Once a Victim, Now a Victor

BY: NIKKI MICHELLE CHARNSTROM

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I don’t feel someone is born empathetic. It’s a trait one must come to gain through experiences — good and bad. Although no one can fully understand every situation in life, it is possible to find the heart to show someone compassion. It comes down to the truth that every person on this planet is going through something at all times. This makes it so important to be gracious and kind to those you love and those you hardly know.

When I was a teenager, I was straight up selfish. I’ll admit it — and while I’m not proud of it, I’m just so glad it was a phase. Had I not gone through my own seasons of pain, heartbreak and loneliness, I probably would have never grew out of it. You see, empathy is not given — it’s earned. It finds its way into your innermost being after your soul has gone through hell and back. Being empathetic is learned and very much a choice. It’s a crown you have every opportunity to wear, but will you?

Roughly three years ago, I faced one of the darkest times of my life. I was finishing up college in a beautiful mountain town just two hours from home. I flourished here. I found out a lot about myself I hadn’t known before and I felt so strong, so independent. Then, one night, everything changed.

I am struggling to tell you this because this is a story I have never told publicly — and most definitely never in writing in such detail. But, Crowned Chics is a place for honesty and I promise to always communicate with you in a real way. OK, here it goes…

Fall semester was coming to a close and finals were the following week. After much studying and hard work, I joined a couple friends downtown for a drink. It was late and the place was packed — and so dark. We stood at the bar, waiting to order. I remember a taller man, in a long sleeve shirt to my right. He was strangely wiping the counter with a rag and hollering at the bartender as if they knew each other. So, instinctually I thought, “Oh, maybe he works here.”

He was getting uncomfortably close to me and (if I’m remembering right) he mumbles a few words in my direction. The bartender finishes making my drink and places it on the counter. I glance down at my purse and pull out my wallet to pay. All is well and we take a step back, sip from our glasses, and chat. It wasn’t until we left that I began to feel incredibly dizzy and sick. I was confused because I knew I didn’t drink enough to be experiencing these symptoms. Some time passes and the last thing I remember is following my friends down the sidewalk.

The next day was incredibly rough and even though I didn’t know it yet, worse ones awaited me in the future. Nothing seemed to add up and I was left feeling confused. I’ve never blacked out in my life, so why now? Only one solution seemed to make sense — that strange man slipped something into my drink when I looked down to grab my wallet. While I don’t remember everything that happened that night, I can reassure you I was safe and taken care of.

Over the next couple of days, I found mysterious bruises from falling and my anxieties only heightened. I couldn’t drive by that place without physically shaking. I felt damaged, violated and in danger. Every man I saw wearing a long sleeve shirt would cause me to turn the other direction. That strength and independence I was telling you about earlier — well, it was stolen out from under me. I was a weak, emotional, fearful mess.

I’m sharing this with you because this experience put a very big jewel in my crown of empathy and I would consider it to be one of my greatest victories. During the healing process, I openly shared my thoughts and emotions with a counselor every week for six months. She was loving, patient and incredibly understanding. She didn’t belittle my trauma or shrug it off. She genuinely knew how I felt and in turn, I learned how to express that same empathy to others going through a difficult time.

I had never been SO lonely in my life than in this season. Some of my friends knew what happened but, at times, I felt as if they didn’t truly understand. I remember expressing my feelings with an open, hurting heart only to receive apologies and even excuses for the events that took place. That wasn’t what I was looking for — I needed someone to come alongside me and walk through this with me. Time and time again of revealing my struggle to only have it belittled led me to stop talking about it and shut myself out. If it wasn’t for my counselor, who knows where I’d be today.

While I know God didn’t play a part in the act, He very much was there holding me in my hurt. If anything, while I very much would have liked to avoid this whole disaster, it made me a much stronger woman. I look back at this time in my life and yes, while it completely broke my soul, it gave way to my breakthrough, my victory. 

Just last weekend, I was visiting my college town. When I walked by that bar, something felt different. Of course, I’ve been past there since but this time I carried myself a bit taller and I wasn’t afraid to look inside. I remember with every step across the brick sidewalk, I was stomping out every last bit of pain that place inflicted on me. I looked at it without flinching and thought, “You no longer have power over me.”

Even after all of this time, some three years later, I don’t know if I truly believed in my victory until this moment. As tears well up in my eyes at these words, I am so incredibly proud of myself for facing the fear and the hurt — rather than allowing it to take me as its victim.

For those of you in the midst of your struggle, please know I understand. You might feel alone, but someone out there has been where you’re at. Your struggle might not look like mine did but I promise I would never belittle your hurt. Your pain has weight and no one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t feel. It’s OK to feel broken and damaged. It’s OK to cry yourself to sleep. I did for many (sleepless) nights during my healing — and look, I’m doing just fine now. Just because someone might not understand your hurt, you are not wrong for feeling it.

Your victory is coming, my friend. In order to get there you must continue to work for it. You must equip yourself with the tools to come out on top. For me that was seeing a counselor and not feeling “ill” or “abnormal” for it. You know what will help you along your path to victory — don’t be afraid to utilize it.

Let me leave you with one thing — victory isn’t overnight or easy, it takes patience and allowing yourself moments to be weak. Show yourself grace, this journey is hard enough on you already.


Nikki is the owner and founder of Crowned Chics. She lives in the warm desert of Phoenix, Arizona with her beloved family. If she's not ferociously clanking away on her typewriter, she's behind the camera capturing moments for her business Charnstrom Captures Photography.