Archive for March, 2009

****** religious triggers *****

I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

Today, I would like to focus upon the following quote. Mack is asking God about where He was while his daughter was being abused and murdered. Here is God’s response in the book:

Mack, she was never alone. I never left her; we [the trinity] never left her, not for one instant. I could no more abandon her, or you, than I could abandon myself … [T]here was not a moment that we were not with her. ~ The Shack page 175

Many child abuse survivors struggle with where God was while they were being abused. I truly believe this quote from the book. I believe that God was right there, giving me the strength and courage to survive it. I also believe that God is the one who blessed me with the ability to dissociate and gave me the gift of dissociative identity disorder (DID). No, God did not stop the abuse, but He gave me the tools I needed to survive it, and he rubbed a healing balm over me to help me heal the pain as an adult.

Over at Isurvive, I posted the following words to someone who is struggling with this very issue. So, if this sounds familiar to those of you who frequent there, that would be why. :O)

We child abuse survivors get angry with God because we see Him as the only one able to stop the abuse, but really it was the people in our lives who let us down, not God. I believe that God grieved mightily, with tears streaming down his face, as He saw me being harmed. I also believe that He became angry with the adults in my life who ignored His instruction in the Bible to protect the children.

I don’t believe that it is God’s job to protect my kid — It is MY job to protect him. I protect my kid because I love him. I was not protected because I was not loved. That’s a choice of men, not of God.

Despite all of that, God made me strong and gave me the gift of dissociation to enable me to survive the abuse. God is the only one who helped me — my parents sure didn’t. God was also present in the teachers who took me under their wings and my sister, who gave me love.

God has also taken something as horrible as my abuse and brought lots of good and beauty out of it. Because I survived it, I know that others can survive it, too. Because I am healing, I know that others can heal, and I encourage them as they heal.

No, I would never choose to experience abuse or for anyone else to experience it, and this is why I take my job seriously in helping any child abuse survivor that I can. I am also active in helping change society to protect children. I believe that is how God works — through people caring enough to make a difference.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Time to get back to The Shack. I took a break to address some other issues, but now that I have almost finished reading the book, I have many more topics to discuss.

For those who are new to my blog, I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

Today, I would like to focus upon this quote:

As Mack made his way down the trail toward the lake, he suddenly realized that something was missing. His constant companion, The Great Sadness, was gone … Its absence felt odd, perhaps even uncomfortable. For the past years it had defined for him what was normal, but now, unexpectedly, it had vanished … He wondered who he would be now that he was letting all of that go–to walk into each day without the guilt and despair that had sucked the colors of life out of everything. ~ The Shack page 172

A couple of years ago, a friend called me on my “dependence” upon the label of child abuse survivor. She told me that, although I had been abused as a child, a child abuse survivor did not define who I am. By choosing to identify myself with this label, I was boxing myself in and limiting the potential of who I could be.

If I identify myself a child abuse survivor, then I set limits on my own potential. The human spirit has no limits, so why do I want to limit myself? She pointed out that I was forcing myself to live in a closet while I had mansion at my disposal. Only I could choose to step out of the closet and claim what is rightfully mine – A fulfilling life that is not limited by anything.

Since that conversation, I have wrestled with who I am and what I can be. On the one hand, I agree that I do not want to limit myself. I don’t want to use being a child abuse survivor as an excuse for refusing to engage in life or invest in relationships. However, there is also no denying that my symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are very real and do not just “go away” just because I want them to.

So, in many ways, I feel like Mack in this quote from the book, wondering who I am and who I can be when I remove the limitations of my history of child abuse.

I have also wrestled with not wanting to lose my connection with other child abuse survivors. I never felt like I fit in anywhere until I found Isurvive, a message board for child abuse survivors. I didn’t want to give up that connection and feeling of belonging.

So, for a couple of years now, I have been wrestling with where I fit in. I want to honor my reality without limiting my future. The balance between the two is not always easy.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am posting this message in real time. This just happened … my mother/abuser just called my house!!!!!

I have been focusing on breathing for the last hour. I called my therapist and am waiting to hear back from him. I also called a friend, who was great at reminding me to breathe. Seriously, I keep feeling lightheaded because I keep forgetting to breathe.

Let me back up…Mother/abuser’s birthday was last week, and I did not send her a card or present. She is in “Christian counseling” as part of becoming a Christian counselor herself. [Deep shudder] I suspect that this counselor is the one pushing her to disregard all of the boundaries that I have had in place for over five years – don’t call or visit; only write once a month; do not discuss the past or reconciliation.

Seriously – If a woman’s adult child has not wanted contact in over five years, why would this counselor think that badgering me is going to result in a reconciliation? Oh, that’s right … She’s not an educated psychotherapist.

So, my mother/abuser sent me a card on Monday. It was very short, and I dissociated away most of it. (My friend took the card so I would not get triggered by it again.) It said something along the lines of, “It has been a long time. I want a reconciliation. I will do whatever it takes.”

