NOTE: Story used with client’s permission.
Abigail contacted me several months ago, a complete stranger. Her message was unlike most who reach out for support. The most common request I receive is to work through sexual abuse and, if not that, the second most common is physical violence. But her inquiry intrigued me. She said she wasn’t really sexually abused, and her parents didn’t threaten to kill each other, but there were things that happened, that left her struggling. She was raised Mennonite, she wrote, and struggled intensely, spiritually. She had spent many years in therapy for the trauma, but no one was able to help her spiritually. Would I be willing to meet with her, and help her in her relationship with God?
We met for the first time, soon after that message, in a small coffee shop. A rustic place, with mismatched tables and chairs, that serves the best coffee ever. I favour Ethiopian or Mexican coffees, both of which they offer.
She walked in, a blonde girl, just slightly taller than I. Her body language, and eyes communicated reserve and mistrust, yet an obvious sweetness. The only way I knew it was my new client, since we had never met, was the fact that she was the only one in Mennonite attire.
I asked if she was Abigail, and introduced myself. We chose a little table in corner, away from the action, where we could have a private conversation, without worrying about being overheard.
I quickly discovered that Abigail is not one to share her thoughts freely. This would not be a session where the client spills a story, and I take notes as fast as possible. It was going to be hard work, and me asking a lot of questions, jotting down notes, and piecing family and church life together.
Family was dysfunctional, without question. Mom, a woman who grew up in a loving home, with only one sibling, almost fifteen years older than her, and quite well-to-do, struggled with anxiety and depression. Likely the result of trying to adjust to having six children, and an abusive husband. Dad had grown up in a harsh environment, with an abusive father. He was absent, mostly, and when present, he was abusive in every way, and harsh, especially with her siblings.
Abigail was spared much of the abuse, because she has a health condition requiring constant medical care, and the risk of medical staff seeing the bruises was too high. This resulted in Abigail observing much abuse that she herself did not suffer directly, physically, but left her deeply scarred psychologically.
One of the most glaring things I noted, in Abigail, was her apparent inability to feel emotionally. It was as if her very ‘person’ was lost, somewhere in the trauma of the past. Pain overshadowed her smile and, the time or two she laughed, her laugh had an empty, hollow sound. She said that, though she longs to, she never cries, that her tears are trapped, and it had been many years. Emotions were bad, growing up, and tears had to be suppressed, leaving her unable to cry, or express anything. Never before had I worked with this extent of ‘numbness’.
When I asked how she coped with all the pain as a child, she said she disappeared, literally, days at a time into her room, barely coming out even to eat. Sometimes refusing altogether. No one made her come out. No one pursued her. She would get over it in time.
When she learned as a little girl, the severity of her health condition, and that it could be life threatening, she again escaped to grieve alone. Again she was left abandoned. No one pursued her. No one talked to her. No one comforted her, or even explained it well.
Older siblings didn’t understand her world–they were healthy and in survival mode because of the abuse–and, being spared the physical abuse, she was removed from their world as well.
As I got to know Abigail better, and she felt safe sharing more of her story, I discovered some dark, secret struggles, that had her in emotional, psychological and spiritual bondage.
I never doubted for a moment, that freedom could be hers, and would be hers, but I also recognized the war that lay ahead…
To be Continued….
© Trudy Metzger
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