No More Apologies

I survived a childhood surrounded by abuse, neglect, and molestation. I learned to be invisible in order to placate my malignant narcissistic mother; the consequences for drawing attention to myself were often physically painful as well as emotionally and psychologically damaging. I will no longer hide what I endured, nor will I accept blame of any kind for something that was not my fault.

Too many survivors are ashamed of what they went through. We don’t share our stories because we fear judgment, condemnation, pity, or avoidance. We isolate ourselves because we feel like there’s something inherently wrong with us — this is the result of being manipulated, degraded, criticized, abused, molested, violated in any number of ways, and stripped of our innocence. We learn to be two people….ourselves, and the person we show to others.

I wasn’t wanted. I was in the way; I was a disappointment and a burden. I was a last-ditch attempt by my parents to save a doomed marriage, and it failed. I was seen as at least part of the cause of that failure.

Kids can’t process it when their parents despise them. We are born with the need and instinct to trust our caretakers and feel secure in their presence. When abuse occurs, it is beyond our capability to reason out the mental illness that makes an adult strike, berate, or molest an innocent child. Our minds simply can’t wrap around that idea. We learn, instead, to dissociate — to go somewhere else when things happen we can’t explain. It helps us endure the horrors we live with as we’re beaten, raped, told we’re worthless or unwanted….we are compelled to love and rely on even violent parents because it’s how we’re created. Dissociation enables us to separate the abuse from the abuser. It’s why even kids who were tied up, bound, tortured, and starved still love their parental authority figures.

One of the consequences of this dissociation is the loss of feelings. Deep, searing hurt, the kind caused by abuse, can’t coexist with trust. In order to survive, children who are abused compartmentalize their emotions. Fear, hurt, anger, disappointment, disgust, joy, happiness, love, excitement…..they come as a package deal. It’s all or nothing. When an abused child reaches the point of needing to isolate the idea of a loving parent or caretaker from the reality of their situation, their mind shuts down the part of the brain that experiences emotion in order to protect the fragile and still-developing psyche from destruction and despair. Loss of feelings is a defense mechanism involuntarily activated by an immature system that is threatened by the violence the child is experiencing. Were the victim able to process and understand what was happening, it would destroy who they were as a person. They would lose all faith in humanity. Families are intended to provide a nurturing and loving environment for children and youth. Parents and caretakers who pervert that ideal are doing far more than just exploiting their charges; they are acting in ways that will affect these youth for the rest of their lives.

Many of us who endured the destruction of our innocence at the hands of those entrusted with our safety and well-being develop habits involving self-injury. One of the reasons we cut, pick, pluck hair, engage in sexual promiscuity, or otherwise put ourselves in harm’s way is directly related to the emotional emptiness we feel. Pain and blood remind us we’re not just an object. While we may not be able to experience feelings because of dissociation, discomfort is a physical sensation that reminds us we’re human.

After years of systematic neglect, physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault, and emotional abandonment, I felt more like a robot just going through the motions than a human being. My goals in life were to stay quiet, keep out of my mom’s way, avoid my stepfather and his perverted sexual desires, and basically try my hardest to be invisible. One thing I had control over was how I allowed my body to heal when it was injured by a splinter, a minor cut, or a scrape. Inflicting pain on myself was, in some twisted way, a relief. However, it also reinforced the message I was getting from my parents — I was damaged, inadequate, and didn’t deserve good things. Pain was my lot in life, and I had embraced that even to the point of injuring myself.  I pick at my scabs — I have done this as long as I can remember. It’s a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with what I was enduring. I bear hundreds of scars from picking at sores instead of allowing things to heal naturally.  In a twisted kind of way, it was also a form of rebellion. My mom was disgusted with how I picked and frequently demanded I stop. She made snide comments about it on a regular basis. For me, it provided an outlet for my frustration and inability to be who I really was — something she couldn’t control. It became as natural to me as breathing. In fact, I still do it today. It has become a part of me. Sometimes minor scratches take months to heal; it reflects the level of stress in my life and how well I’m coping. The more I’m dealing with emotionally, the worse it gets.