And then now, only two days later, she is calling my house!?!! I haven’t even had time to respond by mail yet!!

Again, I dissociated the message, but it was definitely her voice and something along the lines of, “You should have received my card by now. I want a reconciliation. Please call me…” I turned it off before it finished. My friend is going to listen to the message and tell me if there is anything that I need to know from it. Then, I am going to delete it.

I am not sure what to do other than remind myself that I am not a little girl any longer. She cannot force me to reconcile with her. If she shows up on my doorstep, I will call the cops. If hub is home, he will take care of it. Fortunately, I am going out of town this weekend. If she shows up then, hub will make sure she never comes back. She lives 6 hours away by car, and I would not have thought that she would just show up. However, after this barrage of contact and running over all of my boundaries, nothing would surprise me.

Don’t worry about me. I am going to be okay. I am going to pick up my son from school and then go to my friend’s house. She will keep me calm (or as calm as I can be). In the meantime, I am going to keep reminding myself to breathe.

Please send your thoughts, prayers, and positive energy my way today.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Chapel (c) Lynda Bernhardt

On my blog entry entitled Feeling the Need to Coddle or Protect My Mother/Abuser, Zoe posted the following comment:

I struggle in the same ways somewhat. i dont know how to reconcile it. especially in view of Christiianity which is a huge part of who i am. and shapes the way i think about everything, it presses heavily upon me.

I cannot think of a way to address this comment without including religion, so I will post a trigger warning.

***** Religious Triggers *****

A faith in God is supposed to be helpful in healing from any pain, so why is Christianity often a hindrance to healing from child abuse rather than helpful? I think the problem is that organized Christianity is interpreted in a way that does not leave room for situations like child abuse. Child abuse, particularly by a parent, goes against the grain of the organized Christian view of a family, and organized Christianity does not know quite what to do with it.

One of my biggest hurdles was the requirement to honor your father and mother. How was I supposed to “honor” my abuser? I wrestled mightily with this commandment and finally chose to allow my mother to write to me monthly as my way of “honoring” her.

Another big hurdle was in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Some church folks would say that God would not forgive me unless I first forgave my mother. And, to many church folks, forgiveness meant reconciliation, so my options were either to invest in a relationship with my abuser or burn in hell. What a choice!

As I have grown deeper in my relationship with God, my searching has led me to a much deeper understanding of the Bible. Many of the truths that I have discovered run contrary to organized Christianity’s interpretations of the Bible. I chose to reread the words that Jesus said as if I was reading them for the first time and removed any preconceived notions or teachings that I learned from the church. I found that the faith in the Bible is much deeper, richer, and significantly more freeing than what I have been taught in church.

While I do not fully agree with the interpretations of God in The Shack by William Paul Young, I think that Mr. Young’s view of God is closer to my own than what I get in a church service. I believe that God wants to free us from bondage, not make our lives even harder. I believe that God is the only being who fully understands how deeply I have been hurt, so He is going to be compassionate about my struggles rather than judgmental.

For example, the Bible says that gluttony is a sin, so there are people who would call me a “sinner” for struggling with binge eating. However, because God knows how deeply I have been hurt, he understands why I do it, so His focus is going to be on helping me heal the underlying pain, not on stopping me from “sinning” through gluttony.

If Christianity is a hindrance to your ability to heal from child abuse, take a step back from the church’s interpretation of the Bible and, instead, go directly to God. Pray about the issues that are bothering you. Read the Bible anew and remove the filter that organized religion has placed upon your interpretations of the Bible.

God cannot be contained – not in a box, a church, or an interpretation of who He is supposed to be. God is who He is, and you don’t need a pope, priest, pastor, or preacher to be a middleman. Take your concerns and questions directly to God, and He will open your eyes to the truth.

If you will go directly to God, you will find that your faith can run much, much deeper than has been recognized in a church building. God’s healing power cannot be limited.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Several of you have asked me whether or not I ever talked to my mother/abuser about the abuse. The short answer is no, although I did sort of confront her through one of my alter parts when I was still in college.

When my therapist and I talked about confrontation, he strongly suggested that I not confront her. He said that he generally leaves that decision up to the patient, and it is ultimately my decision. However, in my case, he felt that a confrontation would be a very bad idea.

In my case, my mother is schizophrenic. My therapist is concerned that a confrontation could cause her to have a psychotic episode and have to be hospitalized. He does not want me to feel guilty for anything that she might do in a psychotic state after I confront her.

Also, I see little to be gained by a confrontation. I truly do not believe that she carries memories of the abuse in her conscious mind, so she certainly would not validate my memories of the abuse. And, without her being willing/able to take responsibility for the abuse, I see no point in having the confrontation in the first place.

