By Nicole Marie Hilton, December 23, 2019
As the dark side abuses its victims, it also teaches them to harm and abuse themselves. It then rewards self-harm with mockery and shaming. At a certain point a perpetrator is no longer required, because the victim will perpetuate the abuse cycle with self-harm.
In January 2009, at age 20, my feet were set—albeit unsteadily and with the assistance of a walker—upon the path to the Tree of Life.
I had been, figuratively, learning the hard lessons of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil since I was a toddler. However, I had desperately wanted with my entire being to partake of the other tree–the tree representing the Love of God. I had wanted this ever since I had listened to or read about Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life while reading the Book of Mormon growing up. But, with so much programming I was not aware of (deep seated and false beliefs inside of me resulting from spiritual and physical abuse) there were walls built up between God and me. Because of these obstacles there were times when it was not humanly possible for me to feel God’s love without a miraculous intervention of some kind.
In Seeker Catches the Snitch, I wrote about how God finds creative ways to reach us in our deepest despair. In His great wisdom and compassion He also has a way of turning our failures and injuries into strengths. God saw his chance with me and took it after what happened one night at a friend’s birthday party. You see, the very programming intended to separate me from Him was about to bring me to Him.
Satan was about to make a very big mistake.
* * *
Jump! Jump! the voice inside of me said.
“Nicole, I wouldn’t jump if I were you…” said Josh*, my husband of one year, twelve feet down on the ground below me.
He was standing there in the commons area of Glenwood—the singles apartment building complex I used to live in before Josh and I had gotten married. We were back for a friend’s birthday party. The commons area was cozy, filled with rustic stonework, leather couches, a fireplace, and antler chandeliers. There were various balloons and presents tied to chairs along the walls, as well as a cake, sitting forgotten, off to the right on a table.
I was standing high above the scene, on the other side of a wrought-iron railing (which I had climbed over), which circled the pool-table loft high above the commons area. There was a giant bean bag down below. Josh was standing next to it, a look of consternation on his face. There were about ten other people looking up at me, mixtures of alarm, dismay, and boredom across their faces.
I laughed. “Oh come on! It’ll be fun!” I said.
My heart beat faster and faster. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. A still small voice inside of me whispered, Don’t jump, Nicole. This isn’t what honoring your body looks like. This won’t be freeing. Don’t do this.
But something else violently smashed those words aside. JUMP! THINK OF THE THRILL OF IT! YOU WANT TO DO THIS! The words screamed in my head. I thought, I have no choice, while at the same time thinking, I’m free to fly.
And I jumped.
For a brief moment, I felt weightless. My hair flew up around my head and I felt high as a kite. But then my heart twisted in my chest as time seemed to speed up. The floor rushed to meet me, and the collective weight of all the burden I’d been carrying slammed me into the ground with more force than I was prepared for.
My spine jarred up to my skull and back down to my tailbone. The shockwave burst the discs and shattered the bone at L1 and T12 of my lower back, sending shards of bone into my spinal cord. The vertebrae smashed together like compressed cans. As the lumbar part of my spine collapsed, I not only felt it—felt everything—but I heard the bones crunch inside of me like they were being ground in a stone mill.
I instantly rolled over onto my stomach from the center of the bean bag—which had had no stuffing in it whatsoever—and I went white as a sheet. I started shaking, and I felt like I was going to throw up. Beads of cold sweat gathered on my brow. Waves of pain and nausea flooded through me, up and down, up and down. I had never felt so much agony in my entire existence.
Josh said, “Come on, Nicole. Get up…”
Josh paused. I couldn’t think straight. Yet, I could sense that he knew something was grievously wrong. But I could also sense he was in denial.
“Nicole…please get up!”
We should have called an ambulance. But all I could think was, I can’t ruin so-and-so’s birthday party. I’m so ashamed. Look what you’ve done!
Josh tried to pick me up, eventually getting his arm under my left side. The shard in my spinal chord was still sharp and arrow-like in my spinal column. I didn’t know it, but at any moment, I could have lost the ability to walk. Forever.
But that didn’t matter. I needed to get out of there.
Josh halfway carried me to the back door of the commons area. My left leg wouldn’t work properly. I was only half-aware of all of the people gathering around, murmuring. My friend was very concerned. I mumbled something about calling her later. The pain was so excruciating I was about to burst…but the embarrassment was even more so.
Josh opened the door, and we awkwardly stumbled down the back steps, through the slush and the snow, then towards the car in the parking lot. Josh opened the door, and as soon as he shut it, I let out what I had been holding in.
Josh jumped and turned around in shock. I was screaming so long and so loud my vocal cords were about to be ripped apart. The pain was so exquisite that I was sure I was about to die. I thought I knew exactly what Isaiah had gone through when he had been sawn in half. I was being sawn in half!
My husband ran around the car and jumped in, starting it up as quickly as he could.
I kept on screaming and screaming. I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to—the screaming was an entity outside of myself now. Everything was muted. Another part of myself was faintly aware of being detached from my lower body, like one of those women with the curled hair and lipstick up on the stage, wearing fishnet tights, smiling as the magician does his dirty work.
I thought, How is she smiling? HOW IS SHE SMILING?
Josh yelled, “Where do we go?! WHERE DO WE GO!?”
“THE BYU CLINIC!” I screamed in my delirium.
