From surviving to thriving

In Insight and Experience, Insight and Self Awareness by Emma Stephens2 Comments

A harrowing story of a young Australian woman being attacked while travelling alone overseas, then choosing to seek harmony rather than revenge. Warning: confronting content.


This article is about an event that happened in 1994, and the learning that came from it. I wrote about it a year later, and published it in LivingNow, but under a pseudonym, because I was a bit scared at the time. I felt too vulnerable, then, to share it as ‘me’. This story is quite intense. Indeed, there are some traumatic events described in it, so you may not wish to read on! And if you need some support after reading, please be in contact; with your friends and/or family, with us at LivingNow, or, if you need to, please seek professional help. There are many good counsellors on the pages of LivingNow, or the number for LifeLine in Australia is 13 11 14.

I cried so hard after it all happened

My whole body was racked with sobs as I stood in the shower, battered, terrified, and shaking to the core. I let the water pour over my head, trying, somehow to wash away the pain and wretchedness that seemed to be all that I was.

My sister had written a little note on one of the pages of my diary, before I had left Australia. As ‘luck’ would have it, it was the exact page I was up to writing on. She’d written, “I wonder where you are now my brave sister?”… I’m in a crumpled, broken heap, on the other side of the world, that’s where.

Playing it safe doesn’t always work

People had been telling me that it was too dangerous to walk by myself to where I was living (a couple of kilometres out of the town centre, where there were hardly any other tourists). So although I had not found it to be a problem, I figured I’d ‘play it safe’, and catch a taxi. I guess, when you’re meant to go through a certain experience, there’s just no way of preventing it.

As they do in Honduras, the packed taxi dropped me at the end of my road, and continued on with its other passengers. It turns out that there was no point to my precaution, because he was waiting for me anyway, there, close to my house.

I felt it immediately, as he moved across the dark road, and sidled up to me. I walked faster, only minutes away from my door. He was very close, and said something to me that I didn’t understand. I started to shake my head, and do the ‘I’m-a-dumb-tourist-and-I-dont-understand’ routine – but with a bit of extra panic. But he lurched towards me, and had me trapped, using his machete as an extension of his arms across my back, pulling me closer and closer. The more I struggled, the more the machete cut into my skin, and scared me into confusion.


He dragged me across the road, muttering drunken Spanish at me. I still somehow thought it wasn’t happening – that I’d be able to get myself out of it, as I had so many other threatening situations before. But as he threw me down into the mud at the side of the dark laneway, with such madness in his eyes, I realised it was very real, and very serious.

I was saying anything I could remember that meant “Go away” or “Don’t hurt me”. But because I was panicking so much, my words were jumbled. He wasn’t listening anyway. He was just grabbing me and drooling over me, squashing me into the weeds, as he started to pull up my top.

I started screaming as loud as I could. Screaming out into the night. Sending my screams into the clouds. Screaming to the sleeping ears of the people that I knew must have been in their beds nearby. But because I was so panic stricken, my screams were in English, not Spanish. And the clouds were the only ones to answer. Their rain seemed to soak through my bones with the terror that was already making its way there.clouds


Then he responded too, and with drunken strength, he grabbed my throat. He started squeezing, cutting my screams off, turning them into a rasping, choking sound as I struggled to get enough air into my lungs to keep breathing. More and more he strangled me, and things started slowing down. Darkness was closing in on me from all sides, as his force slowed the air to my brain.

I remember a sort of sideline of thought; “I wonder if he knows that if he keeps squeezing my throat, I’m going to die?” and, “Oh, this really is the sound people make when they’re being choked – its not just something silly they do in the movies”. Everything was going in slow motion, as he ripped my clothes with the other hand, and started undoing his pants. I struggled to convey that I’d shut up if he’d just stop strangling me. I wasn’t ready to die yet. The air gushed in as he loosened his grip.

