Fig Leaf Malfunctions & Overcoming Shame

Shame, I’ve concluded, is largely a choice… though most of us don’t know that in times when that knowledge is most critical. This is true in the ‘big and tragic‘ things of life, and in the ‘Oops! My button just popped open in the most inconvenient place, with my hands full things. But it took the latter to convince me–the oops moments–to convince me of the former.

I have a history of inopportune ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ to draw from, with the most recent being today…

fig leaves and apple

It’s that moment when you look down, and see that, not one, but two, buttons have popped open in most inconvenient places… moments after having cheerfully greeted a Mennonite couple, who look vaguely familiar… (And, no, the shirt is not tight! the buttons have issues!)… and you are surrounded by people, with your hands full… you turn to hide, only to find that a gentleman stands directly in front of you, looking at you with a warped blend of amusement and compassionate… he holds it together for a moment, eyes twinkling, but ends up breaking into a huge grin, and then a little chuckle, as I scramble–awkwardly holding my purchases–to redeem whatever dignity I think I just lost… I determine, immediately, that I will not be ashamed of that which I cannot control and did not choose, and grin right along with him, lift my head up confidently and carry on… And in that moment I’m relieved it wasn’t Anderson Cooper standing before me, as he would undoubtedly break out into uncontrolled and never-ending girlish giggles… (And, yes, I did think of him after the moment passed)

There are a few things I know, and these are the things I hold onto in a moment such as this, or the more serious ones, so that they don’t define me, or bring shame on me. Whether a clothing dilemma, or an attack from some hurting soul, or the anger of someone who feels exposed by my ministry, the same holds true in every part of my life; I lean on what I know to be truth. There is power in what you know to be true, and if you ‘know‘ who you are, as a child of God, and if you ‘know‘ that your heart intent is to heal and give ‘life’ to those around you, and if you remember that you are human, then shame has little access to your heart and mind.

Jesus said, “the truth will make you free”, and I believe this to be a fact in every part of life. We think of this in terms of being ‘set free’, because His words are often misquoted this way, but the truth is He makes us free. His freedom doesn’t require an adjustment in circumstance; it requires an adjustment of thoughts and belief systems, so that we are free in any circumstance. (This doesn’t mean we should never change or leave particular circumstance; it means we are free in spite of them, and that may be the very thing that sets change in motion.)

Not that many years ago, had my shirt popped open, exposing cleavage even the boldest of women might cringe at, I would have fled the store (possibly in tears, but certainly flushed and flustered) and it would have toyed in my head for days. The thoughts would have tormented me and made me anxious, but today, while I would have not chosen it and preferred to keep my clothes in tact (and thereby my dignity), it had no power over me.

More importantly, the past with all its shame has no power. Coincidentally, about fifteen minutes earlier I had dropped a book off for a woman in town, who wanted a second copy for her daughter. A woman nearing seventy, she didn’t hide her shock and horror at what my life had been, focusing on my teen years of rebellion and sin. “You were a bad girl!” she said, “But praise God, not any more!”

Yes, praise God, not anymore! I agreed with her, and laughed at the wonder of grace and freedom.

It is not my identity–these ‘holes’ I once had torn in the fabric of my spirit, by the choices I made. And though they were there, and I know it well and have chosen to tell them publicly, I am so thankful that the past isn’t my identity. Jesus’ righteousness has covered that nakedness, like a blanket of love, covering my shame.

If you walk in shame, I encourage you to find a new identity. Release the things that once held you bound, and walk in the confidence of who you are in Christ, who you are to God. And laugh, now and then, at your humanity, and the things you cannot control or change. It takes the power out of them.

Now… having said all that, I still really hope my buttons were closed when I did my banking at MSCU here in Elmira… ever so confidently… I can only hope…


~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Between 2 Gods Facebook Page

To Donate: Generations Unleashed (Help Victims of Sexual Abuse Churches

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

These Old Reels, Just Keep on Playing…

When it comes to memories of sexual abuse, or even of the wrong choices I made in my teen years, they are all but history, in the sense of replaying in my mind. Whether through guilt, through shame, or through regret, or even through nightmares, it seldom happens now.

The emotional flashbacks of the trauma of sexual abuse are even more rare, and, when they do happen, they no longer have the power over me that they once held. They are brief, recognizable and ‘manageable’. Because I am able to identify my feelings, I am no longer victimized by the memories.

The memories of violence are still more powerful. There are times, if I have been with my family, and witnessed an ‘episode’, no matter how small, that I have a ‘recovery period’, during which I feel more depressed and melancholy. A time where the past lurks, just below the surface, as if waiting to reach up and strangle me, in a vulnerable moment, and squeeze the life out of me.

What I want to share in this post, is some practical ways to overcome the oppressive memories, the voices, and the trauma. It is a process I continue to go through with the violence of my childhood, so I’m preaching to the choir here. In many ways I draw from my experience of overcoming the trauma of sexual abuse, to overcome the violence.

