Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A renewed youth

I am in the process of putting my life's story into a book and in the last few days, I have been feeling like I need to write as fast as humanly possible... The reason? My memories are changing.

Social networking sites like Facebook and My Space are all the rage. Many of my friends are out there and they talk about it all the time. I was tempted, but I knew there were two reasons I did not want to go there. #1 - A part of me was afraid that no one from my past would even remember me and I'd feel rejected. But I know the truth - I know that I was never invisible and that my memories of the past were horribly clouded by my pained perspective. #2 - In the past I struggled with an overwhelming desire to reject people I was in relationship with before they could reject me. Deep down, when considering these social networking sites, I would think, "But, if I reconnect with an old boyfriend, will that tempt me to ditch my husband if I'm mad at him?" The honest truth is that I can never say that would never happen, but my husband and I take careful measures to ensure that our relationship is what it should be. The bottom line - I was choosing not to participate in this social networking stuff out of fear. As I thought about it, I decided that I wanted to make a conscious decision this time to overcome my fears.

God has honored that... I was blessed right away with renewed relationships with several people from my early childhood and teen years. Some I haven't seen in over twenty years. They have said the nicest things to me and have shared some of the most pleasant memories with me. I had forgotten so much of what they remembered. As I talk with them, they are reconstructing my past - giving me a fresh and pure perspective of innocence, joy, and youth. Those gaps in time that I do not remember at all are being filled now with bike races, days at the pool, slumber parties, birthday parties, Girl Scouts, crushes, camp and homemade pizza. As I discussed this with my friend today, I'd expressed my excitement over getting to finally experience this stuff. It was then that she said, "I'll bet you experienced it then too but just had too much going on at home to keep the fun memories fresh in your mind." I know that she is right. I did experience fun things as a child, but the pain of the abuse quickly diminished the good stuff. But the opposite is happening today... I am remembering all the good stuff and the bad memories are diminishing. It is a crazy, wonderful, amazing thing.

This is the third time I have gone through Shelter From the Storm in the last year. When I started leading groups a year ago I had a pretty good handle on things. However, I do not think I would be discovering this much profound healing if it wasn't for the study and the continued recovery efforts that I am making everyday. I want to encourage you to keep taking your journey into recovery. It is amazing the way God has been faithful to his word; "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

I feel an urgency to write this book quickly. I fear that the youth I want to write about will be all but forgotten before I know it. But my story needs to be shared. I want to share it in its entirety so that other survivors will know that they are not alone. God has laid it on my heart to write it, so I know He will allow the memories, feelings and emotions to be real long enough for me to accomplish His work. But it is coming quickly.. a completely renewed youth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 3, The Trouble with Denial

I've mentioned before that it took me a long time to realize the effects that sexual abuse has had on my life. I went to see counselors into my early 20's, but I insisted that the issue I was in for that day was just an issue, not an effect of something from the past. "He hit me because he's a jerk. But I keep coming back to the relationship because he is nicer to me than my parents are." It did not occur to me that I kept coming back to the relationship because the abuse I'd suffered as a child had left me with absolutely no self-worth. When my ex-husband and I started seeing a marriage counselor, I did not agree that my responses to my ex-husband had anything at all to do with what my parents had done to me. I merely had a problem with my ex-husband. "I am fine!" was what I said... and what I believed.

The problem is --- my relationship problems in my teens, early 20's and my first marriage had everything to do with how I'd responded to and coped with my childhood abuse. Without addressing those issues, I could not fix the mistakes I was making that brought on many doomed relationships and ruined others that actually had promise.

The Hebrew word used most often in the Bible for deny means, in its strictest sense, "to lie". If we apply that meaning, when victims deny the effects that sexual abuse has had on their life, they are LYING to themselves. Many sexual abuse victims will say they don't want to dig up the past... Or they might even quote Paul's statement from Philippians 3:13, "But for one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead..." This is a great verse, but it does not mean that we should deny our problems. In fact, Paul spoke more about his past than any other person in the Bible. In the earlier part of this same chapter of Philippians, Paul draws an effective comparison between his past and what he later gained as a true servant of God.

In an individual counseling session, a woman shared about the difficulties she was having in her sexual relationship with her husband. "It can't be my sexual abuse. Before we married, I loved having sex. We had it all the time. It's that I don't love him anymore. I really hate sex. In fact, that's how I know I don't love him anymore. No, I haven't thought about the sexual abuse. It doesn't affect me now. I got over that a long time ago."

Have you ever said anything like that, "It doesn't bother me anymore. I got over that a long time ago."?

In your journal, describe several ways that you have protected yourself through the use of denial.

The truth is, we cannot put ourselves, God or anyone else in a box and close the lid. It is possible that some people exist who have experienced very little problems after having been sexually abused, but those people are likely few and far between.

There is one primary reason for denial - most victims detach themselves from their feelings. Victims of violent rape and incest tend to shut off their emotions to survive the trauma. This is comparable to people who have suffered the shock of physical trauma but report that they didn't feel any pain. The body and mind have protective overload devices to be used in crisis. They are, however, intended for temporary use only. The longer they remain in place, the more damage they do.

Here is a poem that an incest survivor wrote about denial. As you read, make note of the denial she shows. How does her denial compare to yours?

I know I one was young, but I don't remember much
About my childhood times with toys, and dolls and such.

I remember Dad was angry, Mom was nervous and low keyed -
OUR family was quite healthy... that is, all of them, but me.

I got a lot of whippings, but they weren't all that bad.
I'm sure that I deserved them when I made my parents mad.

When mom was really tired, I would babysit -
I didn't mind at all - it was my job to help her out a bit.

I remember how she loved to go to bed and read -
And Dad would keep me up, in case there's something he would need.

Their patience would wear thin 'cause they had so much to do.
So I tried to keep things easy.... that was my job, I knew.

I remember when my Dad found his way into my bed -
I didn't like what happened.... but I couldn't tell, he said.

Confused, hurt and scared. I must have made him mad -
The whippings kept on coming... but... I guess they weren't that bad.

I don't remember much throughout my childhood years -
So often when I try... my eyes well up with tears.

I wish that I'd been better, when I was a little child...
Then instead of anger, my parents could have smiled.

The memories that I have seem to make me sad -
But... I was just a child... and I guess they're not that bad.

Throughout the entire poem the girl/woman was taking responsibility for her parents' behaviors. Then she denies her own pain in the refrain, "and I guess they're not that bad." How do you compare?

Dissociation is different than denial

A more complicated form of not remembering comes from dissociation. Victims sometimes store fragments in bits and pieces in order to protect themselves from the overwhelming experience produced by the compete recall of shattering events. A significant aspect of healing is to recall gradually the fragments and make appropriate connections. It is like putting a puzzle together. If this is your experience you can be free from the domination of unwanted feelings and behaviors caused by dissociated memories. You cannot simply decide to remember, because the process is mostly unconscious. However, in a safe environment, such as a support group or with a counselor, and with the direction of God, you can gradually put together the fragmented memories of reality. Once you know where the feelings and behaviors come from, you can work through the traumatic memories and deal directly with the hurt, anger, grief, helplessness and any other emotions.

It's time to heal

For most survivors it is impossible to just get over the effects of sexual abuse. Everything doesn't just go away because the abuse happened a long time ago. Your tendency to deny the effects of the abuse in your life affects not only you but also your spouse, children, friends, etc.

A favorite scripture of mine is John 10:10. "The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life and have it to the full." A very effective way of killing an destroying an individual is through sexual abuse. If you take the responsibility that belongs to the person who committed the abuse, you will be consumed with shame, anger, and destruction that are not yours to suffer. If you believe God has betrayed you, you will not seek Him. If you stay in denial, the enemy will have stolen the deepest peace and blessings that God has for you. They enemy will have stolen self-love and self-respect. Don't let that happen.

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, the time has come for you to give responsibility to the perpetrator, accept your betrayal, come out of denial, and begin the process of dealing with very painful memories. The process of healing has many ups and downs, and proceeds at varying rates. If you were to remember all past events at once, then you might be overwhelmed, but to begin is important. If memories and feelings become too hurtful or tend to promote destructive behavior, seek professional help.

A final caution

Be careful not to use denial as a way to avoid the truth. Yes, Christians are supposed to forgive our enemies. Yes, God intends for us to be victorious. But forgiveness and victory do not arrive instantly. Wounds must be treated and they take time to heal. Healing from the effects of sexual abuse does not occur until the survivor begins to face the truth. Please do not deny the facts any longer or hide in false responsibility. Allow God to take you beyond betrayal to hope, peace and healing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Unit 4 lesson 2, I've Been Betrayed!

Webster's defines betray as "to lead astray, to seduce by false promise, to desert in time of need."

There is no question that a victim of sexual abuse is led astray by the effects of the abuse. And, for many, seduction is a part of the victimization. And most importantly, a victim is deserted in their time of need. A child in need of a healthy relationship with a parent is abandoned in the world of incest. The youth in need of spiritual guidance is betrayed by her minister when the relationship becomes sexual...