I’m also obese. I was always a pudgy child. Even in kindergarten I remember other kids calling me names, not wanting to play with me, and avoiding me. When the molestation started, though, I began packing on the pounds. Fat is my insulator, my protector. I use it to keep people away. I remember my stepdad telling me I was really pretty and that lots of men would want to do to me what he was doing….the extra weight became my desperate attempt to be ugly, undesirable, and to keep grown men with a penchant for adolescent girls from further violating my innocence. Eating disorders are another defense mechanism exhibited by abuse survivors. It’s about control in the face of chaos and unpredictability. Food doesn’t abuse you, call you ugly or stupid, or tell you it wishes you hadn’t been born. It causes the release of endorphins as sugar enters the bloodstream, and provides a modicum of comfort in uncertain circumstances. It isn’t judgmental or critical.

Of course, overeating also has negative consequences. I might have reasoned in my pre-teen mind that I was making myself safe from further molestation, but I was also giving my mother more ammunition to torment me with. I had, in effect, handed her another rock to hurl at my self-esteem. My more athletic and slender sisters provided the perfect opportunity for comparison, with my increasing girth proving once again I wasn’t good enough for her acceptance or love. I was a straight A student, reading college level books by the time I was 12, and had been singing almost since I was able to talk, even being on TV when I was 5, but what she saw (and made sure to share with others every time she got the chance) was a fat, lazy disappointment of a child. I can still remember hearing how I had such a pretty face, and how it would be so much better if I would just lose some weight…..I grew to dread hearing her proclaim that to her friends under the guise of, “I only want what’s best for her.”

So……..

This is the beginning of my story. There’s much more to come. I’m not going to hide it any longer. In fact, I’m sharing it because I need to give it validity and I’m hoping it may encourage others who have been through some of the same things and are feeling alone, misunderstood, or just wondering if they’re beyond hope.

None of us deserved to be abused, molested, emotionally or physically abandoned or neglected, or belittled in any way by our parents or caretakers. We were created by God to be nurtured, loved, and encouraged to reach our full potential as adults. While we cannot change the past, we can stop running from and/or hiding it. We can face it, acknowledge the truth of our traumatic upbringing, learn from it, and move forward. Maybe, just maybe, we can help others to heal by sharing our own triumphs and successes. We can encourage others to speak out and stop covering for our abusers. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We are valuable, precious, and unique.

We are survivors.

Midnight Thoughts

We have all been through trials and tribulations. We have faced dark nights and scary times. However, there are those of us who have been to the gates of hell and back again, and for those women, those people, I have something to tell you.

You are precious to God. There has not been one minute in your life where He hasn’t been right there with you. When you were being abused, neglected, raped, beaten, tormented in your mind…… He was there with you. He felt your pain. He knew your heartache. He has seen everything you have gone through. He has wept with you, and been with you through all of those struggles. You have not been alone for one second.

You may feel damaged, but you are not broken. You are precious in the eyes of God just the way you are. He can take those experiences, the things the enemy wanted to use to destroy you, and turn them into a powerful testimony. He can use you to reach people nobody else can touch. He has a purpose for your life, even if you can’t see it. He sees you whole and complete, and His desire is for your healing. He never intended for us to walk through our lives burdened by the past. I’m not saying that you will wake up one morning and not remember anything you’ve been through, but he can use those experiences to make you stronger, more dedicated, and more able to minister to people in need.

All you need to do is get lost in Jesus. When you get lost in him, when you spend time saturated by his presence, thinking about nothing else on Earth, He can reach in and begin to peel that pain away and replace it with the knowledge that you are His infinitely precious creation. You are a pearl. Many of us learned in school how pearls were made. At the center of each pearl is a grain of sand. It causes such irritation inside the oyster that the creature coats it with layer upon layer upon layer of iridescent, luminous, gorgeously shiny material in order to ease that irritation and pain it feels. Each of us who has experienced abuse, abandonment, or violence has that grain of sand in our hearts. God, if we will allow it, can coat that pain and that agony with something that is beautiful and valuable and precious. He can take the ugliest situation and make it shine for His glory. He can indeed take what was meant for evil and turn it to His good if we will just allow him to do so. If you will trust Jesus, if you will yield your pain to His hands, and if you will allow Him to work in your heart, He can and will do for you what no man can do. He can show you what you mean to Him, give you a sense of purpose, and make what was broken whole.

You Are Enough.