Some of what I suggest is counter intuitive, and requires deliberate action that is in direct conflict with what we feel. When Paul says we are to ‘take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ’, these actions are what have worked, and continue to work, for me…. when I do them. (Admittedly, there are times I surrender to the darkness, and I’m too stubborn to take my own advice.)

The first life-changing bit of advice I have to offer, I learned from an evangelist at Countryside Mennonite Fellowship. When an attack comes, praise God. It takes the power away from the enemy’s intent, when he brings an accusation, a traumatic memory, or any guilt trip.

The reason that praise disempowers the enemy is found in Psalm 22:3. It tells us here that God dwells in the praises of His people. Different versions use different words, such as, enthroned, or inhabits, but they all mean pretty much the same thing. My favourite, when I think below the surface, is ‘enthroned’. God is lifted up. He is glorified. He is given authority through praise.

Now let’s go back to the dark memories, the trauma, and the accusations and guilt. If the enemy’s attacks inspire us to praise God, it accomplishes everything he hates. It takes away his power. How long will he hang around and torment us, just to hear us praise Jesus? Just to watch us give God the glory for victory? Not that long.

The other part of that is that God doesn’t share space. He does not cohabitate with the enemy. Pure evil cannot stand in the presence of pure good, pure truth,  and pure holiness. One has to go, and as long as God is enthroned, or ‘given power’, He won’t be the one ‘out’. He never leaves, never forsakes us. We choose to whom we give the power, the ‘voice’ in our lives.

That praise, in the middle of trauma, can be something as simple as our tears, turned heavenward, in a cry for help, for redemption. It can be a very broken praise, that comes in the form of sharing our deepest pain and fear with God. It can be a prayer. Or a song. Maybe a whisper that says, “I’m confused. I don’t understand. I’m hurting. I feel I cannot make it…. But I know that You are my God, and I love you. Where I don’t know how to trust you, teach me to know you as my Papa. Where I struggle with unbelief, help me believe.”

In the very act of crying out to God, in fear, in anxiety, in doubt, we worship Him. We say, “I trust You”, when we give God our emotions, all tangled.

The second life-changing bit of advice is: Declare truth over the lies. If the enemy tells you that you are worthless, tell him, “God died to save me. God. The Creator of the universe. The Highest Being. He died for me. He saw value in me. I have worth.”

If you hear voices in your head telling you that you will never make it, your life is worthless, or you’ll not amount to anything. Don’t take it lying down. Remind the enemy that God has a good plan for your life. That the very thing he keeps tossing at you, God will use to launch you into your purpose. Praise God, and don’t surrender.

Whatever darkness comes your way, worship God, and give Him praise for the redemption that is yet to come. If you find it impossible to see the redemption, praise God. Let faith be your certainty. Redemption that you see and feel, requires no faith at all. What we cannot see, you can accept as reality, because God is good. And if in that place of uncertainty, you choose to praise God, the enemy loses power.

Little by little, the truth sinks in, and we stop believing the lies. The darkness loses its power, and the past loses its grip. Little be little, the freedom Jesus offers us instantly, becomes our experiential reality.

We remain victims only as long as we give the past power. Working through the trauma takes time, but while we work through it we don’t have to remain victims. We have been given the right to be free, as the children of God.

The old reels just keep on playing… until that moment when they lose the source of power. When you find the source of power, and you invite Jesus to unplug it, they stop, one by one.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

It’s Not Your Fault: False Guilt in Male Victims

Much of what I wrote in my previous blog, What if My Husband Was Abused? is not unique to abused men, though parts are. Other men face some of the same struggles, but for different reasons. Sexual abuse changes the dynamics of struggles familiar to others, giving them more power, and making the victim feel more helpless and vulnerable. False guilt has a way of doing that.

My prayer is that with time, I will find a team of men who are willing to share their stories, whether anonymously, or as named guest bloggers. There are dynamics that I cannot speak to or express well, simply because I am a female and we process things differently.

(Gentlemen, if you have a story of overcoming abuse, and you are willing to work with me on it, please visit the ‘Contact Us’  page, and send me a message. If you’re not a great writer, don’t let that stop you. I would be happy to work with you.)

I think it would be beneficial, not only to other men struggling with the aftermath of abuse–whether through low self-esteem, sexual addictions, or depression, to name only a few things–but it would also help women to better understand men who have been abused.

While I cannot speak to many aspects of male victimization, there are some practical things I want to share, based on what my male friends, who have been victimized, have shared with me. Because one of the struggles, as I mentioned yesterday, is feeling somehow at fault, that is the first thing I want to talk about.

When Is The Victim Responsible for the Victimization?

“Well… that’s a dumb question… isn’t it?” you say. And I agree.

And, yet, what I see and hear, tells me that some people believe it is valid, not as a question, but as a statement. Some say that there are times when it is the victim’s fault.

For you who were victims of childhood abuse, the most important thing for you to know, is that it is not your fault. You did not ask for it. You did nothing to deserve it. You were innocent. The fact that you are male, and strong, does not make you responsible. To illustrate how foolish it is for people to blame the victim, I will share what I encounter, when meeting with victims in Christian settings.

