How Social Distancing Triggers Survivors-(And why I’m Choosing a Quiet Life Instead)

since social norms and expectations have been so drastically altered—I feel emboldened to embrace what I wanted to be all along; before abusers got ahold of me; before authority figures felt they could tell me what I ought to be doing with my own body…

These are difficult times for all. Isolation ‘suggestions’ (rules) are being made and mandated by authority figures. Even ministers are developing new social norms for Christians; with the move to online church services and meetings. My own small fellowship has stopped meeting. My husband’s small Bible study has gone online. Most people are willing to follow these suggestions, believing it is for the greater good. My adult children are now working from their homes. They’ve mentioned coming to our home for a bit since they are working remotely anyway. But they have not done so; yet.

For a survivor of sexual abuse, this is a time that is rife with new fears and old traumas. As an abused child I was unable to develop internal guidelines about boundaries and personal space. ‘Go give your cousin a hug and kiss’ or the dreaded, ‘come sit on my lap’ were frequent commands. Child experts now stress how important it is not to force a child to touch someone if they would rather not.

But I didn’t have that choice as a child. If it was suggested that I sit on the lap of an adult relative; or go for a long drive with an adult family member, I knew I had to follow the suggestion. I felt powerless in the face of my perpetrators. My main caretakers had me in a state of helplessness. Extended family members further groomed and exploited me, long into adulthood. When I left my childhood home for one of my own, the perpetrators of my childhood continued to cross boundaries through harassing comments over the phone or unannounced visits to my home. Wherein I again felt, and believed myself to be, powerless to stop it.

Coming into the realization that I had personal space, and choice, and that I could choose who to let into that personal space (and that ‘family members’ didn’t get an immediate free pass to be there) was an ongoing and costly process. And I am still patching holes in those boundary walls around myself.

I can almost hear the voice of a former therapist as I type this: Remember that boundaries are walls with gates! We don’t want to wall ourselves in completely. Rather, we get to choose what and who to let in the gate!

As I see the current social distancing rules being implemented, it gives me pause. I once again feel powerless. Following the ‘rules’ as they are being handed down makes me uneasy, even as I know it is the right thing to do. I am once again fighting a familiar childlike fear— that I’ve done something horribly wrong and that this is all my fault somehow. That I shouldn’t have taken that airplane trip I felt it was still okay to take…because to disobey an authoritative suggestion, in any way, means I’m a bad girl. (Even if the authority suggesting it is evil.)

My husband keeps saying he doesn’t care if he gets sick himself. But he just doesn’t want to be responsible for making someone else sick. Which only makes me feel guiltier for being so concerned about myself. Traversing the recent thoughts in my head is like walking through a minefield.

Needless to say: Obeying these new social distancing commands doesn’t give me a senes of calm and peace.

And how can it? These are unprecedented times. We are sacrificing our relationships and our mental well-being in an attempt to protect our collective physical health. Something that can not fully be protected anyway.  Oh, I’m not suggesting that social distancing isn’t the correct response. Again: I’m practicing it myself. I haven’t left the house in days. I am simply pointing out that this action will also have consequences, and all the more so for the vulnerable amongst us- the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, the mentally ill and any of us who have already survived major traumas. Pray for these people. Check on them. Be there for them. Have patience with them in their fears.

Because this is a particularly difficult time for those of us who were already struggling. But as is often the case; those who have not suffered much themselves rarely stop to consider the plight of the already suffering.

It seems like this time of social distancing would be an introvert’s dream. In some ways, it is. As an abuse survivor, I shy away from people who like to draw in too close when talking to me. I need my space. I like to be alone. I like being in a grocery store where the other people in the aisle keep their distance from me (and then some). All the more so because I never had that sense of personal space growing up. But it also made me sad. Being told to isolate myself triggers old memories. Memories of a time when I was so isolated, as a child, that the frequent loneliness was a constant physical hurt in the back of my throat. Then I hardened myself, afraid to get close to people for different reasons. All because the choices with what to do with my own body were not my own to make.

