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!

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