For My Fellow Survivors
For my fellow survivors and overcomers of abuse of many kinds, this blog may be more than you desire to read. So, just up front, it’s OK if at any point you need to put it down. I also don’t write this from the stand point of being a licensed counselor, nor an expert in the field.
Quite honestly, for the first thirty-some years of my life I avoided counseling like the plague, and would joke with my college friends, who were psych majors, that the ones going into the field were the ones who needed the most help. That’s no slight on those who are in the profession. I have great respect for counselors, healers, good psychologists, etc. I just want to be up front in saying that’s not the angle this is written from.
I’m writing because I am the one who needed help, desperately, but I was too scared to reach out for many, many years to get it. I also had many black holes in my childhood memories, and had heard many people say, “If you don’t remember, it is for good reason.” “Don’t look back.” “The past is in the past and can’t affect you now.” And even use scripture for back up. “Forgetting what is behind, and reaching for the things before me…” Phil. 3:13 But our life is all connected together, whether we like it or not. The things that happened to us as young children or as adults, do change the way we look at things. Sometimes, we just aren’t conscious of it.
Truly, I’m not pushing any particularly type or brand of healing or counseling or methodology. I actually would have loved for Jesus to just come and instantly heal my heart, mind, soul, and spirit all in one fell swoop. I know He has done that for others, and don’t doubt His ability. For whatever reason, this is not my story. Mine is a painstaking journey, that I still walk out from every day, though now the pace of freedom is much faster than it used to be.
So, why am I writing this? I guess for a few reasons, one there are a lot of misconceptions out there, and two, for awareness. Let’s tackle the first one. There are all types of abuse out there. Consider this, that in my state of South Carolina, the last statistic I’ve heard is that one in three women and children have been sexual abused. One in three. That’s of people who have told someone. Do you know how many people I’ve talked to, who have trusted me with parts of their stories who have not told anyone else? Let’s just say it’s a lot.
It’s usually the most put together ones that surprise me the most. The ones always smiling on the outside. (I always tried to put on that face myself.) They have their make-up and clothes just right, but they are hurting, sometimes dying on the inside, because they feel they have to play a part in order to be accepted in our communities, especially church communities.
I’ve sat in front of pastors, pastoral counselors, and/or spiritual leaders who simply had no clue how to deal with a survivor of extreme abuse. As I’ve told parts of my story, I’ve had some close their eyes and look the other way. I’ve been told that I should just read this certain book, or quote this list of scriptures, or that I needed to get out of my old family tree and get a new mindset into my identity in Jesus. Dear Pastors, I’ve tried. Truly, I have. I have read the books. I’ve quoted the scriptures. I didn’t even know what was in my family tree, until Jesus showed me, but I surely never wanted to hang out there. I didn’t even want to know what was there in the first place.
I was terrified of going to counseling, because I didn’t want to know how my mind worked. That’s why I tried for so long to hide myself from me. Even scripture memorization, though helpful, only went surface level, because the wounds inflicted upon me had been mortal wounds meant to fester and ooze, toxifying my mind, soul, body, until the infection almost took me out.
The religious methods given me, though well-intended, never worked for long; the aching pain, though not even conscious, was still there. The lies had been embedded in my soul like shrapnel from an explosion in a million pieces, they just didn’t go away because I willed them too.
Why is it that if someone is in a horrific car accident, they are cared for and understood, but if you have been in a horrific, emotionally traumatic event or lived a childhood of it, people want to look the other way, ignore it, pushing aside the broken hearted one. I didn’t ask for the parents I was given. I didn’t ask for the abuse I was subjected to. Most victims didn’t do anything to provoke their abusers. Children sold into sex trafficking have no voice, no say as to what happens to them. Yet, most survivors will tell you they partly blame themselves. “I should’ve been stronger.” “I should’ve done something to stop it.” I know, I lived with the shame for most of my life. “It was all my fault,” was drilled into my brain. So, I’d get out my scripture list and recite it. Pray, but would only hear “It’s not time yet.” Until it was time to open the wounds and begin the healing.
Let’s take panic attacks for example. Did you know that most of the panic attacks I used to have were not triggered by negative thoughts? So, how do you suppose right thinking corrects it? It was triggered by a color, a scent, a situation, or the way a person walked. It was triggered by countless moments, most of which I had no clue about. I just knew one minute I’d be fine, the next I couldn’t breathe, and thought I was dying. For the most part, I don’t have panic attacks any more, but I remember when I did have them all the time. At times, I walked through depression, suicidal thoughts and urges, fear, insomnia, etc. I’m not saying this to make you feel sorry for me. I’m saying this to help bring understanding.
