Wednesday, March 24, 2010

God Holds Us

How I wish sometimes that God promised to protect us from all hardship in this life. But he didn't. In fact, Jesus warned his followers that they would face trials. Life is not easy for anyone, and even more so not for those who follow Jesus. For Jesus' way involves fearless love that moves us in directions that we would otherwise avoid at all costs. He walked up Calvary's hill in victory AND in pain. Love made the pain endurable.

How I cried out to God after different abuses, wanting to know why! And how I still have moments of crying out in agony as I continue to face the sexual abuse and many rapes that happened over forty years ago. It turns out that the earliest abuses were the hardest to face and have required the greatest amount of faith to process. When my earthly father began betraying me with harsh deeds that shattered my trust and innocence, I was a little and so helpless. I had no defense that could save me. I could only flee in my mind, doing my best to vacate my body so that I would not continue to feel the horrible pains. How I wish that my loving heavenly father had assigned me to be raised by a gentle father. How I wish that he'd protected me and snatched me away from my harsh father. But that isn't normally how things work in this fallen world. And so I suffered, just as so many others have.

But I did not have to face it all alone. My heavenly Father held me. In my room, as a little violated preschool girl, I tried so hard to keep my mind from the abuses. I was wound up tight and could not rest in any pose long. My mind tricks were crumbling and my eyes wanted to cry but my mind said that would be the end of me. And then I felt God's presence, not that I had a name for Him yet, He just was part of my world. He came and held me, comforting me and telling me that everything would be okay. He stroked my hair with tenderness and held me. He held me in a safe and loving, nonsexual way. He held me and I fell to sleep that way.

To this day, there are times when I desperately need a daddy, and I have a very loving One, who I now know is the great I AM, Lord above all Lords--and my Comforter, my Daddy/Abba.

And how my heart swells as I realize that God loves all the children and grown-ups who have been abused by a parent, spouse, date, or captor. All of them! How great is His love and how available is He! He cares, Reader! Just ask Him to help you feel Him holding you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marital Relations

I won't forget different scenes in Thin Places A Memoir by Mary E. De Muth anytime soon. The scenes are powerful and the language engaging. For some of this blog's readership this book may be triggering as it shares about sexual abuse and feelings of being marked for other abusers, but it is a moving book that spotlights God's redemptive, life-giving grace.

Reading this book, brought to my attention that I haven't blogged on a very important topic: sex in marriage when one or both parties have experienced abuse from a former partner and/or parent. Perhaps I hadn't tackled it because it is such a sensitive subject and not a very comfortable one for this layperson to write about. But Mary E. De Muth brought it up, and it empowers me to write on this important topic too.

As an incest survivor and a former abused wife, I found it easy to relate to Mary's experiences. Not because our past or present experiences are identical. They are not. But because we speak the same language of inner struggle that is a direct result of past abuse. And we both look to God for answers.

For those who are eager for bottom lines: The good news, you can enjoy sex, even if you were abused in the past. The bad news, the sexual experience is marred by the former abuse. It's unfair; but it's true.

And really, when we stop and think about it how could it be otherwise? Abuse of all types attacks our self-worth and self-perceptions. When we give the gift of ourselves to our partner, how can that damaged sense of self not interfere? Abuse of all types destroys our sense of the world being a safe place and it robs us of the ability to trust at the deepest levels. Making love involves trust and safety, so we notice our internal damage at seemingly random moments during intimacy with our beloved. Abuse lodges fearful questions in our hearts that may push forward at the most awkward of times. And for those of us who have been sexually abused the damage is even more intense and pressing in the bedroom.

I love my current husband deeply and trust him more than I have ever trusted anyone. But the sexual abuse I have experienced has been a force to be reckoned with at different times in our marriage, especially in the beginning. I remember curling up into a tight fetal ball position when my husband wasn't interested in sex on the same night I was. Deep shame gripped me and fear pummeled me. Sexual abuse memories had me by the throat. I was so ashamed and confused by the experience. "Why would a woman who'd been raped be interested in initiating sex?" an ugly voice whispered in my soul. It was a tangled mess. No one had warned me that such confusion might occur after I finally found someone I could trust.

I also remember feeling safe, totally safe, in my husband's arms and then being assailed by a voice of panic inside. Was I really safe with this man or was it all a lie? Was I going to become the victim once again? I have now been married to this man for over a decade and know, really know, that he is a good man and that his love for me is sincere. And yet, now and then, I am still startled by a sudden attack of fear, an intense feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the familiar experience of being tricked and betrayed to spring up and grab me.

