Civil War

That’s the thing about pain.  

It demands to be felt.

John Green

I have always hated my body.

I can name twenty things off the top of my head that I wish I could change- I wouldn’t even need to think about it.  I hate my elbows.  Who hates their ELBOWS?  It is hard for me to accept compliments gracefully- I immediately want to deflect, or make a joke, or tell you the many things that are wrong with me.

Some of that is just the world in which we live.  You don’t need to have experienced sexual trauma as a girl to be awash in self-loathing as a grown woman- we are bombarded with unrealistic beauty ideals and the constant repetitive beat of you are not enough, you are not enough, you are not enough.  As a survivor of sexual abuse, those beats frequently fall in time with the rhythmic story you tell yourself, I am bad, I am bad, I am bad.

Those beats?  They are the drums of war.

I’ve waged war with my body for as long as I can remember.  Hate is a strong word, an ugly word, but it’s what I felt for my physical being for as long as I can remember.  Hate.

I have had many conversations with people, women mostly, about the ways in which sexual abuse affects you long term.  I think it is astounding, the ways we find to survive.

Some of us block out the memories.  Our young brains determine that the trauma is too much to handle and they bury the truth.  The mind compartmentalizes the memory.  It puts the pain on layaway- you pay a tiny bit, over a long period of time- but eventually, the balance comes due.  The pain demands to be felt.

So many of us battle with weight.  Some gain pounds as a type of armor- a way to keep people at arms’ length, in an attempt to make themselves unappealing.  A way to stay safe.  Some deny themselves food, some purge.  Some try, literally, to disappear.  I did.  I tried to disappear.

So many of us anesthetize, with food, or alcohol, or drugs, or sex- all in ways that are harmful to our bodies.  Temporary fixes at best.  Treacherous band aids.  But still, eventually, the pain DEMANDS to be felt.

I had several woman share their shame and guilt over their promiscuity.  I had one woman tell me it was proof she had invited her abuse.  If she was really traumatized why would she seek out sex?  I can only speak to my experience, but when you are taught at a very young age that no doesn’t mean no and that you do not have ultimate dominion over your own body- you believe it.  When you are taught that your value lies solely in your sexual being- you believe it.  Some are seeking to reclaim their sexual power, or are chasing the temporary pleasure to stave off the crushing pain, pain that DEMANDS to be felt.

I think the mind and the body are miraculous.  I think we subconsciously find ways to survive.  When the body undergoes severe physical trauma it goes into shock.  Systems slow, shut down.  You are protected from the pain because it is simply too much to bear. The same is true of emotional trauma.  Your body finds ways to protect you.  But just like with physical shock, you can not live indefinitely in that state.  The very things you are doing to protect yourself from the pain will eventually kill you.  You need to come out of shock at some point. As Robert Frost said, the only way ’round is through.

To come out the other side, to feel the sun on your face again, you need to feel the pain.  It is unspeakably hard to sign up for that.  To know it’s coming and to stay still for it. To not find ways to numb yourself.  It takes a staggering amount of bravery.

I am finally forgiving myself for the things that I did to survive.  Those things that seemed foolish or harmful from the cheap seats.  Those things that seemed self destructive and counter-intuitive from the outside.   Many of them were, honestly, but I’m not sure I could have survived the pain earlier.  I think they were desperate measures, but then, that’s what desperate times call for.

I am extending the olive branch to younger me.  I’m calling a truce, and laying down my arms.  I am going to stop blaming my body, and I am going to stop shaming my brain.

No one gets to judge how you managed to survive, friends.  No one.  No one gets to shame you for whatever you did to get yourself to the place where you can live through feeling the pain.  Not even you.

You survived, honey.  Not everyone does, you know.

You miraculous girl.  You miraculous boy.  You clever, resilient child, you.

You can stop hurting yourself.  You can shed your armor, and still be safe.  You can be seen, and still be safe.  You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.  You are being held hostage.  Meet the demands.  Feel the pain.  It will take some courage, but we already know how brave you are.  You are so, so brave.

You are strong enough to walk through the pain, and into the sunlight- I promise you. Freedom is just around the bend.  See you there, sweet friend.

Come hang out with me on Facebook!