Those of us who experienced abuse in childhood or marriage – whether verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, or any combination thereof – often struggle with feelings of inadequacy, self-criticism, self-hatred, doubt, fear, and even self-condemnation. We need to remember that Jesus bled and died for us, too. He was with us through those times, holding us up with His hand, because He loves us. He knows how we struggle to reconcile the concept of a loving, caring Father with the examples we were exposed to. He is aware of how it skewed our thinking and caused us to struggle more than others with seeing Him as One who accepts us as we are, not the way someone else thinks we should be. He hears our cries in the darkness, is fully cognizant of our tormented minds, and stands with us as we battle the forces that would cause us to get so mired down by the treatment we endured that we would even give up on our hopes and dreams. His will for us is victory, confidence, and the assurance we are His chosen children – not in spite of, but sometimes even because of our scars. We are fighters. We survived sometimes hellish circumstances, things we never told anyone else, and we came out on the other side with a tenacity and a strength known only by those who endure this kind of hardship.

What you have been through has made you especially capable and competent at ministering to others in pain. You know what it’s like to be afraid to speak loudly, to draw attention to yourself, to be an individual, and you can see it in others. The compassion engendered by your experiences was given to you for a reason. It’s not just there for you to acknowledge, but it’s been given to you so that you can minister to others who are going through or have been through similar circumstances. Someone who has never been abused can feel sorry for what a survivor is struggling with, but they just don’t know how it feels. You know because you’ve been there. You recognize the downturned gaze, the self-deprecation, the avoidance of personal talk, the attempts to be invisible; they are as familiar to you as your own skin. I can recognize an abused woman or child a mile away. It shouts the story in how they walk, carry themselves, talk, and even dress. The scramble to pacify, the constant need for reassurance that they’re good enough, the reluctance to speak about what they’re enduring is like red graffiti on a white wall. Because you’ve been there, you see what others don’t. You get them. This gives you an unique opportunity to minister to them from experience, not just what you’ve been taught in a class, read in a book, or heard second-hand.

We often look at the struggles in our lives and ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” The question itself isn’t as important as the reason behind asking it. We can have one of two attitudes when posing this query:

  • Why me? What did I do to deserve this? How can a loving God allow anyone to endure such trauma?
  • How is this trial preparing me for my calling? What can I learn from it? How can I apply the strength I gained coming through this experience to benefit the kingdom of God?

How we look at living as a human being in a world full of sin affects our response to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, being finite often leaves us seeing only our immediate situation; it’s like viewing a quilt from the point of view of a single piece of fabric or listening to a symphony from the third violist’s chair. We can’t see our lives like God sees them. We simply aren’t created with that capability. This is where faith comes in. We have to choose to trust Him to lead us through what will shape us into the person He intended us to be. Sometimes this means walking in darkness, trusting Him to guide us. It may require us to lay down things we want to do or be in order to receive His best for us, even if we don’t understand it at the time. For abuse survivors, this kind of trust can be really difficult. Victimization can lead to a whole mess of thought processes capable of interfering with letting go of what we think is good and right. We may fear more than just the loss of control, and justifiably so; vulnerability has betrayed us in the past, and we are leery of yielding that kind of power to anyone else, even God. In fact, it may take us much longer to learn to put our confidence in His desire for our good. This explains, in a way, why the faith of those who have suffered abuse may be much stronger; for us to get to the point where we can yield our will and desire for self-protection to someone else requires a decision not reached without much internal conflict, and one that will not be easily challenged or abandoned. I may at times doubt my ability to do what God has called me to do, but I am never dubious about His love for me. In fact, it has been the only thing I had to hold on to more than once. In the middle of everything I’ve been through, He has been the constant I could rely on – even when I was so mired in misery I wondered if I should just give in. This knowledge has been my anchor, my rock, my confidence when everything else was falling to pieces around me. I am sure of this: no matter what I’m going through, I am never alone. I may not be happy, healthy, wealthy, or successful in the eyes of the world, but God has a plan for me that will bring Him glory no matter how weak or frail I am, or how many times I fall.

No matter what anybody else tells you, what and who you are is exactly what and who you were created to be. You may have made mistakes, or fallen, or rebelled….but God knew all that when He created you, and He loves you anyway. Don’t let those lies imprison you. Remember, He knew you before He laid the foundations of the world, and He would not have you be anyone but who you are. Never forget that.

©2018