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Jenny Lynn Anderson is a speaker and author of Room 939: 15 Minutes of Horror, 20 Years of Healing. She volunteers for the RAINN Speakers Bureau after surviving rape while on a business trip. Here’s her story:
My story begins in 1990, while attending the Southeastern Conference on Alcohol and Drugs at a downtown Atlanta hotel. As Public Relations Director of Willingway Hospital, a nationally renowned alcohol and drug treatment center, I had just finished the day working on the tradeshow floor. My marketing director and I had plans to have dinner with a prominent magazine editor to discuss a story line we thought provocative and interesting. We were to meet in the hotel lobby at 8:00 p.m. I never made it to the meeting.
As I left my hotel room located at the end of the corridor and began walking toward the elevator, a man approached me, and with a sudden lunge, grabbed me, and pushed me against the wall. An adrenaline rush unleashed my scream and purpose to fight back until he pulled the knife to my neck. Now with the steel blade held dangerously at my throat, he forced me back to Room 939. During this nightmare march, with a guttural sneer, he rasped his command to shut up or he would kill me. As he shoved me into the room, I realized when the door closed I probably wasn’t going to make it out alive.
I immediately went into survivor mode, trying to think of a way to get out of the room alive. With the knife at my neck, he robbed me of my cash and jewelry, all the while boasting he was going to rape me. When he ripped the phone cord from its resting place, I knew the situation was becoming more and more dire. I knew as a woman, there was no way for me to physically do battle with my perpetrator. I pleaded with him not to rape me. The time was nigh as he looked down and ordered in angry grunt: TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES.
As the man began sodomizing me, I somehow removed myself from this horrible reality and began to devise a plan for my escape. I knew without a doubt, once he raped me, he would kill me. It was then I heard my voice telling him my boss was coming back to my hotel room to pick me up for our dinner meeting. I repeated it with greater persuasion until he became hesitant and pulled himself from me, walked across the room and cracked open the door. When the light from the corridor shone in, my eyes locked upon the eyes of a housekeeper. I began screaming, "He’s raping me! He’s going to kill me." The man quickly fled the room and escaped down the emergency staircase.
In this Atlanta hotel, there was horrific victimization beyond anyone’s normal comprehension. It felt like a life was lost, my dreams shattered. However, I survived.
How does one deal with such tragedy? How does one put one foot in front of the other when grief is insurmountable? It took me 20 years to find the courage to write my book, to release the demons residing within me, to break the chains of silence from the nameless man who kept me imprisoned. This is what I have learned about triumphing over tragedy.
Grieve for as long as you need. I made the irrational mistake of not allowing myself time to grieve. I immediately returned to work within 72 hours of the assault and resumed my life as if nothing had occurred. I came home from the Atlanta hotel without a nick on my body from the knife and I looked perfectly normal on the outside. But inside, my heart and soul had been ripped apart. He stole more than my jewelry and money. He stole my soul. I "lost" Jenny Lynn that night. I felt like my death had occurred. But no one showed up for my funeral. Because our society doesn’t know what to say when rape and sexual assault occur, unfortunately, they say nothing at all.
After my assault, people would say things that hurt such as, "This too shall pass," "What were you wearing?" and "What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger." Simply, when people are grieving, the most appropriate thing you can say is, "I am sorry this happened. I love you. I will do anything to help you."
Forgiveness sets us free. The sting of anger, resentment, hate, bitterness and blame resided in me so long it took root and became a stronghold in my life. At year nine of my healing journey, God revealed to me in order for me to move forward, I had to hand the responsibility of justice over to Him. Easier said than done, right? But I pulled out the forensic sketch and I forgave the perpetrator. I no longer had to be the judge and jury. Forgiveness gives us peace and peace supplies power. When I said, "I forgive," I took the first step to healing and on that day, I no longer was a victim; I became a survivor.
Until you feel, you will not heal. Post-traumatic stress disorder invaded me within moments of the attack. Loss of trust in the world and a sudden seismic shift of our belief system create an earthquake-sized crack in our foundation. Fear, helplessness, and horror replace our normal, daily lives and result in persistent avoidance of anything that reminds us of the "day everything changed." Therefore, we detach ourselves and bury our emotions and everything that hurts us. We don’t want to feel. I did this for 20 years, resulting in my being imprisoned in the torture chamber of depression and anxiety. I was determined I could "fix" me; therefore, I avoided counseling. I was oh so wrong! We must get counseling to reconcile the ever-present thoughts of "Why me, God?" and "How do I make sense of the senseless?" For me, restoration did not fully begin until I got psychological help through cognitive behavioral therapy. Tragedy and its aftermath take many years to unravel and we cannot do it by ourselves. We must let professionals help us do what we are not equipped to do alone. In addition, yoga has helped me tremendously in my recover. Learning to breathe again properly has aided greatly when I was wrought with anxiety.
Today, at year 25 of my healing journey, I continue to reclaim my life as I speak and train nationally. I especially enjoy speaking on college campuses where I can empower others to break the silence and share one of the biggest misconceptions about sexual assault: that women often lie about being raped. The truth is that false rapes to police only occur in 2-8% of all reports.
Jenny Lynn Anderson is the author of Room 939: 15 Minutes of Horror, 20 Years of Healing. She is a national speaker and trains on college campuses.