Saturday, January 31, 2009
Life for someone who has been sexually abused often resembles living in a storm. Things might feel out of control, hopeless, chaotic, never-ending, devastating and completely messy. Many struggle with depression, a drive to prove ourselves or earn someone's approval, or a need to be in control of all things. You may be feeling inappropriately guilty or ashamed. And some survivors feel absolutely nothing at all.
This lesson begins with one of the book's authors sharing part of her story. Here is what Cindy Kubetin writes: (Make note of any words or phrases that describe your experience too. Is there any part of Cindy's story that you would like to have in your life?)
"From personal experience, I know that healing from sexual abuse is possible. The process may be slow and will include pain, setbacks and frustrations. The awesome power of God is available to overcome these obstacles. Isaiah 57:18 describes how God restores, heals and gives comfort. Many years elapsed before I felt the comfort or received the wholeness, however. As a very young child, I began to isolate myself from others because of sexual abuse from someone I loved and believed was there for me. My memory is too sketchy for me to be sure of the extent of the abuse prior to age seven. I don't know if more than one person abused me in those early years. I do know that at least ten people had sexually abused me by the time I reached adulthood.
"To fix vividly in my mind that I had been a victim took many years. Somehow the abuses just seemed like something that happened to me. I felt devastated when I actually recognized that I had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse. I felt more shame than ever. My flashbacks became more frequent, and I felt despicable and worthless. As God's restorative power began to take hold of me, however, I not only saw myself as a victim but I began to see that to become a survivor was possible. I even began to feel a joy in having survived so much. I saw more positive things about myself than I ever had, and even learned to risk myself a little more. I liked this stage, but there was still too much pain inside, too much anxiety and fear. Also, I continued making grave mistakes in my life. It seemed so obvious that I didn't have it together yet!
"By this time, I had begun to seek God in my life. I wanted the mental torment to stop, not just for a day, but for a lifetime. But when I read the Bible's wonderful promises, I was sure that they applied to someone else; surely this book couldn't have been written to help me. I couldn't yet see the Bible as a resource for me. I hadn't begun to understand the way of Jesus - that He wanted me to have good things in life, not just bad things. I didn't understand that God wanted to redeem my life. But I kept reading, and for me Psalm 103:4-5 explained the Lord's way quite well. As I read these words my heart pounded with hope. A real and personal God was still difficult to believe, but I knew that even a little faith was better than none."
"I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him." Isaiah 57:18
"Who redeems your life from the pit; who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle." Psalm 103:4-5
Spend some time reflecting on this part of Cindy's story and answer the questions posed earlier.
As we more forward on our recovery journey, it is important to understand what sexual abuse is. Many people think that sexual abuse is limited to intercourse, but there are many other behaviors that can result in the same damage to the victim.
Any sexual activity carried out in an inappropriate context is abusive. A complete definition of sexual abuse would be as broad as the range of human activity. But, with a narrow definition, both victims and perpetrators tend to minimize the harmful results or even deny that sexual abuse has occurred. Therefore, we will define sexual abuse as any sexual activity - verbal, visual or physical - engaged in without consent, which may be emotionally or physically harmful and which exploits a person in order to meet another person's sexual or emotional needs. The person does not consent if he or she cannot reasonably choose to consent or refuse because of age, circumstances, level of understanding, and dependency or relationship to the offender.
During unit 2 we will discuss some different types of abuse, we will go into detail about the many ways sexual abuse can impact our lives, and we will close with the affirmation that restoration is possible.
This week's memory verse is from Psalm 103:5 (NASB), "Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle." The NLT puts it this way, "He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle's." I've said before that I am not a Bible scholar, but when I reflect on this scripture I believe it's telling me that God wants to replace the junk with his good stuff ... he wants to replace my pain with His peace, and my sorrow with His joy, and my hopelessness with His expectation and wonder. He wants to mend my broken wing so that I might fly again like the eagle.
The work we will do this week will affirm for you that you were, in fact, sexually abused. When we discuss the "symptoms" of abuse, you will clearly see that you are not alone and will see just how deeply impacted you have been by sexual abuse. In recognizing that, it is my hope that you will also see every reason to recover and not allow the abuse to control your life.
I love so much what one survivor recently told me... "I have been recovering from sexual abuse for over 30 years. Some days are still really hard, but it doesn't ruin my life anymore." I want that for all of us - that it won't ruin our lives anymore.
Friday, January 30, 2009
For many, the most difficult part of recovery will be to rely on others. During the countless discussions I've had with other survivors, I've learned that most of us keep ourselves busy helping and serving others. (Sound familiar?) As long as we are serving others, we are in control and our focus is on their problems and not our own. But it is time to deal with our problems and choose a lighter load. It's difficult to open ourselves up to needing and accepting others' help, but it is necessary to fully recover.
We can find shelter from this storm through family, friends, our spouse and God. What we must acknowledge is that our sexual abuse is not just our problem. It effects everyone around us and we can all choose to recover.
What do you need from your support people?
Support, acceptance, love, time, understanding, interest, forgiveness, help, belief, prayers, encouragement, hope, honor, trust, validation, loyalty, concern, physical affection, priority, care, a listening ear, someone who will talk about it, a shoulder to cry on? Create your list!
Do you have people in your life who are already doing these things? If you do, these may be very good sources of support as you take this recovery journey. Reach out to them, explain what you need from them, and accept their love and support as you begin your journey.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
My first marriage should have worked. He and I were both very nice people and had the same values and life goals. We got along very well. In fact, we never had an argument. We were, however, very young (I had just turned 21) and I was hurting more than I was willing to admit - more than I even realized. I'd told him about my childhood abuse when we were dating; however, I shrugged it off as much as possible and pretended to be just fine. On the occasions where I did show some emotion about it, I never told him how deeply those feelings ran.
It didn't start off this way though... Early in the relationship, he was someone I could be honest and open with. But then.. Shortly before he asked me to marry him, there was an incident at home where my mom's 4th husband had become physically and verbally abusive with me. As all this chaos was going on in the background, I called my soon-to-be-fiance. I was sobbing and my mom and her husband were yelling at me, saying awful things and calling me horrible names. He (my ex-husband) came to pick me up 30 minutes later and I never went back. He was supportive and compassionate with regard to the physical maltreatment, but it wasn't long before he was encouraging me to cut my mom some slack and allow her to have a "normal" relationship with me. (By "normal" he meant trips to the mall, dinners at their house, mother/daughter phone calls, etc.) There were so many things wrong with the way my mom treated me and allowed her husbands to treat me, that I just knew there was no way to have "normal" under the circumstances. I tried to explain that my mother's neglect and selfishness were the reasons that the sexual abuse from husband #3 and the verbal & physical abuse from #4 lasted as long as they did. But my ex-husband couldn't grasp my idea that not all moms are created equal. In my case, my mother was abusive and I deserved protection from her. He thought she deserved a relationship with me, regardless. This is when my walls started coming up and I stopped being honest with him about how much I hurt.