46 Comments on “Civil War

  1. Thank you. Laying down the armor and weapons of body war is hard. They are the very tools we used to keep us safe… The realization they have their dark side, their costs, is a hard one to make. But a worthy one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So this is where you got me — “You miraculous girl. You miraculous boy. You clever, resilient child, you.” You clever, resilient child, you. That just made me sob. Thank you. Really, thank you.

    I’ve been writing a lot about his over at my blog site. My posts: Mom in 30 years. And the most recent post about everyone’s ass eventually sagging. 😉 Reading that you too are are extending the olive branch to your younger self helps me feel more courageous. I lived with sexual abuse for ten years as my mother stood by and watched. I was silent about my abuser and filled with rage at my mother. I swallowed the rage and directed it towards myself and disconnected from the abuse until a year ago. Believing his words — if I wasn’t so horrible, and wretched and disgusting and bad, this wouldn’t be happening to me. God that’s just plain evil.

    I’d like to add that I’m going as far as to extend the olive branch to my current self. Compassion. Loving kindness. Grace. Thanks for this post today. It’s just what I needed. Blessings.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The last five paragraphs are so powerful – thank you. I’m going to keep coming back to this, the idea that even I shouldn’t judge myself. It’s hard, so very hard. But…. thank you.

    Like

  4. So am I the only one who isn’t there yet.

    Who kicks and screams against the pain?

    Because that’s where I am right now, and it’s so terribly lonely.

    I can’t get my brain out of 35+ years ago. I’d do anything to do so. Only the anything my brain presents isn’t a good option, so I …

    I don’t want to give up hating that girl, she deserves my hate.

    And if I could harm her, without harming the people around me today, I so would.

    And I know what you write here is probably healthier and the better way to be, but I’m not there, not yet.

    I’m still stuck.

    And she doesn’t deserve sunlight anyway, not for what she went along with. Not for how stupid she was.

    Like

    • Of course you are not the only one, sweet friend. You are not there YET. That’s okay. I wasn’t there, right up until the moment I was. That little girl you are talking about? She did what she needed to do to survive. And she DID. She deserves all of the sunlight. Every last ray. Before I lay my head on my pillow tonight I will be praying for the you then, and the you now. You both deserve better. Hang on. Both hands.

      Like

      • Maybe not surviving would have been better than that. Maybe she made the wrong choices. Only it’s too late now. I have people around me, who depend on me, who would be hurt.

        So I do hang on, barely, with both hands, but sometimes my grip gets really really tired.

        Like

    • Oh my… that could’ve been me not long ago… only I didn’t realize how very disparaging I was being to that little girl inside me. See… in my HEAD I knew it wasn’t my fault. He was older. He knew. I didn’t. And… even if I had known, I was just a little girl. He had the position of power (just by being older and looked up to, not by physical strength, although that would have been true, too). But what I still held inside was the belief that anyone who realized I’d actually crushed on him… or that he was only 7 years older than I was… or knew I actually WANTED attention and “special time” from him…. I thought they’d see me as a twisted individual. I just knew I was wrong… and stupid for going along with it… foolish for crushing on him; foolish for trusting him; foolish for believing him; foolish for believing he could possibly care about me. To this day I have a very strong, very unhealthy fear of looking foolish in anyone’s eyes… to be caught in a situation where I don’t know what I’m doing; to look foolish and stupid… terrifies me. I never realized until just the past couple of years, through counseling (that started out as marriage counseling), where that came from. And I didn’t realize until just a few months ago how poorly I thought of that little girl inside me.

      But I’ve finally come to realize with my heart — as well as my head — that the little girl inside me wasn’t at fault. Not at all. She was an innocent, trusting little girl who had a little girl crush. Those are supposed to be sweet and innocent (how many little girls proclaim they want to marry their daddies? We consider that cute, not twisted). The fact that mine led to abuse does not negate the fact that my crush WAS sweet and innocent. HE knew what he was doing. And HE was responsible. HE should have protected me… not abused my childhood innocence or the gift of trust that I gave him. That gift of trust was a beautiful gift. HE ruined it. HE abused it. That’s on him. Not me. If you want to read my blogpost on coming to that realization with my heart as well as my head, see http://jenndietz.blogspot.com/2014/09/changed-by-story.html.