In your journal, describe your feelings toward those people who betrayed you.

As I read back over my answer from last year, what stood out to me was, "I feel like an orphan. My parents betrayed me. My birth father abandoned me as a baby. My adopted father sexually abused me and my mother knew about it and chose to look the other way. No one cared about me or did anything to help me - an innocent child! Because of their decisions to harm me and my decision to no longer accept it, I am left without a family. And the things they did turned me into a different person!" The abandonment and desertion in my life is glaringly obvious... It was harder for me to see just how much I'd been led astray. It took a long time for me to accept that the things they'd done (these people whom I so desperately wanted to love me) had completely changed me. Their actions changed how I thought of myself and the world... how I acted, what I believe in, what I valued, what I sought after, etc. Their betrayal had impacted my life in profound and devastating ways.

What about God?

At some point, most victims wonder where God was during the abuse. "Why didn't he stop it? Why did he allow it? Why didn't he help me? Why didn't he kill my abuser? He wasn't there for me then and I don't feel him now."

Consider these biblical teachings that relate to sexual abuse -
  • God considers sexual abuse to serious that in the Old Testament the penalty for sexual abuse was death. Leviticus 18 clearly sets forth the rules God intended for humankind's behavior. Sex with a child, with a blood relative, or rape all carried the death sentence.
  • God has granted the freedom of choice to people. They can choose right or wrong. Psalm 115:16 tells us that "the heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but the earth He has given to the sons of men."
God is all about relationships. Above all else, He wants us to love Him. Then we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In order for us to truly love though, we have to have the freedom to choose. And with this freedom to choose love, comes the freedom to choose evil... He gave us free will to love Him or reject Him. If he forced us always to do the right thing, there would be no true love - we would merely be robots who automatically act a certain way.
  • God did not cause the abuse. He refuses to treat us the way those who commit sexual abuse treat their victims - by imposing their will on their victims. God does not force people to do what He wants them to do!
  • Horrible suffering occurs on this planet because people use their free will to do terrible things to each other. God's unfailing promise in this setting, however, is to bring us through all abuses or problems triumphantly as we commit our lives to Him.
God also promises to bring justice to perpetrators. All people are accountable for the choices that they make on this earth. God gave us a manual that told us how to relate to others. This manual is the Bible. Every victim's path has been crossed by someone who chose a path opposite to God's direct instructions. You were betrayed, but you were not betrayed by God.

The Hebrew word for betray means "to cause to fall" or "to deceive, in order to betray". God does not deceive humankind, and no word int he Bible suggests that God betrays people. The Bible is given to instruct us, lead us, and cause us to rise up and be blessed. Abuse is not a blessing, nor is it a way for God to "teach us a lesson". It is a betrayal by people. God is the One who redeems and restores.

How are you feeling toward God regarding your abuse? Angry, betrayed, confused, alone, other.

Are you willing to allow God to lead you to recovery?

Can you identify any barriers, especially beliefs or ideas, that keep you from reaching out to God for help in your recovery? (You are welcome to share these in the comments or in a private email to me if you'd like.)

Everyone struggles with questions about God, but at some point, we must understand that "He is our help." (Psalm 115:9-11) We live in a fallen world that will always have affliction, but God promises that He will never forsake us or leave us. God will rescue us.

Psalm 27:10 says "When my mother and my father forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." What does that verse mean to you? Take some time to tell God...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 1, Out of the Darkenss into the Light

This week's goal... You will be challenged to confront the issues of responsibility, betrayal and denial and to give yourself permission and time to heal. You will be encouraged to allow God to lead you to restoration.

This week's memory verse is Isaiah 42:16, "I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."

Before we get started, I want to spend a minute reflecting on that scripture. God will turn the darkness into light - He will turn the light on so we can clearly see. He will shed His pure, righteous truth on the dark evil that happened in our lives. He will make the rough places smooth - he will comfort us on the rough road to recovery, making healing and restoration possible. He will heal the rough places in our past, making us new and whole again. He will not forsake us - He will be with us every step of the way.



Responsibility, betrayal and denial are issues that all victims of sexual abuse must face. Regardless of our age, we tend to be confused from the very first incident. We immediately lose objectivity and normal reasoning abilities. When victims describe their first incident of abuse, they use such statements as, "I don't know what I did to deserve this"; or "if I hadn't done this or that, this wouldn't have happened"; or I was so confused".

Too often, rape victims take responsibility (at least in part) for the rape. It is true that we can make bad decisions that put us in unsafe situations - drinking, using drugs, riding with strangers, or even opening our front door to a stranger. But making unwise decisions does not remove responsibility from the perpetrator.

Survivors must understand that they were victims of a crime, regardless of any decision that may have put them in harms way. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines victim as "one who is injured, destroyed or sacrificed under any of various conditions," including rage, desire or ambition. Victims of sexual abuse are injured mentally and physically. We were sacrificed for the pleasure of our perpetrators. A crime was committed against us.
  • As you think about this, write down the person(s) who are responsible for the abuse you endured. How and why are they responsible?
  • What feelings do you experience when you think of yourself as a victim of another person's sexual sin? Anger, grief, resentment, relief, fear, sadness, pain, other...
But what if the victim benefits?

It is not unusual for an abuser to give gifts or rewards to his/her victim. I can remember my father slipping me $20 every now and then when I headed to our neighborhood pool. He would tell me not to tell my siblings... The money was because I was "extra special". A snow cone probably cost about a $1 and a candy bar wasn't more than 50 cents back then, so $20 was way more than I needed for a day at the local pool. I can also recall expensive running shoes and an expensive formal gown for a school dance in high school (the shoes were for track - not to go with the gown). We spent way more than normal but, again, I was "special". Other survivors have shared stories of similar gifts, attention, protection from others and compliments. Regardless of whatever benefits you may have received, your abuser is still the person responsible. Did you experience some benefits from the person who abused you?

Repeat the following statements aloud three times. You are encouraged to say the words even if you do not believe them.
  • No child at any time, under any circumstances, can consent to sexual activity with an adult.
  • Because of the differences in maturity and power, adults always are responsible for their conduct with children - children cannot be held responsible.
  • Regardless of the circumstances, no person has the right to force or coerce another person into sexual activity against his or her will.
How do you feel after repeating these statements?

What about others who were around?

Survivors must also give responsibility to any co-perpetrator; that is, any person who knowingly aids or allows the person who commits the abuse to perform an abusive act.

Victims sometimes express their greatest anger toward the parent who enabled the abuse. Often the victim has to deal with the question of whether or not the "other parent" really knows. If the victim is certain that the other parent knows, the child is left wondering why the other parent is letting it happen. The child has learned at an early age that parents are to take care of their children. Understanding the role of the enabler is especially difficult if the mother is the person who aided or allowed the abuse. Mother is usually the person tends to wounds, dresses the children, prepares meals, puts them to bed, etc. So why is she not doing something about what is happening?

All victims need to place an appropriate share of the responsibility on the person who allowed the abuse. Most co-perpetrators are not actively involved in the sexual abuse. They just all seem to have come to the same decision - to ignore or discount what they saw or felt was happening. It is not uncommon, once a family comes into a family counseling session, for the parents to weep over what they suspected but did nothing about.

The main issue here is for victims to recognize that others are responsible for not protecting them. We must assign appropriate responsibility to everyone who could have been accountable, rather than to continue taking responsibility ourselves.
  • In what ways have you avoided acknowledging the role a co-perpetrator played in your abuse?
Other pieces to the problem

There are other pieces to the problem of responsibility. Given society's attitudes toward women, children, sex and pornography, it is not uncommon for a victim to rationalize what has happened and who is responsible. Whatever may be involved, the person made the choice to abuse! For healing to take place, victims must let go of responsibility for the abuse and acknowledge that responsibility for the abuse belongs to the person who committed the abuse.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Unit 3 Lesson 5, Getting Rid of False Beliefs

This lesson is a how-to regarding letting go of false beliefs. I am going to defer once again to the workbook - quoting directly.

As strange as it may seem, getting rid of false beliefs is difficult. These beliefs seem normal and natural to you. Your feelings and actions make sense because of them. Some of the false beliefs may seem as true and obvious as the statement that the sky is blue! To declare them as untruths will feel strange and phony. As you learn to take a stand on the truth, you will find freedom from the old negative feelings and actions.

For victims to recover, they need to discover what false beliefs they hold and then rid themselves of them, permanently. Telling Yourself the Truth, a book by William Backus and Marie Chapian, discusses the necessity of telling yourself the "real" truth. If whatever you are thinking about yourself has been distorted by abuse, they emphasize, you must solidly determine not to agree with those thoughts or statement. The real battle is lost if you begin to agree with the negative attitudes caused by the abuse. Naturally, at the start you will have no will to stand up adn say, "Oh, that isn't right! You're not worthless, you are special!" You must therefore develop the skill of standing up and saying that for yourself. You must choose diligently to seek God's help so that you will believe the truth.

