Amazing New Therapy: Press Face Against Aquarium!

A few weeks ago I chatted with a friend and fellow writer, and in the course of conversation we got to talking about facing our fears and ‘triggers’… I’m ADHD with sporadic OCD tendencies and he is OCD (and, i suspect, with ADHD tendencies), which made for an interesting conversation. It started out with discussing anxiety and personality ‘disorders’–something I consider a dreadful misnomer, in most cases–and somehow ended up talking about my fear of water. Specifically, water in my face. As someone who studied neurology, he offered the following advice, which came through like ‘popcorn’ in Facebook messages:

“Exposure response prevention: you’re afraid of water, so swim. Do it again and again until your rewire your brain. Your brain is highly plastic, and you can change it. One of the great discoveries of neurology! ….In other words, the more you face a fear and endure it, the less power it has over you. Pretty awesome. Probably even works in Canada…. You should just press your face against an aquarium every day for a while….. Or tie a water bottle to your head.”

canstockphoto18837760

I guffawed, at one point, when I read about pressing my face against the aquarium every day for awhile, but he makes a good point. I’ve observed in abuse victims that those who invest most of their time and energy trying to avoid every trigger end up being enslaved to the past, probably more so than those who face fears and triggers at manageable intervals. There is something to be said for starting with a water bottle on the head, progressing to the aquarium and eventually ducking my head under water. (I am able to do this, actually, so the whole conversation was a bit of an exaggeration.) There would come a time, if I would gradually expose myself more and more to this fear, and with a qualified guide/trainer, when I would be able to swim. But, to talk about swimming will never get me there. I have to decide I’m more interested in learning to swim than running from fear, then book the appointment and, finally, actually show up and put in effort. Each of these steps is part of the process of overcoming fear.

In much the same way, abuse victims who live in constant terror of some emotional trigger, and therefore avoid even a potential confrontation with the past, will never learn to swim. If I am afraid of looking at pictures of water,  then that is my starting point. The first time I look at pictures of a lake, especially with someone swimming in it, I may want a friend with me who has overcome the fear of swimming. From there I will need to develop the courage to enjoy water scenes. Next I may go to the lake with someone, just to walk a distance from the shore. Eventually I may be comfortable dipping my toes in the water… And so on…

While this is an exaggeration, in the case of abuse it isn’t. It can be that difficult to face the past. I have had people–some of my siblings included, back when I first troubled out family waters with the reality of sexual abuse in our home–who say they were never abused. It didn’t happen. They lucked out. Sorry for my tragic luck, they tell me, and hopefully I’ll be able to get through it with a forgiving spirit. But later some of these very same people come back and ask for help to work through memories from childhood that were blocked and resurfaced. (This is a controversial topic, among Christians and psychologists and other professionals alike, but I stand by it with 100% confidence.) When we have confronted the abuser, or other victims present, in all cases but one, the memories have been confirmed, so we know that the memories are not some warped imagination triggered by a question.

Where, at first, fear held these individuals captive and they couldn’t even look at the water–or the possibility of having been victimized–with time, they were able to acknowledge it. Contacting someone for help was the next step. ‘Walking through’ the memories, and confronting them, while painful, in most cases proves to bring release, as victims see they are able to face the past and not stay caught in it. In fact, most times victims have lived in fear, anger, and denial, enslaved by the very thing they didn’t want to acknowledge. Then, having faced it, and releasing ‘control’ of their pain, choosing rather to feel it and allowing someone to simply love them through it, and forgiving the offender–not releasing from responsibility/accountability–they take authority over it. And the moment they take authority over it, they are no longer victims.

canstockphoto14230364

…and it all begins with that first baby step of tying a water bottle on our heads, or pressing our face against the aquarium, or whatever that first step is for us in facing our fears.

© Trudy Metzger

To Donate: Generations Unleashed, and Help Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church

(Tax Receipts will automatically be issued for all donations over $20)

Trudy’s YouTube Channel

Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

Return to the First Post in ‘Abigail’s Story’ Series

Hope…. What, exactly, Is It?