      What strikes me, MyTwoCents, is the amount of hatred you have for yourself… and yet nothing about your abuser. Where is the anger towards him (or her). Why is it directed at yourself instead of your abuser? What makes it so scary to be angry at him/her… and so much easier to direct it at yourself rather than face the anger you should have for the abuser? Is it that you can’t be angry with that person for some reason? Or that you won’t allow yourself to feel the helplessness and powerlessness that it would cause for you to admit that it wasn’t your fault; someone else was in control of the situation not you? Just thoughts, there may be other, more valid reasons… but I think it’s important to ask why the level of hatred for yourself and nothing said about the abuser..

      You know… it’s okay that you’re not there yet. While I am releasing the notion that I was stupid and foolish (yes, releasing… it’s still a process!), I still haven’t really found my anger towards my abuser. Emotions are still not quite caught up. But they will get there. I can’t believe the progress I’ve made just in the last few months. I don’t even shy away from it when my husband tells me I’m sexy anymore — I can actually delight in it… and that used to make me extremely uncomfortable… Not all our issues are the same, I’m sure. But whatever our issues, our damage… we can work through it… we can find healing But it’s a process. It takes time. So love yourself where you are right now. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. You are worth it. You weren’t stupid. You were abused. He was stupid — for not seeing the beautiful creature of worth that you are.

      I highly recommend the book, “The Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender… along with the workbook that goes with it. The workbook added a lot to the book in my opinion.

      Praying for you on your journey….

      Like

      • Thank you, Jennifer. I did read your blog post and I’m glad you had your epiphany. I resonate with several things including the burning need never to be stupid or foolish ever again.

        I used to think I was entirely to blame — although younger I was smarter and more mature (true) and he was high and drunk (also true) and therefore I was the one capable of knowing it was wrong and culpable for not stopping it. Four years of therapy later, it’s not that simple and there was selfishness in him then, and still today (recent realization) but I’m not sure that a) relieves me of responsibility then or b) makes me feel any better today for having been deluded for so long.

        Just makes my stupidity a continuing story.

        There wasn’t a huge age differential, so it’s not like there was a physical difference that even if it can’t have been overcome I could have at least tried, not just gone along with.

        I’m not saying he wasn’t wrong, but so was I and it’s the stain on my soul that I care about, not his.

        Like

      • EVEN IF you were wrong- EVEN IF that fact is established, which it hasn’t been- wrong is not the same thing as stupid. Wrong is not the same thing as bad. We ALL make mistakes, love- every last one of us. We ALL fall down. That’s what being human IS.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my, I thought my feelings towards wrongness and mistakes and “humaness” was abundantly clear!

        Seriously, I don’t tolerate making mistakes. I make them, of course, can’t seem not to. Not many, but usually when I do they are huge ones.

        And yes, I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to burn with regret, writhe in agony, when I do — another way I’m stupid? I keep being told I can’t jet back in time and change anything as if that makes mistakes easier to tolerate.

        But besides my slightly perfectionist tendencies, let’s define the word “mistake” and let’s all agree, if we can, that does not encompass this, something of this magnitude.

        Are you kidding me?

        A mistake is not remembering to let the dogs back in before I leave for work. Losing my keys because I misplaced them somewhere. Dialing the wrong number.

        Look, I told you I’m not there and if you would rather I not post on your hopeful and redeeming blog, I totally understand. I’m sorry.

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      • I won’t ever tell you not to post- just as long as you don’t tell me to stop throwing love at you. Because I won’t. I am so glad you are here, friend.

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      • Okay. I will say this.

        I not only didn’t say no, I participated. I people pleased, I never let him even have a chance to know I wasn’t willing, so you can’t even be sure he was that wrong, that he wouldn’t have stopped.

        So tell me again how I wasn’t stupid, criminally stupid.

        Like

      • Thank you. I would be sad if you’d said don’t reply anymore but I’d have understood and honored your wishes.

        You are very kind and generous with the title friend and your love to a total stranger, and a messed up one at that. Normally that would terrify me but for some reason it doesn’t. At least not today.

        But feel worthy of it? Nah.

        Speaks to your kindness of spirit, though, so more reason to admire you.

