distrust

Trusting God Again

This is the sixth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

As I began meeting with my counsellor, it seemed the painful layers of what happened were being peeled back. More and more came to the surface that I didn’t know was there.  It was as if I was at the checkout in a store, about to pay for my item. Just before the payment was finalized, the price was increased. Over and over again. I didn’t think I had anything left to forgive, but suddenly I was angry. There was no clear-cut process to follow with a start and an end. It all felt so unfair. Dealing with everything was taking so much energy, and John was probably living his life as if nothing ever happened.

November 2016

I really struggled through counselling, and even kickboxing couldn’t get me out of my funk. I was crying out to God on the drive home – actual tears, swearing, etc. Why do I have to suffer because of someone else’s actions? It’s not fair! He’s fine and I’m still suffering. If it was my own bad choice I wouldn’t complain…Then I sensed God speak to me clearly that he understood, because that’s what the cross is all about. Jesus punished for sins he didn’t commit (ours). I was personally experiencing something of the cross. Somehow that calmed me down and gave me peace.

My counsellor’s specialty was biblical counselling, so she often connected what we talked about to Bible verses, and encouraged me in ways I could pray about the situation. I remember one meeting in particular where she told me I should pray boldly for justice. I didn’t want to because I didn’t believe there was any hope for it, and I thought if I focused too much on that, I would get angry again. I knew eventually he would experience the consequences of his actions, even if not in this life.

God doesn’t usually speak to me in dreams, but shortly afterward I dreamed as I hadn’t before. I was in my apartment and John was there too. Initially I was afraid, but he began to apologize. For the first time, he acknowledged what happened and was truly sorry for it. I began to weep uncontrollably. It felt like a massive release in my heart of all that had happened. When I woke up, I felt like I had been given a gift from God. Although none of the events in my dream have happened, I experienced some healing in a way that is hard to put into words.

In another meeting, my counsellor asked me if I had problems trusting God. Initially, I thought my trust problems were more with other people, but I realized I struggled to trust God, too. I didn’t blame God for what happened, but I still didn’t understand why it happened. I had gone into self-protection mode. Subconsciously I thought that if God wouldn’t or couldn’t protect me, I would do it myself. By putting up walls, avoiding vulnerability, and appropriating a high level of skepticism in my interactions, I was removing any possibility of being hurt again, as much as was in my power. In short, I was a control freak.

I was angry when my counsellor suggested my reactions were sinful and I needed to repent. I preferred to see them as opportunities for growth, because that didn’t engender feelings of contempt and dread, but rather opportunity and possibility. However, as I worked through the chapter on repentance in the Wounded Heart book, I realized she was right. I had confused repentance and penance. “Contempt (self- or other-centered) is the energy behind penance. It produces a sense of being downtrodden and worthless and leads eventually to rage and murderous hatred. The result is an unredemptive sorrow that is full of self-pity and despair” (p.206). But “genuine conviction of sin, on the other hand, leads to a softening of the heart that dispels other-centered contempt in the wake of the recognition that we are no better, at core, than those who have abused us. Self-contempt is Satan’s counterfeit for true conviction. Contempt attacks the perceived source of the problem to gain control and then attempts to regain relationship with others and God through penitent deeds. Conviction humbly recognizes the need for grace and embraces a sorrow that leads to life and sacrificial love” (p.206).

I knew I needed to call sin, sin, and not try to make it nicer. My attempt to control, to be in control, was trying to protect myself, rather than trusting God. It was an avoidance of vulnerability, which decreases my own life, and my ability to love God and others the way I was intended to. It was seeking comfort apart from God. It was sin. Sure, it came mostly out of being sinned against, but my reaction to that was still sin. I asked God for forgiveness again.

I wondered for some time what it meant to trust God if there was no guarantee I wouldn’t be hurt again. I realized that trusting God didn’t mean nothing bad would ever happen to me again. It meant that God was still good and still enough even if it did.

Dr. Dan B. Allender. 1990. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Admitting Weakness

This is the fifth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

I continued to struggle with an intense fear of vulnerability. Constantly questioning peoples’ motives was exhausting. As a youth worker, I was afraid that somehow even I might also be manipulating others, especially the teens I worked with. Two journal entries spaced nearly a year apart show continued struggles in my relationships.