Mud and darkness

I lay there in the mud with this borracho loco (crazy drunkard) maniac on top of me, telling me he loved me, and biting my lips, asking me to marry him, and licking my neck. “Mammasita…Mi amor…bessame…mas, mas…” It made my skin crawl, and reinforced the sick, ‘warpedness’ of the whole horrible situation. How could he be so twisted? How was I meant to cope with these scrambled emotions – this lunatic, telling me he loved me, and strangling me to emphasise his point?

I later found that he knew where I lived, and had obviously been watching me for a while. The people had noticed when I’d come out there – the little kids following me to the shops, or someone waving as I hung out my washing – and he must have gotten it into his head that he liked this new ‘chica’, and wanted to have her. I guess people all over the world have problems expressing their needs.

Twisted and warped

It really made it more creepy that he took me to the gate of my house, as if I were his girlfriend or something. I didn’t know how to deal with it all – I was shaking, and hurting, and by this point had started crying profusely, and telling him “No mas…no mas” (no more) between sobs. The whole thing was getting way too drawn out, with him slobbering all over me, and throwing me on the ground to rape me twice more, as he walked/dragged me up the road to my house.

The shock on Bianca’s face (the girl whose house I was sharing) brought me into a new wave of fright and near-hysteria. Also, somehow, a sense of guilt or dirtiness. My tears were coming thick and fast, and I struggled to try and answer the barrage of questions, as caring as they were meant to be, in the state I was in, with my faltering Spanish, and with Bianca’s three children all crowded around, one of them already starting to cry with the emotions he’d picked up from me.


Apparently you’re not supposed to, but I just had to throw myself into the shower. There wasn’t any way I was going to stay in the bedraggled condition I was in – my clothes were ripped to shreds, and I was covered in mud, cuts and bruises. The warmth of the water was my only comfort in this dark, alone, terrifying whirlpool I’d been dragged into. But somehow the comfort made me feel even more lonely, stuck on the other side of the world, so very far from everyone I needed, everyone who loved me. I let my tears pour, hotter than the shower, down my cheeks, unchecked.

First thing in the morning, we went to the police station. Every few minutes I thought I saw him. Everyone looked like they were leering at me. I felt nervous to be more than a step away from Bianca. I was shaking. Scared.

Don’t know if you know much about the legal systems in Central America. But for me, they didn’t prove to be very helpful that day. “Que typo de problema tienes?” Didn’t anyone there speak English? Wouldn’t anybody help? The dark bruises on my throat, and the cut across my back, along with my torn clothes that I’d brought in with me appeared to have some effect. They told us to come back later, and bring someone with me who could interpret. We left. I was still shaking. I went to find a doctor.

In torment

So many conflicting thoughts and emotions. I couldn’t believe it, but I felt a creeping, awful sense of guilt, and fault, trying to rear its ugly head. Even though I knew full well that there was nothing else I could have done. (It certainly made me want to take up a martial arts course the second that I got home, though.) When some guy off-handedly said, “You shouldn’t have been walking around that late”, however, I remembered very quickly that it’s easy, somehow, to put the blame onto the victim. I wasn’t going to let that happen – preferably not by those around me, and definitely not by myself.

Everyone had views on how I should handle it. Most of it was aggressive, and vindictive, talking about how I could ‘get’ him, and how terrible it all was.

Yeah, it was terrible, and vicious, and devastating. And it gave me a feeling that there had already been too much horror, and I wanted to leave. While it certainly may not be the best way for anyone else to deal with a situation like this, I really felt that the best thing for me to do, for me to retain my sanity, would be to pack up my things and go. Just get out of there, and remove myself from this awful chain of events. To continue at all – to get involved in catching him, identifying him, and putting him into the shonky system there, where they get smacks on the hand for being bad for the tourist business. Well basically, I just didn’t want it to be any more a part of my life than it already was. So I left.


I knew some people, vaguely, in Guatemala, so not knowing what else to do, I retreated there. On the long bus ride, I had a lot of think-time. My whole body was shaking with a big mixture of fear, adrenalin and the range of drugs and antibiotics the doctor had prescribed. I was in a big mess. Should I get on a plane and go home? Should I call up my family? What on earth would I say to them? Over such a long distance, how could I explain what had happened, and that I was okay? Was I okay??