        Like

    • MyTwoCents:

      You wrote:
      *******************
      But besides my slightly perfectionist tendencies, let’s define the word “mistake” and let’s all agree, if we can, that does not encompass this, something of this magnitude.

      Are you kidding me?

      A mistake is not remembering to let the dogs back in before I leave for work. Losing my keys because I misplaced them somewhere. Dialing the wrong number.
      **********************

      My heart breaks for you in this. I obviously don’t know the situation… but… Why does the magnitude of something matter as to whether it was a “mistake” or not?

      Yes, there are what we think are little mistakes and what we classify as big mistakes… but… they are all mistakes despite the magnitude. I made some BIG mistakes in the years following my abuse. I held onto those for a long time… am just now letting go (40 some years later). But.. it was a mistake. My daughter has also made her fair share of mistakes. One of which ended up making her a single mom. It was a mistake. A big one. One she’s still paying for in other ways (there have been other ramifications besides my grandchilld, who is loved and is a delight, not a “mistake.”). I don’t love my daughter any less because of her mistakes. I don’t believe she’s a “bad” person. She’s made (and like all of is is still making) mistakes… but my heart breaks for her; it doesn’t condemn her..

      I guess I have one question… If your situation, as “something of this magnitude” isn’t a “mistake” then what is it?

      Like

      • How can one word sufficiently cover that entire range?

        And —

        Well —

        Mistake implies lack of culpability.

        That’s why I don’t like that word.

        Like

      • I disagree. Mistakes are choices. If you are determined to assign blame, no one can stop you. But we NONE OF US should be judged by our worst day. Baby, we all fall down. All of us. Lay that heavy thing down.

        Like

      • I can’t.

        And don’t ask me why, I don’t know!

        Like

    • Mytwocents,

      Baby girl, young lady, older women…

      Just because you were roughly the same age and didn’t stop it, just because you kissed back, just because you thought you were in a better position than he was to stop what happened…

      It doesn’t change the fact that it did. And I am truly, deeply, immeasurably sorry for that unkind fact.

      Abuse of any kind, sadly starts in the mind. So sometimes, before anything even happens you can feel paralyzed to do or to say anything.

      BUT even if you could have, should have, would have…you didn’t, and maybe it’s because…

      you loathed yourself with a deep set, unaltered loathing.

      Hated yourself with the strongest hate a shattered soul could muster.

      I think it’s conclusive to say, that perhaps, for whatever reason, you already felt this way before this happened and therefore after it…? Well, it certainly didn’t add to the handful of cents that you had gathered, it more than likely took them all away.

      It, in fact, most likely left you with nothing making any sense at all and maybe it never quite will.

      Maybe.

      It takes strength, it takes a strength that is hard to build, and rebuild, and rebuild… day after endless day.

      Hating yourself is a tiring job.

      If anything, loathing and hatred aside, you have strength. Even if, only a little some days and even if, none at all on others.

      You, my friend posses something great, something mighty. Take it, run with it, walk with it, hide with it, cry with it, but never stop talking with it.

      You my friend, all battered and bruised from your own kicks and punches, you are loved even if it’s not from yourself yet.

      I.love.You

      For what you did, for what you didn’t do, because of, and regardless of.

      You.Are.Not.Alone.

      Not then. Not now. Not ever.

      X

      From the one that ‘isn’t there yet’ either.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Exactly. You’ve got it exactly right.

        The self hate has no end.

        I don’t know if it was like that before — I mean, I know the whole situation was bad, always —

        But I died during and after. I lost my soul. I’m trying to reclaim it finally (I’m 46) but it’s so, so hard. It feels so dirty, and so stained, and so irredeemable.

        And alone? I feel alone. Always. Even with people around me. Even with people who love me. How sad is that, that I sacrifice feeling their love?

        But I feel so unworthy of it, and like I’ve fooled them, and that just makes me more wrong.

        And I certainly don’t feel strong.

        Thank you for your words, for getting it.

        Liked by 2 people

      • And I was going to add something along the lines of this in my first reply…

        I know right now you’re thinking that it’s impossible to love you because of the things of which I do not know.

        How your mind will be screaming out a million different reasons that it cannot be true.

        That perhaps if the world knew even half of your secrets, they’d stand alongside you and scorn you.

        Because of those very things, I am not fooled.