Five important steps can help you let go of the false beliefs. You have already used them as you completed the exercises in this unit.

1. Identify the False Belief
As you identify the false beliefs, write them down. Then for each one write a scripturally-based truth statement to counter the false belief.

As found in the Search for Significance -- (FALSE) I must meet certain standards to feel good about myself - results in fear of failure. (TRUTH) I am completely forgiven by and fully pleasing to God. I no longer have to fear failure. (FALSE) I must have the approval of certina others to feel good about myself - results in fear of rejection. (TRUTH) I am totally accepted by God. I no longer have to fear rejection. (FALSE) Those who fail (including myself) are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished - results in guilt. (TRUTH) I am deeply loved by God. I no longer have to fear punishment or punish others. (FALSE) I am what I am. I cannot change. I am hopeless - results in shame. (TRUTH) I have been made brand-new, complete in Christ. I no longer need to experience the pain of shame.

2 - Look for the Root of the False Belief
Identify the underlying factor that is causing you to maintain the false belief. Which of these may have been introduced into your thinking by authority figures in your life - parents, teachers, employers, pastors, spouse, or other adults - or suggested by the abuser or significant others in your life?

3 - Recognize that the False Beliefs Are Lies
Identify the false beliefs and the experiences or influences that gave life to the false belief. Then, with the encouragement of your support people, you can become more objetive in your thinking. Seek to recognize intellectually and to accept emotionally the fact that these false beliefs are lies.

4 - Relinquish Your False Beliefs
Pray. Ask God to help you let go of your false beliefs and help you believe the truth about yourself. Record your actions and progress. Begin to keep a journal or notebook. Write your thoughts, feelings, and prayers in your journal or notebook. Keep your journal in a private place.

5 - Use Scripture as the Source of Truth
Learn to take a stand, even argue against yourself, in order to develop a belief system based on truth and not rooted and grounded in sexual abuse. Learn not to be so harsh and critical of yourself, but rather to love yourself.

Select one false belief that you have held and that has affected your life. In your journal, describe as fully as you can the consequences of that belief.

You may have written something like, "I never join in conversation because I don't believe I have anything worth saying," or "I believe no one will listen to me." Never joining into conversations can lead to loneliness and isolation. As you move toward recovery, you will exerpience less and less of those negative consequences.

This part of your recovery is difficult. You may only now be beginning to discover the full extent of the harm sexual abuse has caused in your life. You may be experiencing feelings that seem more overwhelming than those you experienced at the time of the abuse. You may be starting the process of experiencing those emotions and feelings that you began to hide while your abuse was taking place. Because of the possibility of experiencing overwhelming flashbacks, we strongly urge you to seek professional evaluation and assistance if you have not already done so.

A prayer to keep you going
Dear Lord, Thank you for making me a prized treasure with a special plan for my life. Thank you that you have equipped me with everything I need to achieve the goal that has been set before me. Thank you, Lord, that when I stumble, you life me up; when I try to run away, you come after me; when I am defeated, you cause me to persevere and to triumph. Thank you, Lord, for your perfect love for me.

Unit 3 Lesson 4, The truth will set you free!

I am going to quote this entire lesson directly from the book. I can't say it any better than the book's authors...

The false beliefs result from experiencing the trauma of sexual abuse. They begin in what happened to you during the abuse, what the abuser said to you about the abuse, and what others said and did at the time of and after the abuse. Other factors, such as the number of abusers involved and the frequency of the abuse all play a role. You need to understand that these false beliefs are learned and therefore can be unlearned. You can begin to correct these beliefs and stop their effects.

You've heard those "good news and bad news" stories. The bad news is this, every time you repeat a false belief you reinforce it. But the good news is that you can choose to repeat a different message. Thank of the negative beliefs as an old coat that has worn out and needs to be replaced, as remnants of an old garment that needs to be discarded. Think of it! You get to pick out a new coat, with a different style and flare. It may not feel like you at first but wear it a while and soon it will fit. You will adjust to it!

The Bible says the way we think in our hearts is the way we are (Provers 23:7). What we tell ourselves becomes our reality. If we believe that we are unworthy and unlovable we will only allow into our minds the information that reinforces that belief. The same is true about the way we think of others.

We can solve this problem by changing what is in our minds! We can change the way we interpret and perceive things. We can identify the source of events and people around us. Then we need to adjust our belief systems to the present by putting off the old patterns of behavior that we learned as a way of coping with the abuse. The false beliefs produce feelings and behaviors that are sabotaging our present, therefore, we must learn to speak and believe the truth about ourselves.

Romans 12:1-2, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do on conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his Good, pleasing and perfect will."

Others have taken your body and abused it. God asks us to allow Him to remove the effects of that abuse by allowing Him to renew our minds. He desires to restore us. God waits for us to offer ourselves to Him.

What does offering our "bodies as living sacrifices" imply that we are to do with our minds?

Describe what the passage says will happen as a result of being transformed by the renewing of our minds?

Since the passage says we are to offer our bodies, that suggests that we must choose to do God's will with our minds. When we seek to obey God with our minds and bodies, we will know the truth about ourselves, then we will be transformed. Renewing our mind is a process that involves the following four steps. We must:
  • Recognize the false belief
  • Reject the false belief
  • Speak the truth
  • Repeat the process until our mind is reprogrammed to believe the truth
Take some time to ask God to continue this process in you. Ask Him to give you the strength to acknowledge the false beliefs, to reject them, and continue to speak the truth until you believe and feel the truth.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Memories during intimacy

Intimacy isn’t discussed until unit 12, but I received this question via email today. Others of you might have this same question, so I wanted to post it.

Question: I just wondered if you still relive all of the past every time you are feeling intimate. I have found that to be something that I can't escape...I don't feel like I struggle with the situation anymore, just the fact that I can't erase the memories.

My response: I am so sorry that you are dealing with that. It is certainly not the way God intended for marital intimacy.

Having memories or difficulty being intimate is not uncommon for survivors, but it is one reaction that I have been blessed to not have had to deal with very much. There are a few behaviors or word phrases that trigger memories, but not a great deal. When I experience something that triggers a memory, I always tell my husband and he immediately stops whatever it is. Not only does he stop, but he is also compassionate, understanding and even apologetic. While he does not mean to scare or upset me, I always appreciate that he understands and does whatever is needed to comfort me. But I had to TELL him about the feelings in order for him to know.

Here is a story directly out of Shelter From The Storm that might help...

One husband and wife came to the counseling office because the wife did not want to have sexual intercourse with her husband. She was in denial as a result of the abuse, and he was very angry because she refused to have sex with him. To his dismay, the counselor suggested abstinence from sex for a period of time so the wife could begin to deal with the past sexual issues. He agreed only because, as he said, "That's what's happening anyway - so it couldn't be any worse." Fortunately, in spite of his initial reluctance, the husband was able to reach deep inside himself to help his wife. God was able to touch their lives, although inside during the early part of the wife's recovery, she simply was not functioning. This story ended in a great victory for both husband and wife.

She said, "For the first time, sex is good. I never knew or understood the intimacy that God intended for me through sex. How distorted it was for me in the past, but now the most beautiful part is how tenderly my husband sees me. I want to say it is a miracle, but I realize this is really just how God meant it to be."

This husband chose to support, accept and understand. He and his wife certainly had good days and bad days in the process of recovery, but they chose to forgive and try again to continue on their long journey through the storm.

A question that goes along with what you've asked is, "How do I get the memories to go away?" I'm going to take a stab at answering that, but I think it's just about as mysterious as explaining prayer... In my journey, I have discovered that as I've processed my story over and over again, I have addressed different parts of it and experienced healing every time. I am going through the Shelter study for the third time right now, and I am learning new things everyday! Recovery is not a one-time thing, unfortunately. While you may be functioning at a very high and healthy level most of the time, it sounds like more healing needs to take place in order for you to experience the joys that God intended in intimacy. Something that has been key in my life is that my old cruddy memories are being drown out by new good ones. Even good memories from the past!

A good analogy is this visual that one of our church pastor's does... Fill a clear glass half-full with water. When we were born, it was clear - pure, innocent, unadulterated. Then someone did something awful to us that changed us (add dark food coloring to change the water color to a muddied, dirty color). The water’s color represents how we feel now - dark, dirty, damaged, impure, etc. How does the water in our cup ever run clear again? The answer - someone (God, our spouse, children, friends, etc.) needs to pour clear water (love, joy, peace, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, concern, protection, provision, etc) into our cup. The new clear water will begin to dilute the dark-colored water... and with enough clear water, the muddied waters are almost completely gone. That is how other people are able to make such an impact on our lives - through what they pour into us.

Another vital piece would be to specifically pray that God would minimize the bad memories and direct your steps so that you can enjoy sex. Ask Him if there are things you can do to help prepare your mind for intimacy. I have one friend that sometimes prays during sex. That might sound a little awkward, but I'd certainly prefer to invite God into the bedroom before my abuser!

Thank you for trusting me with this question. I am here to talk anytime, friend.