I have had victims tell me that their church asked them to go back and ask perpetrators for forgiveness. Just heard it again this week. A victim does not ever need to say, “I am sorry, ” to the perpetrator, or to anyone else. It is ignorant beyond words, at best, and corrupt to the core, at worst, to ask such a thing.

It’s like tracking down a burglar and apologizing that he committed the crime and robbed you. Who would ask that of anyone? How much less appropriate, when the very heart of a child is destroyed? Much more is stolen in childhood sexual abuse than any burglary.

I have also spoken to several individuals, who attended private school, and when the perpetrator was caught violating them, the victims was also whipped, along with the instigator. The reality is that neither one should have been whipped. They should have been taught.

Someone should have been there, and explored why the older child did it in the first place, and the younger child should have been comforted. But religion is harsh. And it is yet more harsh when the person in charge has hidden sin.

It is easy to see, in these extreme examples, that there is no justice in blaming the victim. This tells me that we know it in our heads, and yet the most common thing I work through with victims, is accepting that they are not at fault. This is true for men and women, but much stronger in men. What I write applies to women, but for today, I’m writing predominantly to men.

If you were seduced, manipulated, forced or coerced into sexual relationship by an older child, it is not your fault. And if that relationship continued for years, and you struggle with believing it became mutual consent, and therefore the perpetrator is not really in the wrong, let the guilt go. It is not your fault. In cases of ongoing abuse it is the hardest for victims to say, “It’s not my fault.”

If a father rapes a son or daughter, starting at age 4, and if that abuse continues to sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…. twenty-one… At no point does the victim truly become ‘guilty’? Never.

Ignorance, power and fear often keep children victimized to their parents for years. The same is true with victims outside of the home. The brainwashing, and sometimes threats, prevent the victim from understanding that this is not normal, and they have the right to speak up. This is especially true if there is no healthy ‘sex-ed’ in private schools or home-schooled children, where parents are not teaching healthy, biblical sexuality.

One victim tells of going off to college, after being home-schooled all the way from kindergarten through high school, and having been very secluded those years, with parents controlling all books and information. Only then, far from home, and being taught the truth, did the lights go on that it is not normal for parents to ‘teach’ their children about sex through ‘hands on’ learning. The victim saw to it that all younger siblings were immediately removed from their home. It horrifies me that this took place in a conservative Christian environment, in my lifetime, minutes from my home.

All of us would agree, I hope, that this victim was not at fault. And yet, there are times we judge quickly the person who is victimized by someone several years older, or even a peer, who then remains trapped in that relationship for years. There are many things that keep victims trapped in the abusive relationship, not the least of which are fear and shame, and to judge the victim  is not helpful.

Even if you were victimized by someone younger than you, and this does happen, though I’ve only run into it a few times, know that it is not your fault. The younger person who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, or more influential, has the potential to use that against someone older. Though younger, they are responsible for the abuse.

Where victims become perpetrators, and begin to victimize others, they need to take ownership. But never does the victim become responsible for the ongoing abuse imposed on him.

We, as humans, were created for pure and unbroken relationship with God. We can’t handle guilt. It destroys us, makes us physically sick. Guilt and shame, when it’s the result of our choices, make us run and hide, just as Adam and Eve did. But there is freedom in taking ownership.

But with false guilt, there is no freedom as long as we hold on to it and accept that blame. We cannot repent, we did not sin. We cannot mend our ways and correct it, we were overpowered. All the while the false guilt sucks the life and hope out of our spirits, condemning our minds, haunting us… over… and over… and over again.

Release the child within you, from that dreadful burden of guilt and shame. He does not need the burden any more. He was not strong enough to prevent victimization, and he is not strong enough to carry the false sense of guilt and shame. Set that child free, and let God hold and comfort him.

Let the little boy grieve, possibly for the first time, how much was stolen from him, from his confidence, his manhood. And invite Jesus to heal and restore the broken places. He can. He will. If you let Him.

If I, as the mother of three young boys, am a good enough parent to know that my sons would not be at fault if this happened to them, how much more is God that kind of Father? He is a better Papa, than I will ever be as a mother. He loves you. He understands your struggle.

Jesus hung on a cross–God in the flesh–not as we portray Him in our modest culture-friendly art, with at least a bit of dignity. In reality, He was stripped of everything. Naked. Exposed. Violated. Abused. Shamed. Mocked. And He died that way, in the public eye, a spectacle for all to see. His body, and it’s natural responses through death, was there for the world to watch. I’ve worked with the dying. I know what happens. Jesus understood abuse. He was strong enough to pull himself from that cross, but He stayed.

Was Jesus still a victim, even though He was strong enough to leave the cross? Again the answer is easy.

Jesus understands your pain. Lay that burden down, my friend. You are free. Say it until you know it, and believe it with your innermost part. And when the voices of shame haunt, say it again, “I am free. It was not my fault.” And never stop saying it, for the rest of your life.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series