Transcending Sexual Abuse-January, 2007 -
Here in the Midwest, we have entered the doldrums of the year. Gloomy day follows gloomy day, rain, ice, and snow (not the pretty kind) have to be reckoned into daily plans. It gets dark early. Boots, hats, gloves, umbrellas, long johns, high heating bills and wanting to just get in bed and stay there slow progress. These are problems for everyone, but can weigh unusually heavily on survivors of sexual abuse.
Darkness brings to mind what happened ďback then.Ē The recent holidays have no doubt brought ugly memories of times past right into the present. Just a fragrance or a type of lighting can trigger us to flashback. Well, what to do?
We can remind ourselves that spring is coming. Every day since December 21st the days have lengthened by a few minutes. Before much longer, the days will be warmer.
We can look for the joys that do exist in this season: hot chocolate or tea, fireplace fires, afghans and woolly socks, reading books that take us out of our surroundings, soups and chili, sleeping in on our day off, cozy chats. You may enjoy ice skating or skiing, walking, bundled up, in the park or woods. Throwing snowballs at an inanimate object such as a fence or tree relieves a lot of anger!
We can continue seeing therapists, participating in therapy groups, journaling, looking for ways to help and support others. Frankly facing our personal issues is the way to resolve them. We can recognize that while we may be walking in darkness now, we are moving toward the light, we can at least glimpse the light, we know from others that the light is certainly there. We can spend time reaching toward our spiritual roots, in meditation and prayer. Light candles. Notice the presence of God. Let your higher power support you.
Spring is coming!
Transcending Sexual Abuse - February, 2007
We are living with a beautiful snow right now in southern Ohio. For us, having five or six inches of powdery, silver-white snow is something that only happens once or twice a year. Our winters are usually gray, wet, and gloomy. Snow, enough to cover the bleak ground, actually is cheerful. I watched the birds today dig through the snow to find the seeds I had put on the ground before the storm. Little sparrows burrowed through to the ground, disappearing and reappearing until a small circle was created. They snacked all day, and didn't move but up into the nearby branches when I walked out to pour another container of seeds out there. I thought, "I guess they don't see me as a big threat. Maybe they somehow know I'm bringing the goodies."
I am realizing now what wonders there are to enjoy! After living for years believing I had nothing to offer anyone, of being annoyed to have to do anything that wasn't self-serving, there are wonders in my life:
wild birds who wait for me every day to provide their food and do not fear me. They freely share with each other with only the occasional spat. I'm beginning to identify individuals: "Prom Queen," a young female cardinal; "Mama bird," an older one; the "Space Cadets," a small flock of sparrows; "Big Daddy," Mama Bird's mate; and "Team Captain, " who goes with Prom Queen. Other birds come and go.
Recovery takes time and, in some senses, never ends. Survivors should start small and go slow. As it proceeds, you will find those little things that can restore you: snow that is beautiful, not a nuisance and a danger; "city" animals that can delight you with their antics; slowly, people who can be trusted. We have to proceed with care as we venture forth into the world. There are still people out there ready, willing, and able to exploit us all over again. We may think we've developed a very tough skin, but there is still tender skin underneath and the exploiters will know how to find it. We need to be as alert as the birds out at the feeder, wait out of sight and out of reach until the danger is past, and then feast with our friends on the good things God provides us.
I wonder if I view God the way the birds view me: a scary, threatening creature who appears periodically, doesn't try to approach me, leaves good things, and watches from a distance as I enjoy them. Of course, no pastor is going to agree with that point of view, and that is not the only point of view, either. It is one point of view, though, and, when your trust has been betrayed by someone who was supposed to love you, it is a place to start, a place to move from toward a closer relationship with God. I don't imagine the birds in my backyard will ever sit on my hand or allow me to sit with them as they eat the goodies I've brought them, but at least they come to my house and don't fly far away when they see me coming.
