Written by Ciara Coelho

Photos by David Le

She was abused.

She was broken.

She was delivered.

I, Ciara Isabel, was born on Aug. 12, 1991. My spirit, tenacious, powerful, and determined, was evident with my first cry. Loved ones watched in awe as I buried any obstacle that stood between me and what I desired. Whether it was a simple scoop of ice cream or to stay up an hour past bed time, I obtained the desire. My family was confident I would change the world with my God-given ability to never quit.

If only they knew, this ability would be my downfall. If only they knew, this ability would lead me into a seven-year-long abusive relationship with almost no escape. If only they knew, my tenacious, unbreakable spirit possessed a weakness.

At 12 years old, a master of illusion stole my innocence. Jai was 17, with a perfect build, a warm smile, and gentle eyes, and swooped my 12-year-old heart away. He became my heartthrob, and I became determined to win his love no matter the consequence. Our friendship blossomed quickly and he soon asked me to be his secret girlfriend until I turned 18. And, unaware of the consequences this secret love would bring, I agreed with the excitement of calling him my own.

A child, at 12, lacks the mental and emotional maturity to make this decision, but my tenacious spirit wanted it. I fought for it and became a master of illusion in hiding our relationship. Throughout my adolescence, I became his prodigy – his perfect woman. He trained me to be the best woman possible – the woman who never disagreed, who listened to every word he spoke, who obeyed every demand he made, who never said “no more” when her legs were black and blue from beatings. I was his secret captive. I was the perfect captive for any predator – one who loved her captor, and as a child abused by an adult, was oblivious of her captivity.

This is the story of my healing.

Since leaving Jai a day before my 19th birthday, I have struggled with severe post-traumatic stress. I suffer flashbacks that lock my emotions instantly back into his captivity. I can sit on the couch and within minutes be drowning in tears, screaming for someone to pull me from his grasp. Irene Bernal, who specializes in counseling abused children, has counseled me for the last two years. This story of my healing blossomed Aug 22, 2012 when I shared with her my most traumatizing flashback.

Sitting in my car, I grip the steering wheel, nervous to walk up the steps to Irene’s office. The image that flashed before my eyes last night haunts me – the memory of my innocence and purity being taken by a man I loved, by a man who deceived me. Ignorant, I thought his warm hands caressing my body were burning with admiration and embodied with love. I believed I was the special girl given an angel to watch over and protect me. I believed I was safe.

I was wrong.

Step by step, I force myself up the staircase. How am I going to tell her about this? What is she going to think of me?

Six steps more... Just breathe. Does she have a cure for me? Does she have some special tool from her training that will eradicate these flashbacks?

Four steps more... It is impossible. I burned all night on my couch, the deepest in prayer I have ever been, trying to cast out the reality revealed to me in that flashback.

Two steps more, and it’s five minutes past my appointment time.

“Believe, trust, receive, and open the door, Isabel.” A still voice from my spirit comforts me.

She won’t ever understand.

“Open the door, Isabel.”

“Hola, Mija! How are you?” Irene greets my tardiness with a smile.

My face probably a light shade of blue, I exhale, “I’m doing OK, thank you.”

“Irene, I have to tell you something, but I’m afraid.”

“There is nothing to be afraid of. What is it, Mija?”

“My mind ...,” my voice fades to a whisper.

“What about your mind, sweetie?”

“It’s not right, Irene. I’m seeing things.”

“Things?”

Just come out with it! This is her profession. She has heard much worse. You are entitled to refuse medication if that is the solution offered.

“Yeah, umm ... whew, this is hard.”

Deep breath.

“So, last night I was sitting on the couch with my fiancé, Alan. He sweetly serenaded me over to him, when suddenly ….”

“Suddenly what, Mija?”

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Can she feel my breathing on the other side of her desk? Inhale.

“Suddenly ... Jai, my ex’s face, appeared on his shoulders.” Exhale.

“Jai’s face? You mean he looked similar to him?”

“No, I mean I could see only Jai’s face. As hard as I tried, Alan’s tender eyes and endearing smile could not break through the mockery of Jai’s pupils or the smirk of his taunting grin from my past.”

“Hmmm.”

“Then it gets weirder ... worse. After seeing his face, I instantly flashed back to a time we were giving a family member of his a ride to work.”

Gulp.

“Yes, Mija. It’s okay.”

“I was sitting alone in the backseat, and he and his uncle were in the front. Then he … umm. He reached his hand in the back seat and made his way up my skirt. You can perceive what happened. The memory was so awful, Irene. What if his uncle saw what was happening? What if he somehow got pleasure from it?” Disgust raced from my mind and punched me in the stomach.

“Breathe, my dearest Isabel. Forgive yourself for it is not your fault ... My precious child, I never left your side. You will never be forsaken. Breathe.”

