Prayers and Pills

2018 was not my favorite year. It did contain some great moments and lessons that I believe will set the stage for not just better years, but a better, stronger version of myself.

For starters, I spent (and am still spending) a lot of time recovering from my second ankle reconstruction surgery. Then, I became this person: Right, when I was at my most empty, October and the start of November introduced me to the reality of total sleeplessness, the stress of hair loss, and the constant feeling of tightness in my chest. My moods were unpredictable, and my spirit was weak. The spans of time when I felt like myself when I felt whole, became shorter and less frequent. I felt like a failure at everything I did, including parenting. I could not find joy. I could only fake joy to avoid more questions.

Then, November 10th hit. My campus community was rocked by a mass shooting and the loss of a student. My students, who had lost their friend(s) in the most devastating way, needed support. I wanted to be there for them, so badly. I wanted to dig up the real me from the pits of my soul and give it to them, to wrap them in love and receive their burdens as my own.

But, I was drained. There was none of me, of the real me, to give. I prayed to be filled up so that I could pour out to them. I was scraping the bottom of a drained pool with my fingernails, hoping for water to appear. How could I be so empty when people I loved needed me so badly?

Two days later, the local and campus community caught on fire, for days. The world for most everyone I know was turned upside down. Classes were canceled, lives were upended, homes were lost. Everything seemed to be falling apart. How could so much be happening at once?

In late November, I sought refuge, as I often do, in my Bible. I went to church. I volunteered. I studied the Bible. I prayed. I mean I prayed and prayed and prayed for God to re-fill the empty vessel of my soul. When I sought guidance from Christian friends, they affirmed that I needed to pray.

I prayed some more.

I gave to those in need.

I prayed some more.

I prayed more in a few weeks than I probably have in my entire life up to that point. Nothing changed. No, that’s not true. I did start to feel a new hole gnawing at the crater in my chest. I started to feel like a failure in Christ like I was somehow letting God down by not feeling healed by all of this prayer. I hated myself more, which I did not think was possible.

It wasn’t until someone suggested that I go see a therapist that I started to feel some hope. She suggested that I start taking an anti-anxiety medication so that I could start sleeping again. This was not something of which I was quickly convinced. In my adult life, I have tried to stick to natural wellness remedies, including physical activity, and always through prayer.

As a Christian, I have listened to countless testimonies about prayer rescuing people from depression, from learning difficulties, and from physical pain. Honestly, a large part of me was afraid that taking medication would mean that prayer was insufficient or, worse, that I was insufficient at prayer.

After about 2 weeks of this discussion, the therapist said something to me that finally took root: “Stop seeing prayer as a solution and think of it as illuminating the path towards a solution. It’s a conversation, not a directive.” We talked about my relationship with God. Did I trust Him? Yes. Did I try to have a relationship with Him? Yes. So, then did I trust what He was telling me/pushing me towards? I needed to. Anxiety was stopping me from sleeping and feeling, so she suggested medication as a way to return to healthy sleep and, hopefully, emotional recovery (including my faith in prayer). At my breaking point, I gave in and started the medication.

Red Pill Prime Aid Pharmacy Medical Business Card.png

It has been several weeks now and, for the past week and a half, I have been sleeping better. Some nights are more difficult but, increasingly, I am having restful nights. I am catching more frequent glimpses of myself. The tightness in my chest is subsiding. The dread that propelled me through the fake days and sleepless nights has almost entirely dissipated. It feels, finally, like everything may be okay.

I don’t know how I made it through the second half of last year. So much of it feels like a blur. Every step felt like an irrecoverable stumble leading me closer to existing as a void. I am amazed that I kept my job. I am thankful that I did not wreck my kids. And, in the most unexpected way, I grew closer to God.

I am in awe of God. I know that He answers prayers. I am confident now that His answer is not, “Thanks for praying, I’ll handle that.” But His answer was there, all along, in the people He surrounded me with. In the persistence of the therapist, in the unwavering support of my best friend, in the little bit of me, that refused to give up while the post-traumatic stress ate away at my soul.

This is not just my story. So many people are wounded and reeling in a world that preaches (and commercializes) self-care but doesn’t slow down for us to truly practice it. I think this tension is acute for single parents because there is never the opportunity to transfer our parenting burden to another adult. I think that this tension is often acute for Christians because we think that prayer is the answer in itself, instead of the way to find the answer that best works for our lives.