As we've read throughout unit 1, many times people do not know what to say or do to help people who have been sexually abused - especially when one is abused by a family member. My ex-husband was a young man who came from a wonderful family in a delightful midwestern small town. Things like this were unheard of - which means it happened in secret and no one talked about it. It was practically taboo for him to talk about sexual abuse, so it stands to reason that he would be ill prepared to help me recover from it.
When I felt like he was "on my parents' side", I felt betrayed and all alone. I completely stopped talking to him about anything I needed. We moved to the east coast a few months after we were married, and distance from home was a good thing for me. I was relieved to be far from the chaos and strained relationships; however, I'd brought all the baggage with me. Birthdays and holidays were the hardest, but I barely let on to my ex-husband that anything was wrong. He could tell that something was "off", but I think he figured time would heal it. When he didn't reach out to me, I didn't bother reaching out to him. That's when I began having difficulty with fidelity - I was looking for affirmation from other men. I needed someone to find me interesting, attractive, appealing. My ex-husband worked hard and was pursuing a career as a professional athlete, so he didn't have a lot of time for me. That hurt my feelings, driving me further away. But I didn't say much. Occasionally I would tell him that we weren't as close as I wished we were... But, by the time we were in marriage counseling, I was already pretty checked-out of the marriage and really had no intention of checking back in.
As I look back on this failed relationship, I have many regrets. He is truly a very nice guy and I believe he was willing to listen, if only I would have talked. I believe he would have been open to understanding where I was coming from, if only I'd have had the courage to be vulnerable with him. I know now that he was just inexperienced, not insensitive.
When I say I have regrets, I absolutely do not mean that I regret where I am today. I DO NOT. But, I regret how I acted in the first marriage, how I hurt my ex-husband and our families and friends; how I dragged that baggage with me and let it consume my life for so many years. I deeply regret how I hurt others, all because I was wounded and was choosing not to deal with it.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Now for lesson 4...
The purpose of this unit is to not only help you, the survivor, but also to help your support people be as effective as possible. By the time many survivors have reached maturity, they have been re-victimized many times. And, sadly, many of us have abused others - at least by being overly angry. Accordingly, the most precious gift this study can give is to impart truth to all readers - truth that would produce life for everyone.
What not to say
The list below contains "the don'ts." The statements in this list are all words that family, close friends, or well-meaning Christians might say to a sexual abuse survivor. These words and phrases are not helpful. Sometimes people make these statements because they have absolutely no understanding of sexual abuse issues. Other times the speaker may be mentally exhausted with the survivor or the recovery process. Still other people simply may not wish to deal with this difficult situation.
- "Why are you making such a big deal of this? You were very young at the time it happened."
- "What did you do to make this happen?"
- "Why didn't you stop it?"
- "You're the problem. You're just using this as an excuse to get your way."
- "You mean you didn't tell anybody when it happened? So why tell now?"
- "Why can't you just forget it?"
- "You should just forgive and forget. God won't be there for you unless you forgive."
- "I don't believe you were ever abused."
- "What is past is past. Let's just not bring it up again."
- "Just pray about it. God will take care of it."
- "Why can't you just hurry up and get over this?"
- "I'm so sick of hearing about your needs. What about my needs?"
- "You are just feeling sorry for yourself."
- "Can't you just let it go? Nothing is happening to you now."
- "It is a sin to think about this. God says to focus on what is good."
- "The Bible says to forget the past and to press on to the future."
For me - the most frequent statement was that I needed to just get over it. The abusers were my parents. So many times people would say something like, "They made mistakes, but they are still your parents and deserve a relationship with you. No matter how they treat you or how it makes you feel, you should suck it up and spend time with them. It breaks their hearts that you won't." During my first pregnancy, I had a big baby shower hosted by a couple of friends. One other friend in attendance said, "Your mom may not love you, but this is a baby! Surly she loves this baby enough to be here. You should have invited your mom." Needless to say, I was in shock when my friend said that. Statements like these leave me feeling abandoned and betrayed by the family member or friend who has said it. I definitely feel like they are on my abuser's side and have turned their back on me - the innocent.
In addition to these frequent remarks above, there was one other statement that was very difficult for me to overcome. Not necessarily because I believed what this man said, but because I trusted him... In a counseling session with my mom, my sister and me, our church pastor told my mother that it was a sin for her to divorce my abuser, no matter what I said he'd done. He said that my mother should run (not walk) back into his arms and remarry him immediately. Marriage was forever, and my abuser and I just needed to resolve whatever issues we had. If only it were that easy... I'd admired this man since I was a little girl and looked to him for spiritual guidance. In my heart I believed he was wrong, but I was crushed that he would turn his back on me and recommend that I be returned to a home where my abuser was allowed to do whatever he wanted to me. All in the name of sacred marriage. What about those sacred and innocent children?
While we cannot fully understand or control others' reactions, we can learn more effective and appropriate ways to respond to their statements. Read the above "don't" statements again and select the two that trouble you the most. Now, write an appropriate response to those two statements.
For me - an appropriate reponse to, "Can't you just move on?" would be, "I cannot forget the past, but God is teaching me a lot and helping me to put it to rest as I learn from it. A reconciliation may or may not be possible, but I know that God has brought me to a place where bitterness, anger and rage are no longer controlling how I feel about them."
As for that pastor, I believe that the truth is this - "God designed marriage to be sacred and forever, but when a parent violates a child the way my step-father violated me, a mother has to take the steps necessary to protect her children. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus says, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' Jesus was talking to PARENTS and DISCIPLES. Do you think that molesting your children does not hinder them from coming to Jesus?"
Whatever the reason people have for making these "don't" statements, we must recognize the statements for what they are: statements that bring darkness - a kind of death - to you and to other survivors. In time, you will be ready to leave the past, but premature advice to forgive and forget can be very destructive. All too often people make these statements when they first learn about the abuse or during the difficult days of the healing process.
Most people do not understand that they are hurting you with their "helpful" advice and comments. They think they are helping. The scars of sexual abuse are deep and emotionally painful. Others cannot know you hurt unless you tell them. Choose your support people carefully and be honest with them. Continue to think about your list of supportive people and be ready to name them as we wrap up lesson 5 tomorrow.
I'm glad you're here and look forward to sharing more as we journey this together. Praying for you.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Recovery from the effects of sexual abuse does not follow a precise path. While other survivors you know might find peace in areas where you are still having difficulty, bear in mind that this is YOUR journey and you have to process through it at your pace. As you advance in your recovery, be assured that God will equip you with the ability to handle whatever comes your way. Recovery is an ongoing process.
The following list describes a person who has worked through and recovered from sexual abuse. As you read through the list, think about where you are at. Be honest with yourself, but also be patient as you work toward the goals that are the most difficult for you.
- I am willing to face the abuse and acknowledge the hurt and pain.
- I understand that the abuse was a violation.
- I have an increased awareness of my value and worth.
- I can list significant others that I can trust.
- I can share thoughts and feelings about the abuse with others if I choose to do so.
