***Trigger warning*** This post contains reference to sexual and emotional abuse and the effects it has had in my life.
So there’s something I haven’t talked about much on here. I started this blog to have a place to work through how I was feeling about my health collapse, and all that came along with it. So it was deliberate that I kept my other things somewhat separate.
But now I realise that it’s not possible to do that. I can’t separate off one strand of myself. If I want to be whole, I need to embrace all of me and not leave some parts out in the cold.
I had got to a point of thinking I was ok with all this other stuff. That I’d come to terms with it and I was alright.
Ok, super honesty time … I knew it was still there. Some wounds were still hurting me, but I had found a way to screen them off, and I was living in that place of sweet denial.
And then something happened and I felt myself stiffen. I felt that familiar blankness come over me, that dissociation that was so protective and is now so very suffocating.
I’ve been ignoring it, hoping I could just fight it off and force myself to BE PRESENT and prove to myself that I was ok. I had processed, healed, accepted … whatever … what had happened to me and I could leave it behind.
I can’t. I need to return to the wreckage and ask God where he was then and where he is now. I need to stop numbing, to stop denying and live again in the reality of the pain.
You see I’m afraid the pain will never stop. And maybe it won’t. Probably it won’t. But I think pain might be better than nothing. Because the nothing doesn’t stay contained. It starts to invade everything until all of a sudden the nothing is bigger than all of your somethings and you’re not really living at all.
So here we go, my disclosure. Again.
I was abused by my brother. He sexually abused me and he emotionally abused me for most of my childhood. My identity and my personality grew and matured and were nurtured in an environment of fear and shame and violation. It wasn’t just something that happened to me, it was something that shaped me, that imbedded deep in the core of me.
For so long I felt a failure because I couldn’t separate my ‘self’ from what was done to me. I felt like I was making excuses, that I should be able to leave it behind. It was history after all. It happened. It was no longer happening. So get on with your life.
But I couldn’t and I can’t. Something like that wounds you so deeply. Both the violence of it, and the perversion of it. I can’t separate within myself what is me and what is it. Living that way twisted and perverted the course of my development; emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically.
So many people who have come alongside me genuinely trying to help have just failed to grasp that some scars remain. That knowing that God is good is not going to undo the damage done. They have come so well intentioned, but they have heaped burden upon burden on my head. And then they have left. Disappointed with me because it is preferable to being disappointed with God.
I don’t have any contact with my brother at present. We have talked about what happened. Mostly in letters, but we have spoken a little in person. He acknowledges the abuse to some degree at least. And he has apologised. At least he has apologised for what he thinks he did wrong. Can there ever be true understanding in an abuser of the experience, the pain of the abused? I don’t know. I think self preservation drives a good amount of denial on his part – he has to minimise his offence to a size that he can live with and not be overcome with self-loathing. I sympathise to a degree, but it is still so hard to withstand this minimisation from the person who took all value from me. He is once again degrading me for his own satisfaction. My needs, my value are sacrificed to his comfort.
I tried for a long time to maintain a relationship with him. I believed so deeply in the power of redemption and reconciliation. I tried to tread that treacherous path between firm boundaries and gracious forgiveness. I tried to demonstrate the love and grace of God, whilst holding on to my own value and need to be safe.
But I couldn’t do it. Was it even possible? I don’t know. Certainly, my brother was not yet able or willing to relinquish his power in the relationship. I think he probably was trying, but when I began to enforce the boundaries that I knew were necessary for my health and happiness and safety – boundaries I deserved – his contrition quickly gave way to self protective aggression and domination. He wasn’t going to let my healing cost him one little bit.
And so my husband and I made the painful and scary decision that I couldn’t have any contact with him. It was painful because I felt the loss keenly of my brother. Of the one I shared so much of my life with, and of the one I had always hoped he would and could be. I felt so very alone and so very bereft.
It was scary because it felt so unchristian. It felt like maybe I was choosing unforgiveness, and that it might be my undoing. Was I hardening my heart, was I rejecting Gods call on us to live as a living sacrifice, to pour myself out for him and for others. Was I cutting my brother off from the grace of God, telling him with my actions that he was unloveable, unforgivable, unredeemable.
I still struggle with these questions, with these fears. But I have lived more than a year now without a panic attack, or a flashback. Without the humiliation and degradation of being in the presence of someone who violated my body and soul, and still treats me as an accoutrement to his life. Without having to feel naked and afraid in a room full of people, whilst maintaining the appearance of a normal happy family, so no one else would feel uncomfortable. I have spent almost 2 years living out my belief that I matter and I don’t deserve to be torn apart for the convenience of others.
It has been so healing for me. Just to be able to breathe. To feel safe and valuable. God has spoken love and acceptance over me. He has been showing me how precious I am to him and helping me to begin to love and value myself as he does.
Which is why I thought I was OK. I was expanding into myself and it felt so good.
And yet I know the defense mechanisms are still there and as strong as ever. I still can’t speak what he did to me. I still can’t described how it made me feel. I still can’t stop myself from running into the panic room in my head when life gets hard.
Dissociation, numbing, fantasy, repression of memory, sexual dysfunction.
The physical discomfort I feel around certain kinds of people. The emotional and physical response some people and situations illicit in me that I cannot control.
I am still being pulled away from the fullness of life that is available to me by these forces and fears within me. There is so much I still cannot say, can’t acknowledge, cannot bear to feel. And it is controlling me, just like he did.
Vulnerability is still just too unbearable and too dangerous to me. I reach and strive to live my life in a courageous and authentic way, but the survivor in me won’t allow me to take those risks.
When you are used to being controlled by fear you can stop noticing it. When you ingested self-loathing and shame with your mother’s milk, when it was your constant companion through all of your formative years, it becomes invisible.
A modicum of freedom, an attempt at self love. They feel like all the fullness of the love of God. But they’re not.
You don’t notice that it is these demons inside you making so many of your decisions. Your pain is in the drivers seat and it veers constantly and wildly off course.
I have tried grabbing the wheel. It has been a power struggle for a long time now and there have been times that is has felt like I’m winning and that I can choose the direction my life will go in.
But I can’t keep it up. Eventually the pain and the fear pull me into the nothing again.
So I’ve decided the time has come to stop and to talk. To listen to my pain. To name it and be honest with God about it.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to, but I’m going to try. I think it’s what God is asking me to do, so I’m trusting that I will be ok and that the fullness of his love is waiting for me.
I know now that this will be a journey that will last my lifetime. There is no leaving behind wounds like this. No fix. But I also know that there is redemption for them, and there will be freedom and love for me. It may not be overnight, it may not be complete, it almost certainly won’t be what I expected or hoped for, or feared. But I’m ready for my pain to be redeemed. I’m ready to acknowledge and let it shape me. To fully embrace all that I am and to shed shame and fear and artifice.
This is my first step. It’s small and it is big. My disclosure. The first step. Again.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
My road has been dotted with these. Another alter. Another honouring. Another prayer. Another first step.
I will not forget your call Lord, to find you in the ruins. I may take a wandering path, I may hesitate, I may shrink back for a time. But when I do I will stumble upon this testiment to you and it will lead me back.
Help me to find you here Lord. In the wreckage of it all. Help me to bear the pain and to look unflinchingly at the cost. Help me to be honest and real with you Lord, that I would trust you enough to tell you the truth.