(This story is a continuation of my post from yesterday: Healing from Past Trauma, My Story. You’ll want to read that first if you haven’t.)
Since that night in October when God answered those prayers and finally showed me what had been keeping me in bondage, I began the road to healing:
First, I stopped minimizing what had happened to me. All these years, I said to myself and others, “I was never raped so it wasn’t that bad.” The crazy thing is that I read recently in a book on sexual abuse that sometimes those who have been raped have been known to say. “I wasn’t killed, so it wasn’t that bad.” Minimizing is a way of surviving. But I don’t want to survive anymore. I want to truly live. If I had known how widespread the affects of the abuse were on me, from the self-hatred I carried to the coping mechanisms to how I viewed my body, I would never have thought of what happened to me as a “small” thing. Any form of abuse, whether rape or not, is damaging to a person’s soul. The abuser doesn’t even have to touch the victim for the victim’s soul to be forever injured. Any kind of sexual abuse, whether physical or psychological, (through words or showing the victim something) is extremely destructive to the core of a person.
Second, I dealt with sin in my life caused by the abuse. Although it sounds easier to keep living comfortably in sin, I finally took responsibility and chose repentance and change of heart. God showed me how the sins I struggle with now are connected to the abuse that happened. In an attempt to prove my self-worth, I did many things that I now regret. I asked for His forgiveness in prayer and renounced past things I had done—things I have been ashamed of all these years.
Third, I finally told my story. I keep reading in books that “abuse silences its victims.” I told people I trust about what happened to me as a kid. And they believed me. I thought I had years ago even told my family certain details to which they have responded since, “Marissa, you never told us that. We only knew about the one instance.” I thought all these years that I had told my closest friends some of those more horrific details to which they responded, “You only made one small reference to something years ago.”
Fourth, I stopped blaming myself for the abuse that happened to me. All these years I thought I was just stupid to have put myself in the situation I did. The thing is I didn’t put myself in that situation. I was a child. I couldn’t have foreseen what was going to happen to me. I should have been safe anywhere in my house. The abuser is the one who did something wrong. I know this because he didn’t touch me like that in front of anyone else, only when he caught me alone. Therefore, he knew what he was doing was wrong. Here all these years I carried the weight of the responsibility of what happened by saying, “If only I had…” or “If I didn’t put myself in such and such situation…” I finally realized this through reading a chapter in a book about sexual abuse which talked about how we can look at another person’s story of abuse and realize that it was not their fault, but somehow, when it is our situation, we believe that we are somewhat to blame. It is a double-standard and one that keeps the victim in bondage.
Fifth, I recognized for the first time that how the abuse is handled by those around the victim can cause the injury to be more severe. If your abuser is confronted and lies, saying nothing happened, then those involved only have the child’s testimony to go by. Not being believed is almost as bad as the abuse itself. Maybe the adults handling the situation are afraid or confused and it paralyzes them so nothing happens to protect the child. If justice does not take place in an abuse situation, the child can interpret it as if he/she is not worth the effort of action being taken. This is the beginning to low self-worth.
Sixth, I mourned. In the past nine months, I have grieved the premature loss of childhood, the loss of innocence, the loss of purity, the loss of self-worth and the loss of safety. I grieved the low life lived by the heart ravaged by abuse—the low life of seeking relief through unhealthy coping: struggles with emotional eating, hating my body, and looking for worth in all the wrong places.
Seventh, along the same lines of mourning, I have cried (a lot), wailed (which I experienced for the first time), screamed in anger and essentially allowed emotions dwelling deep within me all these years to rise to the surface and come out. With God’s help, books I have read and counseling received have all helped to guide me in this process. It feels so good to let emotion out. This leads to stopping coping in ways that are destructive.
Eighth, I realized other ways I have been deceived. I used to think, “God has to love me. He loves everyone.” Since the miraculous night in October I no longer view God’s love as something general. I now know how amazingly individual his love is for me. He cares about me more than I do. And He’s been there beside me, watching me from before birth. I am infinitely precious to Him; His princess (because he’s King) and daughter and beloved. I am not saying these things tritely. There was a time when Dawson was a baby where I was attending MOPS (Mothers of Preschooler) one day and they had us go through an exercise where we stood facing a friend and read out loud a list all about their identity in Christ, like “You’re identity is in Christ…you are His child” and so on. I remember feeling uncomfortable while the older mom who was my partner read this list to me. It seemed silly. Although I didn’t know it, those things sounded meaningless to someone who saw God as far off and uncaring.
Ninth, I continued to heal over the next year and a half. God provided professional counseling with a Christian psychologist. Even with living in bush Alaska where there are few professional counselors—if any (there were none in our village)—I was able to be counseled over the phone because of Arctic Barnabas Ministries. The counselor and I met over the phone weekly. I talked. And I listened. I shared things I’ve never shared with anyone. I followed advice and completed “assignments” like writing a letter to my abuser (for my sake, not to send). I tried to take to heart and put into practice the guidance my counselor offered. And I took lots of notes. I learned about forgiveness but didn’t rush it.
Tenth, after quite some time of grieving and healing, I forgave my abuser. Nine months after the healing process started, I was sitting in a church service about to take communion. I suddenly had a picture flash through my mind of this person kneeling before God, fully aware of the hurt he had caused, fully repentant, and in complete awe of the grace offered to him from God. What came to mind was the story in Luke 7, a sinful woman comes to anoint Jesus at a dinner in a Pharisees home. The Pharisees are indignant. Jesus proceeds to tell Simon Peter a story of two people who owed money to a moneylender. One man owed a great deal while the other owed him a little. Since neither man had the money to pay, the moneylender forgave both debts. Jesus asked Simon who would love the moneylender more, the one who owed more or owed less? Simon replied, “The one who owed more.” I thought about my abuser and if he were to ever get to the point of realizing the extent of his sin and the great love for God that would result in his heart if he realized God had forgiven him. I sensed God speaking to my heart, saying, “My Son already suffered for this man’s sin. Would you have this man pay for something that has already been paid for?” Often, we want the person who hurt us to pay. God reminded me that day that it was not without sacrifice. Someone DID pay. It was this thought that helped me to move towards forgiveness. I began to pray that my abuser would realize what he did and receive God’s forgiveness.
Finally, I learned there are two parts to the Gospel. I heard a preacher say right after my breakthrough that Jesus came for two reasons: one, to bring people to a saving knowledge of him, and second, to do what Isaiah 61 talks about. Jesus himself claimed that he came to “preach good news to the poor ….to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” (Isaiah 61:1, NIV)
That night in October, God did spiritual “surgery” on my heart, opening up a deep wound I didn’t know existed. At that time in my life I experienced first hand Jesus doing what he came to earth to do– bind up broken hearts, proclaim freedom to those in bondage, and release from darkness. This happened as I sifted through the broken pieces of a heart ravaged by abuse, as I saw the chains of strongholds that kept me captive smashed to pieces, and as I witnessed the door to my isolated prison being opened by a strong Hand. I finally believe the verse in John when Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) God answered years of prayers and continues to. He lifted a girl prone to sadness up to heights she didn’t believe existed.