- I recognize relationship tendencies that avoid honesty and intimacy.
- I am overcoming feelings of shame and false guilt.
- I recognize that I was a victim even though I may have experienced physical arousal during the abuse.
You may be thinking that some of these things are impossible. As a person who was once in your shoes, let me assure that they are not. If you are willing to hang in there and keep forging ahead with this process, you will find more freedom and fulfillment than you could ever have imagined.
I want you to ponder these indications of recovery and apply them to yourself; therefore, I'm not going to relate any of them back to my own experience just yet. If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I will reply.
Good night for now. God bless!
Monday, January 26, 2009
Support people are really a big part of one's recovery, but it can be very difficult to bring yourself to a place where you are comfortable asking for someone else's help or being vulnerable with your feelings. You might even be faced with telling someone for the very first time that you were sexually abused. Almost everyone who goes through recovery is reluctant at first to reach out to others, but your support system will largely determine the success of your recovery. You need support. You are worthy of support.
Just today I had a nice talk with a girl friend. Four and a half years ago I'd told her about my abusive childhood. She told me today that she had no idea what to say or what to do with the information at the time, so she felt like she did nothing... I remember the day that we were together and I remember parts of our conversation that day, but I actually didn't remember telling her anything about my childhood. Her reaction (or lack of a reaction) didn't register with me, but it stuck with her. As I've thought about this over the last ten hours, it occurred to me that I was just beginning to talk openly with others about my childhood about the time that I told her. Just telling her was what I needed. I didn't need a response or any solutions, I just needed someone to tell who wouldn't treat me differently after. And that is what I got. Even without a significant response on her part, just the acceptance and a listening ear was healing. This, my friends, is part of a support system.
As you begin to reach out to others, it is important to think wisely about who you will talk with and what you will share. Most people will not automatically know what to say or what to do, so providing them with some do's and don'ts can be very helpful. People who genuinely mean well may say and do some painful and damaging things because they do not understand. We have all opened our mouth and inserted our foot at one time or another.
As you tell family and friends, be prepared for them to respond in any number of ways. They may be angry, sad, hurt or afraid. They might be confused. If the rule in their house was to avoid talking about painful events, their reaction might be to turn off their feelings. They may pull away because they don't know what to say or do. However they respond, try not to accept responsibility for their reactions. And don't take their reaction personally. They might also attempt to smother you with concern and care. We must remember that this recovery journey is ours. Our supporters will help us, but they cannot take this journey for us.
People commonly respond to sexual abuse with silence and secrecy; however, telling your story is an important part of the recovery process!
Guidelines for selecting supportive people:
- Pray for God's wisdom as you choose a supportive person.
- Choose a person unrelated but sympathetic to the situation surrounding your abuse. You may want to consider someone who has been in recovery for a year or more, a professional counselor, a pastor, or lay caregiver.
- If you tell a family member do not blame them for not helping sooner.
- Determine how much of your story you want to tell. You might want to try writing an outline ahead of time. Remember that you do not have ot tell anything you do not want to tell.
- Pray for the person you will enlist for support.
As you think and pray about who the support people are in your life, remember what the Lord says, "I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through their iron bars. And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth in secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name." Isaiah 45:2-3
He has placed someone in your life that can be trusted to love on you through this recovery process. He knows where you are headed and exactly what you will need once you get there. He will provide, and you will discover treasures, hidden riches.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Survivors of sexual abuse often experience a whole host of life problems and, most often, we do not even connect those problems to sexual abuse. But there is a connection and we will discuss that in depth in the coming weeks.
Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthday. You are not alone! This study (and this blog) is designed to provide support, compassion and care as you seek recovery from the effects of sexual abuse. Recovery is a difficult process; however, it is possible!
Webster's defines "recover" as 'to get back; regain.' What does it mean to you when you think about recovering from the abuse in your past?
The answers are countless, but you might have said something like, "To have peace. To feel whole. To regain your innocence, purity, sense of belonging. To love and be loved. To be freed from shame or guilt." Those are certainly the things I wanted from recovery.
When God created you, He had a great plan. He intended for you to have a life of meaning and purpose. The actions of one or more people damaged that life. Recovery means regaining what God intended for you.
You may feel that all hope for healing is lost. Like me, you might have struggled a long time just to survive, to hide your hurt and to heal the wounds alone and in your own strength. I can hear Dr. Phil saying to me, "How's that working for you?" The answer for me was a resounding "NOT VERY WELL". Once I was able to admit that, it became clear that I needed the support of others. Support people can help you to develop a new and living way out of silence and isolation.
You may believe that you cannot trust God since He did not protect you from the abuse. Yet, God offers hope through a relationship with Jesus Christ. As you work through the healing process in supportive Christian surroundings, you will have the opportunity to find that your sadness can be turned into joy. Christ offers hope and healing from sexual abuse.
Hebrews 10:25 tells us, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another." As I think about that, I am encouraged to talk with others about what I have been through. It is not "impolite" or "disgusting" to tell the truth about sexual abuse. I have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It is okay to talk about it!
Most survivors isolate themselves from others to avoid the risk of being hurt again. And that isolation prevents us from developing the skills needed to encourage one another. And the vicious cycle continues... During the course of this study, it is my hope and prayer that you will find the encouragement, acceptance, safety, love, compassion and understanding needed to heal and get on the other side of your painful past.
The memory verse for Unit 1 is from Psalm 55:6-8 NASB. David says: 'I said, "Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly far away and be at rest - I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm."
We are not alone! Even David, a man who was especially close to God, had moments when he wanted to escape from his problems and pressures. God can be our place of shelter/
Friday, January 23, 2009
But the question that I went to sleep thinking about was, "Are you happy?" I answered "ecstatic", but it is so much more than just a jumping-up-and-down, surprise-party kind of happiness. My healing began as my courtship with my husband began, so I really cannot separate my recovery from my relationship with him. Our relationship was the first place I could see my recovery playing out. He was the first person I took the masks off for. The first person I told the WHOLE truth to. I didn't just share the facts with him. I shared with him my feelings, my deepest secrets, my pain, my grief, the truth about what I did to cope and fill the voids.
Early in our relationship I just took the trusting plunge. I didn't hide from him. And telling him the truth and sharing with him the real me was freeing. I told him about the things that had hurt me, and I told him about the things I did to cope and what I knew needed to change in order for me to move beyond the past. He accepted me and I began to feel a deep happiness for the first time in my life. Our relationship was warm, comforting and safe - not just giddy.
This is not to say that we didn't have our fair share of problems. I was discovering how to be in a healthy relationship with a man, but I still didn't know how to be a part of a family or how to be a friend to other women. Because of that, I was still pretty isolated and had periods of profound sadness over the lack of "family" (parents & siblings). I was very happy with my husband (we'd gotten married) but didn't allow anyone else to know me.
