Friday, June 26, 2015

Word choice matters...

One of the best lessons that I have learned from The Courage to Heal, is that I am not a victim, I am a survivor.  Victims are folk who died as a result of their abuse (either directly at the hands of abusers or indirectly by losing their personal battle dealing with the trauma).  Think about it ... do we call those who are on the other side of a cancer diagnosis a cancer victim?  No, we call them survivors.  They fought their battle and won.  The same is true with those who are on the other side of sexual abuse.  We are survivors.

So, it was with large dismay that I read this article regarding the mistrial declared in the rape conviction of the Vanderbilt football players because it was revealed that one of the jurors was a sexual abuse "victim."  No!  He is a sexual abuse "survivor"!  What really disturbed me is the idea that no one who has survived the experience can be considered a "peer" for a jury trial.

Not in this article, but another one I read (and cannot track down at the moment) quoted a defense attorney saying that no one with a history of sexual abuse should be on such a jury.  My first thought was:  Good luck with that.  One in four females, one in seven males ... those are the stats on the reported sexual abuse.  It is generally agreed that the vast majority of sexual abuse goes unreported for a wide variety of reasons.  There is nowhere in this country where you will find a group of peers that do not include survivors of sexual abuse.

Look at the juror ... once a sexual abuse "victim" always a "victim" in the eyes of the law ... of society ... of certainly the medical field.  No wonder sexual abuse survivors do not wish for the burden of that label.  Silence is not healthy, but in some ways it does offer a protection of further deepening the wounds you bear.  I am wholeheartedly against advocating for silence.  But I understand it.  I was silent myself.

Word choice matters.  A clear sign that our nation, our society, has finally taken the first step toward understanding sexual abuse will be when those who come out on the other side are called "survivors," not "victims."  Labeling a person a victim is not helpful in any fashion; it does not foster healing and hope.  It also only further denotes that the person is somehow irrevocably incapable of something as simple as sitting in a jury box, listening to evidence, and be trusted to weigh the evidence against the strictures of the law ... just like any other person in the jury box.

If any of the jury members stepped forward and said that the jurist tainted or twisted deliberations, then I would absolutely agreed that a mistrial is in order.  Jury tampering is illegal, after all.  And, to a degree, the jurists did lie by not fully answering the question about sexual abuse history:  "Yes, I have survived it, but I am not a victim.  Having survived sexual abuse does not mean that I am incapable of fulfilling the duties of a jurist."  But it was not just the mistrial that is disturbing to me.  It is the label of victim and ensuing dismissal of the impartiality of the jurists.  That jurist was judged and found guilty of impartiality without any evidence to support the case.  Just as I have, since I, too, am a sexual abuse survivor.  As are millions of Americans.

Look around you.
Everywhere you go.
We are here.
And with much still to offer.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The lies sexual abuse speaks to survivors...

"When I was raped, I felt powerless. I felt my value had been determined by someone else, someone who sent me the message that body was not my own, my choices were meaningless," she said. "It took years to recognize my personal worth was not tied to my assault, that the voices telling me I deserved this were phantoms, they were liars." ~Lena Dunham, Variety's Power of Women Luncheon, 2015.

I saw this quote and thought how apt it was.  That's really one of the most powerful weapons of sexual assault: the insidious means by which it can (erroneously) become the definition of a person and the measure of worth.

For a Christian, it is easy to say worth is tied to being a child of Christ.  But we live in a fallen world where lies obscure that truth.  And one of the best liars of all time is the weapon of sexual abuse.  In part, it is not merely because of the message the abuser "speaks" to the survivor, but also because of the message our society shouts.

In Googling about Lena Dunham's assault, I learned of the controversy from her/her publisher's dices to obscure the identity of the rapist.  In one article, I read this:

"As a rape victim you have a terrible, awful, traumatic responsibility to do everything in your power to get your attacker off the streets — if only to protect other women. It’s not fair, but it is the only right thing to do."

And I vomited.  

It bothers me how fragile certain topics are and the admonition of others.  My physical response bothers me.  But I do not share the opinion that survivors of rape have the responsibility to get their attackers off the streets.  That is the vocation of law enforcement and the justice system.  The only responsibility a survivor of rape has is to take care of herself/himself.  Period.  

That process might include a vigorous participation in the prosecution of an attacker or it might include becoming an advocate against sexual abuse or it simply might be learning to hear what is true and right and of good repute, rather than the lies that were spoken via the assault.

To me, the author's error is made most clear in the fourth word: "victim."  Again, one of the most helpful bits of The Courage to Heal is the authors' commitment to teaching that you are only a "victim" of sexual abuse if you die.  If you live through the abuse, then you are a survivor.

Words matter.  Labels matter.  You will treat yourself differently if you think of yourself as a survivor, rather than a victim.  The word "survivor" is imbued with perseverance, courage, and hope.  The word "victim" is filled with helplessness and hurt.  

It has been my experience, and that of others I know directly, that having a history of sexual abuse in your medical file leads to medical personnel treating you as a victim and leading to a mental diagnosis of stress, PTSD, hysteria, etc. first and physical problems overlooked.  The way you are treated reinforces the lie that you are not worth much, not worth proper care and treatment of your body, not worth the respect of your mind and spirit. The way you are treated reinforces the lie that your identity remains in the abuse.

One of the things I despair of is how society really doesn't want to hear and learn about the effects of sexual abuse.  The topic brings discomfort and, sometimes, dismissal.  The latter can be in the form of "it's time to move past that" or "such things would never happen _______ (in our neighborhood, school, church, etc.)."  I have noted, often, that we tell children what happened to them is not their fault and has no shame, but as adults shame or blame or some indefinable charge is laid simply because sexual abuse is not "appropriate" table talk.  "Leave that in the counselor's office." 

But The Courage to Heal teaches us that we need to understand the whys and wherefores of the survivors body, mind, and spirit.  We need to recognize the signs of struggle and of coping mechanisms that speak of help still needed.  We need to realize the lies of the abuse can linger years and years despite how hard one might try to leave them behind.

And that is okay.

Do not misunderstand me:  It is not okay that it can take years and years to understand the lie, to recognize the truth.  Surely we wish speedy healing for all survivors.  But healing is a process that is idiosyncratic and ineffable.  Would that it were we could celebrate each step forward in that process and forgive and encourage once more the survivor during each step backward.  In that regard, the length of time the healing takes is okay, be it months or years or decades.

"It's okay if you feel like you deserved what happened.  You did not, but your feelings are your feelings and not what is true about you.  It's okay if you think that you are worth less as a woman or man, a son or a daughter, a wife or a husband because changing thoughts learned from the lies of sexual abuse takes time.  And what you think about yourself does not change the truth of yourself.  Until you know that truth once more, I will speak it to you.  Christ ever speaks it to you.  The Holy Spirit is filling you with that truth through Word and Sacrament."

As a Christian, those are the words I long to hear, often and repeatedly.  For the lies I heard when I was being abused still linger in my ears.  I know they are lies, but it is difficult not to listen to them.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


On April 19, 2012, Grey's Anatomy tackled the effects of child sexual abuse in "The Girl With No Name."  For a one hour drama, I believe that the writers did a solid job of showing the important of sexual abuse survivors to have supportive care that is built around their needs.  I also believe the writers were able to provide a few insights as to how the experience, thoughts, and needs of a sexual abuse surviver might not make sense or even fit with the experience, thoughts, and needs of the friends and family of a sexual abuse survivor.

For example, in this story, a young girl was kidnapped and held hostage for twelve years.  When she escaped and was rescued, her parents wanted nothing more than to touch her, hold her, be with her all the time.  But that was not what the now teenager sexual abuse victim needed.  First and foremost, she needed to learn that she had control of her body and her environment and so her wishes needed to be respected.  This was something the parents struggled mightily with because it was in direct conflict with their own desires and the calling of their vocation to protect and care for their daughter.  Sometimes, though, caring for someone does not look like what we might think it should.

One scene in particular resonated deeply with me.  It came after the young survivor had been tasked with getting her own food in the cafeteria, to practice interacting with others.  She tried several food stations (soup and pizza) before simply going over to the self-serve station.

Meredith:  Hey how are you feeling?  That was a big deal.
Holly:  Not really
Meredith: I don't know, braving that cafeteria line is pretty major even for those who haven't been—
Holly:  —kept in a basement for twelve years
Meredith: —who haven't been through what you have been through.
Holly:  Why do you do that?  Talk around it? The therapist and my parents.  What've I've been through is being kicked and raped and slapped and starved.  I mean, I get it.  But it was my life.  And I didn't get talk with him about my life with my parents, and now I don't get to talk anyone about about him.
Meredith:  But you can talk about him.
Holly:  No, I can't.  You'll think ... you won't get it.
Meredith:  Try me.
Holly:  He wasn't only bad.  Sometimes he was okay.  He'd let me go upstairs and ... we'd watch stuff together.  Movies.  And it was like it was normal.  And when I came back here I turned on the TV and there was this movie on that we watched together and I started to miss him.  And I know that's bad. And I must be sick and don't tell the shrink that I said anything 'cause she ... 'cause she's gonna ask me how I feel about it.  And I don't know.  All I know is that I should be happy that I am here and not there.  But sometimes I'm not.
Meredith:  That's okay.  However you feel is okay.

Ah, by now you have seen me write several times know how blessedly merciful it is to hear the word "okay."  Here it was a thing of beauty.  But what struck me is how the young survivor felt like she could not talk about her experiences, about her life.  She felt like her life is a life that no one wanted to hear.  And that is a truth.  It is very, very rare to encounter someone who is willing to hear about your life of abuse outside a counselor's office.

Think for a moment about what that communicates.

We tell young children that what happened to them is not their fault and is nothing to be ashamed of, but we tell adults that their experiences are burdensome and difficult for others to hear.  To speak of those things is too intimate, even inappropriate.  There really is shame and if shame, blame.

In another scene in the episode, the orthopedic surgeon is asking the young survivor about a fracture in her pelvis.  She wants to know how the injury occurred, I suppose, so that she can make a plan for the repair.  The surgeon asks the survivor if she fell or something.  At first, the survivor says that she doesn't know.  But then she mentions that it could have been when she had the baby a few years ago.  She thinks the baby died.  She doesn't know, but she couldn't walk for a long time afterward.  The survivor's parents are horrified, with her mother eventually fleeing the room.  The surgeon manages to control her reaction and agrees that is probably when the injury occurred.  The young survivor is puzzled at the reaction she sees.  She asks if she should not have said anything.  It is later on in the episode that the conversation about not being able to talk about her life occurs.  And it is something that should not be true but is.

If you go by statistics, where I live there are over 63,000 sexual abuse survivors.  Yet I have not been able to find a single sexual abuse support group, a single place where I could go and talk about my life without it being inappropriate or burdensome for others.  There is only one place in the city where sexual abuse counseling is free, and that place has such a revolving door of counselors that trying to seek help is daunting, if not really impossible.  It is not common to make a livable wage  offering free care for sexual abuse survivors.

The shootings in this country highlight the miserable state of mental health care.  America simply does not have enough mental health personnel, nor do we have enough coverage.  And what coverage and/or care there is: 1) is often limited, 2) can be cost prohibitive, 3) and is often too generalized to be effective.  Sexual abuse survivors need specific care that does not treat them as victims.  Again, not enough medical personnel are familiar with the effects of trauma on the brain and body, much less familiar with the effects of sexual abuse.  Would that it were The Courage to Heal were required study and trauma training required coursework for all emergency, medical, and mental health care personnel!

One of the biggest factors of why sexual abuse is such a prevalent and persistent problem in our country is silence.  Survivors are taught to remain silent, taught and/or threatened.  Families keep their secrets.  Businesses and institutions cover up instances of sexual abuse to protect reputation and Even the church.  And if you think the problem lies solely or even primarily within the Catholic church, you are sorely mistaken.  It is everywhere.

But even when a person does speak out, does break the silence, the victim often learns to remain silent afterwards.  To not talk about his or her life, his or her experiences, freely or even with friends and family lest they become too burdensome to others.  To not talk about his or her life even with a pastor.

Silence is one of the devil's greatest weapons in felling the spiritual life of sexual abuse survivors.  At least, it is for me.  The reason I believe this is because silence protects and even propagates the lies he has woven in the sexual abuse survivor's life, through the abusers and those who have encouraged silence.

Sexual abuse teaches wrong lessons.  Those lessons are very, very difficult to unlearn ... to re-learn rightly.  With regard to faith, the thoughts that grow out of the experience of abuse, especially that at the hands of parents or others in authority, confuse and obscure the Gospel.  For a girl abused by her father, to try and talk about God the Father in such a way that does not trigger painful memories or emotions is difficult. Worthiness, shame, guilt, doubt, despair ... all and more make it difficult to remember what is true.  True about salvation.  True about sanctification. True about your body.

For someone struggling with emotions, or rather lack thereof, it is difficult to separate them from the call to fear and love and trust God.  What does that mean? This is not a question for a counselor, but for a pastor.  And one the answer of can and will help the sexual abuse survivor until and after she learns the psychological answers to help her understand her whys and wherefores.

In both, healing comes in understanding and in changing the lessons learned, changing the thoughts about them.  Sometimes, changing the thought starts with having a script to follow, to rehearse.

In the episode, one such script is the script of:  That's okay.  However you feel is okay.  It is okay not to have feelings. It is okay to have feelings.  It's okay not to know or understand what those feelings are.  Feelings are not facts.  Part of the learning is learning new facts, such as how fathers should be with their daughters and that daughters are not to blame for what happens.  Another fact is that rape is not sex.  Daughters do not have sex with their fathers.  Fathers rape their daughters.  An important distinction that can be arduous and painful to first grasp and then believe.  Learning new facts can be long and difficult.  So, having the script  That's okay.  However you feel is okay.  can help you get through the confusion, the struggles, the many steps backwards in the midst of those forward.

A script I was recently given is Jesus came for the dead.  You see, it is difficult to think about all that time of disassociation, of being numb and absent.  It is difficult to not only feel that you are dead inside, but to also fear you actually are dead inside.  That you have no love or fear or trust of any kind.

Jesus came for the dead.
Jesus came for the sick.
Jesus came for the lame.
Jesus came for the blind.
Jesus came for the weak.
Jesus came for the brokenhearted.

All of those things a surviver might possibly believe about herself as she struggles to heal are the very reasons Jesus came.  The very reasons He comes still.

It isn't helpful to tell a survivor she shouldn't feel guilty.  That she feels guilty is not even the most important problem.  The problem lies with ferreting out the whys and wherefores behind that guilt and teaching her how those thoughts and experiences belie the truth.  That is the work of mental health counseling.  But in the mean while the truth remains that Jesus comes even for the guilty and the ashamed and the unclean.  Jesus comes and forgives, forgives even the doubt, the struggle of faith that can lie beneath those emotions.

You feel dead inside?  Jesus came for the dead.  You think you might actually be dead inside?  Jesus came for the dead.  Jesus came for the helpless.  Jesus came for the hopeless.  Jesus came for all wounds.  Jesus came for all.

For the Christian sexual abuse survivor, spiritual care and support is equally important—if not more so—as psychological care and support.  Sexual abuse is the playground of our foe, who will leverage anything and everything to keep you ensnared in his lies.  Thus, it is vitally important that survivors are allowed to talk about their lives, to talk about the secrets and the fears and the shame so that those felling arrows of our foe can be extinguished by Christ crucified for us.

May the silence around sexual abuse that exists even in the church be soon shattered.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Murder is not a coping mechanism...

On October 17, 2013, CBS told the world that it is acceptable—if not actually good—to murder your parent if he or she is sexually abusing you and that that murder should not be punished.  It is understandable.  On Elementary's "Poison Pen," a daughter murdered her father.  Sherlock figured it out when he was younger and kept her secret because he judged her not to be a killer, just a victim escaping the only way she could.  Years later, a son did the same thing and it was acceptable for another to take credit for his actions so his choice to kill his father would not ruin his life.

It is not ever good, right, or salutary to murder another human being.  A soldier, in his duties of his vocation, causing a death is not murder.  A police officer, in the duties of his vocation, causing a death is not murder.  Now, men are sinners.  Soldiers and police officers—and all those whose vocations might result in the death of another—can also murder someone.  But death is not always murder.

There is no duty of a child, no part of a child's vocation, to cause the death of a parent.  Nor that of a child by a parent.  Murder of someone who is sexually abusing another is not biblical and is it absolutely not justifiable.  

Yes, sexual abuse is devastating.  Sexual abuse can and does destroy lives.  Still, murder is not a coping mechanism.

Watching the episode was inordinately difficult for me.  I really like Elementary and wished that the writers of that show chose a different story to tell.  A real story.  A true story.

The first time I encountered the effects of sexual abuse in a way that I  understood was on the show House, in an episode entitled "One Day, One Room."  I actually bought the episode on  I bought it because I wanted—if ever the opportunity should arise—to have someone watch it and be able to say, "See?  That's me."

The survivor did not want what others thought she needed.  To me, it is not so much about proper support and care as it is how very important it is to remember that even in support and care it is possible to continue to silence the victim.  It is my personal opinion that the writer of that episode had either experienced sexual abuse or was close to someone who had.  To me, there is an authenticity to her thoughts and feelings, even the way that they were portrayed by the actress.  I wondered, too, if she had been abused.  Perhaps I am projecting, but this was not the stereotypical story, nor was it the stereotypical portrayal.

There is something I have thought ... believed ... I believe like recognizes like.  Not always.  Sometimes, when I discovered afterwards that I missed a fellow survivor, missed an opportunity to privately, gently tell her, tell him that she/he is not alone, my heart aches with an ineffable, nearly unbearable pain.

Recently, I met a stranger.  I recognized the like and dropped a few phrases.  She immediately leapt upon them, cradled to her chest, and spoke of her story.  In truth, it was the quickest anyone had ever come out to me.  And it was devastating because just a few minutes later, she pronounced the thought I also battled:  the church is no place for sexual abuse survivors.

Truly, that is a post for another day ... one that comes after many, many more posts trying to help explain or explore the effects of sexual abuse.  Suffice it to say that I supported her thoughts and feelings about that, but yet also spoke to her about the Psalter and how incredible it is to be known by God ... even in doubt and despair, even in anguish and confusion.

I read a few to her.
I read until I saw a tipping point that spoke of too much.
I read for us both and stopped for us both.

Over the past several weeks, I have struggled with how to write about the Elementary episode and how terribly discouraging—defeating, actually—watching it was for me.  Will the world ever change?

I've mentioned before just how frustrating it is to think about the decades The Courage to Heal has been available and how even in the medical and mental health arenas so very few have taken the time to learn about the effects of sexual abuse, to learn about healing, to learn to stop thinking about, treating, and calling sexual abuse survivors as victims.  To see them as people, not as the effects of sexual abuse in their lives.  SIGH.

So, I have been writing and deleting and writing and deleting again.  And then I watched a show.  Actually, I watched six episodes of a show.  All I could think was why.  Why did I not know of this?  Why don't others know of this?  

If you would like to learn something of the real and true effects of sexual abuse, buy the book.  As an act of mercy to those millions of sexual abuse survivors living in our country, buy the book.  To see a living, breathing survivor struggling with the effects of sexual abuse in her life and the lives of those around the survivor, watch these:  The Judds Docuseries, Episode 1The Judds Docuseries, Episode 2The Judds Docuseries, Episode 3The Judds Docuseries, Episode 4The Judds Docuseries, Episode 5; and The Judds Docuseries, Episode 6.

I was gutted.

There was this one moment when I understood something so utterly clearly.  You get to see the survivor disassociate.  You also get to see the shock and hurt and anger of someone facing that disassociation.  The reason this was helpful to me was that someone who was abusive to me would become infuriated whenever she started lashing out at me and I ... well, I understand now that I was dissociating from her anger.  Watching the scene, I could see what that person saw in me.  The utter disengagement.  It is hard to describe, but I understood what that person must have seen in me.

I am still not yet over that moment.
I am still struggling to grasp just how much I still am numb and absent.
I am overwhelmed and afraid and yet less lonely.

In the series, there are many, many, many examples of the effects of sexual abuse.  I think the survivor's childlike behavior at times would irritate others.  Only I saw the little girl she still is.  In many ways, survivors of sexual abuse, especially those at a very young age, stop aging then.  A part of her is still that little girl whose family member was sexually abusing her.

Too, what you hear, many times, is how even after years of working with her therapist, and after admitting the truth of her life, stepping away from all the pretending she did, her journey of healing has just begun.

Oh, how I wish I had the words, had the skill, to take a viewer through each episode to say, "Look here, did you hear that?  Listen!  Watch!  These are the whys and wherefores this survivor is battling and discovering and discovering and battling."

Such pain.
Such beauty.
Such victory.

Would that it were those in my life would watch, would learn, and would, perhaps, understand me a bit better.  SIGH.

Even so, though such should never come to pass, I am reminded that I am not crazy, nor am I alone.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Can You Hear Me?

Can You Hear Me?

Why did you choose to hurt me?  Did you ever stop to realize that the pressure of your touch would not leave when your hands left my body?  I can feel your fingers probing even now as I lie in bed wishing for sleep to overtake my mind.  I scrub and scrub until my skin is raw, but the dirt of your presence is with me still.

I am growing older, on the outside that is.  But somewhere deep inside is the young girl you first touched.  She is still crying because I have yet to learn how.  My tears soak only the present.  They scarcely touch the hurt you so deliberately chose to give to me.

Did you know then, or do you realize now, that your choice would whisper in my thoughts and linger in my actions long after you finished?  I am learning not to be a victim, but a victor.  Yet the battle I am fighting will always be a part of me, a part of the very definition of who I am.

I am learning to listen, to hear beneath the words of others who have been touched by someone like you.  We draw to one another and whisper of the lingering presence.  We talk of showers and nightmares and ordinary things we turn away from because.

Because.  Because a part of us stopped growing that day long ago when you made that choice.  One moment in time showed us the ugliness of life before we had been nurtured enough to bear its weight.  Those of us who survived, or are surviving still, from that choice you made learned, or are learning still, how to grow in spite of the crying child within.  But we will never forget those words, that touch, the pain of your actions.

I cry today for the ones who were crushed beneath that weight.  I ache to see the children who come within your grasp.  Do you know what you have done?  Do you see at all?  Will the word of just one child, nearly grown, pierce the wall you must have built around your heart?  

Can you hear me at all?


Why did you choose to hurt me? 
Did you ever stop to realize 
that the pressure of your touch 
would not leave when your hands left my body?  
I can feel your fingers probing 
even now as I lie in bed wishing 
for sleep to overtake my mind.  
I scrub and scrub until my skin is raw, 
but the dirt of your presence is with me still.

I am growing older, on the outside that is.  
But somewhere deep inside 
is the young girl you first touched.  
She is still crying 
because I have yet to learn how.  
My tears soak only the present.  
They scarcely touch the hurt 
you so deliberately chose to give to me.
Did you know then, or do you realize now, 
that your choice would whisper 
in my thoughts and linger in my actions 
long after you finished?  
I am learning not to be a victim, but a victor.  
Yet the battle I am fighting 
will always be a part of me, 
a part of the very definition of who I am.

I am learning to listen, to hear 
beneath the words of others 
who have been touched by someone like you.  
We draw to one another 
and whisper of the lingering presence.  
We talk of showers and nightmares
and ordinary things we turn away from 

Because a part of us stopped growing 
that day long ago when 
you made that choice.  
One moment in time showed us 
the ugliness of life before 
we had been nurtured enough 
to bear its weight.  
Those of us who survived, or are surviving still, 
from that choice you made 
learned, or are learning still, 
how to grow in spite of the crying child within.  
But we will never forget 
those words, that touch, 
the pain of your actions.

I cry today for the ones 
who were crushed beneath that weight. 
I ache to see the children 
who come within your grasp.  
Do you know what you have done? 
Do you see at all?  
Will the word of just one child 
nearly grown pierce 
the wall you must have built 
around your heart?  

Can you hear me at all?


Why did you choose 
to hurt me?
Did you ever stop 
to realize
that the pressure 
of your touch
would not leave 
when your hands 
left my body?
I can feel your fingers 
Probing even now 
as I lie in bed 
wishing for sleep 
to overtake my mind.
I scrub and scrub 
until my skin is raw,
but the dirt 
of your presence 
is with me still.

I am growing older, 
on the outside 
that is.
But somewhere 
deep inside
is the young girl 
you first touched.
She is still crying
because I have yet 
to learn how.
My tears soak 
only the present.
They scarcely 
touch the hurt
you so deliberately 
chose to give to me.

Did you know then, 
or do you realize now,
that your choice 
would whisper
in my thoughts 
and linger 
in my actions
long after you finished?
I am learning 
not to be a victim, 
but a victor.
Yet the battle 
I am fighting
will always be 
a part of me,
a part of 
the very definition 
of who I am.

I am learning 
to listen, 
to hear
beneath the words 
of others
who have been touched 
by someone like you.
We draw 
to one another
and whisper of 
the lingering presence.
We talk of showers 
and nightmares
and ordinary things 
we turn away from 

Because a part of us 
stopped growing
that day long ago 
when you made 
that choice.
One moment in time 
showed us
the ugliness of life before
we had been 
nurtured enough
to bear its weight.
Those of us 
who survived, 
or are surviving still,
from that choice you made
or are learning still,
how to grow 
in spite of 
the crying child within.
But we will 
never forget
those words, 
that touch,
the pain 
of your actions.

I cry today 
for the ones
who were crushed 
beneath that weight.
I ache to see 
the children
who come within 
your grasp.
Do you know 
what you have done?
Do you see 
at all?
Will the word 
of just one child,
nearly grown,
pierce the wall 
you must have built
around your heart?

Can you hear me at all?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Stages of Healing Overview...

This is summary of the stages of healing Bass and Davis gives.  As I have written before, it is important to understanding that the stages of healing from sexual abuse are similar to the stages of grief in that they are not linear.  Second, this summary is but a brief glimpse at the information covered in the individual chapters about the stages of healing.


Although most of these stages are necessary for everyone, some—the emergency stage, remembering, disclosing, abuse to your family, and forgiveness—are not applicable to everyone.

The decision to heal.  Once you recognize the effects of sexual abuse in your life, you need to make an active commitment to heal.  Deep healing happens only when you choose it and are willing to change.

The emergency stage.  Beginning to deal with memories and long-surpressed feelings can throw your life into turmoil.  This is a time when emotional pain is intense, the old coping mechanisms are no longer intact, and it may difficult to function at your usual level.  Remember, this stage won't last forever.

Remembering.  Many survivors suppress some or all memory of what was done to them as children.  Those who do not forget the actual incidents may forget how they felt at the time or may not fully realize how much the experience has affected them.  Remembering is the process of getting back both memory and feeling, and understanding the impact abuse has had on your life.

Believing it happened.  Survivors often doubt their own perceptions.  Accepting that the abuse really happened, and that it really hurt you, is a vital part of the healing process.

Breaking silence.  Most survivors kept the abuse a secret in childhood.  Telling a safe person about your history is a powerful healing force that can dispel the shame that often accompanies victimization.

Understanding that it wasn't your fault.  Children usually believe that the abuse is their fault.  Adult survivors must learn to place the blame where it belongs—squarely on the shoulders of the abusers.

The child within.  Many survivors have lost touch with their own innocence and vulnerability.  Yet within each of us is a child—or several children of different ages—who were deeply hurt and need healing.  Getting in touch with the child you once were can help you develop compassion for yourself.

Grieving.  Most survivors haven't acknowledged or grieved for all of their losses.  Grieving is a way to honor your pain, let go, and move more fully into your current life.

Anger.  Anger is a powerful and liberating force that provides the energy need to move through grief, pain, and despair.  Directing your anger squarely at your abuser and at those who didn't protect you is pivotal to healing.

Disclosures and truth-telling.  Talking about your abuse and its effects with the abuser or with family members can be empowering and transformative, but it is not right for everyone.  Before taking this step, it is essential that you prepare carefully and wait until you have a strong foundation of healing and support.

Forgiveness?  Forgiveness of the abuser is not an essential part of the healing process. The only essential forgiveness is for yourself.

Spirituality.  Having the support of a spiritual connection can be a real asset in the healing process.  Spirituality is a uniquely personal experience.  You might find it through traditional religion, mediation, nature, working a 12-step program, or your support group.

Resolution and moving on.  As you move through these stages again and again, you will achieve more and more integration.  Your feelings and perspectives will start to stabilize.  While you won't erase your history, it will truly become history, something that occurred in your past.  You will make deep and lasting changes in your life.  Having gained awareness, compassion, and power through healing, you will have the opportunity to work toward a better world.  (The Courage to Heal, Bass and Davis, pp. 56-57)

Part of me wants to leave this summary as is, to simply leave it for you to reflect upon. Part of me wants to include a few brief thoughts.  Again, which is the better course of action is unclear to me.  Often less is more.  Much, much more.  Yet so, too, are words to ponder, words born of personal experience.

  • No matter how much you care for someone who has survived sexual abuse or wish for him/her to heal, until that person makes a decision to heal, healing will not and cannot take place.  I wish my decision had come earlier.  But my moment came when it did and until I had that thought, I could not really understand what healing would mean ... or believe that it was truly possible.
  • Breaking silence is ever so important, but finding a safe person is not easy.  To me, it thought it would be so being amongst Christians.  But a safe person is someone who sees the survivor, not the victim, and someone who does not set out to fix you or try to make things better, but gives you the freedom to be who you need to be in the different stages of healing.
  • Fault ... believing the truth of where this lies ... is really, really, really difficult.  For me, I think that believing has to come on many levels and has to come in body and mind and spirit ... if that makes sense.
  • It has been helpful for me to understand and to accept that there is a little girl in me who is who she is and where she is for a reason.  I respond and think and feel as her because of her.  Knowing this, learning this, has been a large part of taking the first steps of learning not to punish myself for being her now.
  • Grief is something I have found few understand about the effects of sexual abuse and the need for working through/living with your grief.  Grief is also its own journey and one that may never be completed this side of the vale.  However, the beauty of the Gospel is the joy that can be had, the joy and the healing and the peace even as grief remains.
  • Forgiveness has been, in my experience, the false Law handed to me by other Christians that has deepened my wounds and enlarged my despair.  Christians tend to forget that forgiveness is given to us through the Living Word and is worked in us by the Holy Spirit.  Forgiveness will come or not come in God's perfect timing and by His strength.  Not ours.  Not mine.  And we are still forgiven, whole, pure even if we do not ever come to the place where we forgive our abusers.

Finally, I would add, for Christians, that hearing the Living Word is the single, greatest gift/tool/medicine in healing from the effects of sexual abuse.  Christians also tend to worry first about what they might say or how they might help, often remaining silent and separate from wounded brothers and sisters in Christ believing they have nothing to offer.  This is not true.  They have the Living Word.  God has already said and done enough.  His Word is sufficient in all circumstances and for all people.  Read it to and with the wounded.  Send it to the wounded.  Remind them of the sweet, sweet Gospel and the Promise and promises of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, crucified for us, even for this.

When such majesty is denied to Christ according to His humanity, we regard it as a deadly error.  For by this the very great consolation mentioned above is taken from Christians, which they have in the promise about the presence and dwelling with them of their Head, King, and High Priest.  He has promised them that not only His mere divinity would be with them (which to us poor sinners is like a consuming fire on dry stubble).  But Christ promised that He—He, the man who has spoken with them, who has experienced all tribulations in His received human nature, and who can therefore have sympathy with us, as with men and His brethren—He will be with us in all our troubles also according to the nature by which He is our brother and we are flesh of His flesh.

What to read?  Where to start?  The Psalter.  In that collection of prayers, prayers that Christ prays for us and gives us to pray by and with and through Him, are the words and the Words that tell us we are known by our Creator.  Known and loved and accepted ... even when we doubt and despair, even when we are frightened and confused.

And, of course, there is John 1:1-5, a favorite litany of mine.

In the beginning was the Word, 
and the Word was with God, 
and the Word was God. 
He was in the beginning with God. 
All things came into being through Him, 
and apart from Him 
nothing came into being 
that has come into being. 
In Him was life, 
and the life was the Light of men. 
The Light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness did not overcome it.

And the promises of Isaiah 43: 1-3a:

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

“For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior...

Lest you start thinking that the Living Word is not sufficient, is not enough for this person, for this wound, remember, again, what Luther wrote in the Large Catechism about Baptism and the Word of God:

Understand the difference, then. Baptism is quite a different thing from all other water. This is not because of its natural quality but because something more noble is added here. God Himself stakes His honor, His power, and His might on it. Therefore, Baptism is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, and whatever other terms we can find to praise it. This all as because of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word, which no one can praise enough. For it has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do. (LC, IV, 17-18)

The Living Word has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do.
Do not trust me; trust God.
The Living Word is enough.

My wish is for people to learn and recognize these different stages of healing from sexual abuse.  My prayer is that having learned them, the family, friends, and neighbors of those who are so wounded, will not see to fix that person or make his/her life better, will not remain silent because they are afraid of not knowing what to say or do, thinking they have nothing to say that would be enough.  And my prayer is for those facing the effects of sexual abuse in their lives to know that healing is possible, even though it is also painful and challenging and oft confusing.

To me, learning the stages of healing reinforced the truth that I am not crazy or ill, but wounded.  I am not in need of repair, but of healing. And who I am, where I am, when I am is okay.  It's okay to struggle, to take both steps forward and back along the path to healing.

It's okay.
I'm okay.
And I am not alone.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Steps forward and back...

I have wondered if I should write about why I have not posted, even though this is so important to me ... or if I should just continue on with my posts.  I am still not sure which is the right course of action.  For as much as possible—while obviously my writing is formed by my own experience and from those experience arose my desire to help further open the discourse on the effects of sexual abuse—I want this blog to be about that information more so than about me.

