Trigger warning: This post relates experiences of childhood sexual abuse. My hearts bleeds with compassion for those who have experienced such trauma, and I wish to add no further injury to those experiences. If you anticipate being triggered by this content, you may want to skip this post.
You’re reading part 2 of my personal story with abuse, which is part of the series
If You Only Knew: Awareness, Healing, Hope.
If you missed part 1, you can read it here.
Some abuse survivors resort to drugs, alcohol, or promiscuity to cope with the pain of their trauma. My spirit dissolved into a sea of fear and insecurity. I anesthetized my wounds by attempting to prove my worth. Perfectionism, achievement, and being the “good girl” drove my behavior.
My emotional maturity halted. My world warped. It loomed over me–a crushing, unsafe, scary place.
I questioned whether each man in my life was capable of violating me. Uncles, friends, grandparents, neighbors…If he could do it to me, then couldn’t anyone?
I locked doors. And checked three times to make sure they were really locked.
I recited prayers endlessly, hoping their repetition would grant me extra protection. I besought God for healing, believing it would come in one big zap someday. Voila, healed! Good as new.
Whenever rejected, I internalized the sting as proof of my worthlessness.
Halfway through college, my husband and I began dating. When he innocently commented on the comical personality of the man who abused me, I knew I had to tell him the truth. The minutes I needed to collect my courage sucked the oxygen from me and washed me in a near-panic anxiety. The weight of the words nearly anchored them hopelessly inside. I resented the need to speak them.
I don’t even remember his reaction. All I could manage was the admission of this buried past. There. Done. Now you know…
The “don’t tell” hold of secrecy exerted by the enemy was powerful. He wielded silence as a weapon, and it succeeded for a very long time.
Married with 2 (of my 4) children, the anxiety that gripped me while in my abuser’s presence mounted to disturbing levels. Questions fired in my brain like the Fourth of July:
How should I greet him? Buy birthday and holiday gifts—honor him? Is my shirt too tight? What if this outfit is provocative? I can’t even make eye contact. Should I let him hold my baby? He wouldn’t hurt my baby, would he?
Confusion, doubt, and anxiety tag-teamed the silence and secrecy.
I feared for my girls’ safety and my own sanity. Only validation and straight talk from a counselor jolted me from my confusion and paralysis. I decided to cut all ties with my abuser.
My parents stepped in with a strength and support not available to them previously. My dad apprised my abuser of my decision by phone. Grace.
He also informed my siblings. If they knew of it before then, I wasn’t aware of it.
Ugliness ensued with the abuser and his wife, both of whom lashed out at my parents. They insisted I was mistaken, that the past was in the past and I should let it be. There was no admission, repentance, or responsibility taken. Instead, there were lies, accusations, and vitriol. My parents took the brunt of it as they strove to keep the family together.
It could have looked like this:
A sincere apology—admission of what he’d done with remorse for having done it. Treatment to uncover the root of what drove him to abuse, and a commitment to heal that root so he would not abuse again.
But he opted to do none of it. And I learned that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.
I have the ability to forgive, and to keep forgiving–daily if needed. It is a choice, not a feeling, that releases another to God. Reconciliation takes two, and I possess only the power of one. I am not responsible for the restoration of a relationship with an unwilling person, and I am not bound to continually subject myself to a harmful one.
Lies, division, and condemnation threatened to drown our family.
The emotional toll was harrowing, the evil in the situation palpable—for both my parents and me.
I peeled back layers of coping mechanisms, immersed in feelings I longed to release: anger, fear, confusion, blame, resentment. Each word, decision, and judgment by others who moved to protect and heal my abuser tore my wounds open.
Pushes to reconcile from Christians in my life dumped salt into them. The silence of others accomplished the same.
I found comfort in my favorite foods, believing that the pounds I packed on insulated me from anyone seeing deep inside me.
I also begged God for help. I didn’t understand how He could allow this pain, but His gift of grace and faith convinced me the only way forward was with Him. I clung.
I couldn’t see it at the time, but God was at work. He drove the events which led me to cut ties with my abuser. His Spirit enabled me to embark on a healing journey by drawing the hard boundary of separation. This concrete step, seemingly impossible to execute, empowered me to move on.
God shined His light into my dark, loosening the secrets and lies hidden deep within it.
Soon after I birthed my third child, the first two began asking about my abuser’s wife. Hesitantly, I allowed her back into our lives for the sake of my children. It was messy and ugly and heart-wrenching. But my children were happy.
Three years later, my son swimming in my womb, I learned was my abuser was dying. He had not communicated any change in attitude toward me or what he had done. I wondered if he was sorry, if he felt remorse. Did he confess when the priest visited his hospital bed? Was he absolved before receiving Last Rites? Was he in heaven now?
I chose to attend his wake and funeral.
I was afraid I would regret it if I didn’t go, and I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the questions my absence would have created. I stole a moment when the space near his casket was empty. Mourners and their awkward conversations swirled around me as I breathed a brief prayer and told him: I forgive you. I hope you’re Home.
Grace surpassed fear by igniting courage.
Despite my therapy work and my abuser’s passing, the ache of being in his home for visits and holidays proved too much. The photos of him and “life as normal” all around me overwhelmed my spirit. I stopped attending functions there…making waves, but taking control of my healing instead of the hurt controlling me. Grace.
I continue to allow my children to spend time with his wife because they delight in her, and she in them. In her advancing age, and set in her ways, it is unlikely that she is capable of reconciling what happened. Should she ever be open to doing so, I pray I would have the grace and courage to do it.
To be concluded tomorrow…
Photos by freedigitalphotos.net
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