I don't want this post to become over long or overwhelming to read. Suffice it to say, that I know what it is to yearn for the day to come when my sexual relations with my husband will never be infringed upon by past abuse. Wouldn't that be amazing! As good as my sex life with my husband is, I've wondered to myself what it would be like to have sex that is never, not ever, overshadowed by past memories or high-jacked by yucky feelings.

I've shared these things in the hopes that it will help others who have been abused know that it is normal to see the shadows of abuse in their most intimate moments. It is sad, but not the end of the world. As we learn to trust God and our marriage partner and then honestly reveal our struggles, our healing continues. Moments of great stress or confusion may still be ahead for us, but so to are times of healing and refreshment. We can experience intimacy and rejoice in the wondrous moments. We can receive healing through really difficult and embarrassing discussions. We can release a deep breath and realize that we are quite normal folks, with hurts that take time to heal and hopes that illustrate our amazing resilience and our growing faith.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Releasing Shame

A Sesame Street book taught me a revolutionary principle when my children were young. As I read the often requested book to my kids, it's truth sunk into my soul. The book's title, Everyone Makes Mistakes said it all. Big Bird had a rough day of blunders, including pulling down a long line of freshly cleaned laundry down onto the ground.

In my childhood, I would have been sweating and worrying big time if I did something like that. Most likely I would have paced, feeling frenzy and panic, debating with myself what I should do. I would have thought of going in and making a confession and bravely bearing whatever the consequences were. I would have thought about running off to a friends and behaving as if I knew nothing about the situation. I surely would have felt like running. I hated how small and helpless I felt under my mom's fury that was sometimes icy and silent and other times quite loud with yelling and punctuated by spanking or yanking. I would consider the possibility of confessing to my dad, because sometimes he seemed nice, but most of the time he seemed very gruff and angry in a very controlled way, and he had a way of making me feel utterly stupid.

And then there was the secret that I tried to keep even to myself. The horrible incest that tore me apart and felt like it would kill me. My dad was the one who did those things to me. So I avoided my dad when I could and felt relief when he did something nice or when he was distant and unapproachable.

The options just weren't pretty in my non-picture book life. But I was a good girl. What sense of self I had was tied up in trying to please my parents and earn their affection. I was never good enough but I kept on trying anyway. So, I would have told the truth. I would have faced consequences, feeling brave inside and proving it by trying to suppress the tears that threatened to spill. I would have felt like a failure. I would have been "ashamed of myself," just as my mom chastised me to be so many times. I would have felt so small and worthless--because I messed up and did something wrong, again, despite good intentions.

But in the Sesame Street book, Big Bird doesn't hear, "Shame on you!" No, he didn't. He heard life-giving acceptance of our common human condition, even though he was a bird. He was told over and over, "Everyone makes mistakes" and was allowed to fix the results of his mistakes. As I recall, he even re-washed the laundry with the kind help of an adult.

My children loved the book and so did I, after I wrestled through my old memories that were so contrary to the simple picture book. One day when I apologized to my daughter about missing an important date on the calendar, she smiled at me and said, "It's okay, Mom, everyone makes mistakes." Such a gift she gave me! I felt like weeping, but I gave her a smile and said, "You're right! We all make mistakes sometimes, don't we."

I wonder how many readers of this post have battled with shame. Misplaced shame is a common result from abuse. We feel deep shame over small things and feel absolutely buried under shame when we make mistakes that hurt others. And we feel shame that is really beyond description over the abuse that we did not initiate and could not control. We felt and continue to feel the shame that the abuser refuses to feel.

Once we are free from abuse, it takes time to let go of shame. Time to show kindness to ourselves when we truly do make a mistake. Time to refuse shame when it really belongs to the abusive person(s) of our memories. Healing takes time, but it does happen when we allow it. Our Lord is powerful, good, and kind in his ways and he is ready to give us a big, gentle hug as He wipes away our stress with an understanding smile. "It's okay. Every human on the planet makes mistakes. Share your pain and confusion with Me, I'll comfort you and help you sort things out."

We don't have to keep carrying shame. Jesus can take it away and leave us with peace and gratefulness. One memory at a time, one day at a time, we can walk with Him and release the shame.

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft