(Part 2 of 5): Healing: Acknowledgement, Lies & Truth

….Continued from Part 1

There is no formula to healing for sex abuse survivors, but there are certain things, in no particular order, that bring deep healing. The following are some of those steps far from exhausting the list.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
What is not acknowledged, cannot be healed. It can be suppressed. It can be buried. It can be downplayed and ignored. But it cannot be healed. And it will surface, one way or another.

Many female victims talk about misplaced rage and anger. Others talk about being shut down and feeling nothing at all. Yet others talk about resenting their husband’s touch, or feeling disdain for all males – if abused by males — including their own sons, husband and other male friends. Others talk about a constant desire for male attention that is not theirs to have. (Referring to married women struggling with the need to seek the attention of other men; often the husbands of close friends). Many talk about obsession with body image. And sometimes the fear that they will do to children what was doen to them. Those are some of the ways buried abuse resurfaces in females.

My experience with male victims is more limited, but I have seen a few patterns. Among them are men shutting down after being sexually abused. Disdain for sexual intimacy with spouse, if the abuser was female, and disgusted by female anatomy. Desire for sex with other males, if the abuser was male…. or deep disdain for their own sexuality, because their own anatomy is like the weapon used against them. Escaping life through addictions, whether porn, alcohol, drugs… or work. Fear they too will molest someone one day.

Many of the patterns that are there in lives of victims who are in denial, are also there in those who acknowledge the abuse. The difference is that what is acknowledged can be worked through and healed. Once healed, there is a whole new level of peace, and when those same struggles come up, there are strategies for handling them in a healthy way. In contrast, what is buried will continue to negatively impact the individual and those around, with no hope of healing or change.

Acknowledgement alone is not enough. While it is the first step, therefore a critical one, to stay there with no further hard work does not offer hope. It opens the door to finding hope, but it only admits darkness exists, and darkness can never produce light.

UNRAVELING THE LIES & REPLACING THEM WITH TRUTH
I’ve heard it said that the only real power Satan has is ‘the lie’. I’ve pondered often on this, and am more and more inclined to believe it. In every circumstance of my life, spiritually, it has not been the circumstance that caused the deepest mind and soul struggle; it has been the lies. But there is a practical this-world-reality of humanity and the physical mind and body that must be considered or we will destroy victims’ faith yet further.

We must separate the traumatic aftermath of violence, assault and terrifying experience from how we deal with those lies. That human element of struggle – ie; flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety – are not based on lies. They are reality. (Often unacknowledged and/or unresolved reality, but reality nonetheless). Many people in ministry demonize these human responses to terror, and that, in itself, is spiritual abuse. It imposes on the victim the sense of being in the devil’s grip when in fact they are responding as the human brain and body are wired to respond. God created our minds and body to live in a Garden without pain, suffering or sorrow. This thing we were hurled into, we are not designed for.

With gentle healing, these things generally resolve themselves. No hypnotherapy. No manipulation. No casting out demons. Just patiently living the love of Jesus in their world. I make this claim based on my work with survivors these past 9+ years. This is not scientific research, or any other research, for that matter. There have been two exceptions with victims I worked with, who did not find deep and ongoing relief from the triggers, nightmares and flashbacks just from having someone listen, care and speak life. And most of the rest did not take years to get there. On average, I worked with clients for 3 to 6 months, after which most were equipped to handle the aftermath both spiritually and practically.

Having clarified that, I will address the lies. In every traumatic event, there is a lie…. or many. And there is usually truth entangled with it. For example, when a person is raped several things happen. Their safety is taken in an instant. But not safety only in the broad sense. It is their very body, which they must take everywhere they go, making the victims feel helpless.

Already there is a lie, and there is truth.The truth is, they were indeed robbed of safety. No one can argue that. Rape is not safe. The body is attacked physically, spiritually and psychologically. There is nothing safe about it. The person might carry aids or some other STD. Not safe at all. It could, in fact, cost the victims health or life. We must acknowledge that truth with the victims. Downplaying these harsh realities or minimizing them escalates trauma. A simple, “I am so sorry” is all it takes to acknowledge the suffering.