My health has never been ‘good’; and that also gives me pause in the midst of a global pandemic. Many people who have lived through traumas end up with autoimmune issues and disabilities. I am no different. I’m still figuring out what, exactly, is wrong with me physiologically. I am no longer willing to be told by authorities in white coats that I’m ‘just an anxious’ person with psychosomatic symptoms. The biggest step I made for my own mental health came in realizing that there is something physical going on with my body; likely the result of past traumas, that no doctor has yet to be able to explain. Let alone diagnose and treat.

So to know that I am ‘amongst the vulnerable’ due to my physical maladies unleashes fresh grief for what was taken from me. A surge of fresh anger comes too; as I realize the full extent of damage my perpetrators caused me. How those early attacks against me left me vulnerable and weak in so many areas; including physically.

I realize all over again just how costly sexual abuse is to a child. How it remains crippling to a victim who was not given proper help or timely intervention. In order to try and protect myself physically— as a child stuck in an ongoing abusive situation— I harmed myself mentally instead. Believing I was a bad girl and keeping emotional distance from everyone was easier than believing the truth: that I was in constant danger from caretakers who were not actually caring for me.

I see the toll that that old manipulation of my body and mind took on my future relationships. Particularly those with my spouse and children. I see how it left me vulnerable to fear. Weak in times of national and global crises, and all too willing to quickly sacrifice my mental health and relationships in order to survive—to just physically get through it—whatever IT may be. In the past this has resulted in many moments of paralyzed inaction where I did what was expected of me by others. Instead of what was truly born of my heart and calling in life. I don’t know what it will look like for me, walking forward into a future where nearly everyone seems: a bit paralyzed.

All I know is that I’ve had so much time stolen, and, given my broken mindset, went on to waste a lot of time myself. Time that I could have been cultivating peace and joy instead of living a bit paralyzed by fear.

As a note I wrote to myself years ago, and still have posted on my fridge reminds me:

Triggers aren’t the problem. Avoiding pain is the problem.

This recent virus, and the worldwide social upheaval it has caused, has been like a grenade thrown into a giant barrel of triggers. I imagine it’s similar for other trauma survivors. If not, I’m glad to hear it! As for me: where do I even start assessing the pain? Sigh. I have to start with underlining and reaffirming my belief system and let it unfold from there.

And I believe what was meant for evil will be used by God for good. Perhaps God is using this time to show me the remaining hard areas of my heart, which weren’t as tender and soft as I’d thought. Hard areas which are ready to be ripped open, and must be ripped open for me to keep walking with Jesus. (Deuteronomy 30:6, Matthew 13:15). Well, even so: I am shocked at how many of hard spots remain. I thought I’d made more progress than I had.

Another way to put it: I am shocked at the size of the healing onion I’ve been peeling. I thought it was like a basketball.

It’s more like Pluto.

  • A ‘healing onion’ metaphor is something those of us in recovery, (from most anything), often talk about. There are so many layers to that onion! And each one hurts. The eight hundredth layer of onion makes me cry just as much as peeling back the first layer did.

And so as I look forward, to a future that on the one hand looks scary and isolated, I see how influenced I remain by ‘outside suggestions’ and how necessary it is to tune all those out and figure out what to let in, and out, the gate of my heart.

I also see an opportunity to do something that I’ve always wanted to do more than anything else; without a lot of social pressure to conform to something else entirely.

It has always been my desire to simply live a quiet life and to teach that to my children. But abuse and social norms and a desire for popularity, deep seated people pleasing, familial expectations and the need to make a living ($) kept me from doing what I wanted to be doing within my own properly walled life–back when the children were young. Now that they may descend back home for a bit-perhaps I can get a second chance to correct a few things.

And since social norms and expectations have been so drastically altered—I feel emboldened to embrace what I wanted to be all along; before abusers got ahold of me; before authority figures felt they could tell me what I ought to be doing with my own body…

I am encouraged that some of what I did not freely give my own children, in their childhoods (when I was still blinded from the fog of abuse), might now be freely given. Somehow. Someway. But first I need to live it out myself.

Underneath the handwritten refrigerator note that reminds me:

Triggers aren’t the problem. Avoiding pain is the problem

I am posting two Bible verses. Meant to guide me into the future.

  • Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
  • Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. (Luke 21:28)

I seek peace. Contentment. A quiet life. Wherein I can freely feel both pain and joy; as it comes and needs to come. Quietly peeling that Puto-sized healing onion and being okay with that task; day in and day out. A walled up and fortified home with a gate, and a door and a front porch that opens to the good and stays firmly shut against the bad. While the greatest source of hope, transcends even the hardest pains and the best moments of pleasure left on earth, and hinges entirely upon Jesus’ return for me.

For: surely, I now believe the hour of His return is quite near.

But if you are reading this, and it has triggered new fears: Please know there is still time to repent and be saved. Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Confess that sin state to God. And then call on Jesus. John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Not that I am suggesting anything here. I am offering up the Word of God as it was offered to me.

I freely choose to repent. I choose to believe. I choose to forgive those who have hurt me. In spite of many well meaning (I have to believe?) Christian suggestions to do just that, it was somewhere between the Holy Spirit’s leading and my own heart desiring Christ–that I chose, and continue to choose, those things–entirely on my own.

Because a forced choice, a softly suggested choice, a groomed choice, a vague feeling of obligation and guilt–all that is meaningless, and I believe, can even be meant for evil.

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear. And grace my fear relieved.” John Newton (a former slave trader).

That’s exactly what it was like for me in my own conversion. The fear of God gripped me and then calmed me.

My abusers, the minister who molested and assaulted me, the evil powers and principalities that rule this world– couldn’t, and still can’t, take away my simple free will choice to follow Jesus. I am affirming that choice in this writing. Because if ever there was a time for such affirmations–it is now.

Now that that’s been affirmed: I will continue to peel away at Pluto. And quietly work; hoping to fly under the radar until I either die or Jesus comes for me in the clouds.

Maranatha

 

 

 

If you love someone set them free. But if you want someone to be tied to you forever: beat them up.

grayscale photo of rope on log

I am reading a book about trauma bonds. It was recommended to me by Lexicon Lover- a blogger/ commentor I admire.  ❤️

I am mid way through the book. It is so helpful. Hard. But helpful. Like most truth.

I can already better understand why the battered wife cannot leave her husband. Why the molested child a friend adopted feels so bad (for telling on her abusive grandpa) that she picks the skin on her arm until it is raw. And I also see more clearly why I had such a difficult time being honest about my own abuse and then separating myself, physically and emotionally, from my abusive family of origin.

The book theorizes that trauma bonds people in ways that peaceful circumstances cannot.

Indeed.

I have also realized things about love, and it’s flip side (extreme selfishness-dangerous levels of narcissism).

First: love.

Love is a verb. And one action it does is it releases. The old adage is cheesy but true (if you love something, set it free…if it comes back to you it was meant to be). True love does not WANT anyone being dependent on them, it hopes for a healthy relationship as two equals who choose it— therefore it detests bondage situations.

Love wants to see others live in independence and autonomy. True love gives selflessly for the sake of the other so that that goal of mutual independence can be reached. Mentors, good ones, know that they are successful when their mentees no longer need them. The mentee may choose friendship at that point but the mentor, if he is a good one, doesn’t expect it going into it. Same with parents.

Abuse is the opposite. It is so selfish that it wants the other to be broken and dependent and tied up to the other—forever if possible. There is no release, no setting free. There is intentional bondage-making.

To me that is evil. And I believe evil knows that if you want to create a near-unbreakable bond you don’t treat someone with a combination of genuine care, affection, and freedom, letting them figure things out on their own. There is no setting free with evil. Never.

That would mean that person had no binding ties to anything, unless they chose to give themselves to God or others. (In spiritually abusive homes, believing in God is not a free will choice.)

Evil knows that if you want to create a tie that binds two people together greater than any other tie on earth, trauma needs to be involved.

So evil, and those given over to it, buys the neglected girl a bicycle and then sexually assaults her a few months later. Six months after that the evil one tells her how special she is to him and praises the bond they’ve always had. A day later the evil one mocks her pre-teen breast size.

That is how you create a type of bondage that lasts near-forever. That is how you hide your ugly deeds and create a slave to cater to your wishes for years, lifetimes if you get your way. You mess with their mind. You beat them up. You bring them to the lowest low of self hatred and then kiss their forehead and tell them they are still your special little princess. Because that’s all it takes to tie them up to you. A mixture of abuse and what seems like love but is just fake affection to hide and further the abusive bondage.