If you have experienced this and have anything to add to the conversation, please feel free to comment.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Unit 3 lesson 3, Consequences of False Beliefs

The false beliefs that we have bought into drive much of our behaviors and attitudes. As I read this lesson for the first time last year, I had one ah-ha moment after another. I learned a great deal about myself and my thought patterns. I hope and pray that you will too.

The false beliefs that we've discussed in lessons 1 and 2 lead to low self-worth, guilt and undeserved responsibility for the abuse. Most often, abuse survivors look to family members to fix the brokenness - especially when our abuser was a family member. Survivors try to resolve the beliefs and feelings through various behaviors such as care-taking, people-pleasing and continued conflict. Any of this sound familiar?

Before I go further with this, I want to focus on how a survivor looks to family members to fix the brokenness. I was stuck in this pattern for a very long time. I longed for my mother to love me. I wanted so badly for her to finally take my side and throw her protective, unconditionally loving arms around me. I wanted to hear the words, "You are right. He abused you and I neglected you and ignored the abuse. I believe you and will do everything in my power now to nurture and protect you. I love you. You are special and so very important to me." I thought that if my mother said those words, that it would change everything. It would make me whole again to know that my mother believed me, cared about me, and loved me as a mother should. As I have talked with other survivors, I've learned that most of us have these deep longings for family relationships. And many of us put ourselves in situations that continue to be hurtful, sometimes even abusive, in hopes that the relationship will one day be loving and healing (only to be hurt more while we wait). As I discussed this with a counselor last year, I commented that it was almost "sick" for survivors to do this to themselves... But the counselor reminded me that WE are not the ones who are sick for having these longings. It is our abusers that are sick. It is our dysfunctional family members who are in the wrong. Our desire to have loving relationships with our families is completely natural and God's design; however, it is sometimes just not possible. God did not design families to be broken, but all too often that is the state of affairs in this world we live in. And the "sins of the father" continue to be paid for by the children.

Low self-esteem

One way to think about self-esteem is to replace the word "esteem" with "respect". So, SELF-RESPECT it is. Think about your life. Do you treat yourself with respect? Do you demand that others respect you? If the answer is "no", you likely suffer from low self-esteem. For me - the lack of self-respect led to a relationship with an abusive boyfriend. I believed I was utterly unlovable and didn't deserve anything better. Other ways that one can disrespect themselves include promiscuity (and other sexual behavior), drug/alcohol abuse, self-harming, etc. Many victims believe that they do not deserve respect. You might feel dirty, used up, or damaged. These feelings prevent you from protecting yourself, and you wind up being abused again and again. Having self-esteem provides the ability to acknowledge both our strengths and weaknesses and to see ourselves as people with value and meaning. Another way I've heard it is "God esteem". To view ourselves as God views us.

Frequently, victims of sexual abuse struggle with body image issues. They look into the mirror and see an image that they hate. For some, they hate a specific part of their body - a part that was frequently abused. As a young child, I hated my femininity. I prayed that God would change me into a boy, and engaged in every boy'ish activity I could find. I wanted desperately to repel my father. I kept thinking, "If I can become enough like a boy, he will lose interest in me." For many, this thinking continues into adulthood. Many dress in too-big clothes, or have even intentionally gained significant amounts of weight to ward off any unwanted attention. The thing that runs through a victim's mind is, "I don't want to have sex, so it must be my body that is sending these signals. I hate me. I hate my body. I hate everybody."

The following is a list of symptoms of low self-esteem. Write down the ones that you experience.

A constant feeling of worthlessness
Persistent thoughts that you didn't do it right
Broad swings in negative and positive attitudes about yourself
One mistake destroys feelings of accomplishment or success
Negative self-statements
Over-responsible - feeling that everything is always my fault
Under-responsible - being unable to acknowledge that I was wrong
Difficulty making decisions

You may have noted one or two, or the entire list... Consider sharing what these have been like for you in the comments.

We need to realize that low self-esteem is a mindset, not a state of being. Low self-esteem is an attitude about ourselves; therefore, it can be changed! We are not vain, self-centered, or egotistical when we view ourselves as God views us. We can allow Christ to lead us as we change our mind-set from one of inadequacy to one of competency and fulfillment. He can transform our feelings from helplessness and hopelessness to affirmation and determination, from condemnation and self-hatred to self-affirmation and love.

Guilt / Self-blame

If you have an absolutely awful feeling inside yourself that says you somehow caused the abuse, know that you are not alone, but that IT IS NOT TRUE. Frequently, victims will blame themselves for not preventing or stopping the abuse. Adolescents and children who have been sexually abused rarely have the emotional maturity to deal with what is happening to them. Physical and mental maturation is not reached until late teens. When children are violated, however, the normal maturation process is severely damaged.

Can you identify any guilt or self-blame in your life?

Let's talk for a minute about that last statement, "when children are violated, the normal maturation process is severely damaged". I have heard that in some ways a child stops maturing at the age he/she was abused. As I've talked with other survivors, many have noted that a part of them was "stuck". That they still felt like that child - young, vulnerable, unable to stop it, unable to deal with it, having no control, feeling the EXACT same emotions from years ago. Many times we also view our abusers as we did back then - as our parent, our trusted family friend, our teacher... A person whom we fear because of their abusive behavior, but that we also care about and desire to have a completely different relationship with. As we journey through this recovery process, we are becoming less and less stuck and are beginning to see more clearly the reality of our lives. We are beginning to recognize our brokenness and are placing responsibility on the correct person - the abuser. We are maturing, healing, growing...


In addition to self-blame, survivors experience a deeper feeling that something was terribly wrong with them. If they weren't so messed up, the abuse would never have happened. That feeling is called shame. What child victims of sexual abuse must cope with is incomprehensible. Children lose their rightful identities as loved and valuable human being. They must try to mature in life with a foundation based on confusion and betrayal.

Many factors enter into the healthy development of children. The false beliefs of shame and undeserved blame, established as children grow, devastate their emotional stability as adults. Whether we experienced sexual abuse as children, as adults, or both, we need to let go of the shame and undeserved responsibility.

Have you been shaming yourself? Thinking something along the lines of, "I don't deserve to be happy." or "I'm a freak. I am not worth loving."

Take some time right now to pray about these major consequences of sexual abuse. Tell yourself the truth... If you have low self-esteem - tell yourself, "God loves me and I can love me too." If you feel guilty or are blaming yourself - tell yourself, "Responsibility belongs to the abuser." If you are ashamed - tell yourself, "I am worthy of respect and love."

For me - this lesson was empowering, yet it also grieved me. It laid all my losses out in black and white. I was overwhelmed at the life that someone took away from me and the awful one they gave me to replace it. I had to take some time to look closely at this and deeply grieve all that I'd lost. I realized that it was utterly sad, crushing, heartbreaking... I was less angry and just plain sad that my life is not how it should be. And as sad as I feel about it, I can only imagine how heartbroken God is. From a parent's perspective, I feel that I have a very slight grasp of how He feels. This is not how He designed His children (my parents) to treat their child (me - also His child). So, if God is more grieved than I am (and I firmly believe He is), then I have a lap to crawl up into for comfort. I am not alone - God is with me. Tears are streaming down His face as well.

There is a lovely prayer in the workbook that I would like to close with. It is from the book's authors, Cynthia and James. "God, grant these readers the experience of knowing Your love, Your freedom from undeserved guilt, from self-blame and from shame. May they know that they can love and respect themselves. Help them to believe, to accept, and to feel the truth of Romans 8:1, that there is "now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Unit 3 Lesson 2, Lies v. Truths, Part 2

In lesson one we explored the first two false beliefs that survivors of sexual abuse almost always struggle with. Today we are going to explore the other two.

Lie #3 - I wanted him/her to do this to me.

When some part of the sexual abuse feels good, it is easy to confuse that natural feeling with a desire to have this happen to us. For instance, part of the touching might have physically felt good. Or, you might have enjoyed the closeness of sitting on your abuser's lap or receiving the special attention he/she gave you. Enjoying touch is a natural physical response and the desire to be close to someone is embedded in our hearts. This does not mean you wanted him/her to sexually abuse you! As a matter of normal physiology, many victims of sexual abuse enjoyed a part of the stimulation - that is a normal and healthy reaction to an illegal act!!

As you think about the lie, "I wanted him/her to do this to me because it felt good", write down two truth statements to replace the false belief.

God created the human body for healthy sexual interaction. He created sex for our enjoyment in marriage. You are not a terrible person if your body responded to sexual stimulation. You may have written something like, "the human body naturally responds to stimulation", or "the person who abused me is responsible, I am not", or "a child cannot be responsible for the actions of an adult."

The false belief that you wanted the abuse because of the natural responses of the human body traps your mind and holds it captive. Begin to accept your body as it was created. Let go of the belief that you wanted the abuse.

Lie #4 - It didn't happen. I must have made it up.