Not long into our marriage, we had our first child on the way. I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom. Since the only adult in my life was my husband, I spent most of my time with a drooling baby. After almost a year of this, I was getting cagey and wanting to meet other moms. I was terrified of being rejected, but I wanted someone to meet at the park for a playdate. We didn't even have to be friends! I just wanted to talk to someone who could talk back and wouldn't spit up on me. I decided that my next door neighbor was a good candidate. She lived close, our kids were the same age, and she seemed nice enough. In time, I decided that maybe she was good "friend" material, so I allowed her to get to know me. I told her small things at first and when she didn't laugh or throw me out of her house, I'd share more. She became my treasured friend - the first girl who I could ever really be real with. Her friendship led me out of my isolation and into many more friendships with women. A huge cirlce of friends, in fact. I was very happy with just my husband and son, but with my first girl-friendship came a happiness that I'd never even dreamed existed and seemed almost like too much to ask for.
At the same time this first girl-friendship was blooming, my husband and I joined the church that we'd been visiting for months. I came to know God in a way that I'd never known him before. He was no longer just God, up there in the sky, invisible... He was now Father God. That in itself was a heart-filler for me. My husband, my son and my new friend were more happiness than I'd ever known, but getting to know God filled my heart to over-flowing.
Taking the risk to face the reality of how my abuse was impacting my life led to a healthy relationship with a man, then marriage, children, friendships, and God. The hardest thing for me to learn was to trust family again - not my birth family, but the in-laws. And once I started dipping my toes into that water, I discovered that I actually do have a family.
Am I happy? YES - my cup runneth over!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The workbook we are using is Shelter From the Storm, by Cynthia Kubetin Littlefield and James Mallory, M.D.
Since group starts tomorrow, I'm going to share a little of the Introduction with you. (I will italicize when something is coming directly from the book.)
"Our lives have been distorted by the trauma of sexual abuse... Nothing in life isolates us from healthy human relationships and from a relationship with God as does sexual abuse. Any experience of sexual abuse - but especially child sexual abuse - violates our boundaries and our trust. The experience teaches us not to trust appropriately. It sets us up for a life that combines times of painful isolation interrupted by experiences of blindly trusting, which set us up to be victimized again and again. Shelter From the Storm will help you to understand yourself. You will begin to identify destructive patterns that the abuse began and that other influences and choices have strengthened in your life. As you identify these harmful patterns, you will be able to make Christ-honoring and life-enhancing changes. It will help you learn how you can experience God's love, forgiveness, and power in all life's circumstances. You will learn to not only understand the storm of sexual abuse, but to move from victim to survivor to thriver.
As we go through this process, you will have the means to identify the ways that your past experience is damaging your present circumstance. You will be equipped to begin a healing process which will bring you a clear sense of identity and a healthy relationship to the Lord built on positive experiences and His unconditional love."
As I read through that, I am reminded of what I've heard counselors say over and over again. "Most of the time, someone doesn't come in saying that they need to process through childhood sexual abuse. What generally happens is that someone comes in to discuss other issues and over a period of time it is revealed that they were sexually abused." And when I think about my own counseling sessions, I can vividly remember saying that my current problems had nothing at all to do with the abuse ---- "I was over the abuse. It was history. Who cares about that? I am not damaged! My (ex) husband was a jerk. I was justified in walking out on him because he didn't meet all my needs. It is all my mom's fault that our relationship is rocky. I am not "needy", I just enjoy flirting. I don't withdraw from others, they ignore me. Why not just pick up and start again, I'm young? Now that I'm all grown up, I will control everything." And there are many more defensive, justifying statements that I'd tell myself and others to keep from ever dealing with what was at the core of my pain.
Friends, in the coming months, we will unpack a lot and will discover "treasures hidden in the darkness - sweet riches", Isaiah 45:3a. I look forward to writing more tomorrow and reading what you have to say in the comments. Many prayers and blessings as you begin this journey.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Are you a spouse or support person with specific questions/issues that you would like to hear about? If so, post a comment here (you can comment anonymously if you'd like) and my husband will respond to them.
Friday, January 16, 2009
The Stewards of Children class teaches that there are 7 steps to protecting our kids.
Step 1: Learn the facts and understand the risks. Realities - not trust - should influence your decisions regarding children.
It is highly likely that you know a child that has been or is being abused.
- Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthday. In any classroom or neighborhood, there are children who are silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse.
- 1 in 5 children are solicited while on the internet.
- Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under.
- The median age for reported sexual abuse is 9 years old.
- Approximately 20% of the victims of sexual abuse are under age 8.
- 50% of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are under age 12.
- Most child victims never report the abuse.
- Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who "tell" and are not believed are at a greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood.
- 30-40% of children are abused by family members.
- As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts - abusers frequently try to form a trusting relationship with parents.
- Nearly 40% are abused by older or stronger children.
- People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy in order to gain access to children.
- Those who sexually abuse children are drawn to settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as: sports leagues, faith centers, clubs and schools.
- In more than 90% of the sexual abuse cases, the child and the child's family know and trust the abuser.
- 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use.
- One study shows that among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and 20% attempt suicide.
- Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders.
- More than 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape. The average age of the offenders is 27 years old. (In an abortion recovery group, my friend learned that 95% of women who have abortions were sexually abused as a child.)
- Approximately 40% of sex offenders report sexual abuse as children.
- Both males and females who were sexually abused are more likely to engage in prostitution.
- Approximately 70% of sexual offenders of children have between 1 and 9 victims; 20-25% have 10 to 40 victims.
- Serial child molesters may have as many as 400 victims in their lifetime.
Step 2: Minimize opportunity. If you eliminate or reduce one-adult/one-child situations, you'll dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse for children.
More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in one-adult/one-child situations. Reduce the risk. Protect children.
- Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims an their families, enjoy family activities, earning trust, and gaining time along with children.
- Think carefully about safety of any one-adult/one-child situations. Choose group activities when possible.
- Think carefully about the safety situations in which older youth have access to younger children. Make sure that multiple adults are present who can supervise.
- Set an example by personally avoiding one-adult/one-child situations with children other than your own.
- Monitor children's internet use. Offenders use the internet to lure children into physical contact.
- Create and lobby for policies reducing or eliminating one-adult/one-child situations in all youth-serving organizations such as faith groups, sports teams, and school clubs. These policies should ensure that all activities can be interrupted and observed.
- Talk with program administrators about the supervision of older youth who have responsibility for the care of children.
- Insist on screenings that include criminal background checks, personal interviews, and professional recommendations for all adults who serve children. Avoid programs that do not use ALL of methods.
- Insist that youth-serving organizations train their staff and volunteers to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
- Ensure that youth-serving organizations have policies for dealing with suspicious situations and reports of abuse.
- Drop in unexpectedly when the child is alone with an adult, even trusted family members.
- Make sure outings are observable, if not by you, then by others
- Ask the adult about the specifics of the planned activities before the child leaves your care. Notice the adult's ability to be specific.
- Talk with the child when he or she returns. Notice the child's mood and whether the child can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
- Find a way to tell the adults who care for your children that you and the child are educated about child sexual abuse. Be that direct!