So, survivors or overcomers of different kinds of abuse come in different types and levels of pain, but generally many of the lies believed are the same. For some it is like a scrape on the elbow, for others, it may be like their arm has been cut off, and still for some, it may be like they have been ran over by a car, and then the driver put it in reverse and repeated the action multiple times. Many have no memory of the abuse, because their child’s mind simple couldn’t handle it. I call this a gift from God for children, the gift of disassociation. It is a real thing. And most people have some level of disassociation, even if it’s being addicted to their cell phones for the distraction of it. The ADHD labeled child sitting in the classroom who can’t seem to keep his or her attention on anything, I feel is often trying to distract their mind from something painful going on. That’s not in every case of course, but from what I experienced in the classroom as a teacher, it played out that way many times.
Beth Moore said in her book, Get Out of the Pit, that most people will never go through the healing process, because they believe the lies that they will die or go crazy if they face their pain, fear, and/or memories of the abuse. I can attest to this. Those have been two of my greatest giants to slay in the process of healing, and though I’ve been on this journey for more than a decade, they still try to raise their ugly head from time to time. One chapter, God gave me at the beginning of my journey was Ps. 32. In the amplified version, it reads, “I continually unfolded the past until all was told, and He instantly forgave me of my sins.” Clearly, there is value in all of our story to Him.
So, why would someone even want to go through the seemingly painful process of counseling? And what type of counseling do you go to? Many traditional counselors, at least from the ones I know, are more of behavioral modification flavor. And honestly, there are times, that I wish God would’ve have led me down that road first, just so I’d have had more tools in my tool belt to be able to cope with the pain, but that’s not what He did with me. For a long time, I took medication to help curb anxiety attacks, so I don’t judge someone who needs to take that route. For me, I came to a place of no return. I had two small children, and one on the way. Anxiety attacks were hitting hard every time I went out the door, and I was hardly able to function.
At the right moment, the Lord flung open a door for inner healing ministry, and led me down a path of opening up the memories of what had happened to me, very slowly and steadily peeling back layer after layer of woundedness. There are many ministries out there who now do this. There is no redeeming value of going to a memory just for the sake of digging up the past. That can be extremely damaging and retraumatizing. For many people, the brain though will begin to throw up pieces of trauma through flashbacks, in an effort to call out for help. For me, though, each time I remembered something, it was led by the Holy Spirit, and then I would see an image of the True Lord Jesus come into the memory with me. When He did, He would change it for me, bringing peace, truth, love, forgiveness, etc. He never left me hanging and always brought peace to the piece of the puzzle He would show me. Many times right after I’d leave the session, another issue would arise. It has been an extremely long and painful process for me, but that is because of the depth of abuse I suffered through. Many times, I’ve complained to God about the process, “Why did You lead me that way?” “Why was it so painful?” Each time, He has reassured me that for me, I needed to know my story, and truly it was through that process I began to understand who He really is and that He is love. He has literally untwisted so many lies about myself, about who He is, and even about the abusers. These lies, vows, and judgements had been deeply branded in my psyche. He is the Truth, and He applied Himself directly to the places where the wounds were. Scriptures resounds now from my inner heart, because now His truth is imbedded there, instead of the lies.
This past year, I’ve been on a different journey with Him, for He has sped things up a lot. Now, He is dealing with whole structures in my heart, instead of little parts and pieces of memories tucked here and there. He is taking down the full structures, the full strongholds that the enemy had firmly put in place through intentional, methodical abuse, and making me whole in ways I didn’t even know He could. But it is still a process of healing. Many days, I still face the thoughts of I’m not a safe person for others to be around, or the lie that I will suddenly drop over dead. When those things come, I see images of bad things happening, instead of having bad thoughts most of the time, and when I do, I still moment by moment take them to Jesus and ask Him to speak the truth to me about it. He always does, and I go on with my day. Some days, I’m tired, and just want to sleep. Other days, I find moments of joy, excitement over something in the future, or a feeling of being loved. Joy. Excitement. Love! I actually have times I feel those now!