Crucial connections

Again, as ‘luck’ would have it (actually, I don’t believe in luck, myself), just as I was deciding that I really couldn’t cope, had to quit, and go home, I met a girl from Seattle in the cafe where I’d been working previously, and had now returned to. Instantly we got along, and understood each other wonderfully. It was so good to find someone who felt like a friend amidst all the chaos. We talked for ages, and she told me of a festival that she was on her way to… It sounded just perfect.

A fax I received from my father, after I’d told my family what happened, is still one of my favourite letters. “I want you to know that we are sending our loving thoughts and energy to you with all the focus and energy and power that we can summon. Do give yourself time to sense and absorb our love for you, as well as feeling nurtured by the ‘Rainbow Gathering’, which sounds like a healing place to be. With love from Dad.” I was deeply grateful to have the support of such a loving family even though they were so far away. I felt it soothing me long-distance.


The gathering was just perfect. We were camping beside one of the huge volcanoes that bordered picturesque Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. “I’m sitting in the morning sun, with the majestic lake to my left, stretching out to the mountains beyond, and to my right, a domestic scene of people preparing food round the fire, and gently conversing, like the masculine and feminine sides of me – the vast, deep, ever-nurturing water, and the day-to-day workings of living. Sitting behind me there is a beautiful friend, and in front, the sun. I am my own medicine wheel.” There seemed to be a peace, and a balance in life again.

Lago Atitlan. Photo by John Cameron Unsplash

Lago Atitlan. Photo by John Cameron, Unsplash

Getting in touch with nature was the best thing I could have done. It soothed my frayed nerves and calmed my heart. The softness and beauty around me. The magic of the stars above me as I slept. The glory of the dawn’s colours wrapping around the volcanoes, and stretching through the cornfields. The sensuality of dancing under the full moon with all these wonderful new friends I’d made, all of us connecting with each other, and with nature and sharing the bliss of being alive and together in this incredible world. This all told me it was okay again. I found myself being able to centre myself and breathe in life, instead of being too scared to.


“I’d kill him if I could”, my boyfriend in Australia said when I told him what had happened. “I’d search everywhere till I found him; and I’d kill him! How could he do this to you?”. Other people had expressed similar sentiments, too. Somehow, although I’m not happy that it happened, I don’t feel I have a need for revenge. I see it more like an event that had to happen for my life-path to unfold somehow, and he just had to play out this part in it. I guess I’m just seeing it as all part of the bigger picture.

It’s almost a year since these events took place, and aside from a slight phobia-type feeling if someone puts their hands around my throat, things feel basically gentle inside. I wanted to share this part of my life with you, in order to show that, although strange, distressing things can happen to people, they can be seen as just part of a learning process, and don’t have to be so overwhelming as to destroy the rest of your life. Although it may have wrecked the time when it happened, it doesn’t have to continue to wreck my life now. I believe that although we don’t always seem to have complete choice over the actions that happen (although I feel that somewhere we orchestrate those decisions too), we certainly have choices about the reactions we make to those situations.

I’ve decided to keep living with love in my heart, and gentleness in my soul.


About the author

Emma Stephens


Emma is passionate about people being able to make conscious, compassionate choices. Her aim is for the thrivability* of us all on this beautiful planet, and for clear communication and juicy connection! She is the editor of LivingNow Media. *Even better than simply "sustainability"; that we are able to move beyond sustaining to being able to THRIVE!

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  1. Courageously told and beautifully expressed, Emma.
    You didn’t allow this experience to break you; instead, you allowed it to break you open, so even more love and light could enter your life.
    The actions of a Peaceful Warrior.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Lauren! 😊
      Part of why I wanted to share it was because I know that SO many people have had traumatic experiences – we’re hearing about so much of it with the #metoo movement as well – and I wanted to show that there are ways of bringing more light into the world, in our interactions and in our hearts 💖 Thanks for reading, and for your feedback!

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