For me, the answer is still prayer. But, at least for now, it is also pills.

A. Smith


I have dedicated much of my adult life to using my experiences with childhood sexual assault to empower young women. I have led Bible studies, self-defense seminars, trainings, and public discussions on recovery, empowerment, and prevention. In those moments, when I have used my journey to help others, it has always felt like God’s hand was on my back.

As an adult, I have struggled with PTSD and anxiety, but I have always found a place of peace in my work and in my role as someone who participated in the fight against sexual assault and violence against women. But, in all of this time focusing on others, the one thing I frankly never considered was that it would happen to me again.

It did.

Several weeks ago, I was sexually assaulted by a stranger in a foreign airport. I did not react in any of the ways that I’ve trained young women to react. I did report.

Since the incident, people have tried to check in, most of them with the same theme, “You know this stuff, so you know what to do.” But I don’t. I know what to tell others to do. I know what to do with trauma, generally speaking. But, I have no idea how to deal with the wave of emotions that comes from realizing I am no longer on the other side of this thing we call trauma. I am sitting in pain instead of analyzing it from afar, and, no, I do not know what to do with it.

For all of the people who’ve asked me how I’m doing and for all of the women who relate because they feel like they’ve had the label “survivor” yanked out from under them, this is how I feel:

I feel like someone rammed their muscly, hairy arm down my throat and pulled out my soul. Now I am dragging it behind me, each step heavier as I am pulled down by the weight of my own fears surrounding me. Everything that woke me from slumber follows me throughout the day. Every strategy that I had developed to cope, rendered meaningless – just a clunky reminder of who I thought I was.

It has been so empowering, as an adult, to talk about the traumas of my childhood. It was simultaneously accessible and removed, like telling a story about a previous life. It was about me, but a different me. As an adult, I was smarter, stronger; no longer the paralyzed young girl who felt small beneath the pain of the loss of agency.

Today, I feel small again. Strangely, small and heavy. Too tiny to be who I want to be and too weighted down to be who I was. My spirit is exhausted. I feel like I am once again searching for the fire that comes with knowing "it gets better," but now it feels like I am forcing myself to accept a lie. It doesn't just get better. It gets better, then it gets bad all over again. It gets better, and then everything you know about yourself gets stolen again. And, then you cannot help but question everything and everyone you know and care about. Why am I here? Does anyone actually care? Where was my mom when I was a little girl? How did she not know? Where was my boyfriend at the airport? Did he not see the dread on my face? I know these are different questions that address situations that exist in almost different lifetimes. I know they are unfair questions. But, my mind goes there because I bounce back and forth between blaming myself and trying to find somewhere…anywhere…else to put the blame.

This is always so vivid and, yet, so vague and intangible. I get mad at the people I love because I need to convince myself that this is specific people and not the whole world. Because I need to believe that, in raising two girls, I am not just sending two lambs out to slaughter. And, I believe nothing right now. I hear words, I recognize the life going on around me, but I am just too tired, too heavy to do anything other than play human for the sake of others.

I left something in that airport. I am not sure what it was. Maybe it was my faith. Maybe it was my trust. Perhaps it was even my ability to hope. I am not sure. I don't even know that I want it back. Maybe slogging through is better than pretending that to be a woman in this world is to be anything more than a receptacle for trauma revisited again and again. Maybe hopeless is better. Perhaps a sad, hope-void, sloth of a human is better than being a victim, over and over again.

So, to those wondering, that is what I am doing with it. Having the knowledge and the training did not stop the attack. And, to be honest, it is not doing much for me in terms of processing what happened. How I am doing is hopeless, lost, and pretending.

Don’t worry, I will continue to pretend when you ask how I am. I will continue to smile when you suggest that I have the answers. I will wear the mask of bravery that makes you more comfortable than knowing that I no longer feel connected to anything that matters, including you. I will not stop acting like the things that I teach matter. I will do that until I start to feel whole/something/anything again. Then, perhaps, I will begin again; savoring each moment of peace with a newfound appreciation for how quickly and harshly it is likely to be ripped away.

That’s how it feels when it happens again.