Only me ... my struggles with what I am writing ... is why I have not posted in a while.

In writing about trauma and the brain and about emotions, I was caught off guard a bit. In writing and in thinking about what I was writing, I began to realize anew just how much of my life has been wrapped in numbness, just how much I have disassociated.  Yes, healing is the proverbial onion.  Layers upon layers can be pulled back and yet many more remain.  Still, that realization saddened me and frightened me.

Sometimes, frankly, I wonder if I will be anything more than a human ice cube.  For part of what I started reflecting about was the fact that the emotions I experience—feelings I struggle to both identify and to survive—are something that happens to me, not of my choosing.  Well, that is not wholly accurate.  I am trying to understand and I work to utilize my calm down helps to get through those maelstroms of emotion.  However, it still seems like they are happening to me, especially when the panic attacks and emotional storms happen and I am caught up in them, lost in body, mind, and spirit.

I have been working up the courage to continue.
And then Saturday night happened.
I was felled once more.

I wrote about it on my blog:

Last night was the second performance of the symphony in my season tickets.  The first night was rather warm for me.  I suspect that the venue was warm because needing air-conditioning on September 28th was not something to be expected.  With heat making me quite ill and having another unusual warm-up in the weather (remember, I had a fire just a few days ago), I knew that I had to choose an outfit that would be cool.

I did.
I had a full-blown panic attack.
I nearly drowned in panic, fear, despair, and shame.

It had been three years since ... three years, one month, and six days since I found myself wearing many, many layers.  Even the work clothes I choose were layers topped by jackets or suits.  I could do that because I had my own air-conditioning unit in my office since multiple sclerosis makes me so sensitive to heat and the building in which my non-profit was housed had a poor, oft-broken system.

Trying to find appropriate clothing (translate that anything that is not men's lounge pants and a hoodie) that fit is not easy.  Most of my work clothing (the only real nice attire I had) is far too large for me.  I have given much of it away, but have kept the suits and silk jackets primarily because of their beauty and investment and knowing I would never be able to afford such again.  I suppose I have silly hopes that someone could cut down some of the clothing for me one day.

The only real option I had that would be cool enough is a completely fitted outfit, with an outer covering that was knitted eyelet (i.e., see-through).  The skirt is not actually ankle length and not something with which I could wear my leather boots.  The skit is fitted snugly from waist to hips, then falls straight with a flare only at the bottom.  I had a shell and the knitted top, both of which are fitted.  Simply put, there was no where to hide in my outfit.  To me, I was stark naked.

It was the first time ... since.  I started trembling and shaking and my mind became lost in a maelstrom of fear and shame and panic and frustration because I wanted to go the symphony.  This.  This was supposed to be my "something normal," "something non-utilitarian," "something for me."  This is my raising-my-quality-of-life activity.  And there I was vomiting and trying to find a measure of rationality that I might actually go and hear Brahms.

I tried to call my best friend.  No answer.

I tried to call Mary, to tell her what was happening and ask her to pray.  She  would not judge and she would say something about Jesus and tell me a story about her life and then she would pray after we hung up. I know she would do this and time was running out.  Only her husband answered.  Mary was at a pastor's wives retreat.  Weeping, I tried to explain, even though I was hugely embarrassed, because I knew the Living Word would be the only way I could get through what was happening.  If I had any courage at all, I would have asked him to read a Psalm to me.  He would have.  I think.

So, then I tried to call Anna.  Because she would at least carry me to the altar with her on the morrow and she would understand what I meant without having to explain.  And she would pray.  No answer.

Then, I hit myself over the head, thinking I should call Marie, because she knows full well panic attacks.  She answered the phone!  Marie answered the phone and stayed with me as I got myself, still weeping and shaking and nauseous, out the door.  Marie talked about how bad panic attacks can be and she reminded me that once the performance started, the lights would be dimmed.  And Marie stayed on the phone with me until I got to Sandra's, who was then driving me to the theatre so I did not have to worry about parking or ask the police to fetch my car again.

Still fretting in the car, wondering even as we drove to the symphony, how in the world I was going to get out of the car, walk amongst so many people, and sit through the performance drowning in panic a and terrified of the things running through my mind, things from that night and things from my past and all the thoughts I have about my body, my body that was not hidden from others ... or from me.

My Good Shepherd served me well through Sandra's mouth, for she remembered about my calm down list and practices and asked me if I had a pinecone.  I did not have one on me, but I keep one in my car. I have kept one in my car ever since the flashback-caused-car-accident.  Even though I was ridiculed about having a pinecone in my car.  Even though I was told that if I ever wanted to be normal I would get rid of the pinecone in my car.  It was still there.

And then it was in my hand.

I was so late, I was worried that I would miss the start of the first piece and thus have to wait out in the lighted landing before I could take my seat.  But the theatre is close enough, really, that were I healthy and had a companion, could walk to if I wanted, being less than two miles from my house.  So, even though we pulled away from Sandra's home on the street behind me with just 8 minutes to go before the performance, I arrived in time to climb Mount Everest to my seats and fold and put away my cane before the orchestra started the tuning that signals they are ready to begin.

Climbing Mount Everest whilst holding a pinecone, clutching a handrail, and leaning heavily on a cane is actually not all that easy.  But I did not want to put the pinecone in my purse. I needed to be able to concentrate on the sensation of it in my hand ... round, firm, sharp ... and the reminder of things I savor ... trees, evergreens, pine needles, nature.

The thing about having a full-blown panic attack is what comes after.  Once those stress hormones are no longer pouring forth from your brain and flooding your body, once you are not longer fleeing your fear, your body collapses in relief.  During the first movement of the second half, that strange exhaustion that makes your entire body feel as if it has become the weight of an elephant, that makes even thinking a thought, much less remaining seated in a tiny seat in an historic amphitheatre nearly impossible.  I thought about texting Sandra to come fetch me, but I did not want to leave, to miss the music for which I had come, or to disturb others.