Evil forces a daughter to sit on its lap. And that night it beats her mom up in front of her.

Evil knows this works at trapping. It knows that is how it can make ties that bind, and blind. In such relationships there is no process of the child entering adulthood and being set free, not from homes like that. The child enters adulthood with every intention of breaking away from their family but finds she cannot do it. The pull is too great. She missed the highs and lows and returns for Christmas and another round of verbal battering and perverted uncles mixed with forehead kisses and photographs with linked arms because we just love our little princess so much!

To break such trauma bonds is arduous, exhausting, and, dare I say it: miraculous.

I am praying, that now that I see them for what they really are (incredibly powerful tools of bondage from the pit of hell) that  my own strong bonds with people who inflicted trauma on me, can finally be broken.

Inner Vows (and why I am renouncing them in my recovery).

close up of padlocks on railing against sky

Here are some examples of what an inner vow might look/sound like:

I will not let myself get hurt again.

I will not let someone catch me with my guard down again.

I will protect myself better next time.

I won’t find myself in that compromising position again.

You really can’t trust anybody!

When I first heard about breaking inner vows in therapy, I was confused. I also questioned if such a thing made any real difference. I mean even scripture says to guard your own heart, right??? I thought that’s what I was doing when telling myself to be on better guard next time…

Then I randomly came across the subject of vows and pledges on a Jewish blog. Once a year on Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year), ceremonies include renouncing all the vows and pledges which were made the prior year, including both intentional, and unintentional ones. Indeed, not making hasty vows, not swearing by God or anything in heaven or on earth, letting your yes be a yes and your no be a no — is clearly affirmed by Jesus Christ Himself! Without getting into a huge theology discussion here (feel free to do your own study–it’s a fascinating subject!), there is very real power in words. Particularly if we phrase them as promises, declarations, and/or oaths.

Therefore I began to see what my therapist was getting at. I noticed just how many intentional, and also unintentional, inner vows I had made over my lifetime. I was shocked. And I still ‘go there’ quickly as a defensive response.

In short: I couldn’t control what had happened to me in childhood and I still have very little real control over other’s actions toward me. In an effort to regain a sense of control I made oaths to protect myself. In so doing I also cursed and bound up my ability to receive and give love in relationship with others. Like putting a lock on my heart and tossing the key. The curse needed to be reversed by the one who made it (me), if I was to experience a fullness of heart and come out from the ‘numbing’ effects of abuse and anxiety disorder. I think I’ve been doing that, now. Plus I’m learning, and trying to put into practice, passively accepting hard things — without numbing out again, or, to use scriptural terms: hardening my heart in response.

I thought, myself, all of the above examples of inner vows, and more too numerous to write down. I even said many of these aloud in conversations with others. The issue being that even the quiet unspoken pledges I had made held very real power in my mind and heart. They shaped my relational behaviors. I know better now. But actually living life without making such statements and declarations is an ongoing process. Which is why I was so intrigued by the Jewish practice of erasing all the intentional and unintentional vows each new year!

Part of renouncing is sitting down and doing just that–admitting and renouncing the oath you once made to yourself. The other part is not relying on a simple statement you repeat once a year but actually working out a vow-free life; in real life–for me that means making myself vulnerable (easing into it–starting slow and letting trust build naturally), finding friends and loved ones who have already proven themselves to be ‘safe’ with a small amount and opening up more and more. It also means recognizing those who are not safe spaces and guarding my self around them. Then choosing better use of my time without feeling guilty about doing just that and without needing to make an actual vow (because I am fully trusting myself, and God, in that process).

It is a practice and a process to give and receive trust. To know who is trustworthy and to not feel guilty about ‘moving around’ those who have proven they are not.

Inner vows were binding me in so many ways. I’d give trust away too easily to all the wrong people and places (Social Media is generally not a safe place to share the depths of one’s heart, for instance) and then knee-jerk hole up all over again with a fresh litany of pledges and oaths to avoid this or stay away from that in the future.

Anyone else pondered this subject of making declarations and inner vows?

Please feel free to share any other examples of inner vows and ways to break them.