May 2014

Sometimes I want so much to believe but I can’t.  What if it is not what it seems?  What if I’m being played again?  In reality that seems unrealistic.  I’m much older now and I should be able to spot it.  But all that caused me to doubt myself too.  In some ways I still feel like a child.  This is all so confusing.  When I think I’ve put it behind me, new situations bring it up again and cause me to experience it in a different way.  I can never escape it.  It’ll always be a part of me I guess.  Like you can’t erase your scars.  Sometimes that makes me really sad.  It’s hard to constantly experience new aspects of a painful past.

I think it’s also become a ‘role’ that is harder to trust.  People in Christian leadership, pastors, etc…they are hard to trust. 

March 2015

I realize again how scary it is to be vulnerable, even a little bit, and how hard it still is for me to trust people. I’m still experiencing the effects of what happened before. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free of it. Even with physical wounds the scar remains. I just wish it was easier. I don’t want others to pay for his mistakes, but the reality is that it still hurts sometimes and I’m still discovering the effects. I don’t really like thinking about it because it brings me down. It already took so much from me, and I don’t want it to take more, but maybe I have to face it again to move on. I’m sick of feeling down though. It feels like a rock and hard place…maybe I have to sacrifice short-term to benefit long-term.

Finally, in the summer of 2016, I had two breakthroughs. For the first time, when I shared my testimony with friends, I included the story of abuse. I was finally ready for it to lose its power over me. I had no need to be ashamed for someone else’s actions. I also went back to counselling. It took three years after I came off medication for depression. I was self-aware enough to see the continued effects of the abuse in my life, particularly an inability to trust, a skeptical nature, and self-doubt in my interactions, never knowing if there was cause for concern, or if I was just transferring past reactions to current situations. I knew I couldn’t fix it on my own. Even though I had been to counselling before, I still struggled with feeling like it was giving in to a weakness. I should have fixed things by now, or gotten strong enough to fix it myself. I had to convince myself that the only weakness would be believing I didn’t need help.

Finding a Name

This is the fourth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

November 5, 2012

The other day I had a dream with John in it again.  He kept coming closer to me, hovering over me.  I kept pushing him back and he asked me why I was doing that.  I said it made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want him to do that.

I thought this was pretty momentous.  Most of the dreams I’ve had with him in it I’ve felt overpowered and helpless, frozen.  Some of them I may have got aggressive, but I never set a boundary like I did in this dream.  I know it is just a dream, but it felt so good.

In some ways, I was seeing healing in my life, but in other ways I saw that those years affected me much more deeply than I initially thought. I was intensely afraid of vulnerability with others and with God. I thought I would be taken advantage of again. I would see people who reminded me of John and all the memories would come back again. I couldn’t feel safe.

A friend mentioned how he noticed I was suspicious of people and couldn’t trust that people were actually being nice to me and wanting to help me. I wrote in my journal on February 25, 2013:

I guess to some degree I thought that was over…gone.  By not thinking about it, it was like an unfortunate event of the past that is IN THE PAST.  But I see that it still affects me… I don’t know how to process that.  I don’t know what to think about that.  It’s like I can’t escape.  I remember when I was really starting to face my depression, all of this came up and it just seemed like too much.  Now it seems like when I am doing a bit better it comes back again.  Will I ever be free and able to be really happy? I’m sick of being down, angry, irritated…I want to be happy and enjoy life.

I’m a theory and research type person, so I thought it would help to read up on what happened to me. If I could understand it, I could overcome it, or so I thought. I went through various books and websites, but couldn’t find anything that described my situation. There was sexual abuse, but John never actually touched me. There was emotional abuse, but it didn’t quite seem to fit. There was verbal and spiritual abuse, but that didn’t click either. It made me wonder if what happened was really a big deal at all, or even if I was going crazy.

Finally, I came across a book called The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan B. Allender. The different types of abuse were described, and I found a name that fit. Psychological sexual abuse. It was hard to wrap my mind around, but naming it afforded much needed credibility and legitimacy in my mind.

