Seminary, Abuse, and My Healing Journey

My Story

In the middle of a very chilly winter, I took a big step in my frum (religious) journey and moved into a large community where I would be able to live, go to shul – and the biggest benefit for me – attend Seminary. I was excited. I was thrilled. I had no idea what was coming for me. But, mostly, I was very naive.

I had never felt the need to have to “trust my gut”. I had never truly felt lost. I was someone who, since childhood, had always felt a certain and clear sense of direction.

A little over a month into Seminary, we went to a local Rabbis home for the Friday night meal. It was that night that started months of abuse.

I watched a few of my own friends being sexually abused and they, in turn, watched the same happen to me.

I was numb. It was like all of the happiness was drained out of me. Food didn’t taste the same, the sky never appeared quite as blue, my eyes quenched constantly with the ever-flowing tears that my soul really felt broken. I lost that certainty and direction that I had always held close to me.

Not only was I uncertain about where Hashem could possibly be taking me -but I didn’t know if I could hold on for another day. I lived in constant fear and I questioned myself throughout every day: why couldn’t I protect myself?

I knew that I needed someone – but I didn’t want to need anyone. I just wanted to pretend that it never happened. I wanted – I needed a hand to hold and someone that I knew would be there and wouldn’t see me as less of a person (at the time, my worst fear) because of all of this. My best friend was one of those abused, and after it happened, neither of us spoke about it. To me, it didn’t even exist.

But, the lovely thing about the trauma that comes along with abuse is that your body remembers it even if you force yourself to forget the details.

Dealing With The Symptoms

It was several months in when I questioned if I could keep on existing. I didn’t feel that my existence mattered. I felt dirty and used all of the time. I wasn’t good enough or deserving of anything in my mind. And the people in my life that I thought I could trust – teachers, other adults – fed into my fears and distrusts.

I felt trapped and I really believed that I had no one and that no one would believe me or even really truly cared. I felt like a burden – which kept me locked inside of my head instead of going to the people in my life who would have been there for me.

It was one day, months in, that I returned home from seminary, and decided to take a shower. I had the first real panic attack I’ve ever had. Everything that I’d been experiencing passed in front of my eyes. I was dizzy, I couldn’t stop crying, pain seared through my entire body.

I quickly composed myself and ran to the kitchen, where I phoned a friend.
I shook as I dialed her number, uncontrollably crying. She came in a few minutes and as I kept getting sicker and dizzier – my emotions more intense than in the minutes prior – she called Hatzalah.

I remember so vividly, one of the Hatzalah members who had me sit in the ambulance looking at me for a long time before asking me if something was wrong. If something had happened. He kept pressuring me to tell him what was “really” going on. At the time, I was so upset and angry. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; it felt like he was accusing me of something. Only now do I look back and wish I could thank him. He was able to point out something that some of the people who saw me every day weren’t able to see. Someone who was really hurting and longed for help.

Getting Help

Shortly after my hospital visit, I was convinced to try therapy. At first, I couldn’t imagine entrusting someone that I didn’t know with all of this. But, after my first session, I felt a weight lifted off of me that I hadn’t felt in so long. It has taken time to work through all of these intense feelings and unashamedly – I’m still in therapy growing and taking back my life.

It feels unreal to sit here in my living room – very much alive – realizing that I almost gave up. ​ As I sit here, fully conscious, my life has pulled itself back together beyond what I could have imagined. It’s incredibly imperfect, but I can see and feel the healing in my life. Because I reached out, I was able to save myself from the unthinkable.

Since all of this, I experienced living in Israel, finding community, building relationships and connections, and most of all – healing and becoming more of a whole version of myself that I wish could go back in time and hold my shattered self. 

When I allowed myself to reach out (no matter how hard it really is!), when I allowed myself to be cared for and to accept the support of others and to be okay with not handling everything all on my own – that’s when the core of my own personal healing began. From someone so dear to me teaching me the importance of trusting ourselves, being someone who truly listened and allowed me to feel my pain but encouraged me to grow and heal – to my Rabbi who constantly encourages me to never give up on my own future and to keep paving the way.

Never Give Up

I want to encourage you to never give up, because there are so many people who deeply care about you. And as someone who couldn’t allow herself to ever believe that: I’m telling you – it’s not just a shallow statement – it’s true. I never believed that I would make it to a path of healing. I could barely breathe through an hour – much less an entire day!

Please allow yourself to reach out for help, please don’t be silent when you’re being hurt, please trust your gut on what’s right for you and learn to be in-tune with your own needs. Keep fighting for the beautiful future that you deserve. Hashem has a bright and beautiful plan, even when you feel abandoned and alone. Trust me on that.

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