Now, I did sort of confront her back in college through an alter part. To make a very long story short, my mother screwed me over financially in college. We had a financial arrangement that she backed out on without telling me. I found out when my car insurance was canceled right in the middle of finals. I was not happy.

So, I called my mother (who lived in another state), and she had a really smug, b@#$%y attitude on the phone. An alter part took over and said, “You already f#$%ed me as a child. You are not going to f#$% me as an adult.” Of course, she hung up on me.

After this conversation, my mother immediate “forgot” what was said or why. [I believe that she has dissociative identity disorder (DID) in addition to the schizophrenia.] All she remembered was that I called her and “was nasty to her.” She took out a gun, loaded it, and almost blew her head off. I learned about this a few years later, when she wrote a self-published autobiography.

After I read her autobiography, I asked her if she remembered why I was “nasty to her,” and she said, “No.” She seemed very confused about the whole thing. I chose not to remind her.

I see nothing positive coming out of confronting my mother about the abuse, but I see a lot of potential negative. If she blows her own head off, then that is her business, but I don’t want to potentially cause her to have a psychotic episode and blow somebody else’s head off.

For me, I am at peace with my decision not to confront my mother about the abuse. I have been able to heal without having this conversation with her, and I don’t think that anything positive would come from this conversation – at least not enough to make it worth the taxing emotional experience of going through with a confrontation on my end. I would much rather simply never see her again at all.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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How does the death of an abuser affect the child abuse survivor? I have heard mixed reactions from child abuse survivors who have been through this.

Some people have told me that the death of an abuser was a relief. They could sleep better at night because the threat of the abuser still being “out there” was finally gone. They tell me that there is finality in knowing that the abuser is dead. They can finally lay that chapter of their lives to rest.

However, other child abuse survivors have told me that the death of an abuser can be painful. Words that were never said will now never be said. The opportunity to confront the abuser about the child abuse is gone forever. The possibility of the abuser taking responsibility for the abuse and apologizing has ended. If the abuser was a parent or other relative, any hope of reconciliation is also gone.

I sometimes wonder how I will react when my mother/abuser passes away. I must confess that a part of me feels giddy at the thought. I don’t mean to sound like some horrible freak, but the wounded little girl inside would very much like to know that the threat of her harming me again is gone for good.

If I received word that my mother/abuser died, I wonder if I would go to the funeral or not. At first, I thought I would so that I could see for myself that the threat is gone forever. Then, after my mother-in-law passed away last year, the reality of what is involved with funerals really hit me. Could I sit in a room and listen to nice things being said about my mother/abuser? Would I want to put myself through hearing my mother’s relatives tell me what a terrible daughter I am for not seeing her during the last years of her life?

And yet, after she passes away, questions about my mother will get much easier. Instead of having either to lie or admit that I have not seen my mother in over five years, I can simply say that she passed away.

An acquaintance of mine had a very bad relationship with her mother. At best, it was emotionally abusive. I am not sure how much deeper the abuse went. This woman cut off all contact with her mother for years, and then her mother passed away. She did not tell anyone that her mother had died for a long time because she did not want the usual sympathies. She did not want people assuming that she had experienced a loss that she had not had. Things were much less complicated to keep this fact to herself.

I don’t know how I will handle things when my mother/abuser passes away. And who knows? She might outlive us all.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. This week, I am focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

I am, admittedly, taking the following quote in a direction a little differently than the author intended so I can apply it to child abuse survivors. In the book, the following quote applies to the father feeling guilty for being unable to save his daughter from a serial killer. I am applying the quote to child abuse survivors who blame themselves for their abuse:

Only you, in the entire universe, believe that somehow you are to blame…Perhaps it’s time to let that go—that lie. ~ The Shack, page 170

How many of us have stayed mired in guilt and shame, believing that we were somehow responsible for being abused as a child? We have numerous “reasons” for buying into that lie – we did not say no…we did not tell anyone about the abuse…we “led the abuser on” by welcoming the attention…we “should have” done X, Y, or Z…

And, yet, we would not hold another child to that standard. My eight-year-old son could not possible “entice” an adult to sexually abuse him. I don’t care if he did not say no, did not tell another person about the abuse, hugged the abuser, and enjoyed getting attention from the abuser. He is EIGHT YEARS OLD!! He does not have the ability to understand sex, much less sexual abuse. There is absolutely nothing that my sweet and innocent eight-year-old child could do to be responsible for being abused.

We survivors of child abuse need to apply the same standards to ourselves that we would apply to any other child. When I think about my own mental state at age eight, I judge myself through adult eyes. However, in parenting an eight-year-old child, I see how crazy that is. I was no more “adult” than my son is, and he still believes in Santa Clause!!

I find a lot of healing in looking at a child who was the age that I was when I was abused and seeing just how young I really was. I never should have been forced to endure the things that I did, and it is one big, fat lie that I was in any way responsible for any of the “choices” that my abusers had me make.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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