We were gifted with the ability to suppress memories. Suppressing those memories enabled us to survive without dealing with what happened in our past. However, when those memories start to surface, the challenge we are faced with is determining what is truth and what is not. The memories may come back as flashes, fragments, snapshots... and they can be unclear. What we remember confuses us, so we have difficulty believing it ourselves. We have even more difficulty believing that others will believe us.

Most victims (about 90%) are violated by someone they know and trust. The victim may make an attempt to tell someone about the abuse, but it is so very difficult since it's someone we know and trust. Often children will assume that their parents know since they have this idea that parents are all-knowing. The child may ask, "Do you know what Daddy is doing to me?" or "Do I have to do everything the babysitter says?" Unfortunately, the adult may not recognize the child's attempt to disclose sexual abuse.

Have you ever thought you might be making it all up or that your situation was "no big deal"? If you have, your thoughts are normal. Take some time to think about this... Describe the things that have caused you to ask yourself, "Is this real? Was I abused? Was what happened to me really abuse?"

Rewrite the false belief, "It didn't happen. I must have made it up." into a truth statement that acknowledges your experience of sexual abuse.

False belief: "It didn't happen. I must have made it up."
Truth statement: _______________________

You may have written something like, "I can only remember parts of the abuse. That's normal and I can accept what I remember as real." or "It happened only once but I know it was real."

Your memories are evidence that something was wrong. Do not let go of what is true, even if others respond with angry feelings or non-supportive attitudes. For you to tell your story is appropriate, especially for you to tell your story to someone who can help. You need to find supportive people who will listen and believe you. You are invited to share your story in the comments here or privately in an email. Share your feelings, especially when it's difficult! Sharing details and identities is not always necessary - focus on your feelings.

John 8:32, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Do you or have you struggled with an addiction to pornography? Help Crystal write the book DIRTY GIRLS.

Dirty Girls is a book that will discuss the widespread, yet silent battle women are facing with pornography addiction. Surveys are being conducted at for women presently addicted to pornography, for women who have overcome a pornography addiction and for friends, family and accountability partners of women addicted to pornography.

Through analyzing surveys, as well as conducting interviews with those who have been affected by pornography, author Crystal Renaud will use her personal story of redemption and Biblical and practical tools for recovery, to show women they are not alone in their battle and the hope that freedom from a pornography addiction is possible.

More can be found at

Monday, February 9, 2009

How long does it take?

I get quite a few emails from people who are following
this blog... One that I received today expresses what
many of you are likely thinking. With the writer's
permission, I would like to share it with you.

Email from K: You don't know me, I just wanted to drop
you an email and say hi. I came across your blog when
I was looking for Christian resources on this topic.
I think I am just starting on the road to recovery. A
couple of months in. I've been hoping for a quick fix...
but I'm learning that isn't the way the Lord usually
works. I find your blog very hard to read, but thank you
for writing it. Please keep blogging, there isn't much
stuff like this around in the UK and it's such a comfort
and guide to me. I have a million questions, but I'll
just ask one, how long does it take for the memories
to not affect you so much?

My response: Thank you so much for your email. I am
always so blessed to hear that the blog is useful and
helping others. I take a lot of comfort in that
personally -- it reminds me that my childhood was worth
more than merely surviving. That, because of the things
I went through and the way God is healing me daily, I
have something I can share with others to help them too.
This ministry gives an indescribable purpose to the pain
from my childhood.

I know that reading the blog is hard. Take your time
getting through it. It is not about speed reading but
about healing.

I wish there was a simple answer to your question. I
think that a big part of the answer has to do with how we
choose to respond to the situation. That might be hard to
understand... It is human nature to feel sorry for
ourselves, to focus intensely on the anger and rage that
we feel, or to get totally caught up in the unfairness of
the situation. But when we do that, I think we get caught
up in the emotional wildfire and experience the complete
opposite of peace. When we're in that place, there is no
chance for the memories to fade because we are so focused
on them.

As we take this journey laid out in the Shelter From
the Storm
study, we will process through the memories,
feelings, emotions, coping mechanisms, etc. But our
purpose here is solution-oriented. We are not going
through this study just to relive all the garbage. We
want to understand what has happened to us, recognize how
it has and is effecting our lives, and figure out what we
need to do differently in order to be completely restored.

How long will it take? I wish I could tell you...
Everyone's process is different. I didn't start involving
God in my recovery until I was 29 years old. My first
visit with a counselor was at age 12, so that is 17 years
of of my life that might have been drastically different
if I'd had gone to him first. And when I did invite God
into this process, my baggage was immediately lighter - but
I was very ready for major life change! You've heard it
said before, "a person cannot be helped if they don't want
help". That was true in my case. I had a lot of big ideas
about how I was just fine, or how I could control things
into a degree of fine, or I could just move far away and
discover a great new life. But none of my great plans
panned out, so God was the only viable option left for me.
And I was as ready for his healing as I'd ever been for
anything else in my life. I wanted it and was willing to
do everything He asked me to do to get it - even the
things I didn't want to do.

The first month of the process is very hard. Defining
sexual abuse, reflecting on our lives in order to determine
the abuses we've suffered, naming our abusers, recognizing
the dysfunction around us, etc. are all very difficult
tasks (and all bring back a lot of old memories, flashbacks,
nightmares, etc). We are ripping down the veil and coming
face to face with what we've invested precious time and
energy into running away from. It brings back old memories
and breaks our hearts all over again. This is one heck of
a hurdle! But from here, once we know what we're dealing
with, we can begin to rebuild. The earlier lessons involve
exposing all the darkness, pain, shame and secrets. The
latter lessons are focused on healing them - overcoming
fears, healing loneliness, being comforted, beginning to
trust again, becoming able to discern trustworthy from
untrustworthy people, learning what forgiveness is and why
we need to do it, confronting those who have hurt us, and
discovering intimacy in relationships. These are the
skills we were unable to develop as victims of
abuse.. God's plan is for us to have deep and meaningful
relationships and joyful lives. That is where the hope
lies that we need to hold on to for dear life in order to
get us through this recovery process.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Unit 3 Lesson 1, Lies vs Truth, Part 1

The goal for this week is to recognize and begin to replace the false beliefs you have about yourself and your abuse.

Sexual abuse almost always leaves a victim with false beliefs about their value and worth. We hold these false beliefs as absolute truths and over time these beliefs create mistaken guilt, destroy self-esteem and assign undeserved responsibility to us.

Survivors who are Christians tend to struggle with applying God's word (what we know to be TRUE) to our daily lives. We want so badly to believe what the Bible tells us, but bringing that truth into our hearts is a fierce battle. The lies we have bought in to are so very difficult to overcome.

Lie #1: It is my fault

Almost every survivor struggles with this misconception. Your abuser might have told you it was your fault. He/she might have told you it was both of your fault. You might say to yourself, "if only I hadn't been there" or "if I hadn't been wearing that", "if I hadn't opened the door", or "if I hadn't been drinking". Often times, rapists will yell horrible accusations at their victims as the rape is in progress. Perhaps you were consenting to some physical contact with your abuser, but said no and he/she didn't listen. You might blame yourself thinking, "It was my fault for kissing him so passionately and letting him touch me. He couldn't control himself. I led him on." Or maybe you feel it is your fault because you didn't "stop" the abuse or you enjoyed how special the attention or "relationship" made you feel.

During and immediately after sexual abuse, when the victim is at such a heightened state of fear and despair, the victim is more psychologically open to these false messages. Adolescents and children have even less ability to comprehend the truth of the situation. But the truth is that a victim is NEVER to blame for the sexual abuse committed against them.

Take some time to identify the self-blaming statements you have made about yourself.

False belief: "It is my fault because...."

One example might be, "It is my fault because I enjoyed the attention he gave me."

After you make your list of false beliefs, go back through the list and make a statement that is the opposite of your false belief. Even if you don't believe it yet, write down the opposite statement.

The truth for our example above would be: "Attention is a healthy human need. It is normal to enjoy attention. I wanted attention - I didn't want sex."

Lie #2: I must be a terrible person for him/her to do this to me

It is natural for children to believe that adults can do no wrong. And they view their parents as almost God-like. So, when an adult does something wrong, the child frequently believes that they must have done something to cause it.

Adults can feel this way too. In many cases, this is because the adult victim admires the offending adult and is confused about the abusive behavior. For instance, a church secretary might blame herself if her married pastor started pursuing an intimate relationship with her. She is wondering, "What did I do to send him this message? It must be my fault. I must be a terrible person."

When we accept lie #1, lie #2 follows easily...

As you think about lie #2, "I must be a terrible person for him/her to do this to me", write two truth statements from your own story to counter the false beliefs.

As I think about lie #2, I can hear my old recording in my head.... "If my own mother doesn't love me, who will? I must be so awful. Utterly unlovable. Worthless. A total reject." But the truth is that God loves me, regardless of how my mother feels about me. The problems are my mother's , not mine. I was an innocent child who did nothing to deserve the things they did to me. And God has never and will never see me as worthless - after all, he sent his only son for ME.

Some other truth statements might be: "The responsibility for the abuse belongs to my abuser", "I am a special person, created by God", "I was vulnerable, but I am worthy of respect and love."