Step 3: Talk about it. Children often keep abuse a secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about it.
Understand why children are afraid to "tell".
- The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
- The abuser is often manipulative and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong.
- The abuser sometimes threatens the child or a family member.
- Some children who do not initially disclose abuse are ashamed to tell when it happens again.
- Children are afraid of disappointing their parents and disrupting the family.
- Some children are too young to understand.
- Many abusers tell children the abuse is "okay" or a "game".
- Children who disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. For this reason, training for people who work with children is especially important.
- Children may tell "parts" of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult reaction.
- Children will often "shut down" and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.
- Teach your children about their bodies, about what abuse is, and, when age-appropriate, about sex. Teach them words that help them discuss sex comfortably with you.
- Model caring for your own body, and teach children how to care for theirs.
- Teach children that is it "against the rules" for adults to act in a sexual way with them and use examples. Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
- Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member or older youth.
- Teach children not to give out their email address, home address, or phone number while using the internet.
- Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
- Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask why.
Talk to other adults about child sexual abuse. One survey showed that fewer than 30% of parents ever discussed sexual abuse with their children. And even then, most failed to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend or family member.
- Support and mutual learning occur when you share with another adult.
- You raise the consciousness of your community and influence their choices about child safety.
- You may be offering support and information to an adult whose child is experiencing abuse, and may not know what to do.
- You put potential abusers on notice that you are paying attention.
Step 4: Stay Alert. Don't expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. Signs are often there but you've got to spot them.
Learn the signs:
- Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes or swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections, or other such symptoms should be carefully investigated. Also, physical problems associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur.
- Emotional or behavioral signals are more common. These can run from "too perfect" behavior, to withdrawal and depression, to unexplained anger and rebellion.
- Sexual behavior and language that are not age-appropriate can be a red flag.
- Be aware that in some children there are no signs whatsoever.
Step 5: Make a Plan. Learn where to go, whom to call, and how to react.
If a child breaks an arm or runs a high fever, you know to stay calm and where to seek help becuase you've mentally prepared yourself. Reacting to child sexual abuse is the same. Your reactions have a powerful influence on vulnerable children.
When you react to disclosure with anger or disbelief, the response is often:
- The child shuts down.
- The child changes her/her story in the face of your anger and disbelief, when, infact abuse is actually occurring.
- The child changes the account around you questions so future tellings appear to be "coached". This can be very harmful if the case goes to court.
- The child feels even guiltier.
Think through your response before you suspect abuse. You'll be able to respond ina more suportive manner.
- Believe the child and make sure the child knows it.
- Thank the child for telling you and praise the child's courage.
- Encourage the child to talk but do not ask leading questions about details. Asking about details can alter the child's memory of events. If you must ask questions to keep the child talking, ask open-endd ones like "what happened next?"
- Seek the help of a professional who is trained to interview the child abuse sexual abuse. Professional guidance could be critical to the child's healing and to any criminal prosecution.
- Assure the child that it's your responsibility to protect him/her and that you'll do all that you can.
- Report or take action in all cases of suspected abuse, both inside and outside the immediate family.
- Don't panic. Sexually abused children who receive support and psychological help can and do heal.
- All 50 states require that professionals who work with children report reasonable suspicions of child abuse. Some states require that anyone with suspcions report it. Information at each states requirements is available at the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect.
- If you are a professional who works with children (teacher, nurse, etc) there are special procedures and reporting requirements you must follow. Your employer should provide mandated reporting training.
You may be faced with a situation where you suspect abuse but don't have any proof. Suspicions are scary, but trust your instincts. Have the courage to report the suspected abuse.
What if I'm not sure? Where do I go?
- Child Abuse Helplines have staff specifically trained to deal with questions regarding suspected child abuse. Call Darkness to Light's helpline, 1-866-FOR-LIGHT to be routed to resources in your community, or call the Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
- Children's Advocacy Centers coordinate all the professionals (legal, social services, medical) involved in an a case. If you're unsure about whether to make an official report or just need suport, contact a children's advocacy center. The staff will help you evaluate your suspicions and your next steps. To find a center near you, contact the National Children's Alliance or 1-800-239-9950. Sunflower House is the advocacy center for Wyandotte and Johnson Counties in Kansas.
- Local Community Agencies, such as local hotlines, United Way offices, or rape crisis centers can often be helpful.
- Talk to the child's parents (as long as they are not the abusers) and provide educational materials. If the parents seem indifferent or unlikely to take action, call one of the recommended sources.
Step 7: Get Involved.Volunteer and financially support organizations taht fight the tragedy of child sexual abuse.
What can I do to help children in my community.
Donate your time and resources to support organization such as these:
- Prevention programs
- Children's advocacy centers
- Crisis information and referral services
- Rape crisis centers
- Ask that schools and organization in your community have child sexual abuse prevention policies, and help with their creation. As other adults to do the same.
- Bring Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children prevention program to your community.
- Support legislation that protects children. Visit Darkness to Light for legilative information.
- Demand that the government put more resources into protecting children from sexual abuse and into responding to reports of sexual abuse.
- Call and write your members of congress.
- Write letters to your newspaper.
This information has come directly out of the 7 steps booklet that is handed out at the Stewards of Children class. The information alone is very helpful, but is far more powerful when combined with group discussion and video testimonials that you will experience at a Stewards of Children class. Do not allow this to be all you do to educate yourself - get into a class as soon as you can.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Seeing it! Stopping it! Surviving it!
Have you been hurt in a relationship? This powerful seminar offers practical, biblical wisdom to help those stuck in destructive relationship patters. Author Leslie Vernick has helped hundreds of people move beyond their fears and learn to live free.
Imagine how much happier you would feel if you could:
- Say "no" and mean it
- Have the courage to make choices for yourself
- Confidently speak your thoughts and feelings in a constructive way
- Heal from a negative self-image and low self-esteem
9am - noon
Pleasant Valley Baptist Church
1600 North 291 Highway
Liberty, MO 64068
Contact Virginia McAuley with questions: (816) 781-5959, ext: 218
Email registration to firstname.lastname@example.org
Early registration savings: $15 before February 15th.
After February 15th: $20
My story that is posted to this blog is my story, but it is from my perspective - the perspective of a wounded, young child. There are pieces that I do not remember, huge gaps in time. I only have a few snapshot memories up through the age of 8. What happened during those first 8 years? Why can't I remember? I can't answer that, but really, answering that is not a goal for me. Should God choose to reveal those memories to me, I will cross that bridge then. I am not one who believes chasing down the lost memories is a good idea. I believe that is a slippery slope that can lead to "retrieval" of memories that are not real at all.
However, over the years of talking with other survivors about our abusive childhoods and our lives after the abuse, I have remembered a lot of things I'd long since forgotten. In some cases these are memories that make my heart hurt, but in many other cases, they are memories that bring a smile to my face.