Psychological sexual abuse “will occur through verbal or visual means (usually both) but will involve more subtle (nonspecific, more mood-generating) communication that erodes the appropriate role boundaries between a child and an adult” (p.33). It is a “sexual/relational boundary violation” and can involve the “use of a child as a spouse surrogate (confidant…counsellor)” (p.34). As I kept reading, I could make some sense of what happened to me, but I also saw the long road ahead to healing. I felt hopeless.

June 9, 2013

I really don’t trust my own judgment. I was reading the Wounded Heart book again and I think it’s connected to what happened. I judged a person safe, that they had my best interests in mind, but I was so wrong. I feel so lonely on the journey through this, as most people who know about it just tell me I need to move past it. I can’t. I’m still understanding what happened and trying to process it. I can’t go faster because it hurts and takes time. It’s hard to remember and be in that place. It brings up anger again, even though I’ve forgiven. I already struggle with depression and this just brings me down again. I don’t want to be down; I want to be happy for once…but if I don’t confront this it will just be worse.

A few months later, in September 2013, I finally came off medication for depression. I had been taking various combinations for three years. I was elated that I had made it through some of the toughest years of my life. I was so sick of feeling sad and down, that I had no energy to deal with anything that might make me sad again. I knew the abuse was still affecting me, but I had no capacity to deal with it.

Dr. Dan B. Allender. 1990. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Illusions and Poverty: The Best of a Life in Control

I have a confession. I am a control freak. I used to describe it as being well prepared and thorough, but let’s call it what it is. Having back-up plans for your back-up plan’s back-up plan is paranoia.

You could say it’s a lifelong illness. I remember hoarding coordinating work on group projects as a kid so everything could be done to my standards. Clearly, the other children were there to bring me down. I’d like to say I’ve been transformed, but I’ve only changed projects about polar bears to projects about policies and statistics. I’m the same, but I’ve found more politically correct ways to describe my obsessions.

I hate being out of control. It feels messy. Like I’m going to be swallowed up in the swirling vortex of chaos. Or like I’m treading water in a vast ocean with no sight of land, and if I don’t get sand under my feet soon, I’ll drown. If you know that feeling, you also know that you’ll do pretty much anything to get rid of it. You make back-up plans for your back-up plan. You stop or limit delegating. You manage deadlines. You organize until everything is in a neat little compartment. You influence others to your way of thinking. If all this fails or is impossible, and you cannot manipulate your external environment, you turn inward. For me, I convince myself I don’t care as much as I do, and that I’m not affected by another person’s actions. I withdraw and numb. I become overly serious and stoic. Empathy and care are replaced with curt replies, still civil enough to defend if needed.

Though these strategies still my immediate fear of chaos, I’ve been realizing that the apparent short-term gain is not worth the long-term loss. What seems like self-protection actually acts to impoverish. I cut myself off from the resources all around me. My numbing spreads to encompass all beauty, joy and possibility. It steals life, and the ability to love. Moreover, by trying to be in control, I live an illusion. The reality is everything is out of control. No one knows the future, and nothing we can do will ever change that. So, what’s the alternative?

In the midst of striving, I sense God asking, “do you trust me?” It’s a simple question, but my answer is fraught with complexities. To paraphrase a man who asked Jesus for healing – I trust; help my distrust (Mk. 9:24)! I’m thankful for Anne Lamott’s reminder that “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” I don’t need to achieve a perfect state of trust (or control) before approaching Jesus. I need to come as I am, with all my fears, doubts, and chaos. I feel so unworthy, but I think that’s grace, right?

I’ve heard it said that you need to learn to live out of control, but I think that’s only half of the truth. You also need to learn to live knowing that God is in control. I’m still learning what that looks like, but here’s my thoughts so far. It’s delegating and accepting another right way to do things, even if it’s not your way. It’s pressing in and engaging vulnerably, even if there are no guarantees. It’s being honest with yourself and others about how much you do care, even if you’re not sure they care the same way. It’s acknowledging and experiencing pain, refusing to put up another wall. It’s praying, not my will, but yours be done (Lk. 22:42).

When I think about it, I know it’s going to cost me something. I also know it’s not going to cost near as much as attempting to maintain the illusion of control. I suppose it’s a choice. I know what I’m choosing. What about you?