I lost track of how many times I started falling asleep in my seat, only to jerk myself awake.  The pinecone I had tucked away at intermission came right back out as I tried to use those sharp edges to keep myself from snoring in the balcony.  Descending Mount Everest was one of the hardest physical challenges I have faced in a long while.  My legs simultaneously weighed thousands of pounds and were made up of water rather than muscles.  The usual cacophony that arises from a departing audience was silenced by the concentration it took to put one foot forward, lower my weight to the step below the one on which I stood, and then bring the other foot next to my first one.  Years passed between the first step and the last.

As I was walking out, a chatty woman remarked that I was so brave to sit in the balcony, having watched me come down the stairs.  Normally, I would panic by having to interact with a stranger like that, but I was truly thankful for the exchange. My explanation about my hearing and the need to be in the best auditory spot in the building carried me across the lobby and out the doors and kept me vertical while I waited for Sandra to pull the car into the pick-up lane.

Talking a mile a minute about the music and the new instruments I had never seen before kept me awake during the ride home.  Were I brave, I should have asked Sandra to drive me home and walk back to her house. She would have.  I think.  I did not.  So I actually drove up on three different curbs between her house and my garage.

I stumbled to the back door, unlocked it, and fainted.
Amos came to greet me and lick me awake.
I crawled forward enough to shut the door and then napped with Amos on the kitchen floor.

On the way to the symphony, Sandra suggested that I concentrate on the fact that I was battling a fear and that when the concert was over, I could be proud of the fact that I survived wearing fitted clothing and the ensuing panic attack.  The problem is that I am not sure I know how to be proud of being felled so thoroughly by fear, felled in mind, body, and spirit.  I look back at last night in shame.  I am horrified by whatever it was that I said to Mary's husband.  I was babbling in fear.  Anything could have passed my lips.  Today, I had a mess to clean up in the sink, the tub, and the toilet.  I honestly cannot quite believe I did not also vomit in the balcony as I was still battling the panic during the entire first piece.  All I can think about are all the things going to the symphony is supposed for me, rather than what last night was.  And I think about how grateful I am that couple who have been occupying the seats next to me for the past 42 years warned me that I might even need a lap blanket once fall and winter set in because the balcony is rather cold at the Embassy Theatre.  Cold means many, many layers.  Cold means being able to hide, rather easily, in my clothing.

Paul and Marie treated me today to IHOP pumpkin pancakes.  I brought my old iPod with me so that I would have access to two Kindle apps so that we would have two copies of the NASB 1977 so that we could read some Psalms together.  But when I mentioned that, it seemed to me that reading psalms in IHOP was not something either of them though was ... a good thing to do.  So I dropped the idea.  And then I was too chicken to ask them to read them in the car or read them in the house, when they carried in the milk I bought when they took me to Target to pick up more of the innards medication.  But, oh, how I long to hear the Living Word.

I still want to hear what is true and right and salutary, rather than the lies of that panic attack that are still lingering in my mind.
I still want to hear what is good about creation and His created, rather than the bad I feel about my body.
I still want to have prayers written for me, spoken for me, and carried for me to the One who can (and will) save me.

Trying to distract myself, I have been searching for the new instruments I saw last night.  Googling images of instruments a bit frenetically to stave off the thoughts swirling within.  I believe one was a celesta and once was piccolo.  One I have yet to identify is some sort of extremely tall reed instrument that was a flat coil.   The other was a hanging disc.  I saw other instruments as well, such as a triangle, which I never would have fathomed would be used in an orchestra and used so perfectly and so beautifully.  Musically, it was a fascinating evening, even if the two warm-ups were both by modern composers and not what I would put in a masterworks series.

But other that the music?
Am I proud that I survived?
It doesn't feel like I have ... yet.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

I wrote yesterday that it did not seem to me that the panic attack was yet over.
And that I still longed to hear the Living Word.
I ache for the forgiveness and healing that I can grasp to be poured into my ears that the Holy Spirit might work them into my being.

I included Psalm 27 and my response to it:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; 
Whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the defense of my life; 
Whom shall I dread? 
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, 
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. 
Though a host encamp against me, 
My heart will not fear; 
Though war arise against me, 
In spite of this I shall be confident. 

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, 

To behold the beauty of the LORD 
And to meditate in His temple. 
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; 
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; 
He will lift me up on a rock. 
And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, 
And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; 
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD. 
Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice, 
And be gracious to me and answer me. 
When Thou didst say, "Seek My face," my heart said to Thee, 
"Your face, O LORD, I shall seek." 
Do not hide Thy face from me, 
Do not turn Thy servant away in anger; 
Thou hast been my help; 
Do not abandon me nor forsake me, 
O God of my salvation! 
For my father and my mother have forsaken me, 
But the LORD will take me up. 

Teach me Your way, O LORD, 
And lead me in a level path 
Because of my foes. 
Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries, 
For false witnesses have risen against me, 
And such as breathe out violence. 
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD 
In the land of the living. 
Wait for the LORD; 
Be strong and let your heart take courage; 
Yes, wait for the LORD.

Oh, how I savor that one thing.

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, 

For me, I really do see that dwelling, here and now, as hiding in the Living Word, especially the Psalter, as hiding in the certitude of the Christian Book of Concord.  I hide there.  But I also long for safety.  Oh, how I long for the forgiveness that I can grasp when I hear the Living Word read to mefor me.

Thinking of all the thoughts and feelings, of how my body, mind, and spirit were so thoroughly felled Saturday night, I still long to hear the Word.  It quiets me, washes me clean, if only for a while, of the shame that clings to me.  It sustains me. It restores me.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!