The lie is “I am helpless”. While safety has been robbed, the individual is not helpless. We feel helpless, and once upon a time I thought I was. (Imagine that!) It felt so real that I genuinely believed I as destined to a life of emptiness, worthlessness and that I had no purpose. I cried out to God in that place over and over, “Please don’t let what I went through be in vain. I can live with it if it has purpose. But I can’t live with it if that’s all there is.” I would tell Him I’m willing to go where He sends me, and do what He tells me. The only thing I couldn’t accept is purposeless suffering.

Little did I know then that God would answer that cry be asking me to do what goes against everything in my desire to be loved and it accepted by people. Had I known the cost then, I’d have been too afraid to pray half the things I prayed. I’m thankful I had no idea.

Another lie is, “this is all you are worth.” I’ve only encountered a few victims who did not struggle with this lie. Rape and other sexual assault communicate to the victim that they are not worthy of love; they are only worthy of being used and assaulted. They take on themselves the identify of the vile abuse – not even that of the abuser, usually – and live out of that. The truth is the offender chose you because of his/her own wickedness and depravity, not because there is anything wrong with you. It has nothing to do with your worth, and everything to do with their opportunistic depraved selves. You are beautiful, precious, beloved… made in the image of God. You are worthy. You have so much more to give. You are valued and cherished by God, and deserve that same gift from your fellow humans.

Sometimes offenders focus on making the victim’s body respond to his/her assaults. The power to force the victim’s body to respond via orgasm and stimulation is its own thrill. This leaves victims tormented on so many levels! Unlike rape at gunpoint, the victim is terrorized by his/her own response rather than a gun. There is guilt and shame. If I truly hated it, why did my body like it? If I didn’t want it, why did I orgasm? There is betrayal. It is as if the victim’s body has conspired against the victim to partner with the offender in the attack. If safety is robbed in every sexual assault, there is no case where such safety is more stolen than when the victim’s body takes the side of the offender.  The truth is the offender weaponized sexuality. Your body responded precisely as it was designed to respond to sexual touch, and the offender took advantage of that. It is not your fault. God created you to be loved intimately by your marriage partner, in safety. The offender stole that from you, and violated you.

The list of lies goes on, and on, and on. While I stopped taking clients in 2016, and no longer do 1:1 sessions while studying — and don’t know if I will ever again — when I did, looking at the lies was a key part of the healing process. I asked clients to write out what they believe about themselves, about others, and about God. Having done so, we picked out the lies, unraveled them, and replaced them with truth.

It wasn’t a formula. And it can’t be made into one. It is about listening at a gut/heart level, listening to the victim’s needs, and speaking truth into the lies. It is about showing victims how to do that in the day-to-day, and finding a new and healing mantra to replace the lies that attack our soul and being.  Every victim’s story is unique. So walking in with some agenda or preconceived notion of what it will look like – or should look like – is arrogant, at best. Abusive, at worst.

Every victim needs someone to listen without judgement…

Continued… (PART 3)

 

As always…

With love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2019

***

ANONYMOUS SEXUAL ABUSE SURVEY BY ANABAPTIST MEDICAL DOCTOR

Some time ago, a friend told me of a medical doctor (Anabaptist) who is doing research into sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities. To take his survey visit:
Anabaptist Medical Matters

***

JASON GRAY CONCERT:
NOVEMBER 2, 2019
Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster PA
7:00pm
CONCERT TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC: Here

NOTE: Due to the concert being the celebration for survivors of abuse,
we ask that any who have sexually abused as adults not attend out of respect

November 2, 2019:  THE GATHERING, held at Lancaster Bible College, is a place where survivors of sexual assault, together with our support person(s), collectively invite God into our grief.  It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse and trusted support persons to gather for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering and sexual violence among us. We will cry out to God, together. Come as you are in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. We welcome you! The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to grieve and heal another layer, together.

NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.

Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.

NOTE: After August 1 concert is included dependant on availability. Once concert tickets are sold out, registrations will continue until October 1 and include lunch only.

***

If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to info@generationsunleashed.com. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.

Make Friends with Your Past, and Make Friends

“Don’t you ever struggle any more?” the young woman asked after our conference, looking deep into my eyes as if searching for the secret, hidden in the ‘windows to my soul’.

“I’m human. Of course I do,” I said, smiling. “But I’ve accepted that as part of life, and part of being healed.”

