Friday, March 5, 2010

The Path to Peace: Overcoming Abuse

This may seem like an odd choice for Feel Good Friday, but I feel really good about speaking the truth and getting information out to help others. Have a great day!

The Path to Peace: Overcoming Abuse

I want to tell you a story. It is the story of a little girl whose world was turned upside down. Not because she was bad, but because there are bad people in the world. I tell you this story so you can know that even when bad things happen, God can bring good from them. You may not be ready to believe the things I say because of your own experiences. All I ask is that you listen.

When I was four years old, someone was taking care of me while my parents worked. An old woman also lived in the house. One day I came into the house singing and laughing, and suddenly everything went black. That old woman had backhanded me for bothering her. When I came to, she told me not to tell because no one would believe me. So I didn’t tell. But everything was different after that. Something bad had happened to me.

The next year, when I was five, my sister and I went to stay on a farm with relatives. There was a girl, several years older than I, who was big and mean and who brutalized me during that visit. For several years she arranged opportunities to torment me whenever we were together—verbally, physically, and even sexually. She threatened my life on numerous occasions with a gun or a chain which she said she would use to strangle me. She even threatened to drown me in the well. Each time she promised that if I told, she would get me and no one would believe me anyway. By this time past experience had taught me that something bad could really happen. So I didn’t tell.

Being a child, I thought that if I could just figure out what I was doing wrong, I could make the bad stuff stop. But this girl was bigger, stronger, older and meaner than I was. And she was experienced because she lived in an abusive home herself. So it didn’t stop, not right away at least. Eventually, as we both got older, we stopped seeing each other so much. I never told and she quit bothering me. But that wasn’t the end of my fears.

The same summer I went to the farm for the first time I met another bad person. My parents were very sociable people and we often had visitors into our home. One holiday weekend, we were having a picnic; and while everyone else was outside a young guest took me indoors and raped me while his girlfriend stood watch. I didn’t tell. I was afraid to.

My parents weren’t aware of it, and another time they asked the same couple to babysit us. The bad thing happened again. By this time, I had decided that people could be nice one minute and mean and scary the next. I put all of this away in the back of my head and didn’t think about it, but the fear remained.

Life went on, and things were fairly normal until high school. Someone new came into my life who said ugly things about me. Sometimes he made passes at me. Eventually, while I was in college, he raped me. There were no threats, but I knew better than to tell. I was certain that no one would believe me. And if I did tell, something bad would surely come of it.

Eventually, I found that I couldn’t keep all of my fears inside any more. With marriage, children, and other responsibilities my defenses came crashing down, and I started to tell. Some people believed me—my husband did, my best friends did, and my therapists did. And no one came to kill me.

Not everyone believed me, however, and that was hard. Telling had not been easy. There were major depressions, panic attacks, cold sweats, and flashbacks that felt like it was happening all over again. I thought I might die, but I kept talking and writing. The bad stuff didn’t go away, but neither did I. I didn’t die, and nobody tried to hurt me. More people started to believe me, and that’s when things started to change for the better.

In 2000 I was diagnosed with chronic post traumatic stress disorder. It doesn’t go away, but you can learn to live with it. Statistics tell us that 1 in 3 women in the United States will suffer some kind of abuse by the age of 18. That means I am not alone.

I am telling my story for two reasons. The first is for myself. The more I tell it, the less it controls me. Every time I tell it and survive, I receive strength to believe that those threats were all lies. The second reason is for myself also, but I hope it is for at least one other person as well.

You can move to a better place than where you are right now. Contrary to popular belief, everyone does not have it all together. A lot of people are hurting, and the only way to heal that kind of pain is to share it. One of my favorite quotes is: “The human heart can be healed by intimate connection with compassionate witnesses. Time heals only those wounds that are shared and understood.”

This is not something you can do on your own. None of us were meant to live in isolation. God knew we needed each other. We need to lean on each other and we need to be leaned upon.

Two groups of people will read this. The first is made up of those who are currently in pain. It may be the pain of abuse, past or present, or the pain of marital struggles or divorce. It may be pain from something I can’t possibly know or understand. The second group is made up of those who are not currently struggling but who have in the past. There isn’t anyone who has not needed support at some point or who won’t need it in the future. Some of us need help and some of us need the opportunity to help someone else.

Remember that healing comes with intimacy, compassion and understanding. Some people are better at those things than others, but we can all learn. There is more to listening than just hearing. A connection is imperative, but so is an appropriate, compassionate response. The most important thing we can do for another person is to feel, understand and acknowledge her pain.

Whether you are someone who has suffered abuse or you know someone who has, there are several things you can do to help. I strongly encourage those who have suffered abuse of any kind to seek professional help. Look for a therapist with a Christian perspective who also has experience with treating post traumatic stress disorder. If you aren’t ready to talk to anyone yet, start a daily journal. Let yourself write whatever comes to you. You may not believe it now, but it is possible to overcome the trauma of abuse and find peace.