Victims often try to hold on to the positive aspects of relationships with the abusers by viewing themselves as dirty and undeserving of respect. Speak the truth! Allow the shame and guilt to fall on the people who committed the abuse. By doing so you will not be making them guilty, you will be recognizing the truth of their guilt. They are responsible for what was done to you.

Our memory verse for this week is simple, but profound. "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32 Think about that. What does it mean to you right now, as you begin to decipher lies from truth?

In the next lesson we will discuss two other lies - "I wanted him/her to do this to me" and "It didn't happen. I must have made it up." I will be praying that God will shine His light on your story and that you will clearly see and BELIEVE the truth.

Friday, February 6, 2009

How do we deal with conflict?

I think it's rare for someone to come by conflict resolution easily. It's complicated, as it involves emotions, some pre-wired personality issues, and then all the defense mechanisms we establish over time. So, it is not surprising that conflict resolution is hard, and even harder for someone who has been sexually abused.

Since our defense mechanisms are a big part of the equation, now seems as good a time as any to write about this. The way I would normally do this would be to draw pictures, but since I can't do that right now, please bare with me while I explain my images.

Some people cause conflict all the time, and out of very selfish and ugly desires. In my experience, dealing with these people is difficult, frustrating and usually quite hurtful. James 3:15-16, "For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, un-spiritual, and motivated by the Devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil." James 4:1-3 says, "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong - you want only what will give you pleasure." This kind of thinking and relating to others is not biblical and, frankly, it doesn't even make good common sense! The world definitely has a "what about me" mentality, but I think it's possible to care for your best interests while also treating people kindly. Whatever happened to treating others the way we want to be treated?

When God is at work in one's life, there will be certain noticeable attributes. In Galations 5:22 Paul lists these "fruits of the spirit" as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Christians experience conflict just like everyone else, but their heart should be such that there is a desire for peace, resolution and restoration where ever possible.

My two pictures images would be like this... When someone is rooted in selfish ambition, jealousy, etc. the result is fighting, hurtful behavior, disorder, and every other kind of evil. When someone is rooted in Christ, love, joy, kindness, self-control, etc. the result will be an attitude of resolution, forgiveness, apologies, and any other kind of peacemaking.

So what do we do when someone is attacking us? It is a natural tendency to want to lash out, attack, defend, and perhaps even wage our own offensive. But what good is that? Doesn't that just perpetuate and escalate the conflict? I have found that what works best for me personally is to leave the conversation - politely say that now is not a good time for me to continue this discussion as nothing good will come of it... Then walk away, hang up the phone, ask the person to leave, etc. When you are removed from the situation, I would suggest journaling and/or praying. Both will provide an outlet for you to express how you feel without fueling the flame or stooping to a level that is not productive. As you are praying, ask God for direction about how to deal with the situation. I would not advise venting to your friends merely for the sake of venting, as this generally produces more anger on your part. Wise and godly friends can certainly be very helpful!

James 4:6, "He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, 'God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.' So, humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor."

Friends, I am here to tell you that this works! It may seem silly or incredulous to pray to a God that cannot be seen, but you will begin to see Him in your LIFE when you put your trust in Him. When I decided to stop fighting with my mother, I told her that I could not be in relationship with her anymore, at least for the time being. She berated me and told me what a selfish, ungrateful, hateful daughter I was. I explained that I was way too angry to see her or talk to her and needed time away and that I would be praying about our relationship. She replied with, "What kind of church would tell you it's okay for a child to cut her mother off?" I merely said that I needed space to heal and hung up the phone. I didn't see her or talk to her for over a year, but I experienced a great deal of healing in that time. I had to be removed from the constant fighting in order to heal. God showed me the things I was doing wrong, helped me to begin forgiving her, and began to soften my heart so that grace and mercy would replace the bitterness, rage and hatred I felt for her for so long. It is still unsafe to be in a close relationship with her (she is still very unpredictable), but I can honestly say that I do care about her, I hurt for the many ways she has been abused and mistreated throughout her life, and I try to honor her by spending time together every now and then.

In terms of day-t0-day conflicts that don't require stepping far back from a relationship, my advice is the same. Take a breather from the conversation if it's escalating into arguing, name calling, insults, etc. Get your feelings out in prayer or on paper, ask God how to proceed. Ask Him to show you your responsibility in the conflict and to reveal to the other party their responsibility. Ask Him to give you the right words as you go back to the person with an attitude of resolution and peace.

What is very challenging is trying to resolve conflict biblically with someone who is only thinking of their desires, selfish ambitions, vengeance, etc. Sometimes all you can do is the right thing - own your mistakes and offenses, seek forgiveness (from God and the person you hurt), make the necessary changes in your behavior (which will probably require changes in your heart), extend your desires to reconcile and then wait for them to do the same. If they choose not to, the relationship cannot be fully restored and now you're faced with the decision of what you can handle in the relationship. All, part or none? It is not selfish or un-christlike to come to the conclusion that you have to pull out of the relationship completely. Forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Sometimes reconciling a relationship is too dangerous - especially when abuse is involved. A verse I absolutely love for this is Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." We can only do our part - what "depends on us". This does not mean to turn ourselves inside out to to become what others want (I am all too familiar with that behavior), but to have a heart of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In doing that, many of our relationships will fall into place, some will fall by the way-side (because the other party only wants trouble and we do not), and we will experience a peace, joy and depth in our relationships that we've never known before.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Unit 2 Lesson 5, Restoration Is Possible

I've mentioned several times that I've seen a lot of counselors. I think "early intervention" (counseling at age 12) helped to curb some damaging thought pattens. For instance, I have never blamed myself for the abuse, and that is probably the most common thought that survivors have. "I must have done something wrong/it's my fault/I deserved it/I'm bad." Perhaps getting counseling at such a young age helped to steer me away from thinking those things, and I am so grateful that that is one battle I did not have to wage within myself --- learning to accept the exact opposite of that garbage. So, while there were still a lot of awful and harmful things going on at that time (I was still being sexually abused), I was being assured by my counselor that it was not my fault (she did not know about the ongoing abuse). And I believed that.

A counselor I had in high school had a poster hanging on her wall. It said, "I am responsible for my day." At the ripe old age of 15, I was learning that it was up to me to choose whether or not I would let the garbage control my life. At that age, I was making a lot of right decisions and a few wrong decisions. But, just a couple years later, the ratio had flipped. I was making a few right decisions and a lot of wrong decisions. But, I KNEW the wrong decisions I was making. I just didn't feel like I had the power to do things differently.

I continued seeing therapists through my first couple years in college and was honest and forthcoming about what was going on in my life (and my head). I told them the truth and they always told me the truth about the mistakes I was making and the changes that should be made. I always learned the "lesson" of what they were helping me to see, but I didn't always change my behavior in response to the truth I'd just learned. Change takes time.

Then I got married --- "rescued" is what I was hoping for. And I was rescued from daily life with my family. We'd moved across the country and life was no longer abusive; but it became increasingly lonely given all my secrets and acting out. I made an absolute disaster out of my marriage - the most regretful mistakes and poor choices of my life. This man did not deserve the mess I made of his life. When I left him, I was fully aware of how I tore through his life like a tornado. When I left, nothing was as I'd found it. Just like when my abusers left my life - nothing was the same with me. I knew I needed to make major changes, as I never wanted to hurt someone else, or myself, like that ever again.

I was suddenly alert and aware as I never had been before. Shortly after my divorce, I was dating someone special and had made a commitment to myself to not lie or keep secrets from him (now my husband). I worked hard at being intentional with my words and actions. Getting my tantrums and insecurities under control was no easy task, but it was important to me. I was upfront with everything I struggled with (which I had NEVER done before). I trusted him completely.

A year and a half after marrying, we started attending church. Getting involved in different church groups changed me a great deal. Many things were really good.... However, I was still mad as all get-out at my mother and struggled in general anytime I'd think about my birth family. That's when I decided to go back to counseling. She was a Christian counselor at my church. At our first meeting, she gave me two things to do for homework. 1- Read "Dorie, The Girl Nobody Loved" by Dorie VanStone. 2- Read the story of Joseph, Genesis chapters 37-50. While reading the story of Joseph, I was to journal everything in his story that compared to mine. I journaled practically the entire story!!! And I discovered that from the very beginning of time, families have struggled, families have betrayed one another, people have had evil intentions, and those who were abused and mistreated can overcome!

Long story short... Joesph experienced massive betrayal. His brothers tried to kill him, then sold him into slavery. While Joseph was a slave, his master's wife tried to seduce him. When Joseph refused to be seduced, he was falsely accused and thrown into prison. In prison he helped others, but when they got out, they forgot about Joseph. But Joseph did an amazing thing. He kept believing in God. Eventually God delivered Joseph from prison and made him second-in-command over all of Egypt. God made Joseph forget the pain, the anger, the loneliness, and all the other distressing emotions he must have felt.