“The memory felt so different from when I was 12, Irene. I felt it was, I don’t know, ‘cool’ or ‘normal’ for him to do that. I thought it made me older and more mature. But, when I flashed back, Irene, I could see the malice in his eyes. The soft brown I once knew turned pitch black. Pure evil stared at me with each turn of his hand. I could see the pride he took in having me all to himself at any given time. And, the worst part was, I couldn’t shake it. Not for the life of me! I prayed and prayed and prayed. I denounced Satan every second, praying with all my heart that Alan’s face would return, and the feeling of those hands burning on my thighs would disappear. But it wouldn’t, Irene. It wouldn’t go away.”

Tears streaming down my face, I’m hyperventilating. I watch Irene, who’s drowning in tears as well, try to regain her composure to support me. It is useless. We cry together and breathe, smearing the black from our cheeks as best we can with only each other as our mirrors.

“I am so sorry, Mija. You need to know. That was just a power play. He was showcasing his dominance over you. He loved having that power over you; you were just a child, and he felt his power grow stronger as you grew into your adolescence. The whole thing was a power play sweetie. The whole thing.”

“I thought,” I’m stuttering, “I thought … he loved me, Irene. I dedicated myself to him for seven years. Why did he scar me like this? Why are these things coming back to me and trapping me in their horror?”

As I’m trying to regain my breathing, I say: “I hate this. I don’t want this anymore. I hate it so much. Why would God allow me to go back there, Irene? Why didn’t he rescue me when I called? He has forsaken me.”

As sobs pound in my chest and defeat expands my lungs, I tell her: “How could He forsake me? It’s like I went back there and it was worse. I had these new eyes that showed me all the evil behind every action, every word, and every illusion he created.”

Wait a second. New eyes…. I’ve heard this before.

Last week, I prayed with my Pastor for Jesus to give me new eyes. We prayed and asked God to show me what I look like through His eyes. Maybe He is showing me what I looked like through His eyes in that car so that I can understand my innocence and naiveté at that age. And, in having this clear understanding, I can move forward with true forgiveness for myself and be released from all this shame.

Irene notices my pause and excuses herself to wash the black mascara from her face.

While sitting there in silence, a powerful, yet gentle voice interrupts my revelation, “Again. Breathe.”

“You were never forsaken, Little One. Breathe. I was carrying you through these memories to help you understand your innocence, Isabel. You were an innocent child, violated, and taken advantage of. Breathe, my dearest Isabel. Forgive yourself for it is not your fault. Forgive yourself for not knowing Jai as your abuser and for staying so long, for you are delivered. My precious child, I never left your side. You will never be forsaken. Breathe.”

Heat surfaced my skin and my spirit lifted with instant gratification. Was this real? Did I just hear that? I always hear this internal voice calling me by my middle name Isabel. Could it be that this voice has always been Jesus?

“Yes, Isabel. It is Me, your Savior, and I have given you My eyes to see that there is no reason for you to live in shame. Today, before you leave your car, hold your hand over every part of your body that needs My healing; and you will be healed, My child. My Isabel. Thank you for reaching out to Me and allowing Me to heal you as I have desired for so many years.”

Paralyzed with shock, I look up as Irene returns.

“Irene, I have to go. Thank you so much, but I’ll see you next week.” I race to my car to do exactly as directed.

I raise my hand over my brow to pray for the healing of my mind and the emotional trauma it suffered.

“Please God, make my mind your own. Heal it, mend it, and restore it to think as that of a normal 21-year-old woman.”

I then place my hand over my heart and pray for the complete forgiveness to mend the open scars of pain, anger, and betrayal. “God, help me let go of the anger and resentment I feel toward Jai for betraying and abusing me for so many years. Take my heart into Your kingdom and fill it with Your unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness for him and for myself, Lord.”

Lastly, I place my hand over my lap and ask God to restore me as a woman. “God, please restore my intimate spirit and gift me with the sensuality stolen from me while I was a naive, innocent child. Raise my body to the heavens and teach it how important it is to me and to Alan, my future husband. Please Lord, teach it that it is no longer just a body to my past abuser. Please Jesus, teach my body to love and accept itself once again.”

Resting in prayer, I keep my eyes closed and my heart focused on the will I know He has to heal me and on the desire I know He has to heal me. I wipe my face clean of the tears one last time, take a deep breath and step away from my car with confidence that I have followed my Savior’s instructions.

I, Ciara Isabel, escaped my captor at the age of 19. However, two years after my escape, on Aug. 22, 2012, Jesus delivered me from the shame and trauma that had locked me in his captivity. He healed me from post-traumatic stress and set my tenacious spirit free. Today, I am healed. I am in peace. I am liberated. And, I, Ciara Isabel, daughter of the King of Kings, am ready to liberate others.

“I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” Mark 11:24