They Don’t Understand
They want to understand our pain. Who am I talking about? I am speaking of the ones in our life that love us so much. Their heart breaks for us. They can hardly bear to see us cry. And we survivors of child sexual abuse, we hide. We hide, because the last thing we want them to see is our suffering, because in our struggles, they feel helpless to comfort us, to ease our pain. We dream of the day when we wake and the flashbacks are gone, never to return. We long for a guarantee that the body sensations, the smells, the triggers are gone for good. We try so hard to run from them, but no matter how long ago the abuse happened, they find us. When they find us in a strong and grounded state, we can manage most of the time to regroup, to breathe deep, keep our eyes open to the safe reality that surrounds us, to press in and press through the pain. And when it passes, we breathe deep and praise God that we are safe in our skin. But on those days when the evil memories visit us in whatever form; when we are tired; depressed; weak; it is like an explosion of glass in our spirits and we quicken to find all the chards before they cut deeper into our soul. As much as they want to, they don’t understand why we can’t forget the pain. They don’t understand why it haunts us.
Weeks ago I hit a wall of exhaustion. If you might relate, the kind of exhaustion after months of pushing limits, that a 10 hour night of sleep doesn’t begin to rejuvenate. But the bright light in my future was a family beach vacation. I was excited to go on vacation with my family, to finally put my feet in the sand and be stilled by the rhythm of the ocean. It had been an exceptionally strenuous week physically by helping my daughter move. Of course what you think will take only a few hours, took two days.
On the way to the beach, I decided to see my mother since it had been some-time between visits and have more quality time by spending the night. It was a pleasant visit and as we were retiring for the night I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a bust of David, a family heirloom so to speak, that had adorned our living room foyer table for as long as I can remember. The bust was now residing on the bedside table. The image flashed in my mind of walking the trail of horror to the bedroom where I had been summoned as a child. “Don’t, don’t you go there,” lashed the harsh voice in my head.” The command was obeyed, I laid my head on my pillow, sang Amazing Grace in my head and fell asleep.
The sleep was restless as a looming dark shadow was enveloping me. When my eyes fluttered open, I saw the headboard of the bed. Flash to 1974, I was 7 years old with my eyes focused on the headboard as I was instructed to stay still and stop squirming. I took a breath that would not fill my lungs because I felt as if an elephant were sitting on my chest. So began the short shallow panic breaths, I tried to get out of my mouth to my still sleeping husband I need to go. “I need to go now.” He awoke to what the heck is going on? I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stand my skin. I wanted to peel it off. I had to get out of that bedroom, I had to get away from that peering statue of David. I had to run but my husband said, “Come here, sit down, what is wrong?” As he reached for me I tore away and looked for an escape. The bathroom door was open so I darted for the door. I tried to get it closed but he was in hot pursuit. I fled through another door to the toilet trying to make a beeline out and ran head first into my daughter. I backed up to collapse on the toilet. By now I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t catch my breath. I could not explain to them what was happening and they didn’t understand. I was completely horrified for them to see me in this condition. I appear to be a pillar of strength on the outside, resilient and confident woman, but today I was a broken little girl, humiliated to be seen in this condition. You see these days have come and gone over the last 30 plus years in private. Rarely has anyone but my husband witnessed the turmoil or noticed the turbulence. My daughter grabbed my hands and tried to make eye contact with me and attempted mindfulness techniques to ground me in the here and now. She tried to slow my breathing by instructing me to take long deep breaths, from my panicked panting. I couldn’t look her in the eye for now the shame was choking me, and I just wanted to hide. I was in a deep tunnel with the waterfall of tears dripping off my chin, as I heard my husband say in a puddle of frustration, “let’s call an ambulance.” They just didn’t understand. The sound of sirens in my head jolted me back to reality. The reality that I had to get the wall built fast to hold back this tsunami of pain. Within minutes I had experienced flashbacks from the pit of hell watching a little girl’s dignity and humanity be stripped away. Somehow what had seemed like hours, was just a matter of minutes and I was composed, apologetic and searching frantically for the mask of “I’m ok.” I prayed, “Jesus please help me.” I washed my face, forced a smile and went back to life as a wife, a mother, a daughter. I had roles to play and pathetic was not one of them.
The days that followed were to bid rest and relaxation, and the real kind that only long summer days at the beach can deliver. But unfortunately, the breakdown forced my emotions into a tightly wound spring. I tried so hard to be engaged in the moment, to laugh, to share, but I found myself forcing the merrymaking. The darkness had gripped me tightly and I squirmed tirelessly to get out of its grasp. I read senseless magazines, I took long baths, I got up early and read scripture, I prayed for the darkness to lift and my joy to return. I darted the questions of “How are you?” from my loving daughter with the “I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” and the apologies for her having to witness me shattered. She said “good,” but the unspoken response in her eyes was “I know you are not good mom and I don’t know what to say.” We understand the discomfort they feel and we wish with everything we could wash it away. We understand there are no words of comfort and the fear of sharing the wrong words. Then there was my precious husband who took the brunt of my brooding. I had nowhere to deflect the pain but on him, and I hated myself for it, for punishing him for my present condition. Like the strong and mighty man of God he is, he just took it, realizing I was hurting. I couldn’t look him in the eye, I couldn’t explain why or how I was hurting. My default button of isolation and silence had been pressed.
The incident happened on Friday night and it was not until the following Thursday that the fog lifted. It was as if the sun broke through and the sound of the ocean washed the residual fretting away. I was heartbroken that once again my past abuse had stolen my present joy. I was heartbroken that those I love the most, I pushed away. I was heartbroken that this rare week at the beach was spent fighting the demons of abuse and my precious time at the beach had sifted through my fingers like sand and was gone.
Over the next two weeks, I have been drawing even closer to God, again asking my whys. “Why God did these horrible memories flood my mind? Why God could I not process them and pack them away in a safe place? Why God did I have a total melt down, and in front of my husband and child? Why was I not stronger to stand against the darkness and fight, like I fight for every survivor in my path? Why don’t people understand our pain?“ And a small voice said, “You were depleted, you were tired, you were frail, and most of all, you were tender.” In my quiet moments with God I received revelation. Healing is a journey that takes a continuous investment in our self through self-care, self-awareness, self-compassion and selfless surrender to God. I received revelation that they may never understand, but God does. For HE is the only ONE who understands our pain is God in three persons, The Father, Son Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. The Father understands the pain and suffering of His children by witnessing the will of man turn to perversion and abuse, Jesus sympathizes with our pain through His own suffering on the cross, and the Holy Spirit feels our pain as He resides in us. As we may be quick to resent those who don’t understand, quick to dismiss those who have a blink of disbelief, quick to shut those out for self- preservation, quick to feel like no one will ever understand, remember these words. God understands.
Tips for friends and family of a victim of child sexual abuse:
ü Pray for them and offer to pray with them
ü Offer a hand or hug
ü Be sensitive
ü Give space and time to grieve
ü Remind them to take slow and deep breaths
ü Let them know you are available if they want to share
ü Believe them and be a good listener
ü Know that you can’t take away the pain
ü Help them stay in the present moment
ü Shower them with love and compassion
Scriptures of Meditation:
Matthew 10: 29-31
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[b] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
8The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
2 Timothy 1: 7
7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Challenge to fellow Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse:
Don’t suffer in silence.
We are here and we understand.