In the 1985 film Plenty, Meryl Streep played the role of Susan, an Englishwoman who worked with the French underground during World War II. The story is set 20 years later. Those years after the war provided the only meaning in her life. Everything before and after focused on her wartime work.
Here’s another example. When I was a pastor, by invitation I occasionally sat in on AA meetings at our church. One thing bothered me about a few of the more than 40 regulars. Some of them were dry alcoholics.
As I understood the term, those individuals hadn’t touched alcohol in years, but their behavior hadn’t changed. They were essentially the same as they had been when they joined.
James, the leader of the group, talked to me after one meeting and shook his head. “We know. We love them and we try to help, but some of them have made sobriety an idol—even a disdained one. They worship at the shrine of their abstinence and never leave.”
Much later, Gary Roe used the term in referring to sexual molestation.
We can elevate what happened to us and empower it with responsibility for everything that happens in our lives. Abuse can define us and control how we react to any situation.
What happened to us affects every relationship we have—even when we’re not aware. Molestation is probably our saddest, most devastating life experience.
We can choose to heal, to move forward, to receive help from other survivors, turn to God, or get counseling. Or we can keep going back to then.
As awful as our experiences were, healing means moving on and refusing to allow the trauma of childhood to define us in the present. Otherwise, our thoughts and actions go back to, “When I was abused . . .”
We don’t say the words, but the experience can still define us. That’s when abuse becomes our idol.
What is happening in my life illustrates what I believe takes place in the lives of most survivors. The effects of our trauma continue to manifest themselves. There will always be people and events that trigger our abuse-meters and send us reeling.
But we keep on and we remind ourselves that healing is a lifelong journey. To see it as anything else sets us up for disappointment and discouragement.
Or worse. We make an idol of our pain.