I’m not sure how it is for others, when they recover memories of past abuse. For me: it wasn’t like I had forgotten I’d been molested and sexually assaulted in my childhood.
The traumas were categorized in my brain as things which were so troubling that I wasn’t going to think of them again. I believe the experts term that kind of thing: Denial.
It was how I survived.
As an adult I kept steering around that dark hole where the memories were stored. Smells and words and movie clips and songs pulled me closer to it anyway. Truth is powerful. It wanted air. “For there is nothing hidden that will not be made known.”
I’d always been nervous about everything. But as I got older the anxiety became worse and worse. In time, I knew that I knew that I knew that I had been molested by several family members. There were too many memories. Too many ‘games’ I had played with adults that were inappropriate.
There were pornographic magazines stacked up on my playroom shelves, next to the Disney books. I looked at them and felt such shame for looking. The shame lasted long into adulthood. As I got older I slowwwly started to realize that, contrary to what I had needed to believe to survive childhood, the early exposure to porn had not been my own doing.
Each time I had such realizations, I handled it by doing the Christian-eze thing. I took blame upon myself. Except I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I believed if I just forgave the family members involved in those troubling memories, that it would make everything go away. I thought I could hand it all over to God and it would dissipate magically. I didn’t break contact with, nor confront, any past abusers. I hosted gatherings. I smiled in photos. I acted like it was all good. I didn’t let the anger and indignation have air. It had to steal oxygen (usually from my own lungs) whenever it could.
I acted out to the wrong people. My BHH says I was ‘off’ for weeks after being around members of my family; lashing out at him with my frustration and buried anger.
Then one day, just like that: the memory of the worst assault shifted into the proper category of my brain. I could finally admit it.
I was assaulted by an uncle who was like a father to me, a man who passed it off as something accidental. An ordained protestant minister who then continued to pretend he’d been nothing but good to me. All the gifts and attention had not been because he was showing loving kindness to a sickly, awkward girl. He had always been a man intent on grooming a young girl in order to abuse her without getting caught.
Once I could own that: I cried strange hot tears that I hadn’t known prior. I immediately realized that all the other stuff, too, the stuff that I’d believed I’d forgiven and made go away–all that other junk also belonged in the category of ‘abuse.’ I saw that it was systemic; that there was some sort of blight or plague on my family of origin; a plague which had caught me up and nearly killed me too.
So, I did what any creature does when it’s been attacked. I curled up in my ‘hole’ and shook it off. Even though the attacks had been years prior: my body was finally allowed to know it had been attacked. It was as if the traumas had just happened. My body shook, off and on, for about a year.
Well, maybe two years. It came in waves. It’s been a while, now, since I’ve had to run home in order to have a private shaking episode.
The shaking was a release of craven fear. Shock. Horror. And the need to sit and shake was so uncontrollably powerful that my teeth would rattle in my mouth and my legs bounced up and down.
Grief and anger came later. Reading books by trauma researchers like Peter Levine (who says shaking is a necessary response we need to allow in order to remove traumatic energy from the body), Gabor Mate, and Bessel Van Der Kolk came later too.
In the beginning, I followed my instincts. And they told me to shake. Shake. Shake. Shake it off.
So. I shook.
I also sought counseling. I broke contact with past abusers. And, since I love the Word, I opened the Bible to see what it had to say about sexual abuse, incest, and rape.
It says plenty. Reading about it helped me deal with all the anger which was rising up; after all that shaking had started to pass.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13 New International Version (NIV)
Dealing With a Case of Incest
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
I know that adding this entire excerpt makes my post so long many won’t read this far down. But I wanted to add this in its entirety as it says everything one needs to know about dealing with the perpetrators of sexual abuse.
Incest and sexual abuse first needs to be called out into the open, into the light. Then, for the sake of all involved, we need to separate from the evil doers. Turning the person over ‘to satan’ is actually an act of love. Tough love. It may be the only thing that causes them to turn around at that point.
Reading the passages above affirms that I need to remain separated from family members (who still claim that nothing was amiss in my childhood).
The line: And you are proud! seems especially prescient to my own ‘case of incest’ within the church-leading family I grew up within. That’s why I bolded it.
I have studied what the Apostle Paul might have meant by this assertion of the Corinthians’ pride. On the one hand, the church in Corinth may have been too proud to openly admit that one of their congregants was sexually deviant. It would have given them a black eye in the face of other church fellowships.
This kind of pride sure seems to be the case today, when many fellowships try to hide or cover up or give hush money to cases of incest and abuse that occur in their own folds.
On the other hand, the church in Corinth may have been proud of their own tolerance. Proud of how much they were willing to put up with sin in their midst, because it proved they were relying on the grace of God to save them, not their own righteous works. Therefore they were ‘proud’ of their status as forgiving, accepting, people who would include open sinners into their fold.
Either way, the instruction to overcoming that ‘pride’ is clear: separate. Avoid. Don’t tolerate such things. For your sake as well as the sake of the perpetrator.
It took me years to do it, and it’s still extremely hard. But I see the wisdom in it; now.