‘This orange long-sleeve blouse will work,’ I remember thinking as I picked the outfit I would wear to stare at the face of the man who raped me.’

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‘This orange long-sleeve blouse will work.’ I remember thinking to myself as I picked out the outfit I would wear to stand and stare out at the face of the man who raped me. You always picture your life to play out in this certain way when you are growing up. You expect you will be strong and brave and push through the trials of life. Here I was, however, grieving the loss of so many of my hopes and dreams, grieving the loss of my dignity and grieving the loss of my innocence.

McKenzie Jackson

I have these memories from growing up, precious memories. I often take myself back to these memories as my ‘happy place.’ We used to have this swing set in the back yard. Many nights after the dishes were done, my sister and I would run outside with my mom and dad shortly behind us and we would hop on those janky swings and swing as the sun would set. We would eventually come inside, get ready for bed and say our prayers together. At an early age, I had a plan that I would go to college, become a teacher, get married and have children. I would later find that plan would not go as that blonde on the blue swings had dreamed.

In a blink of an eye I was no longer that hopeful little girl on the janky swing, but a young teenage girl strategically stuffing a pillow under my sheets and sneaking out my window. I jumped in the tan SUV waiting outside my house with some people I had believed to be my friends and off we drove. Off we drove to the house where part of me would be stolen. We arrived to the house, and fear began to creep through my body as I didn’t know where I was or who this person was whose house we were at. As time progressed,  I watched as this strange older man proceeded to slowly pollute his mind with drugs I’d never seen before. All I wanted was to go home as the room filled with smoke and eerie feelings.

Time passed and my uncomfortable feelings grew stronger and stronger. I asked to use the restroom and was directed to it. Less than a minute passed before the bathroom door opened behind me. There I was staring at the strange man who lived in the house. I was immediately pushed onto the dirty floor, my clothes ripped off as I screamed for help. I would later discover I had been left alone with this man. There, on the nasty floor, I was raped and sodomized for hours. I was able to briefly escape him, only to be grabbed again as the torture continued. I was then choked and had my head bashed against the wall until I passed out. I was told for hours to shut up, as I was continually threatened to be killed. I truly thought I would die, and to be honest with you in that moment I hoped I would.

McKenzie Jackson

But morning came, my eyes opened and God gave me another chance. I ran out of the house and reached my mother who had been frantically calling my phone. She realized I wasn’t home and had been trying to reach me since. I finally arrived home, dirty, physically hurting and in shock. Within the hour a police officer was at my house. My life moved in slow motion for the next couple of hours. I was instructed not to shower, as I was taken to a hospital to get swabbed, probed and examined for hours. Immediately I was taken to the police department where I had to write down every detail of the horrific event. I had to look at a police officer in the eyes as I explained every single detail of a trauma I had only experienced 10 hours prior. ‘Do you want to press charges?’ ‘If you do you will experience ridicule and it will be extremely difficult. You will face him again. You will have to relive these events again.’ ‘If you do not, this is a man who has done this to women before and he will most likely continue to do this.’ I decided to press charges. I worked up the courage to face this man to prevent this from ever happening again.

McKenzie Jackson

One of the first things I ever heard about myself, after the attack, was someone calling me, ‘the girl who cried rape.’ That was the beginning of the darkest journey of my life. It became clear my heart once full of hope and innocence had been stripped from me and I was now completely controlled by a heart of anxiety. I really began to look for every way to numb my anxiety, from alcohol to objectifying myself. The devil really began to fill my head with the idea I was worthless and only an object. As the year passed, I could put on a good face to convince people I was okay, but behind that mask I was being completely controlled by darkness.

McKenzie Jackson

The winter of my junior year of high school, the court date had arrived. I stood in front of a Jury and a crowd of people, as I looked my attacker in the eyes and told the story. After a week of evidence, the jury members took about an hour and they had reached a decision. I sat in the court room as I heard the word ‘guilty’ be read from the judge. He would receive a sentence of 10 years in prison, followed by 10 years of parole. My panic attacks continued to be a controlling part of my life as I tried to find comfort in unfulfilling, temporary things. Then one day, something happened.

It was evening time and I went into my room and began to have one of the most chilling and intense panic attacks. My body felt like I had no control and my mind began to spout off things such as ‘you are worthless’, ‘you are nothing.’ I can’t really explain what shifted my heart but as I sat there in the middle of my floor I started to yell out in frustration. All of the sudden I started to begin to beg for God to hold me. I struggled with being touched after being attacked, but so badly I wanted to be held. This is something I would describe as a miracle. Immediately I felt the most comforting embrace. That feeling of a mother’s love when they hug their child or when you embrace a loved one you haven’t seen in years. I felt something hold me. I don’t know how to explain it fully because it wasn’t an earthly thing, it was a Godly embrace. It was the most real thing I have ever felt. That moment I realized I couldn’t do life on my own. I realized I needed my faith, my family, and my friends. I needed to ask for help and put aside the fake smiles. The alcohol, the attention, the material objects, all that was temporary and wasn’t real or forever, meant nothing. The embrace I had experienced, was a fulfilling and forever love. I had been treated like dirt and I had let myself believe that’s who I was. However, through my faith I learned that all things can be made beautiful.

The following summer I volunteered at Camp Barnabas, a faith based camp for people with special needs.

McKenzie Jackson

When I arrived I met two young men who completely help change my life. While my journey to healing had begun I still struggled with a lot, I still do. These men were named Vincent and Nathanial. Both men with their own abilities and disabilities. They both have their individual struggles but the two men poured genuine love and care into me. Vincent does not have the ability to speak, but when a worship song comes on he closes his eyes, lifts up his hands and with all his might sings out. These men taught me love and joy in the midst of struggles. This was a lesson I would carry with me my entire life. After that summer I can honestly say I had fallen in love, head over heels in love with the joys in life and the hope found in my faith. It pulled me out of my darkness and showed me hope and the light in being a follower of Jesus. I fell short many times over that time period. I still actively struggle with my anxiety.  I was held during my tears. I would fall but I got back up and grew. I’m so imperfect and so prone to doing wrong but I am loved and forgiven and worth so much.

McKenzie Jackson

At 21-years-old I found out I was going to be a mother, then shortly following that news I found out that I would be a single mother. With no degree, no plan, and no guidance I would be taking on an unfamiliar journey; emotionally alone. I began to feel like I had become a victim and stereotype as a result of my pain from being raped. Everything I had worked to not be I had become.

However, I realized something. If I had become that cookie cutter girl, with the cookie cutter life that the girl on the janky swing pictured, would that really have been a fulfilling life? I love who my struggles have made me. They’ve made me kind, compassionate, and attentive. I’ve been able to encourage others who have gone through similar experiences. Through my struggles I found true and genuine faith. And now through this unplanned and unexpected thing called life, I now have the most precious beautiful thing, my son. Through all the pain, struggles and failures my sweet baby boy will always be my reassurance it’s going to be okay and through pain comes beautiful, real things.

McKenzie Jackson

Read more from brave women battling sexual assault: 

‘There was a window in the bedroom. I tried to open it but soon realized it had been nailed shut’: Woman’s harrowing journey from sexual assault to self-love

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by McKenzie Jackson. Submit your story here. For our best love stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.

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