We sped up the road to the clinic, even though the Provo hospital was right around the corner. Each bump in the road was agony. My body had become a torture device I couldn’t escape from no matter how much I cried out for mercy.
Once we got to the clinic, Josh got me out of the car and halfway carried me to the door. I was still shrieking hysterically. It was locked. He put me back in the car.
Every bump made me yell as if everything was breaking all over again. Josh didn’t know whether to drive like a maniac or drive 15 miles per hour.
“GO! NOOOOO, STOP! GOOOO!”
“I don’t know what to do! Oh God, help!”
We got a little ways down the road until we were almost back to Glenwood, when Josh pulled over right before the intersection of University Parkway and University Avenue. He opened the door and got out into the snow.
Delirious with pain, I gripped where the seat belt connects to the wall of the car and hung on for dear life. I was blinking through hot tears as they tracked down my clammy skin, and my throat was ragged. I couldn’t scream anymore. I concentrated on the vapor my breath made in the cold air. Each pressured exhalation sent waves of fire up and down my spine. And not only my spine, but my arms and legs as well…the fire even went up into my eye sockets.
The agony was not letting up…I tried to concentrate and think of what happens to people who go through serious trauma. First, they go into shock, right? And while they are in shock, the pain is muted because of the body’s response, right? Trying to think through the pain, I racked my brain for anything to give myself a measure of comfort. But my arms trembled as I clung to the seatbelt, and I realized with horror…if the pain is initially muted, that means…this is about to get even worse.
But I was at the absolute limit of what a human being can suffer without dying. How can it get worse?
Pretty soon there were ambulance lights all around our car. I heard Josh lose it at the back of the car—he started sobbing and became hysterical.
“It’s my wife! I don’t know what’s wrong with her! Oh please—please help!”
Some medics came around to my side of the car and opened the door.
They asked me questions about body positioning and everything became a blur of pain as they tried to get my body onto a gurney. I started to scream in pain again at several moments but all that came out were hoarse, sorry yelps.
Eventually, with about 8 different medics helping, they got me out of the car and onto the gurney into a position that caused the least amount of suffering. This position was a weird contortion of limbs, half on my side and half on my back, I would have not been able to hold in any yoga class for longer than 10 seconds. I was in so much agony, however, that I held the position for more than 15 minutes. (It’s amazing what the fear of more suffering can drive you to do.) After the ambulance ride was done, my muscles were screaming—but that pain was nothing—nothing—compared to the more serious pain I was going through.
Hell, I could have delivered octuplets with no drugs, no problem right then. I could have forced myself to run a sub three-hour marathon with no training. I could have done anything the human body could be pressed to be capable of—anything—if it meant an escape from the agony of what I was suffering.
When they ask you in the doctor’s office, or in the ER, what’s your level of pain, 1-10? Go ahead and tell them anything in that range. I won’t judge you. But leave level 11, for the realm of pain I’m talking about here.
Level 11 pain is literally searching for a blunt object to knock yourself out with in order to escape the pain type of pain.
And that’s exactly the level of pain I had reached when he walked in through the door.
They had wheeled me into a room that was far too cheerful for the situation I was in. I remember looking at the cheery giraffe and zebra painted on the walls and devoting a single shard of one of my personalities towards hating them!
My left arm was the only arm that was working relatively well, and I devoted all my energies to finding said blunt object.
I know doctors have shiny, heavy metal objects in rooms like this! They’ve got to! I kept on searching and crying, searching and crying, even when everything within arm’s length proved to be disappointingly fabric-like or attached to the bed I was on.
I couldn’t stop thinking, Where is the doctor?! Where are the nurses? Where is the pain medication? CAN’T THEY SEE I’M DYING?!
As if in answer to my questions, a young man with brown hair walked—no, sauntered—in through the door. I whimpered. Was this man going to help me?
He was in civilian clothes and needed a shave. He stood at the foot of my bed. “Hello, Nicole…”
I could barely look at him or think, who is this guy?
He fingered the fabric near my toes. “What a scrap you’ve gotten yourself into, huh?”
He walked closer to the head of my bed, tracing the metal bar with his left fingers. I cried out as another wave of pain—the biggest yet—racked my entire body. I felt like I was on fire.
He got to the head of my bed and stopped. I noticed that his eyes were a murky brown as he leaned dangerously close over me. He breathed on me as he let out a short inaudible laugh. Then he said, “The doctors and nurses aren’t coming for you. You see…” he glanced around towards the door, through to where the bustling ER was. Seeing all was clear, he leaned in closer than ever—his face inches away from mine, and said quietly, “they don’t actually care about your case. Accidents like yours…well…so avoidable. You know? I mean, what kind of an idiot do you have to be? To jump off of a loft onto a beanbag? For FUN? What?! Did you think you could fly for a little moment there, birdie? Hmmm?”
Then he grinned, taunting me, and I saw a glint behind his eyes that scared me.
He straightened up. I thought he was going to ruffle the top of my head with his hand, but then he glanced over his shoulder and I could see he thought better of it. He looked back at me once more and grinned again, then turned and left, dodging around a squat nurse who came in through the door.
She came to my side, glancing behind her at his back, then looked at me with a question in her eyes. I was too delirious to try to make sense of what had just happened. Before the nurse could ask anything about him, I started crying, “give me morphine! Please! Where’s the doctor?”
*name has been changed