“I wish you had talked about that….”

Here’s the reality: the past has lost its grip, but the power of memories like that will always be part of my life. It is inevitable. There will be triggers. I hear certain screams and my blood runs cold. The unexpected popping balloon will make my heart race; it’s too close to a gun shot. And angry distant yelling takes me to a time and place, where a child’s heart falls silent with fear. These are my realities.

What has changed, however, is the impact of that power. Where once it was altogether negative and debilitating, it has now become a force for good, for right and for purpose. Even in the hard times. Even when occasional flashbacks blindside me.

The hard times used to knock me down for weeks, if not months. Now they are moments in which I turn quickly from my pain to reach for the hand and heart of God. They used to knock me down and out; now they present a challenge, an invitation to something greater, something more whole, more enduring, more fulfilling. When my chest grows tight with the anxiety of PSTD–something I fought against daily for years, and now experience mostly in new situations or relationships–I celebrate that I am growing, learning and stretching. Oh it’s still frightening at moments, but I’ve seen it often enough that I recognize it’s all part of moving forward, even though it hurts. Much like stretching a tight muscle, or discovering muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Mostly I guess I’ve stopped struggling against the impact of the abuse by accepting that I walk with a limp, while refusing to stay stuck in negative patterns. It’s somewhat like the cancer patient who loses the ability to walk during treatment, and ends up in a wheelchair. When the cancer goes into remission the individual can sometimes learn to walk again, but could as easily resign him or herself to being confined to wheelchair. To learn to walk again requires effort, determination and resilience. It is a choice. Some try and learn to walk again. Some try and remain in a wheelchair. Some never put in the effort.

And right about there the analogy falls apart because cancer and abuse are two very different things. But the reality is that our investment, as individuals who have overcome abuse, makes a tremendous difference. And even if we learn to walk again, and walk with strength, there likely will be things that trip us up more easily for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean we are not ‘healed’ and whole. It means we are healed with scars. And scars tell stories, and stories connect hearts.

Stories… Yes, they connect hearts. And as ours heal, and we become comfortable with them, scars and all, something rather beautiful takes place; the focus shifts from our pain and need, to focusing more on others and hearing their stories.

I thought of that yesterday when I walked into a store and started connecting with a young cashier, a beautiful young woman from Egypt. It all started with looking for pearl earrings to replace my ‘go to’ pair; one of which I lost recently. I don’t wear a lot of jewelery  partly because I don’t care for the feeling, and partly because of metal allergies making it so that I mostly only wear gold, titanium, or stirling silver, with the latter being most common for day to day. I shared this with the young woman so she could point me in the right direction, and so it began. From allergies we moved to health, to research, to psychology, to dreams and whatever path women’s minds choose to take things. If one can call the spaghetti trail a ‘path’ at all.

She told me she is going back to school in the fall, having dropped out of studies that had not held her interest; she hoped this would be different. Being old enough to be her mother, I playfully told her I too was returning to school, which. We exchanged areas of interest, and our reasons for choosing our particular field of studies. And she told me how her mother had become a doctor in Egypt, only to have to go through it all over again to be a doctor in Canada. It was a compelling story of courage, determination and resilience and she told it with a blend of admiration and disappointment which I only understood when she said it made her sad that her mother had to work so hard, put out so much money, only to not be fully appreciated. “People think doctors make a lot of money and are super rich, but they’re not.” She went on to say how General Practitioners only make around $70,000 after years of financial investment and time spent. There was no resentment, just an honest opinion.

Jessica intrigued me. She was helpful, curious, and an engaging communicator and connector, yet somewhat reserved. She shared quite transparently her disengagement from past dreams and the direction she had wanted to take her life and studies, while persisting in her search, even while knowing that her first love would always be art.

“When you find that thing for which you are created, you will be engaged; it will be different,” I said. I applauded her for investing herself and doing well in the opportunities she had, even if they were not her dream, and encouraged her to not give up on her passion and interest. I was about to tell her about setting up an Etsy shop for her art, when she told me she had set up an account recently, but nothing was happening on it yet. And that’s when I decided I would tell a bit of her story and our little encounter…

(If you love to colour, and also enjoying supporting young people, check out her Etsy shop HERE.  Jessica has drawn the colouring pages available, and I know it would mean a lot if you took a moment to visit her shop and consider making a purchase. And, no, she has no idea I’m doing this. But I do hope when I drop in to say ‘hi’ next time, that she will excitedly tell me her art has started to sell.)

