Friday, November 27, 2015

Gaining Strength

"Every time I overcome something from my painful past, I become stronger and more prepared for the next self-discovery." I put the words in quotes, because I can't remember who wrote this to me or exactly the way he said it, but that was the gist.

That's also a general life principle, isn't it? Each victory, no matter how small, prepares us for the next. For example, in 2007, our house burned down and we lost everything. As I watched it burn, while waiting for the fire department, I knew we wouldn't save anything.

One of the first things that popped into mind was these words, "I've been preparing for this." It wasn't something I'd thought of until that moment, but it was true. I did a quick review of my life and various trials. I also realized that if the fire had happened 20 years earlier, I wouldn't have been able to handle it nearly so well. Instead, I'd probably ask questions such as, "Why me?" "What did I do to deserve this?"

The other thing that came to me that day was a quotation from the book of Job in the Old Testament. Everything, including his children, had been killed or destroyed. His wife urged him to curse God and die. Instead, Job said, "Shall we receive good from God and not also receive trouble?"[1]

Each time I go through a painful experience in my healing, I try to remind myself that I've been preparing for this agony. I also remind myself that such insights and experiences don't come until we can handle them.

Some might want to argue with that last statement, but I stand by it. Some give up or go into depression, but I believe we have those experiences only when we can handle them.

What do you think?

[1] Job 2:20, CEB translation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"I've Put That Behind Me"

I had lunch with a man I'll call Ned, and he knew about my abuse. Just before we left the restaurant he leaned toward me and said, "It happened to me, but I've put all that behind me." And he spoke of other things.

I looked at Ned's 300-pound frame and wondered how he knew he had moved beyond his abuse. I don't know if he was obese because of the molestation, but a number of survivors admit that they became compulsive overeaters by finding their comfort in food. That's a nice way of saying, "I'm addicted to food."

Right here I want to point out that I'm not a therapist, but this much I know. People with addictive behavior become that way to fight off or satisfy some painful aspect of their lives. My alcoholic baby brother, Chuck, once said he drank because it was the only time he didn't feel the pain.

There is no putting molestation behind us. There is healing and there is denial. Our abuse will always be there, but if we work at it, the pain decreases and we become stronger and more emotionally helpful.

We don't put abuse behind us. 
It stays with us as we heal.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"By now . . ."

"By now," a pastor friend said to me, "you should be over all that. It happened so long ago."

"So you have some kind of way to set time limits?"

"No, that's not what I meant," he said. "Just that, well, it happened when you were just a kid."

"Time isn't the healer," I said, angry and ready to walk away from him. He kept trying to say that he didn't really mean those words.

"You're digging a deeper hole each time you open your mouth to explain," I said, "and I'm angry. It must be nice to be someone like you without hang-ups or problems that began in childhood and still continue to trouble!"

The shock on his face told me I had touched something in him.

"I apologize," he said and told me his story of growing up with two bright, ambitious parents who seemed to treat him more as a trophy than their child.

I don't know if he ever understood my pain or if I fully understood his. But his last words to me were, "I know only two kinds of people who had perfect childhoods. Liars and people who can't remember."

I'm not a liar and I remember the pain.
I also know I'm healing at my own pace.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Get Over It"

No one has ever used those three words to me: Get over it. However, they've implied that by now I should be free from pain and agony.

It hurts because they don't understand that our childhoods were shattered. When someone implies that statement or something like, "I don't understand why you're not over it. It happened a long time ago," I've wanted to respond, "Don't you think I'm doing my best to get past the pain?"

Although I doubt that I could do so, I've wanted to say, "You're right. I need to get over it. Please tell me how."

The difficulty is that they probably have answers—simplistic ones. "Talk with a professional." "Pray and read your Bible." Wow, why didn't we think of doing things like that?

Or they minimize our pain by saying, "It's not that big a deal." That statement angers me. Who are they to say it's not a big deal? I feel belittled when they say such words.

Childhood abuse is a big deal;
I'm still recovering.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Please Believe Me

I read somewhere that the greatest fear of survivors is that others won't believe them. It took me a long time to open up to my friends because of that fear. When I did speak up I received so much kindness, it emboldened me to speak up more often. Now I have no problem telling anyone that I'm a survivor of childhood abuse.

Another fear for many of us is that people will think (or say) we made up the story about our sexual rape to get attention. I can't verify this, but a friend told me that the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault says that only about 2 percent of the reports are false.

We're not responsible for their doubts and questions. Our need to be believed is crucial to our healing and some have felt molested again because others have been skeptical or told us we were mistaken.

I need to be believed.
That's crucial to my healing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

More Insensitive Questions

Only once someone asked me. "Do you think God was punishing you?"

That question may not be the most insensitive but it's close. How do we respond to such an inane question?

That time I responded with, "That may be the kind of God you serve, but my God is a healer. He doesn't send grownups to hurt little kids."

The other person squirmed and kept trying to tell me that she didn't really mean it the way it sounded.

Really? I didn't say that, but I secretly gloated that she had become as uncomfortable as I had been.

I am not responsible for others' insensitivity;
I'm responsible to protect myself.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Don't Let Them Say It

Most of us encounter individuals who pry into our lives or ask questions that trigger memories, or they're just unaware of how offensive their remarks sound. Some people don't know what to say or do.

The next time someone says something inappropriate, we need to be able to quietly-but-firmly reply with something simple such as "I don't want to talk about that."

One of my friends smiles and says, "Can you keep a secret?" The other person always answers yes. "So can I," he says and says no more. They usually laugh. If they don't get it, he walks away.

That approach may not work for everyone (and it's not something I'm comfortable doing), but I suggest we find simple-but-kind responses to irresponsible statements. I remind myself that because they're rude or insensitive I don't have to mimic their behavior.

The worst question I've been asked was at an informal gathering and a man I scarcely knew came up to me. He said he heard that I had been molested and I affirmed that I had been.

"Did you like it?"

I was so offended, I stared at the man who asked. "Excuse me, please," I said and walked across the room.

"I guess you didn't," he said.

I'm not saying I handled it well, but I didn't give into his voyeuristic question.

We have a right to privacy and to protect ourselves. In fact, it's more than that. I consider it a sacred responsibility to protect ourselves from such insensitive people.

They may ask;
I'm not required to answer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"What's That on Your Lapel?"

I'm one of those guys who likes to wear a tie and coat. And I was wearing a sports coat on a Sunday when I taught an adult class at our church. After we finished, I chatted with Evan.

"What's that on your lapel?" He pointed to a small safety pin with a yellow ribbon. I had received it at the Oasis Conference earlier in the year, and it was the first time I'd worn the sports coat since then.

"It's for survivors of sexual assault," I said. "I was abused when I was a child and I often speak to such groups."

"Oh," he said, nodded, and moved on.

Years ago I would have felt rejected by his words. (Okay, even before that, I wouldn't even have taken the risk of wearing the pin.) This time I smiled. It's all right, I thought.

Evan wasn't rejecting me; he wasn't comfortable discussing the topic and did the right thing for Evan. For me, that awareness was a decisive victory in my growth.

These days, I'm able to talk easily about my abuse. Had Evan asked any questions, I would have talked freely. He didn't say anything and that was all right.

Others' discomfort or lack of interest isn't rejection. Part of our growth is to be able to get such responses without negative emotional responses.

That experience may seem insignificant, but to me it was a powerful moment. I could hear Evan's single-word comment, "Oh," and not be upset, threatened, or fall into a dark zone. I smiled as I walked down the hallway. A small victory, but those minor triumphs keep me moving optimistically forward.

The more freely I can talk about being molested,
the closer I am to complete healing.