The Bible counsels that there is a time for speaking (Ecclesiastes 3:7). There is a time for healing, as well (v. 3). Often, sharing your story with others is a first step and can help you on your path to peace.




SIDEBAR #1:

Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse: What We Would Like You to Know About Us
1. We grew up feeling very isolated and vulnerable, a feeling that continues into our adult lives.
2. Our early development has been interrupted by abuse, which either holds us back or pushes us ahead developmentally.
3. Sexual abuse has influenced all parts of our lives. Not dealing with it is like ignoring an open wound. Our communication style, our self-confidence, and our trust levels are affected.
4. Putting thoughts and feelings related to our abuse "on the back burner" does not make them go away. The only way out is to go through these emotions and process them.
5. Our interest in sexual activity will usually decline while we are dealing with this early trauma. This is because: we are working on separating the past from the present. Pleasure and pain can sometimes be experienced simultaneously. It is important for us to be in control, since control is what we lacked as children. Sometimes we need a lot of space. Pressuring us to have sex will only increase our tension.
6. We often experience physical discomforts, pains, and disorders that are related to our emotions.
7. We often appear to be extremely strong while we are falling apart inside.
8. There is nothing wrong with us as survivors -- something wrong was DONE to us.
9. Sometimes others get impatient with us for not "getting past it" sooner. Remember, we are feeling overwhelmed, and what we need is your patience and support. Right now, it is very important for us to concentrate on the past. We are trying to reorganize our whole outlook on the world; this won't happen overnight.
10. Your support is extremely important to us. Remember; we have been trained to hold things in. We have been trained NOT to tell about the abuse. We did not tell sooner for a variety of reasons: we were fearful about how you would react, what might happen, etc. We have been threatened verbally and/or nonverbally to keep us quiet, and we live with that fear.
11. Feeling sorry for us does not really help because we add your pain to our own.
12. There are many different kinds of people who are offenders. It does not matter that they are charming or attractive or wealthy. Anybody -- from any social class or ethnic background, with any level of education-- may be an offender. Sexual abuse is repetitive, so be aware of offenders with whom you have contact. Do not let them continue the cycle of abuse with the next generation of children.
13. We might not want or be able to talk with you about our therapy.
14. We are afraid we might push you away with all our emotional reactions. You can help by: listening, reassuring us that you are not leaving, not pressuring us, touching (WITH PERMISSION) in a nonsexual way.
15. Our therapy does not break up relationships - it sometimes causes them to change as we change. Therapy often brings issues to the surface that were already present.
16. Grieving is a part of our healing process as we say goodbye to parts of ourselves.
From Triumph over Darkness by Wendy Ann Wood, M.A. copyright Wendy Ann Wood 1993


Sidebar #2:

Tips for Recovery
1. Remember that life will go on.
2. Reduce your stress.
3. Listen to uplifting music.
4. Remember you are not alone.
5. Find humor where you can. Laugh.
6. Buy yourself a stuffed animal. This provides comfort and represents a positive aspect of childhood.
7. Carry a small book of quotes or scriptures with you. Anytime you need a pick me up, read over them.
8. Keep a journal. Write anything you want. No one else has to read this, but you may find it helpful to share when you are ready.
9. Don’t get caught up in being perfect. Stay caught up in finding you.
10. Breathe. Take up yoga or some form of meditation.
11. Be kind to yourself. Watch how you talk to yourself and about yourself.
12. Cry or scream into a towel or pillow.
13. Stay connected to friends. You may have to limit the number, but find at least one trusted friend to talk to whenever you need to hear a friendly voice.
14. Get help with the day-to-day chores
15. Pray. If you can’t pray in your regular way, don’t panic. Try writing a letter to God. Try reading other people’s prayers.

(This article was published this week in Christian Woman, March/April 2010, pp. 42-44)

I always enjoy going to The Girl Next Door. Her Feel Good Friday is especially fun.

4 comments:

  1. Your time for speaking is obviously here! Congratulations on having your article published. A lot of women need to read this.

    Blessings:)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do agree that this is a Feel Good Post.

    You know, I read the beginning and I just felt sick to my stomach for you that you had to go through all of that and that ANYONE has to go through that.

    I have 2 girls and I just can't prepare and eqip them enough. I hope people come by and read your post.

    I believe that information is power and you offered up a lot of valuable information and even though for some it is a "stick your head into the sand" issue - they shouldn't and, if they read this and act on it - they will end up feeling good.

    I can guarantee that this weekend I will be revisiting the subject with my 10 yr old. I do it about 3x a year or so.

    Thank You!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent job - I have a B.S. in English Education - I would have to give your paper an A+ - I wish, for your sake, it could be on a different topic, but as my dad always says "the world is not as we wish it to be." Sometimes, but not always. Anyway, you ended up with the best husband, so you chose well. Have you submitted this article to other publications? Nina

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh bless you. I'm so sorry for your experiences but I thank you for sharing. It's so important and will definitely help others.

    ReplyDelete

Please sign up as a follower to see comment replies.