Where my family is concerned... All I could remember about my childhood home were things associated with the abuse, neglect and my mother's mental illness. I was hurt so badly that I could not remember anything good. As I moved past the hurt and pain, I was able to remember that my family took long bike rides, my mom roller skated at school skating parties, my father let us mow the lawn with him, he took me to work with him sometimes, and he once took me out for a root beer float after I had a bad accident on the school playground (requiring a trip to the dr). These are simple memories, but they are happy memories for me to add to the arsenal of bad ones.
Regarding those high school years that have been sheer torture for me to remember... As I've gotten to know some old high school classmates, they have shared with me the memories they had of me in high school. This is shocking in itself, as I was convinced that I would have been voted "most likely to be forever invisible". They share nice memories - "you were a funny girl", "you were a loyal friend" (I didn't even remember these friendships till she shared a story with me!), "I mimicked your handwriting", "you were nice to everyone". I honestly thought that I was completely unremarkable, unmemorable. Like I could go to my class reunion and no one would even have heard of me. But that was only my perception... my wounded perception.
As women come into group each semester, the number one and two fears are telling others about their life and fear of painful memories. Some suffer from horrible flashbacks and night terrors in the beginning. These horrible feelings can be intense, but they do go away over time. I've never had someone come through group still being paralyzed by flashbacks or terrors in the end. Most find substantial improvement in the first month. That seems like a long time to be in such intense emotional turmoil, but it pales in comparison to a lifetime of slightly less emotional turmoil. The pain you feel today will never resolve itself. Feeling the pain, processing through the memories, exposing your experience to the light, and learning God's truth is the journey!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
NOTE - When I posted this yesterday, I had a million thoughts running through my mind, but didn't know exactly what to say. I still don't know what to say, but I feel I should clarify one thing - Dave did not ask me to post this. Dave Cox was my church's pastor. Many friends from church may be checking this out just to see Dave, and I want to encourage you to do just that. He talks about you, and it meant something to me to hear it. I received this video via email from a friend. I have not talked to Dave in almost two years, so the video appearing here is not self-serving on Dave's part. The abuse in his childhood is no excuse for the poor decisions he made - and he's careful to point that out. But there is no denying that the abuse left a gaping hole in his life that he tried filling with various things over a period of many years. The results were devastating to thousands of people, many of whom are still dealing with it today. I see a lot of my own life in Dave's story and think many other survivors will too. Again, Dave made the poor decisions, but the initial void was caused by one person's sin of child sexual abuse... and that sin reached into the lives of many in our community.
There are several LifeLines (support groups) at our church for hurting people.
Victory Over Sexual Abuse (women only) will begin meeting next Thursday, Jan. 22 in Overland Park, KS and Lenexa, KS.
Victory Over Sexual Sin (addiction to pornography, etc. - women only) begins tonight in Lenexa, KS.
One-on-one counseling is also available!
Email email@example.com for information about any of these ministries.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Then I wonder why those years are so hard. After all, the abuse began when I was third grader. What makes those teen years so painful? Perhaps it was because my step-father was now sexually abusing a teenager whose hormones were raging, who was even more acutely aware of what was happening, and was beginning to take on her physical shape that she would take with her for the rest of her life.
I moved out of that city as soon as I could after graduation. I never looked back... Until, of course, I divorced my 1st husband and moved back to my hometown. I did not move back to that city, but I was only a few miles away, and I was dating a high school classmate. I went on to marry him. And over the years that we've lived in this house, we have discovered that there are a lot of people that we went to school with living right here in our zip code. When I see those people, I have to be careful not go back into thinking I'm invisible.
I mentioned the city... There have been a several times that my husband and I have been faced with the prospect of taking a great job, but it would require living in that city. Every time the issue would come up, I would say "I just can't go back there" and my husband would quietly accept that answer. Then, two years ago we were faced with it again. It would mean good pay, excellent stability, no concerns about lay-offs, etc... And that time I said (with tears streaming down my face) "I think God is trying to teach me a lesson. If it means I have to go back to that city, I will. But can we live on the far west end of town, as far away as we can get from the home I once lived in?" I had accepted that perhaps processing through this part of my history would require sort of living it again (not the abuse, just the location). I am very happy to report that another job came up that did not require us to move! However, I will obediently go there should he send me.
So, I've mentioned that all these high school peers live near us... Well, I recently shared this blog (and subsequently my story) with one particular former classmate. Sending this blog link to her took a little courage. But, in sharing with her, I feel that I have discovered part of the lesson God is teaching me. I believe that lesson is that I need to know and feel in my HEART the TRUTH about that time in my life and not just know it in my HEAD. I have never been invisible. I have never been unlovable. I have never been unlikable. He wants to not only heal the woman I am today, but he wants to heal the hurt feelings from my youth.
"Who redeems your life from the pit; Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle." Psalm 103:4-5 NASB
Sunday, January 11, 2009
The big idea for this series on the Beatitudes is that we can change our attitude by choosing a new way of thinking. We should not surrender to our attitudes, we should surrender our attitudes to Christ. We get to choose how we will respond to circumstances. Will we surrender it to Christ for him to deal with, or will we surrender to our emotions and let the circumstance control us?
"...we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5b (NAS)
There are eight Beatitudes, and today's topic is humility.
The key scripture verse today comes from Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
I've read this verse many times and have always felt that "poor in spirit" was a good description of me. I was beaten down and hopeless - what I would consider "poor in spirit". But today Dan taught that poor in spirit is something altogether different - it is humility (keep reading). The NLT translation says "God blesses those who realize their need for him..." That sounds more like humility to me - and makes it easier for me to see that "poor in spirit" means to think less of myself and more of Him. Very different from beaten down and hopeless!
Pastor Dan went on to define humility as "freedom from pride and arrogance"... Freedom from having to pretend, fake it, or cover up. Humility is a beginning step in recovery. You must first acknowledge that you don't have it all figured out and that you cannot do it all by yourself.
How can we choose humility?
- We must become totally dependent on God. Not just when we have a crisis, but in all situations at all times. We must be totally dependent on Him and invite him into all areas of our life.
- Become totally approachable by others. Most people tend to think they are better than some group of people - another race, another religion, another neighborhood, another school, another social class, co-workers who aren't as well educated, etc. We try to feel better about ourselves by looking down at others. We must remember that the ground at the foot of the cross is level.
- Become totally unimpressed with ourselves. Instead of being impressed with ourselves or others, remember that any gift we have is given to us by the Lord. I'll be honest, sometimes I write something and read over it later thinking, "man, I'm good!" And immediately after that thought, I remember that I am nothing without Him and his gifting. God is good. When people look at me, I want them to be impressed not with me, but with the Jesus in me.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Sexual abuse is the most personal and damaging form of betrayal. Recovery from sexual abuse is the most intense and emotionally challenging form of recovery. Survivors of sexual abuse often struggle with powerful issues such as shame, thoughts of suicide, addictions and even dissociation. Most sexual abuse victims experience profound emotional isolation. Virtually all sexual abuse survivors could benefit from professional care.