The real connecting started when we shared our stories. Both of us have encountered disappointment and challenges in our lives. Both of us, though decades apart in age, are learning to push past roadblocks, fighting for our dreams, and overcoming obstacles.

And that is why I no longer struggle with being an abuse victim. Though rarely, the aftermath at times causes me to struggle, that is true, but it is the thing that opens doors to relationships in ways I would never have imagined, allowing me to inspire others, and others to inspire me. And that makes it all worthwhile.

Make friends with your past. Embrace your story. Embrace your scars. And, inevitably, it will connect you with the stories, the scars and the hearts of people around you.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

 

 

Overcoming Flashbacks & the Inevitable Emotional Trauma (Part 2)

Tim held me in his arms as he prayed. I wasn’t able to focus on the words, but that didn’t matter. He was talking to God on my behalf, and He was listening.

After he prayed, Tim sat quietly for a moment. “Are you still angry with me?”

I shook my head. “I never was angry. Whatever happened, I was terrified.”

He explained why he left, and what his plan was, to drive around the parking lot and return.

It didn’t matter. The issue wasn’t the current situation. It was the past that had been ‘jogged’ in my subconscious by the apparent abandonment.

With that resolved, we continued about our day, as planned.

***

Flashbacks are a common and difficult part of life for victims of any kind of abuse or violence. They are emotionally exhausting for the victim, as well as those who observe them. In the above story it was my husband, but can also impact children, siblings and friends. They take a toll on the mind, especially if not identified and worked through, and they most definitely take a toll on marriage.

Flashbacks come in the form of emotions that are hard to identify, vivid pictures—often almost as ‘out of body’ type images, where the victim is watching him or herself in a specific memory, and feeling things that were blocked at the time of trauma.

These episodes leave even a ‘recovered victim’ or survivor of abuse to deal with raw pain and the need to heal at a new level, peeling back another layer. It can be very overwhelming, because it often happens just about the time you think there’s nothing left to heal from, just about the time the past feels truly in the past.

These unexpected interruptions are disheartening because they leave you feeling temporarily hopeless, as if healing will never truly be yours, as if you will never truly be free, and as if you are destined to be a victim for life. With the hopelessness comes shame, because you feel as though you should be past that by now. It should happen any more. Your faith in God should be stronger, your ‘presence of mind’ less easily overthrown.

Tim and I have been through numerous episodes similar to this one, though this was one of the most powerful, most daunting.

Over the years we have learned to identify what is happening, to talk through it, to pray over it, and then be aware. In exploring the cause, and the fear behind the flashback, and then having him pray over me, rather than getting impatient, or taking it personal, we take authority over it. Rather than remaining victimized or vulnerable to the flashbacks, they become an opportunity for deeper healing, and stronger relationship.

Each time Tim has patiently walks me through a flashback, I become stronger. Rather than dealing with constant flashbacks, my trauma is brought to light, and the flashbacks are fewer and farther between. The first seven years of marriage, especially before we recognized them, flashbacks were a fairly constant part of life. The last eleven years I can only remember about four episodes in total, though there may have been some that I have forgotten.

If you deal with flashbacks, don’t be discouraged. Ask Jesus to show you what He wants to heal in your memories. The enemy wants to use them to destroy you, but God will redeem everything the enemy throws at you, if you’re willing to open your heart and let Him shine His love and His light on the pain and the darkness.

We have the option of staying in that place, and remaining victim to the past. But we also have authority to break the power of victimization. It is ideal to find someone, whether a spouse, a mentor, or a counsellor, to share the trauma with. Someone who will not call you crazy, or mental, but who will support you, believe in your healing, and pray over you.

The most important thing, always, is to not carry the trauma alone. It is overwhelming to do so. They say that, “Pain shared, is half the pain. Joy shared is joy doubled.” If shared with the right person, I wholeheartedly agree.

© Trudy Metzger

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Overcoming Flashbacks & the Inevitable Emotional Trauma (Part 1)

“Wait here for just a minute… I’ll be right back,” I said, as I jumped out of the car, leaving Tim in a ‘no parking’ zone. A minute or two, with him in the car and the car running, wouldn’t be a problem.