Some days I feel lonely, that no can relate to the things I’ve had to face. I get irate when people choose to get hung up on petty differences and won’t forgive. I sadden when people’s voices are not heard, ignored, misunderstood. So many are just crying out for help in the only way they know how, but often times, instead of being validated, valued, and heard, they become liabilities to the religious system, a cog in the smooth functioning machine. Instead of seen as team players or family members, they are now segregated, marginalized, and systematically removed from the team. Too many times, the institutionalized church has a horrible track record of getting rid of the least of these who would challenge or slow down the agenda. Jesus always had time for the broken. In fact, He often changed course, went a different direction, just so that He could touch one person, heal one broken heart, go after one lost sheep, call one prodigal home. He is the healer of the broken hearted after all. Sometimes, that is a heart broken in two, and sometimes it is intentionally shattered into a thousand pieces. Either way, He knows how to heal, love, and bring truth to the those who need it most.
Even though many of my friends can’t really relate to where I’ve had to walk, some try to understand, and for that I am truly grateful. Many survivors, though, don’t have anyone who can relate, or will try to understand. Many have the church turn their back on them when they hit bottom, and need a hand up. Maybe it’s because it makes the leadership feel insecure, because they don’t know how to help. I don’t know. Many of us do wrong things out of fear. Actually, I’ve had this happen to me when I was at one of my lowest points, and it hurt deeply. Thankfully, though, I had my husband who chose to stay and support me through the worst, because somehow, he loved the wrecked mess I was at the time, and I have had a handful of friends who chose to love me despite all the pain of what I was going through. That gift was and is immeasurable, for it was the gift of being seen and heard for who I really am, fears, failures, and all.
I recall two such friends who trapped me between them in a movie theatre, because the Holy Spirit had told me to watch the movie, The Shack. I thought multiple times I was going to die while watching that movie, but one held my sweaty hand the whole time through it, and the other blocked my escape route, and then wept with me in her truck, afterwards as I sat and processed. Another friend brought me home cooked food and took care of my children when I was too weak to walk to the bathroom unaided, and then when I was ready a few years later, let me meticulously retell the horrors of my story through snot and trembling, simply because I needed to see with my own eyes someone would listen and not turn away; especially, when you are told that you will die, if you ever tell anyone what happened to you. I didn’t die. And she is still one of my closest friends to this day.
So, for those who have dared to read this, please know, if you relate, you aren’t alone. There are people who understand what you are going through. The enemy is the same. The lies are all similar. The pain is very real. But there really is a healer whose name is Jesus, and He’s really, really good at healing broken hearts, how ever He chooses to do it.
For those, who haven’t had to walk through such extreme pain and really can’t relate, just listen to those hurting around you. Don’t judge their healing journey. Be like Jesus and love the least of these. When you have, you have loved Him. You don’t have to have the answers. Just get them to the True Lord Jesus who does. Maybe it means swapping snot in the cab of a pick-up truck.
I leave you with this story from Luke 10 TPT. We should be known by our love for one another if Jesus lives in us. May this be a positive challenge for all of us to reach out to the one who is hurting and not just walk by on the opposite side of the road.
Loving God, Loving Others
25 Just then a religious scholar stood before Jesus in order to test his doctrines. He posed this question: “Teacher, what requirement must I fulfill if I want to live forever in heaven?”
26 Jesus replied, “What does Moses teach us? What do you read in the Law?”
27 The religious scholar answered, “It states, ‘You must love the Lord God with all your heart, all your passion, all your energy, and your every thought. And you must love your neighbor as well as you love yourself.’”
28 Jesus said, “That is correct. Now go and do exactly that and you will live.”
29 Wanting to justify himself, he questioned Jesus further, saying, “What do you mean by ‘my neighbor’?”
30 Jesus replied, “Listen and I will tell you. There was once a Jewish[k] man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when bandits robbed him along the way. They beat him severely, stripped him naked, and left him half dead.
31 “Soon, a Jewish priest walking down the same road came upon the wounded man. Seeing him from a distance, the priest crossed to the other side of the road and walked right past him, not turning to help him one bit.
32 “Later, a religious man, a Levite,[l] came walking down the same road and likewise crossed to the other side to pass by the wounded man without stopping to help him.
33 “Finally, another man, a Samaritan,[m] came upon the bleeding man and was moved with tender compassion for him. 34 He stooped down and gave him first aid, pouring olive oil on his wounds, disinfecting them with wine, and bandaging them to stop the bleeding. Lifting him up, he placed him on his own donkey and brought him to an inn. Then he took him from his donkey and carried him to a room for the night. 35 The next morning he took his own money from his wallet and gave it to the innkeeper with these words: ‘Take care of him until I come back from my journey. If it costs more than this, I will repay you when I return.’[n] 36 So, now, tell me, which one of the three men who saw the wounded man proved to be the true neighbor?”
37 The religious scholar responded, “The one who demonstrated kindness and mercy.”