading books and just soak up the sun.  Jumping in a crystal blue pool when I need to cool down and feeling the soothing water on my hot skin.  The smell of sunscreen and coconut lime lotion and drinking ice-cold water or other cold beverages in the heat of the day.  Now keep in mind Arizona has very low humidity so you can literally dry off in minutes.   It’s fantastic!  I also love that I can wear sandals or flip-flops year round, and only own a few pair of socks. The many decades of living in the Valley of the Sun could have affected my reasoning skills, but I will always and forever be a desert rat – and proud of it.

So as much as I’m naturally drawn to the heat there is one area of my life I’ve preferred to remain in a constant cold state.  Once the sexual abuse crept its way into my life a very deep, nasty, dark and infected wound began to grow inside me.  My natural reaction was to protect it at all costs but each year it continued to grow.  Can you imagine what 8 years of infection looks, feels and smells like?  I placed bandages over it but without cleaning it out and saturating it with a healing balm – true restoration would never be possible.

So a pivotal life moment stood before me – how much do I truly desire to be healed and freed of the past?  For years my thoughts tortured me.  Countless times I begged my mind to not remember the sexual abuse situations, but how do you completely turn it off?  When those memories replayed it brought me pain, grief, anxiety and depression.  Searching for help and finding new ways to deal with it helped to ease it enough to make life manageable.  I am grateful for it but I wanted more.

Facing the past and choosing to stand up for myself has been nightmarish and traumatic, but it honestly doesn’t come close to the actual abuse.  As strong as I’d like to believe that I am – I sincerely did not believe I could do it.  I’ve really, really needed and desired to do it, but never had the courage to leave my safe, cold climate.  Until now. 

Filing a police report was the first step in cleansing that wound.  Just like any other wound that needs first aid – you know what must be done will hurt – a lot.  An untreated wound left alone for these many years requires serious medical attention.  When I arrived at the police station to meet with the detective – my wound would be offered care and relief – it just required that I force myself to stand in the fire.  So with tears streaming down my face, my heart beating out of my chest and my entire body shaking – I did it – I walked directly into the flames.

Detective Bacon entered the lobby where I sat and greeted me.  He had contacted a victim’s advocate (VA) who would join our meeting.   Walking through the offices I quickly became nervous and was on the verge of tears.  I was so frustrated with myself because I didn’t want to start the meeting this way.  The detective explained that our conversation would be filmed and asked permission for the VA to watch through the glass in another room.  I agreed.  We sat in a small room with a table and 2 chairs that faced each other.  On the wall next to the table was a large mirrored window that reached from one end of the wall to the other end.  It reminded me of all the TV police shows I’ve seen where suspects are typically interrogated.

So the detective started asking me specific questions regarding my childhood abuse.  I began to paint a picture of these memories in great detail.  I thought I was prepared for the questions but again I was absolutely wrong.  Every answer I gave prompted more questions that dug even deeper.  It triggered other memories that hid in the far reaches of my mind that had hoped to remain unfound.  The flames of the fire where I stood burned so intensely inside me that I didn’t know how long I could endure it.  Question after question it felt endless and excruciating and impossible.  As I described each sexual interaction I began to smell and feel the past.  It sounds crazy but it’s true.  I could almost feel the temperature and texture of his skin and weight of his body again – and I started hyperventilating.

We immediately took a break.

The detective offered to stop completely and finish another time, but I knew that wasn’t truly an option.  I couldn’t do this a second time.  I thanked him but said I would like to continue.  So we did.  Once the majority of the questions ended he said “We can handle this a couple of ways:  1.  You can call him and talk to him on the phone and get him to confess what took place or 2.  I can go find him, talk to him and see if he will admit it.  In a million years I would have never thought I would be presented with these options.   I asked what my best chances for a conviction would be – considering he had admitted his crimes to family members about 5 years ago – although I already knew the answer.

My best chance would be call him and engage in a conversation about the past.  OMG – could I really do this?  My head was spinning and I felt dizzy.  Could I find the courage to call this monster and then skillfully get him to confess?  This was all just too much and it was like gas was thrown into the flames.  What do I do?  I wanted that room to swallow me up and literally disappear.  I remained quiet another minute and then said “let’s call him”.   The detective left the room and came back with a recording device and a cell phone.  He gave me instructions how to handle the call and connected headphones so he could listen to the conversation.

He dialed the number and my heart dropped to my feet.  This was just all so very surreal.  My nerves increased when we listened to a voice that said his phone would not receive calls from a private number.  I then learned that the police have ways around this – so he left the room to take care of it.  We tried so many different ways to get the call to go through.  The longer it took the more my anxiety increased, but I told myself to hang on because I had to get through it – so this madness could end.  I also needed to know I did everything possible to stand up for myself.

The 3rd time the detective left the room to troubleshoot the issue – I was shaking.  It was torture.  So I stood up to walk around the room and began to talk to myself.  “Calm down, you can do this.  You can do this.  It will all be over soon”.  I said this over and over as I rubbed my hands together and tried to slow down my breathing.

The door opened and I was startled to see it wasn’t the detective – it was the victim’s advocate.  I forgot she had been watching me the entire time behind the mirror.  She opened the door and said let’s get you out of this room and go take a walk.  We found a secluded, secure courtyard and just sat in the sun, and it was exactly what I needed.  We only made small talk and my mind and heart rate began to slow down.  Then she asked “so what did you do last night”?  I told her my parents were moving to Texas and my father had come over to say goodbye.  (See Silence v. Truth).  I described what happened between us and she just listened.  When I stopped talking she said “you went through all of that last night and then came here today”?  I just nodded my head.

She told me “you are a very strong person”.  I looked up at her with tears in my eyes and said “I don’t feel very strong”.  She then explained in her many years of working as a VA had never met anyone who went through so much heavy stuff in such a short period of time. I didn’t respond.  She said “you are still in pain from last night so why did you come here today – why didn’t you just reschedule?”  I told her it never crossed my mind – I just needed this entire process to be over.  She said “the fact that you could push through your pain is what makes you strong”.  I realized in that moment I could get through this day and I began to cry.

A few minutes later the detective found us and we resumed our attempt to make the call.  Nothing we tried worked and to tell you the truth I was very relived.  My day at police headquarters was one of the most difficult days of my entire life.  My nasty wound was placed directly in the fiery flames for a very long time to burn out the infection.  It was as if the fire was removing the pus, debris and dead tissue to prepare the wound for the next step: healing ointment.

There is more to this story that I might share another time.  I just wanted to describe the day that I stood in the fire and miraculously lived.  It was a painful, scary and horrifying process that was essential for me to finally begin to properly heal.  If there was any other way around it – or a way to avoid it – believe me I would have found it.   As much as I feared it – I’m so very glad to have done it.  Self esteem and knowing my worth have been a lifelong struggle for me.  Standing up and facing my past was a sacrificial gift of love I gave to myself that day.

I walked out of that police station looked up at the clouds in the big blue sky and deeply smiled.

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