As I completed this homework, I felt relieved to know that God is familiar with families mistreating one another. You will also find a story about the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-39. What we are dealing with is not new to God. He knows what we've been through, what we're feeling, and exactly what we need to heal. Joseph is the perfect example of overcoming horrible betrayal and going on to be hugely victorious. There is hope for us!

All of this to say... Over time you can be fully restored. With every passing day, I discover more and more good health in my life. But, there was only so much I could do without God. I had corrected a lot of my poor choices and bad behaviors before bringing God into the equation... But, the thoughts and feelings that I held deep in my heart and mind could not be fixed without His lovingkindness, compassion, forgiveness and grace.

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." As I ponder this verse, I feel it is telling me to not allow the world or my painful experiences in the world to determine how I live, think, act or feel. Like that poster in my therapist's office said all those years ago.... "I am responsible for my day." Will I make the choice to carry the baggage with me every where I go, or will I choose to lay the garbage down and accept a renewing of my mind?

God wants to make us new again. He wants to renew our minds and heal what our abusers have done to us. Sexual abuse is not the will of God. He is not using the sexual abuse to "teach us a lesson". His will has always been to restore to our lives that which was stolen by the abuse.

Just as the effects of abuse become evident without prior awareness of how the abuse was affecting you, God's restoration happens without your awareness of His work. One day, you are surprised by the joy of realizing that you have been changed! You are better.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Unit 2 Lesson 4, Symptoms of Abuse, Part 2

So, I felt like there was a lot to take in yesterday... This is my 3rd time through this study. I saw counselors regularly from age 12-20, then counseled a little more again around age 30. I still check-in with a counselor a couple times a year, but no longer for things specifically related to sexual abuse. Anyway, my point is... Even with all that counseling under my belt, the specifics of how a person can hurt another makes me sick at my stomach - especially when we're talking about child abuse. So, if you've had a hard time reading the last couple of entries and are having some flashbacks, insomnia, etc. - know that you are not alone. Read the entries at your own pace -- this is not about speed reading, it's about HEALING. And to heal we must go through this painful process of dealing with things...

For the second half of the symptoms:
  • Perfectionism - Do you want everyone and everything to be in order? Do you have rigid or high standards? Do you expect everyone to meet your standards and become angry or disappointed when they don't? Do you get stressed out when your home/appearance/children/etc. are not "perfect"?
  • Performance/need for achievement - Are you highly driven to succeed? Do you find that being good is not good enough, you must be the best? Do you feel that you must earn the right to be happy or worthy?
  • Repeatedly feeling betrayed - Do you feel like everything that goes "wrong" has gone wrong because someone wanted to hurt/offend you on purpose? Do you feel that everyone is against you? Do you feel that if your husband/roommate/children leaves the kitchen a mess that it was some sort of personal attack on you?
  • Fear - Is your mind full of all the bad things that could go wrong? Do you fear the dark, being alone, being abandoned, getting sick? Are you unable to do certain things because of your fears?
  • Withdrawal - Do you isolate yourself from others? Do you avoid social situations? Are you nervous and uncomfortable in a crowd, thinking that no one will like you so you should not even be there? Do you make yourself "too busy" so that you can politely turn down invitations and then privately feel sad that "no one likes you" or that "you're not part of the in crowd"?
  • Anxiety/sense of doom - Do you become anxious for what appears to be no good reason? Do you feel like you can't try anything because you're just sure you'll mess it up? Do you feel like you're just one big mistake?
  • Repeated victimization - Have you been victimized over and over again? Do you blame yourself, telling yourself that you must be doing something to cause all of this mistreatment?
  • Seductive behavior - Do you dress to call attention to yourself? Do you enjoy the attention you get from others when you dress sexy? Does it somehow prove that you are attractive?
  • Anger and depression - Do you go through periods where you have no energy? Do you just want to lie down? Do you want to avoid people and relationships? Do you feel angry when others try to get you to do things with them? Do you just want to go to your room and shut the blinds?
  • Codependency - In your relationships, are you either being controlled or controlling? Do you impose your expectations on those you are in relationships with? Are you jealous when your friends have other friends? Do you want people to need you? Do you feel important when you are helping your friends? Does that validate you?
  • Self-destructive behavior - Do you go from one conflict to another with your friends and family? Do you lie, knowing that you will get caught? Do you eat when you're not hungry? Or hurt yourself because you think it's the only way to relieve the emotional torment, and justify the hurting behavior saying that you deserve whatever physical pain comes your way?
Thinking about these symptoms and how they are affecting your life has hopefully given you a powerful start to your recovery. Your feelings and behaviors should be making more sense to you... Identifying the symptoms in your life will help you to set specific goals for recovery.

I can carry on about the many symptoms above that have played out in my life, but it's getting late and I've been feeling a bit under the weather today. Please write in the comments or email me privately if you'd like to "talk" about how these things have or are impacting your life. I'm all ears.

I want to close with this excerpt from the book -

The Overcomer's Hopes
In Christ I can -
  • live without fear controlling me.
  • live without being controlled by others.
  • live without needing to control others.
  • live without condemnation or condemning others.
  • live without shame and guilt.
  • live where I know the difference between what is safe and what is not safe.
  • live without rage, hate and depression.
  • live with stable emotions.
  • live with joy and happiness - even in the midst of trails.
  • live with peace and love.
  • live without helplessness.
  • live understanding my value in Christ.
  • live where I can be intimate with others.
  • live where I can trust others who are trustworthy.
  • live with a deep relationship with God.
I made a new blogger friend today. We've been reading each others blogs and something she wrote just reached into the depths of my heart so I had to email her to "chat" a little in private. She sent me a nice note back and then mentioned me in her blog tonight. She called me "an amazing person". And while I am deeply humbled that she would say that, I want you all to know that I am a super ordinary person. I do not have some extra special Leigh-only gift that enabled me to overcome my abusive childhood. I AM JUST LIKE YOU. I was a big mess and fought most of my recovery tooth and nail. The LAST recovery thing I did was to forgive my mom, and there are still days where I have to forgive it all over again. And I have days when I don't want to - when I want to be mad, hold a grudge, get even, etc... I am soooooo very normal, average and ordinary. My recovery has not been made possible by anything I did, but by everything that Jesus did. Well, I guess I did choose to let Him handle things, and I choose to believe all that the Bible tells me about Him and me. But, from where I'm sitting, why wouldn't I? From a purely selfish standpoint, the Bible is the place that tells me that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made, that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, that the Lord is just and justice will be His, and that He knows the plans he has for me - not to hurt me but to prosper me. So, I'm not amazing - God is. As my pastor recently put it, I hope that you are not impressed with me, but with the JESUS IN ME. A bit cheesy, but so true.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Unit 2 Lesson 3, Symptoms of Abuse, Part 1

Trust is a difficult issue for survivors of sexual abuse, but I want to encourage you to trust God as much as you can. The Bible tells us that He understands when we cannot. God responds to faith as small as a mustard seed! Don't become bogged down trying to remember things from the past. Allow God to reveal insights and memories according to His will and timing. This will keep you from getting too overwhelmed and will enable you to deal with them one by one.

We are going to spend the next two days talking about "symptoms" of sexual abuse. However, before we get started, I want to clarify that these symptoms alone do not mean a person has been sexually abused. There could be many explanations for these behaviors/issues, but they are tendencies that are common to victims of sexual abuse. In some ways these behaviors allowed us to survive. As you process through these tendencies, remember that valuing yourself and your ability to cope is the first step in choosing to make positive changes in your life.

  • Headaches/migraines/stomach aches
  • Sleeplessness/oversleeping - Do you suffer from severe insomnia or sleep for days on end?
  • Sexual difficulties - Do you want to stop sleeping with others but can't stop yourself for fear of rejection? Do you swing unpredictably from romantic and affectionate one day to not wanting your partner to even touch you the next? Are you unable to participate in certain sexual behavior? Are you promiscuous?
  • Low self-esteem - Do you think that you are no good because someone told you that while they were abusing you? Do you think no one will ever love you because your parents didn't? Do you think you are dirty or damaged goods?
  • Lack of healthy boundaries - Are you completely unable to tell someone no? When someone says no to you, do you feel rejected? Are you easily walked on? Do you put up with mistreatment rather than risk losing a relationship by standing up for yourself?
  • Rage - Do you fly into a rage when you're upset? Are your children afraid of you? Do you yell and scream a lot?
  • Over-reaction to people and situations - Do you have panic attacks? Are you paranoid? Do you think that every time someone is upset or in a bad mood it's because you've done something wrong? Are you easily startled?
  • Addictions - Do you eat/drink/smoke/use drugs/etc. so that you can escape your problems? Do you medicate your feelings with compulsive behaviors? Not eating at all, overspending, working excessive hours, keeping yourself busy with church/volunteer activities?
  • Spacing out - Do you find that you are oblivious to what is going on around you sometimes? Do you check out and stop paying attention?
  • Memory block - Are you unable to remember parts of your life? Have you blocked it from your memory?
There are still three pages of symptoms left to discuss tomorrow, but my house is quiet now so I'm going to share a few of my strongest tendencies... I want you to know that in every group of survivors that I've ever met with, at least one woman has struggled with every single one of these symptoms and we've always had more to add. We are creative when coming up with ways to cope with what has happened to us.