I saw non-biblical counselors very regularly from the age of 12-20. I learned to cope with my trauma, but never learned to process through it and actually recover from it. There was a lot of pop culture, philosophy and coping involved in my non-biblical therapy, but no love, no real compassion and certainly no God. I experienced a lot of immediate change and healing with biblical counseling. I want to encourage you to contact your church to get connected with a biblical counselor who will be a good fit for you.
When a church gets into the business of helping the hurting, they are honoring God. The bible clearly teaches us to "bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) We all experience physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional pain as part of the human condition. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus said "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Only the Lord has the power to fully heal the brokenhearted, deliver you from your prison, and liberate you from your pain. And a biblical counselor is the perfect person to help you discover His healing and deliverance.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
There seems to be more freedom for a female victim to talk about sexual abuse - less judgment, less shame, less disbelief. Although, all of those are reasons why victims both male and female do not report, and ALL unreported crimes are a tragedy. I'm just saying that it seems like it is even harder for a male to talk about such things.
My husband has had very little go wrong in his life, certainly no history of any kind of abuse or maltreatment. That said, I know the burden he carries everyday in being the provider and leader of our household. That is the way God designed family and my husband takes it seriously. He constantly strives to keep a good balance of fun, love and tenderness with the kids, while also being consistent with training and discipline. He's the one who's in charge of our finances, paying the bills and working outside the home. He sets aside alone time for just the two of us, keeping our marriage about us and not merely revolving around the kids and work. He's involved in our church and serving the Lord. None of this is easy for him (or anyone, for that matter). But, I cannot imagine how much harder it would be if he were also carrying around the shame and isolation of sexual abuse because there aren't many safe places for a man to talk about it.
I want to encourage everyone to be mindful of your attitudes towards sex, and the words that come out of your mouth. You never know when a survivor may be sitting beside you, looking for a soft place to land. It could certainly be very uncomfortable if your buddy turns to you and unexpectedly tells you that he was sexually abused as a child, but your friend needs you. He chose to tell you because you're trustworthy. So, friend, honor that and give him the support he needs.
Guys, there is no shame in what has happened to you. You are not at fault, you are not to blame, you do not have to be defined by this. This is someone else's sin, for which THEY should be ashamed! Be encouraged to find a counselor or friend and begin processing through the pain.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
What does it mean to be a support person? It does not mean taking care of or being responsible for the survivor. The support person needs to care about and listen to the survivor without giving advice. A support person is not responsible for fixing the survivor or removing their pain. The support person will help the most by merely being available to the survivor as he/she learns to deal with the pain and with the results of the abuse. Supporters - ask your friend how you can help!
Here are some helpful DO's for supporters:
Support, accept, love, allow the survivor time to feel what they are feeling, be understanding, take an interest in their recovery, offer forgiveness when needed, believe them, pray for them and with them, encourage, trust them, offer validation.
Survivors of sexual abuse need open, honest, accepting communication. When you (the support person) do not know what to say or do, tell your friend and ask how you can help. Frequently, the answer will be that you just need to listen and support.
Survivors - know that this is complicated and possibly very unknown territory for your support people. Be willing to help them help you.
One last note... As you enlist support people, be aware that you may receive a wide range of responses. You will get positive and negative responses from those you ask to support you. Someone you really care about may not be able to do it. Accept this without taking it personally. The reasons could be: fear, schedule, other personal demands, feelings of inadequacy, personal recovery issues of their own, or other personal problems. Their inability to help you at this time is not about you or how they feel about you!
If you were hit by a car, you might have skin abrasions and broken bones. You may be hospitalized, in a cast or brace, require several x-rays or scans. You may have to go through extensive therapy to learn how to use those broken limbs again. Healing from sexual abuse is very much the same. The wounds need to be looked at, tended to and cared for. Over time and with proper attention, you will find that the wounds are diminishing and health is replacing the brokenness. It is a recovery process. It is absolutely not an easy process, but it is well worth putting the time, effort, and emotions into. You are worth it!
Isaiah 42:2-3 says: “I will go before you and make the rough places smooth. I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through the iron bars. And I will give you treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth in secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel who calls you by your name.”
As you journey through your recovery, know that God is the one who will make the rough places smooth. Recovery involves opening up some areas that are dark and frightening. It involves revealing information that has likely been kept secret. God can help you find treasures in the darkness and wealth in those secret places. You need to know that you exist and have meaning and value. God calls YOU by NAME!
Monday, January 5, 2009
For the first 27 years of my life, I rarely felt like I “belonged” anywhere or to anyone. My mother and birth father were married for about a year and a half and split up when I was about six months old. I didn’t see or hear from him again until I was 26 and that reunion only lasted one weekend.
My mother met her third husband shortly after leaving my birth father. Almost immediately, Mom decided that we should live with this new boyfriend. They eventually married and had another child. This man adopted me when I was eight years old and started sexually abusing me around that same time. The abuse lasted for a short time before I told my mother. She confronted him and the abuse stopped for a while, but eventually restarted. They stayed together for another three years – divorcing at the end of my 6th grade year.
During those three years that they remained married, I hated myself. I felt like I was weird, like I had to keep big secrets from all my friends and like I was trash. There were times I even felt like a prostitute – and I was too young to even know what that meant. I wanted more than anything to be changed into a boy. I ran around with all the neighbor boys and started causing trouble in school. I didn’t want anything to do with femininity – I hated when Mom would make me curl my hair or wear a dress. I don’t remember ever having a doll or a Barbie.
When their divorce was final, Mom and I celebrated together. I thought she believed me and was finally putting my needs first. I thought she would protect me. However, when I was in my mid-20’s (years after their divorce), my mom confessed to having never believed me. She thought I was crazy, a trouble-maker, a girl trying to seduce her step father. When I asked her why she divorced him then, she said that she felt she had to before I ruined the entire family.
In the years following the divorce, my mom and my abuser continued to date. My mother insisted that I go with my sister on all visitations with him. She told me that it was to protect my sister, sending me the message that I was the sacrificial lamb. My abuse continued until I was 15 ½ years old. At that time, I was the one who had to stand up to him myself – confronting him one night when he came to me – and refusing to go on anymore overnights. I didn’t bother telling my mother that he was abusing me again, as I knew she would not protect me and she would likely even accuse me of seducing him again. Eventually she did find out, but it wasn’t because I’d asked for her help.
As a child, I wasn't aware of everything going on around me, but I don't believe the authorities were notified of the abuse until I was 15 ½. It is unclear to me who required (or why) that I see a counselor and participate in group therapy when I was just 12. A state social worker would pick me up from school once a week, during class, and take me to the county mental health office. In front of the class, my teacher frequently commented on my having to leave early. I said I had doctor’s appointments and hoped they all just thought I had cancer or something. The car had a state license plate on it, making me feel like I was riding around in a car with a huge neon sign on it that advertised my damaged state. The girls in my group all lived in foster care. My mother would tell me that if I told them about her dating my abuser that they would take me away too. The unknown could be far worse than the known, so I didn’t share the depths of abuse and neglect going on in my homelife..
