Laura in uniform

Laura in uniform

For Army Veteran Laura Beyer, life as she knew it came to a screeching halt 25 years ago when she was raped by her fiancé’s best friend.  She was 19.

“Fear, shame, guilt and the ‘what ifs’ played through my mind,” said Beyer, now in her mid-40s.  I didn’t tell my fiancé. I didn’t file a report.  I was simply afraid that my fiancé would believe his best friend over me and that the Army would forgo doing anything.”

But the damage was done, and it was serious damage.

Help Me

“I felt completely devalued, and I felt that way for 25 years,” Beyer said. “I lived with fear for 25 years.  Finally, in early 2015, I went to the VA because I was at the end of my rope.  I was waking up with panic attacks every morning.  I didn’t want to go on living.  So I walked into the mental health clinic at the Milwaukee VA and said ‘Help me.’

Beyer was placed in a six-week in-patient program for women suffering from post-traumatic stress and military sexual trauma.  Much of the program involved one-on-one therapy with compassionate female healthcare providers.

“I went through cognitive processing therapy,” Beyer explained.  “They have you write about your trauma, word for word, describing everything that happened to you.  Then you have to read it to your therapist.  Then they have you write it down again, only this time you need to include even more specific details, what kind of sounds or smells you were aware of during the incident, what kind of light was coming through the window, everything, down to the smallest detail.

“Cognitive processing therapy opened my eyes,” she said.

Getting Un-Stuck

As her therapy progressed, Beyer was gradually able to begin identifying what she called “stuck points” in her life.  One of those stuck points, she said, was an unreasoning, but not surprising, fear of men.

“Because of your trauma, you have a skewed way of thinking,” she explained.  “For example, if I was walking through a parking lot alone and suddenly spotted a man in the parking lot with me, I would freeze. I was terrified something might happen.  But in therapy they tell you to stop and evaluate the situation, to calmly access whether your fear is justified.”

The Army Veteran said this process, which she puts into practice daily, requires her to quickly ask herself a series of simple questions and answer them honestly.

“You ask yourself, ‘What is the likelihood that this individual is going to harm me?  Is my fear valid? Or is it invalid?’  Chances are you’ll conclude that your fear is not valid in this particular circumstance.  So you calm down.”

“Cognitive processing therapy opened my eyes.”

Beyer said her ‘Valid vs. Invalid’ litmus test has allowed her to become un-stuck.

Laura

Laura today

“In a way, you’ve become your own therapist,” she said. “You’re quietly thinking each situation through logically instead of being paralyzed by primal fear.  That’s what the VA taught me to do.  They taught me how to be my own therapist.  They taught me how to free myself from fear.”

She added:  “I can’t thank the VA enough, along with Dona Drew, Sara O’Hara and Dr. Julie Jackson, for allowing me the opportunity to finally tell my story. Because of them, my life has since been a metamorphosis of my mind, body, spirit, soul and everything else in between.”

The trauma survivor, who currently writes for Greenfield NOW in Wisconsin and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Human Services, has some healthy advice for any Veteran who’s been what she’s been through.

“I highly suggest therapy,” she said.  “Forgo allowing any individual or circumstance the right to control the remainder of your life.  The sooner you get help, the sooner you’re able to work through your trauma, and the sooner you’ll be able to live with a much greater sense of peace and freedom.

“Therapy saved me,” she concluded. “While in therapy at the VA, I came to realize that I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.  I deserve to be loved.  I deserve to live a happy life.”

Find out more about how VA might be able to help you cope with a traumatic event in your life.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Learn more here.

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Published on Apr. 14, 2016

Estimated reading time is 3.8 min.

Views to date: 160

10 Comments

  1. Ugottabekiddinme April 20, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Nobody ever mentions that big fat disability check that getting “raped” gets you. Wonder why that is.

  2. Werner A. Rodriguez Dorrscheidt April 17, 2016 at 1:35 am

    There is an initiation in the Navy known as greasing. As a Naval tradition Its part of being a sailor. However in my case it was taken to far and affected me for over 35 years. After the event I continued to experience persecution after trying to convey what happened to my superiors. I became drug dependent to get thru my days. I wished I was dead and tried to kill myself on several occasions. Since, I am actively receiving treatment at the VA and recuperating. I wonder if others have had similar experiences or am I alone?

  3. Jacqueline Rene lopez April 16, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    I so wished that the VA in San Diego had a program
    While I was on active duty in 1991. I was 27 years old when I entered the US Navy as a
    Hospital corpsman. If it wasn’t my fellow shipmates telling me how great I looked in my fatigues it was my supervisors. Chiefs, master chief who I worked for, or lieutenants. I was in charge of the quarter deck while I was awaiting to be medically discharged because two shipmates broke my ankle on purpose. I was made to feel dirty while all the while unbeknownst to these morons I was gay. While working the quarterdeck a senior chief took to
    Liking me and showed up at my front door with a six pack of beer. I never complained. Had I not had a roommate who was a senior chief and my partner at he time I don’t know what I would have done. She made no bones about telling him that coming over uninvited was innapropriate.
    L

  4. Tracy Darnell Henderson April 15, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    I was drugged, raped by predator chief petty officer and 2 of strangers a male and the 2 females my fears, nightmares anger and intrusive thoughts are worst now over 25years later. I need help VA.

  5. chris flores April 15, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    i had this happen to me and i went awol,never to return,still no benefits

  6. Mitchell Dye April 15, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I am a navy veteran who served for 3 years aboard ship. I was 17 years old when I joined and would turn 18 on board my ship. My senior chief was a 18 year veteran and a person I would learn soon was a predator. You see I too was raped made to do do sexual things at his request and became his toy. I have lived in fear about this for so many years now that it’s almost natural to me. I have had 3 failed marriages kids I don’t see and drugs to get me thru my days. I’m alone and scared all the time.

    • Megan Moloney April 15, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      Mitchell, please consider contacting your local VA Vet Center (online at http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp or call 877-WAR-VETS if you’d like to speak with someone.

    • paul brooks April 15, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Mitchell,
      I was raped as well, drank heavily for years and used drugs for escape, too. It was very, very difficult for me to discuss what happened and it took 25+ years to seek therapy. I couldn’t bring myself to open up to another male so the VA selected a female therapist and she was very capable. I grind my teeth and am going through restoration- at my own expense because the VA turns its back on male sexual trauma, and my appeal has been pending over four years! I provide dates, names and there is always some reason to deny my claim. Good luck buddy.

  7. Margaret Davey April 15, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Wonderful insight about being your own therapist, but that program is not for me. I have 2 dogs that depend on me, so I couldn’t do an inpatient program at this time. I also don’t want to relive the event in vague OR specific detail!

    • Sandra Lord April 15, 2016 at 11:52 am

      I’ve been through the program. It’s twelve weeks outpatient therapy. Then a support group for another series of meetings. After that, there’s individual one on one with a therapist. The program ‘fixed’ me. I felt the same way you do before sitting through the orientation. I no longer have horrible nightmares, nor do I wake up screaming.

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