I was going through a divorce when my (current) husband and I began dating. I was beginning to recognize some major missteps I'd taken and really wanted to turn my life around. I became painfully honest with myself, started keeping a journal, and was also very honest with my (now) husband.

The three things I used to cope were alcohol, relationships and exercise.

I was not an alcoholic. I didn't drink alcohol frequently, but when I did drink it was very excessively. I drank when things were difficult. Even now, if I have an especially difficult day, I catch myself thinking "I need a drink!" It is this "take the edge off" mentality... But it really didn't take the edge off of anything, it only allowed me to postpone feeling whatever I was feeling. I have never once had a drink because I enjoy the taste of it - my intention with every drink was to consume enough that my problems would go away.

Relationships, interestingly enough, were another thing I used to cope. I couldn't be "alone", and anytime I was on the verge of ending a relationship, I would never do so until I had another one lined up. I was not a confrontational person and didn't have enough confidence in myself that any problem could be worked out... So, at the first sign of trouble, I would come up with my exit plan. Reject before being rejected. This applied to both friendships and boyfriend relationships; which explains why I didn't have my first meaningful, mutual and lasting friendship until I was 30 years old.

As a teenager, I was a runner. I ran track for five years. Never a sprint - always distance. I wasn't a fast runner, but I had stamina. The reason for this is because I used exercise as a way to literally run away from my problems and as a way to torture my body. This is the hardest for me to write about, because the tall, slender physique I inherited is getting less slender every year and I'm scared to exercise. Exercise - running, aerobics and gym memberships - have always been associated with stuffing my problems. I need to learn to exercise again. I know that life will never be problem free, so I'm faced with the issue of whether or not I can exercise in a healthy way.

I have chosen to never drink again and do not join social networking sites like FaceBook or My Space. I don't need those temptations in my life, as they can be slippery slopes for me should I ever find myself dealing with a crisis, anger or heartache (which we know WILL come!). So, I avoid them. However, I cannot avoid exercise - not if I want to live a long, healthy life. So, this is an area that I have to begin surrendering to Christ and expecting Him to help me discover a healthy way to do it. Such a scary thought.

There is still a second half of the "symptoms" remaining to be discussed tomorrow... Do you relate to any I've written about so far? Have you experienced any growth with any of these tendencies or are you currently struggling with any? Please feel free to respond in the comments. This blog receives about 100 hits each week, so there are many survivors hanging around here. You never know who might need your encouragement or who might have the perfect encouragement for you. Thanks so much for taking the time to read, and thanks in advance for sharing and growing with others!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Unit 2 Lesson 2, What is Abusive?

One thing that many people do not realize is that sexual abuse does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone - old, young, male, female, wealthy, poor, Christian or not. And abuse can happen anywhere - school, church, in the home, at a neighbor's, on a date, etc. Often, victims of sexual abuse will minimize the abuse in order to hide the pain, saying things like, "it's no big deal", "he/she didn't mean anything by it", or "the abuse hasn't impacted my life". Regardless of the duration or nature of the sexual abuse, it is a big deal and it has affected your life negatively!

Let's discuss what sexual abuse is -

Freedom to choose is a key component in the issue of sexual abuse. Were you given the right to choose or did someone force their desires upon you? A person does not consent if she/she does not have the ability to choose or refuse the sexual activity. Age, circumstances, level of understanding, dependency and relationship to the offender are all factors that can limit a person's ability to choose.

Most people can easily understand that a young child is too young to consent, but what about the elderly? I recently read about some people ranging in age from 19-25 who worked in a nursing home. They were supposed to be taking care of residents, but found it entertaining to sit on their laps, give "lap dances", fondle their breasts, flash their own bodies, etc. It seemed harmless to the offenders, but this is sexual abuse! The elderly victims were confined to wheel chairs, dependent on these people for their care, and/or lacked the ability to communicate what was happening. They could not consent; therefore, these acts are criminal.

Most states have determined that the legal age of consent is 17. But many kids are dating well before that, and they view themselves as much more mature and grown-up than they are. Some adults prey on these teenagers and establish "relationships" with them that are completely inappropriate and criminal. A 15 year old girl, no matter how smart and sophisticated she thinks she is, cannot consent to a sexual relationship with an adult. This adult might buy you gifts, tell you that you're his princess, agree with you that your parents are controlling and treating you like a baby, etc. But there is nothing right about an adult having a sexual relationship with a minor. In this case, the adult is manipulating the victim. This is not an affair. This is sexual abuse.

A similar circumstance would be someone who is being pursued and forced into a relationship by his/her employer. The power he/she has over the employee constitutes sexual abuse, as the victim lacks the ability to give genuine consent. This can happen to anyone at any age. If someone has power over you and you feel you have no choice, you lack the ability to consent.

Sometimes in the repeated sexual abuse of a child by a family member or friend of the family, the abuser seeks to get the "consent" of the child, though the child is too young to consent. If this happened to you - if you gave this kind of permission out of guilt, childlike loyalty, fear, or any other reason - recognize that you were not capable of making an adult decision. This "consent" does not render guiltless the person who abused you! You were responding in the only way you knew how. You were a child - adolescents are not adults!

Think about your own abuse situation and identify the factor(s) that prevented you from being able to choose. Age, level of understanding, dependency/relationship to the abuser, fear of consequences, physical strength or intimidation, another??

Types of sexual abuse -

A lot of people have a hard time understanding sexual boundaries. If you were raised without healthy ones, you might be really confused about what is accepted and what is not. Following is a list of behaviors that are sexually abusive when not consented to. Some of these are not crimes, but all of them are damaging and offensive.

(As you read through the list, make note of the ones that have happened to you. Also make note of the ones you did not realize were sexually abusive. If you have experienced other sexually abusive behaviors, add those to your list.)

Physical sexual abuse:
  • Touching or fondling a child or an adult without consent
  • Excessive tickling and physical restraint
  • French kissing a child
  • Excessive enemas or excessive concern about genital hygiene
  • Intercourse/oral sex or sodomy with any child or with an adult without consent
Examples of visual sexual abuse:
  • Exposure of child to pornography
  • Exposure of pornography to an adult without consent
  • Force, manipulation, or coercion of another to observe masturbation or the sexual activity of another
  • Exposure of the genitals to non-consenting party or to a child
Examples of verbal sexual abuse:
  • Exposure of a child or non-consenting adult to sexual jokes, teasing, or graphic sexual descriptions
  • Exposure of a child to repeated remarks about the child's developing body
  • Refusing to allow a child privacy for bathing or dressing
  • Name calling of a sexual nature - calling a child a "slut" or "whore" is sexually abusive
Examples of covert - without the immediate knowledge of the victim - sexual abuse:
  • Observing another person nude without their consent
  • Videotaping people having sex without their consent
Examples of ritualistic sexual abuse:
  • Forcing a person to participate in religious activities that include sex
  • Sexual activity that involves chants or incantations
Sexual abuse does not have to involve physical contact; in fact, it often begins with non-contact types of abuse that invade the emotional and psychological boundaries of the victim. And most of the time, sexual abuse does not involve intercourse or force. The abuser is rarely a stranger.

I remember reading this list for the first time - it was surprising and heartbreaking. I'd remembered so many obvious touching incidents, but didn't even realize the more "subtle" abuses that happened to me -- and I'd forgotten some too. My father loved pornography - there were boxes and boxes of magazines throughout the house. My siblings and I, and even our friends, would look at them. I remember all the boundary-less ideas I had about sexuality and my body as a little girl and into my mid-20's. A lot of those ideas came from the images we saw in the magazines. Also, I'd forgotten about the discovery my mother made as we were moving out of our house. My dad had drilled holes in the bathroom ceiling and was apparently watching us bathe (from my bedroom above the bathroom). Thinking about that takes me back into a place of hurt and anger all over again at my mother. She had proof that he was watching us and still chose not to believe me.

Some victims are confused about the reality of the abuse. Vague memories from long ago can seem unreal. Many people have images of "pictures and frames - like in a movie" or remember their abuse as if they're watching it happen to someone else. Sometimes a person may remember a situation and see it as sinful or morally wrong but fail to recognize it as abuse. And many people suffer from memory blocks. I have chunks of time that I don't remember at all.

Psalm 51:6 says, "Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom." You have begun the healing process, and it is important for you to see and know the truth. Pray this scripture regularly, asking God to make your thoughts clear and to lead you to accurately determine fact from fiction in your life.

This lesson is a hard one - seeing in print the different types of abuse and applying the reading to our own lives; remembering the awful things that happened. Remember that YOU ARE INNOCENT and that YOU DESERVE TO MOVE OUT FROM UNDER THIS DARKNESS. You are not alone. God will carry you through this each and every day. You are always in my prayers.