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 okay if at any point you need to put it down. I also don’t write this from the standpoint of being a licensed counselor nor an expert in the field.
Quite honestly, for the first thirty-something 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 upfront 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 they 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 particular 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, that 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.
Why Is This Topic Important?
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 sexually 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 from myself. 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 that were given to 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 to.
Physical Tragedies Vs. Mental and Emotional Tragedies
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? They were triggered by a color, a scent, a situation, or the way a person walked. They were triggered by countless moments, most of which I had no clue about.
I just knew that one minute, I’d be fine, and the next, I couldn’t breathe and thought I was dying. For the most part, I don’t have panic attacks anymore, 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 run over by a car, the driver putting it in reverse and repeating the action multiple times.
Coping with the Abuse
Many have no memory of the abuse because their minds as children simply 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 heads 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 a 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 revisiting a memory just for the sake of digging up the past. That can be extremely damaging and re-traumatizing.
For many people, the brain 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. Plenty of 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 judgments had been deeply branded in my psyche. He is the Truth, and He applied Himself directly to the places where the wounds were. Scriptures resound now from my inner heart because now His truth is embedded there instead of the lies.
Stay tuned for part 2 of “For My Fellow Survivors.”
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on wholeheartedwomen.org
Featured Image by Chuttersnap