Transcending Sexual Abuse - March 2007
Lent is a difficult time of year for survivors who are Christians. We are faced with some truly confusing and problematic ideas and rituals. If we buy the standard atonement theology that most churches dish out, we are in trouble because it simply doesnít match our experience. Standard atonement theology has several strands, but the main concept is that we humans are so bad, ugly, sinful, whatever you want to call it, that God has to become a child abuser and kill off Godís son in order to save the rest of Godís children. Some strands of atonement theology figure Satan into the bargain where God has to let Satan think Satan is winning by sacrificing Godís son, then raising him from the dead in a major ďfast oneĒ on Satan. Whatever particular plot drives this theology, it looks pretty much the same to those of us who are survivors of sexual abuse. We have a hard time perceiving of God as anything but a particularly brutal child abuser saving and anointing other abusers.
During Lent, we are urged to repent of our despicable attitudes and behaviors, to reflect on our sin, and to appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made for us. When we get right down to it, though, we know that we are more sinned against than sinning. Did I somehow ask for my abuse? Of course not, virtually nobody asks for abuse.
Jesus certainly did not ask for abuse, but he got plenty of it, and, apparently, he got it not because he somehow deserved it, but to pacify God or Satan or somebody. Jesus asked once, according to scripture, to be spared his ordeal. The obvious conclusion for those of us who want to be like Jesus is that we should meekly accept our abuse, and, furthermore, revere the abuser. Many of our spiritual leaders (some of them abusers themselves) will tell us that this is exactly what we should do. We should also see our selves as deserving of this treatment.
I donít know about you, but my abuse occurred when I was a little child. Even though I am not a perfect individual, I do know that as a two-year-old I did nothing to deserve being sexually abused. Some behaviors have natural consequences. No behavior has sexual abuse as a natural consequence. I donít really see any theological reason to ďforgiveĒ my abuser. If God wants to forgive him, thatís not any of my business. I have to deal with the concept that God just might do that. Certainly, all of atonement theology supports the notion that anything is forgivable. If the murderer repents and stops murdering people, is the murderer saved? We are taught there is no limit to Godís willingness to forgive and God has even killed Godís child to save us. So, does that mean I can get away with anything?
When Lent comes around every year, I have to step away from religion. I try to keep repentance on the surface by trying to be nicer to people, to be more tolerant of behavior that annoys me. I donít concentrate on the ďtrueĒ message of the cross because it is just too painful. I donít believe I have done anything so terribly wrong that it requires someoneís death to appease God. If this means Iím not saved, then I guess Iím
not saved. I forgive my abuser mainly because I donít want to think about the abuse any more. My plate is full with merely living my own life here and now. I am warped permanently by someone elseís sin, as it were, and dwelling on just what I could have been or could have done had the abuse not happened is an exercise in futility. My life situation is what it is. I have control over what happens to me now. I donít have to like the past or try to change history. It doesnít help me to spend six weeks punishing myself by going over everything I might have done wrong or feeling like I deserved the treatment I got from an abuser. I donít ďgive upĒ anything for Lent. If I want some spiritual discipline, I take up something: regular Bible study or special prayer time or particular kindnesses to someone.
At this point in my life, I have determined that it doesnít matter what or who God forgives or doesnít forgive. There is evil in the world; it is not going to go away based on my personal belief system. The thing I can do to make my life count is to live it to the fullest now, to be loving to those I encounter, to try to choose behaviors that I think Jesus would approve, to look for opportunities to add goodness and value to life. I donít attend the Ash Wednesday or Good Friday services at my own church. Those services merely remind me of negative things, but I frequently go to a Catholic Good Friday service in order to sing with a chorus I belong to. We repay the church for use of their facilities all year by providing beautiful music for their Good Friday service. When I view the service as a thank you and a good deed, I can steer my attention away from the negative aspects of the whole season andówe donít sing that horrible round that exults about how God drowned all those Egyptians in the Red Sea. I have no quarrel with Egyptians and donít know why God would either. In fact, there isnít anybody I want to kill. If some folks died on their own, I wouldnít objectÖ.but that is not my business. Keep strong! Donít let anyone guilt you into thinking thereís something wrong with youóand Happy Easter!
Copyright 2007 Linde Grace White
You may reach Linde at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2007 Linde Grace White
You may reach Linde at email@example.com
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