I recall, as a child, the thrill of hope I felt, when my parents returned from town after having done some shopping. Hope that they might have brought us something special.

faith-and-hope

In Mexico my parents’ trips to the city were a rare thing, partly due to poverty, and partly distance. But when they went, we anticipated their return with great excitement, hoping that they might have brought some small treat. A candy. Some gum, maybe. Or some other little surprise.

I recall running out to meet them, and targeting dad. If there was some treat, it came from him, almost without fail, because he controlled the money, the spending of it, and the distributing of anything special. I skipped beside him, sometimes in silence, hoping he might mention the treat, but most often I asked questions as I skipped beside him.

The exception to this enthusiasm was if his gait indicated anger, rage or some sort of upset. Then I stayed clear. Treat or no treat, I wouldn’t risk it. And, truth be told, when his footsteps had that heavy ‘thud’, I had no ‘hope’ left that he might have done something special for us.

Sometimes that hope was fulfilled, sometimes it was not.

In Canada that hope increased in strength, and the fulfilling of it increased in frequency. Each week, when my parents did the grocery shopping, that anticipation was there. And, for a time, they brought us each one small bag of corn chips as a treat. The last few minutes before their return, I could almost taste them, and ran to the window, watching for them. Any sound that indicated their return was met with a dash for the door.

Hope: The belief…even strong expectation… that what we cannot see, will come to pass. Sometimes the hope is based on a promise. Sometimes it is based on a particular outcome in the past. Sometimes it is a deep desire within, expressed in faith that it will one day be reality. And sometimes it is defying everything that current circumstances offer, and believing that there is something better ahead.

Sometimes people lose hope, and surrender to circumstances. They lose their will to fight, and give up on hope. We talk about offering hope to  someone, and we do this, most often, by sharing our stories, our testimony of overcoming something similar to their struggle. When they say that we have overcome, or maybe even finding hope in the middle of a struggle, a temptation, a challenge, they find hope that they too will overcome.

And that is what our Extraordinary Hope Conference is all about. We will share stories of hope, in spite of tragedy, and invite you to let Jesus bring hope and healing to your experience, where tragedy and disappointment have suffocated hope. Where you feel like giving up, and tossing in the towel, we want to encourage you to get up one more time, and hold on, for the dear life, to hope that defies your current circumstances, or past pain.

My very good friend Jane Valenta, and her team, will lead us in worship. Jane’s music and worship style reflects her heart, and her heart reflects the heart of God.

Carol Weicker will share her story of being born with a severe facial deformity, and being bullied, isolated and rejected. She will talk of her mother’s incredible example of love, and sacrifice. She will tell you how she lost her father at a very young age.

Through laughter and tears, in the rise and fall of her experience, you will hear the message of hope. Hope that goes beyond those things that were meant to destroy us.

I will share my story of overcoming a childhood filled with violence, sexual abuse and death threats. I will tell you about the years I spent running from God, further wounding myself, and allowing myself to be used, as I pursued a life of rebellion and sin. In the extreme of my choices, that landed me in USA, I ended up living with an ex-con drug dealer, surrounded by the same violence that I had tried to escape when I left home at fifteen. I became desperate, hopeless and suicidal.

There God found me, and loved me. In my broken, lost state, God restored my hope by offering me Jesus… Offering me hope.

Hope… Extraordinary Hope…

At the conference we will spend time in prayer, worship and praise, ministering to you, allowing the love of Jesus to flow through us, and over you.

We would love to have you join us for the Extraordinary Hope Conference, to be held September 27-28, 2013, at Listowel Evangelical Missionary Church. The early bird deadline, saving you $20 per registration, ends August 22, 2013.

To  register online, visit http://www.faithgirlsunleashed.com/events_3.html, and scroll down to the event. To register via snail mail, scroll down and click on the registration form, fill it in, and mail to the address provided.

If you have questions, please email info@faithgirlsunleashed.com.

For-Web__Final-LEMC-posterFor-Web__Final-LEMC-brochure-outsideFor-Web__Final-LEMC-brochure-inside

©TrudyMetzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

Return to Part One: A Story of Overcoming Self-Harm  (WARNING: Graphic content.)

The Lost Child: Abigail’s Story (Part 1)

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.

canstockphoto2264652

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

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series