Another problem I had at the time was that we had moved. We left our modest house in a nice neighborhood and moved into a low-income town home in a far less desirable part of town. The kids in the new neighborhood hated me on sight… I was very quiet and shy and rather bookish, so they made fun of me, called me names and chased me home from school threatening to beat me up. Those kids made it painfully clear that I did not belong there! I transferred schools the following year. Changing schools meant no longer running home from the school bullies, but now I was in classrooms with kids I believed had families that loved them and weren’t poor. I was very quiet in class, always certain that if I opened my mouth I’d say something stupid. I had very few friends. I constantly feared that if people knew the truth about me, knew about the abuse, where I lived, or how I lived, that they wouldn’t like me. Now, some of this is normal teenage angst, but I’m certain that the abuse played a substantial role in my non-existent self-esteem.
Most of the happy childhood memories I have involve church. My parents attendance was very sporadic. Most of the time I rode to church with my friend's family. Her mother took me to church, Vacation Bible School and even arranged for me to go to church camp every summer. At church camp, when I was nine years old, I accepted Christ (but really had no idea what that meant). After my family moved, she wasn’t able to give me a ride anymore. I cannot remember a single Bible lesson I was taught over those ten years, but I remember that church was the one place I felt loved and cared for. It was the only place I laughed with abandon, acted like a kid and felt like I belonged. That ended when I was 15 years old.
My life was pretty much in a downward spiral after that… I started running with a partying crowd and dated a boy for a couple of years who’d cheated on me, was incredibly disrespectful and even beat me once. I stayed because he said he loved me. He showed me more affection and concern than my parents, so I felt like I’d found a place where I belonged. During our three-year on-again-off-again relationship, I was constantly talking to him about marriage. He wasn’t interested.
After that relationship ended, I bounced around from one short-term relationship to the next. I felt the only way I could interest a guy was to flirt a lot and morph into whatever he wanted in a girl. I also turned to drinking a lot. I have never been addicted to alcohol, but I have never once had a drink without the intention of getting drunk. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, and being drunk either made me feel like I was someone else or took me to a place where I no longer cared about who I was.
Barely 21, I married a guy that I’d been introduced to by a friend. He had big professional aspirations, I had emotional needs and secrets that I couldn't begin to verbalize. I was needy for security, physical touch, quality time and verbal affirmation. I was so unfulfilled and hurting... I flirted non-stop with any man who seemed to notice. I did not want to flirt with other men, but I didn’t feel whole without the attention. And the attention still left me empty, but it was a momentary high that I enjoyed. Eventually we saw a marriage counselor. One day the counselor referred to me as an “abandoner” (having such a deep tendency to reject before being rejected). I strongly disagreed, and never went back – I abandoned counseling because I didn’t care much for the truth. We’d tried a lot of superficial things to make the marriage work. We spent a lot of money, built a house, took elaborate vacations, bought designer everything, had brand new cars and joined a country club. After six years, I quietly left him. I’d abandoned my old life and began a new one back home.
Around this same time, I received an email from a guy that I went to high school with. We met for dinner one night and married just ten months later. From the very beginning, I was honest with him about where I’d been in my life and what I needed. He was up for the challenge – and boy was it a challenge in the first couple of years! While I was functioning well compared to my parents, I was still quite wounded and frequently acted on it. Marrying into a “family” was very hard for me. I was suspicious and jealous of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I analyzed their every move and had come to the conclusion that they were needy and relied on my husband in an unhealthy way. I developed an ugly attitude towards them and found myself on a website “venting” my frustrations about them. My postings were eventually discovered, and they were wounded in a way that I can never take back. With all my heart, I wish I hadn’t done the things that I did.
I am sharing this with you because I want you to know not only the way people have sinned against me, but also the ways I have hurt others as a result of my unbearable pain, hopelessness and unhealthy defense mechanisms. There are so many things I regret having done – so many people in the wake of my despair.
A year and a half into our marriage, my husband and I were expecting our first child. We both felt the need to raise our kids in church, but for very different reasons. He wanted to raise our kids in a Christian home; whereas, I simply wanted our kids to experience the little bit of childhood happiness I’d had.
Eight months pregnant, we found a church we both loved. And, of course, the church was in the middle of a “love your family” kind of series! After two sermons, I emailed the pastor a brief summary of my relationship with my parents, ending with the question “how am I supposed to honor my mother and father when they’ve never done anything honorable?” This was pretty much the reason I’d avoided church for the last 10 years or so… The pastor responded with some sermon notes that changed my life! What stood out to me the most was a bullet that said, “forgiveness does not require reconciliation”. To which I said, “Okay, I can live with that!” What I needed at that time was to be able to forgive my mother while also keeping my distance. She is still the same person she’s always been, so for me to buy into the whole forgiveness idea, it had to be okay to not spend any time with her.
That was 5 ½ years ago and I have learned and grown a great deal. Attending church regularly, being involved in ministry, reading the Bible, and spending time talking through life with godly people has completely changed my husband and me and our marriage. We have learned so much about God, his sovereignty, his strength, his holiness, his provision, his forgiveness, his love and his faithfulness. But even with all of that growth and transformation, I knew I was still missing something. I had to deal with my childhood before I’d have the peace I so desperately wanted. I’d finally admitted to myself that I’d completely lived up to the pastor’s comment about not reconciling with my mother, but I hadn’t gotten far with the forgiveness bit. So, I did something I swore I’d never do… I let my mother send me back into therapy! I’d forgiven my step-father years earlier (I haven’t spoken to him since I was 15 ½, so being out of sight helped), but just couldn’t get there with my mom. She is my mother – the person who was supposed to protect me and choose me over all others! Instead, she chose him, and she chose herself and her needs. She did not protect me, and that hurt more than anything physical my abuser could have done. I needed a counselor to help walk me through this forgiveness bit! At our first meeting, my counselor gave me the book “Dorie, The Girl Nobody Loved”. I was immediately drawn to it simply because of its title – boy could I relate! Dorie had a much tougher upbringing than any I could imagine and she was able to forgive. She allowed God’s love to transform her life. He grew her into a remarkable woman, so I began praying that God would do that kind of work in my life.
For the first couple of years, I had to be very intentional with my prayer time, Bible reading and overall attitude towards my mother. Many prayers started with, “There is nothing in me that wants to pray for her, but you love her and I need to forgive her. Help me to do that…”. In time, I was filled with the grace and mercy needed for me to forgive my mom. The peace and comfort I’ve found in God is quite overwhelming – truly a feeling that is only made possible by Him.
And as I look back over my life, I can clearly see God’s hand in it. It wasn’t luck that planted my childhood friend and her mom in my life. That was God’s doing. That woman, along with many others at that church, loved me and invested in me. And as I was about to become a mother, it was their love that I remembered and wanted to replicate for my children. While I truly believed for many years that I was all alone and utterly unloved, God was loving me and just waiting for me to love Him back.