I ran into the grocery store to get a money order. Only one person in line ahead of me, and it was a quick transaction. Great! I stepped up, asked for the money order, handed the cashier the money, and seconds later I held the money order in my hand. Wow! That was quick!

I rushed back out of the store. Outside I stopped. Looked around. No Tim. No vehicle. Nothing.  It had been a great day. Until that moment.

I waited. I paced. I looked around again, scanning the parking lot. Nothing. I went back to the store, looked for a pay phone. No pay phone. My cell phone was in my purse. My purse in the car. I returned to the sidewalk where Tim had dropped me off, scanned the row of cars parked there. A horn honked. I looked to see if it was Tim. He wouldn’t honk for me. He’d come get me. I walked to the other side of the store entrance, scanning the cars.

Something inside of me snapped. Not anger. Nothing to do with the present circumstance. I was a little girl again. Lost. No one there. No place to turn. No way to call for help. Tears threatened. My chest felt a sense of panic. My brain fogged over. People all blended and blurred into faceless figures. I turned away, ashamed of the tears, threatening to spill over. Where am I? Where is he? Why am I all alone?

Reason and awareness of the present tense fled. Now I was a little four-yr-old girl at a bus stop, rushing through the crowd, afraid of being separated from my parents and siblings… Now five and walking the sidewalk of Chihuahua with my family, fighting the same fear… Now fifteen and leaving home to take care of myself… Now sixteen and wandering from place to place, job to job… Now seventeen and flying to California, running in fear… Now eighteen and back at the Detroit border, waiting for someone to pick me up…

Alone… alone… alone…

Forgotten…

The tears spilled without reserve. I turned my back to the parking lot, pretended to study the flowers for sale outside the story. What is happening to me?  

A man, scruffy, dirty and rough-looking, marched toward me. He didn’t smile. “HI!” he said, boldly. Loudly. No emotion. Then he marched away. Probably homeless. Why am I distressed? I have it so good!

“Hi,” I whispered as I turned, letting my hair fall over my face.

People rushed past. A horn honked in the distance. I scanned the parking lot. No Tim. I turned away again. Time passed slowly. It felt like forever. Why didn’t I take my phone? Why am I here, alone? My mind raced. No way to connect to my world. I froze in fear. The tears stopped.

It felt strange and yet familiar, all at the same time. I wanted to run. But I realized I had nowhere to go. I would wait. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I tried to tell myself that everything was ok, but something inside of me wouldn’t stop.

I turned. Squinted. Was that him? I waited. A horn honked. I walked across the two lanes of traffic. I waited. It was Tim. He pulled up. I opened  the door and sank into the passenger seat. I took a deep breath, holding in the tears.

“Don’t ever do that again,” I whispered in panic.

“Do what?” Tim asked.

“Leave me like that,” I whispered. Somewhere deep in my soul a dam burst. I sobbed like I’ve only sobbed a few times in my marriage.

Tim pulled into a parking spot, wrapped his arms around me, and just held me. Terror lingered, somewhere below the surface. Slowly reality set in. I was fine. An adult. Safe with Tim.

I looked at Tim, “What’s wrong with me?” The flood of tears started all over again. Slowly I realized I had experienced a flashback. Buried deep in my subconscious all the fear of abandonment in childhood and all my lonely teen years had overtaken me, overwhelmed my reality, and drawn me into the past.

Tim continued to hold me. “Hey… you’re going to be ok. What happened?”

“I don’t know… I really don’t know… Let’s leave. I’m ready to go.”

“Will it help to talk about it?”

“Maybe, but I don’t know what to say. I can’t talk about it yet. Let’s go,” I said again.

“Can you try to talk about it?”

I started and the words tumbled out, as I tried to explain the panic, the fear, the loneliness, all those years of having no one there. No one who noticed. Or cared. No consistent ‘presence’ in my life. The dam burst again… and again. Tim just held me.

I felt myself calm down. The turmoil in my mind eased. The jumbled thoughts became coherent. “I’m ready to go now.”

Tim paused, still holding me. He leaned back, “Can I pray for you?”

I nodded.

…To Be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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