 

It’s Tough Being Switzerland, (even though I #believe survivors)

 

alpine beautiful bloom blossom

I have mixed emotions about the #metoo and #believesurvivors movements. I empathize with and support other survivors through prayers and well wishes but I really just want to ‘be like Switzerland’ (neutral) in regard to the whole worldwide movement thing.

As an assault survivor I do not want my name, or my trauma, to be made into public fodder.

I know that many other survivors also don’t want to go public with their stories using their ‘real’ names (fearing for our lives is a reality for some of us). Add a bunch of public attention…and victims who wished to remain anonymous are often nosed out by reporters.

From the start I feared this would end up being all about the ‘left’ versus the ‘right.’ Religious versus heathen.

It pretty much has now. And that’s painful to watch.

On the one hand, I appreciate the awareness and the support of so many survivors coming together. I know how desperately victims and survivors need to hear three simple words: “I believe you.” Those three words can be the difference between recovery and an even darker hole.

Others see the pain the family members of accused perpetrators are going through and get angry at the people coming forward with past claims of abuse.

I suggest feeling empathy and sadness instead. Because the reality of sexual abuse is that there are MANY victims, never just one. Perpetrators’ children and spouses suffer greatly as well, even if they were never perpetrated upon themselves. Spouses and children of victims suffer too. This is a testament to the horror which is sexual abuse.

Now that this topic has been pushed into the public conversation, many feel they can give their own opinion…whether or not they have lived through it themselves, or whether or not they actually know the people paraded about in the news.

I live in Middle America, where it is more red than blue. My Facebook feed is full of memes about alleged perpetrators being innocent and alleged victims being liars. There is even a ‘joke’ going around that George Strait sexually assaulted Emmylou Hayes…and other memes urging me to ‘support Kavanaugh’s family’. One minister I follow referred to Kavanaugh’s accusers as ‘harlots’. That was very painful to read.

So today when a Facebook ‘friend’ shared a photo of Dr. Ford’s lawyer walking behind Hilary Clinton with a ‘does this surprise anyone’ headline…I thought to myself:

Nope. It doesn’t surprise me. I saw this coming. I suspected the me too movement would become a toxic political ‘football’ and that the ones hurt the most by that thing flying around would be survivors (who may be triggered by public vitriol).

Plus, I went through a big ‘end times’ phase before I got sick with PTSD. During my studies I learned things like thesis + antithesis = synthesis. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it’s probably already too late for that. So: I sense the Hegelian Dialect is at play here.

What is the synthesis we are being pushed toward?

Hang on, I’ll get there. First of all, I believe the escalation of sexual abuse, particularly in the Christian church, is an act of pure evil. It is by design. It is one of the ways the enemy is seeking to destroy Christians before his time is up. And it’s working. Because not only is this evil damaging victims of abuse. Ministers and church goers are being swayed by their emotions (through well-placed memes and photos) and taking up the mighty sword of ‘the pen’ in hasty response. (Things we post on Facebook and blogs are ALL self-published materials–by us, even shared memes from others become our property and responsiblity when we share them). Engaging in public battles we can’t possibly know the real facts about, is not normally seen as Christ like behavior. But yet it is applauded tine and again by Christians. As in most things; there is a proverb for that.

Therefore, I am afraid that we are collectively being ‘synthesized’ (thesis+antithesis=synthesis) to accept chaos and lies as normal.

Liar. From the one side.

Liar. (and: harlot) Shouted from the other side.

What to believe? Who to believe?

Everyone’s trust becomes ruined. Which is why I have a hunch this is a battle that Satan himself encouraged just for the love of chaos and the churning out of more lies.

John 8:44 When he (Satan) lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Oh, I’m not some kind of saint here. A part of me really wants to get personal and use my own sword in the debate, since I have also been called ‘crazy’ for claims I have made about my own past abuse.

But I don’t know Kavanaugh or his accusers, I don’t trust any media outlets right now, and so I cannot opine one way or another. A ‘that is really awful’ and ‘I am going to trust God to sort it out’ response seems the only wise Christian response, to me. So I hope to remain like Switzerland, even though its getting tougher all the time. As long as I have Jesus as my rock though, I don’t need a view of the Matterhorn.

1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.

Matthew 7:14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.