Thanksgiving

This is an odd Thanksgiving post, but go with me here, and see where I’m heading.

Christa Brown wrote an unusual Thanksgiving post on her blog. In a day wrapped in warm-fuzzies, it reaches out and grabs you with the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy realities in which abuse victims live.

She concludes with the awareness that she is grateful – grateful that she is alive to still feel that pain. Grateful to have emerged from the other side of that dark hole sane and whole. Grateful for the people who surround her who do care and who understand.

This piece resonated with me deeply. I’m taking a sociology class this semester, which is generally a subject I thoroughly enjoy. The social sciences are right up my tree. Since it is an honors class it is discussion-based and we have a lot of fun while being able to explore the material more deeply than most classes can.

However, the section we have just completed was on the socializing functions of education and religion. The material touched deep wounds and, try as I might, I couldn’t seem to shake it off. Last Thursday we had an exam at 11 a.m. and I have no classes prior to that period so I spent the time from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the library studying for the exam. Well, that was my intention anyway. But the pain became so overwhelming I ended up sitting in the library crying for two hours and hoping no one would notice.

Also during the same general time frame of this past week or so, I had an e-mail exchange with my academic advisor about some plans for the upcoming year. In the process we got to talking about the way we have learned to see life differently at 40-something. We see life as less linear. Life is more… holistic is the term we decided on. It is inclusive.

I don’t know specifically what he was thinking about when he was talking about a holistic vs. linear perspective. But I was thinking about this (among other things) – we don’t leave the past in the past and it is finished, and then move on to the next stage. The yesterdays are still part of the todays. The pain of the yesterdays is still part of the todays. And that is OK. Today’s joys are not necessarily marred by the pain of yesterday; the two are just one unified today.

I wouldn’t be who I am today and wouldn’t have the message I have today without the yesterdays – but I don’t want anyone else to have to walk where I have walked. The value in my yesterdays certainly does not justify the continuance of evil for the same “benefit” in the life of someone else.

I read a poem in the anthology we’re using in my English Comp class this semester. It is about Vietnam, but it is vividly parallel to the experience of abuse. It is called wahbegan, by Jim Northrup.

Didja ever hear a sound
smell something
taste something
that brought you back
to Vietnam, instantly?
Didja ever wonder
when it would end?
It ended for my brother.
He died in the war
but didn’t fall down
for fifteen tortured years.
His flashbacks are over,
another casualty whose name
will never be on the Wall.
Some can find peace
only in death.
The sound of his
family crying hurt
The smell of the flowers
didn’t comfort us.
The bitter taste
in my mouth
still sours me.
How about a memorial
for those who made it
through the war
but still died
before their time?

Christa’s Thanksgiving post reminded me of this poem, of my morning crying in the library last week, and of my conversation with my academic advisor. When religious leaders treat the issue of abuse with such cavalier attitudes as if it was just something that happened back then and we should get over it and move on, they have no idea. And there are no words to make them see.

When these religious leaders refuse to stand for righteousness, and persist in covering for abusers; when people insist that abusers should be given reduced or commuted sentences because of “all the good” they have done with the “rest” of their lives — I want to scream out – do you not see that you are driving the nails in Jesus’ hands again and laying stripes on the backs of the victims one more time? It is injustice on top of injustice in the one place where injustice most should not stand. And it hurts again and again and again.

But like Christa said in her post, I’m grateful to be alive to feel that pain. I almost died – it could have happened. I’m glad I’m alive. I do know people who are permanently institutionalized because their minds coudn’t handle the reality of their abuse. I have known people who couldn’t endure their internal pain and chose to end it early. I know people who choose to live in denial or significant dysfunction because acknowledgement is too much to bear.

So as hard as some days may be, I am thankful. I am thankful for the God who holds my hand, and who holds me in His arms when it’s just too, too much.

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2 Responses

  1. As one who laid in on days when I did not have to go to work and wept until my pillow was wet with tears, not realizing the day had passed until my husband came home, I can completely relate. I did this for about six months after we got out of our cultic evangelical Christian church. I used to just lay there and pray for God to take my life.

    When you go through something traumatic and your brain gets stuck in trauma, those memories like the smells of a hospital or the sound of gunfire can be instantly real again as if they happened a moment ago. Your mind can take you immediately back so that you are always in that moment when it is triggered. Those are associated memories. Were it not for much work, I would still be stuck in many traumas in my head.

    The most helpful thing I’ve done with a Christian counselor was an eye movement therapy called EMDR. You sit and talk about the trauma and your feelings while tracking eye movements which force the emotional part of the brain to communicate and process the experience with the rational part of the brain. (Eye movements are processed in the midbrain and they stimulate these multiple brain areas at once.) And no meds. It has allowed me to move out of those associated memories into “dissociated memories” which means that I don’t feel like they are actually taking place again as I think of them. For people that are really stuck in an event/memory, when they can feel everything with painstaking accuracy, this is an associated memory. This is what PTSD is all about. It’s your mind trying to help you to survive.

    But the memories don’t go away. The sadness does not go away, either, though I am no longer trapped. And it reminds me of, as a nurse, one morning in the hospital when I had to go in and clean up after a patient arrested and died. I did fine cleaning up the room, but I had trouble getting the patient cleaned up and prepped to be taken to the morgue. I asked another nurse to go in and help me, because though I did not know this patient or the family, and I had not cared for them before, I was troubled by the death. I wept, seemingly for no reason and without any reason to feel deeply attached.

    I felt embarrassed, and I apologized profusely to my coworker. And she started to cry and said that the minute that she stops crying and feeling grief over death, that is the day she needs to find a new job. I think that the same is true of spiritual abuse. We might not be closely connected to all the people who suffer abuse in their churches, but we know very well what it is like. And there are aspects of spiritual abuse that are so painful, like death, I don’t think that it’s appropriate to really get too comfortable with it. I am reminded of my own, deep grief when I hear the accounts of those who have suffered in ways that I have in the past. And I rejoice that I no longer get trapped in my own, unresolved grief that I can make good decisions and be of comfort to others now.

    But you are right. This spiritual abuse survival is like joining a club. This is certainly no club I would have ever sought to join and will do all that I can to keep others from entering. But those of us who find ourselves as members of the survival club, there is much about the experience that one must weather personally in order to understand. That’s when receiving the comfort from others who have walked through and out of the experience is so precious. It is the comfort that they received. I’m glad you’re passing on your own here on this blog.

  2. Surviving. Hmm… That may be the hardest part of all. Those who haven’t been through the trauma of abuse – and then faced it and walked back into it to deal with it – may have a hard time understanding why this is so hard. Like Cindy said, having your mind take you right back into the moment of trauma – it’s like trying to describe the sky to a man born blind. There are times – like this after noon – when my mind screams for relief. It just wants to curl up in the corner and hide and be done. But I am not done. So… I cry. I breathe. I keep moving. I am thankful that I at least have the freedom to do these things, now.

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