        I. Love. You. Regardless.

        You feel soulless,
        Dirty.
        Stained.
        Irrediemable.
        Alone.
        Unworthy.

        Honey, that’s all they are – just feelings.

        They aren’t ‘you’. They’re just part of how ‘you’ feel. Feelings have become a part of how ‘you’ define yourself.

        The truth isn’t a feeling, darling. It’s a fact.

        And the facts are that even though your very soul felt like it was ripped away, it wasn’t (not all of it, anyway).

        Even though you feel disgustingly dirty, you’re not (it just made/makes you ‘feel’ dirty, both outwardly and inwardly).

        Even though you feel stained, you’re not (you aren’t tainted by just one brush, baby).

        Just because you feel irrediemable, you’re not (given the chance to believe in yourself, you’ll rise up and fly to redeem every part of yourself you thought you’d lost).

        Just because you feel alone, you’re not (I’m here, we’re here, we ‘hear’ regardless of your permission).

        And yes, even though you ‘feel’ unworthy, you’re not (worthiness cannot be taken by the fire that burnt you, only given by the hands that put your ashes back together).

        And lastly, feeling strong and being strong…well they aren’t the same either.

        For you may ‘feel’ every weak part of your body and soul darling, but I can SEE the strength you possess in the deepest parts of your being that you’ve forgotten exist.

        One day at a time, one step at a time, one feeling vs truth at a time, and you will get there…because hey, it’s about time you stopped beating yourself up and started applying the band aids without constantly ripping them off!!

        You deserve it, and even if I’m, or should I say ‘we’ are the only ones who see it for you, for now, you WILL one day see it for yourself.

        X

        Liked by 1 person

      • silentears,

        You’re right in much of what you say.

        It’s hard for me not to reject your words of kindness. Because that’s my gut level knee jerk response — that I’m not good enough or worthy.

        I don’t mean to feel that way, and I try not to. Just not very good at it. At least yet.

        On the plus side, I make it to work most days (maybe a rare one here or there I don’t), try to be a good wife, mother, boss, etc. It gets hard, holding everything in, holding it together for everyone else when sometimes I just don’t want to hold it together at all.

        But as long as I am, at least I’m somewhere on the path. Just haven’t been able to change the sadness inside, even if I fake normal on the outside.

        I know they say fake it until you make it, but I’m kinda ready for that second part by now.

        Like

  5. Beautiful post. Reminds me of the therapist that helped lead me out of the deep dark hole I was in 15 years ago. Today, my body is obese, but I’m so grateful to it. I’m ready to shed my armor. I’m reading a book right now called Women Food and God by Geneen Roth. I haven’t gotten very far in it yet but I’ve already had a huge “aha” moment. She talks about how these coping methods, these various forms of armor, are to keep from feeling the pain. When you are a child, emotional pain and physical pain are equally damaging, and that is why many children don’t survive emotional, sexual, or mental abuse. Their little brains don’t process the pain differently than physical pain. Therefore those coping methods are evoked and used, successfully, and keep that pain far enough away to survive. That was my aha moment. This pain won’t kill me anymore, like it might have when I was a child, if I get rid of my coping method, which is for me, eating. I can emerge from this shell I built around myself; I can handle the pain. I can be free. Thank you for your writing, it’s a gift to many of us, so beautiful and true.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Once again, Laura, you speak my heart with so much more eloquence than I possess… wonderful post. I’m glad someone posted the link to “He Wrote it Down” on my FB… Each post since then has resonated and echoed within me. You’ve got a faithful follower here! Keep writing it down! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Laura, you just write the heck out of every thing you post. Just looking at the comments shows how powerfully your words go about telling your personal story.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you,dear brave lady. A friend of mine just gave me the link to you yesterday and I will be a devoted follower. It took me over 27 years to forgive myself for being molested and the times “I kissed back” ( that’s even hard to write.) You are helping to heal so many broken hearts.

    Like

  9. Thank you , Brave Lady. A friend just shared your site with me and I will now be a devoted follower.
    It took more than 27 years for me to forgive myself for being a victim – as if a child has a choice in the matter. Just when you think you won’t cry anymore tears for the little girl lost, you read something that both crushes and cradles you. ” You clever, resilient child,you.” What a beautiful ,forgiving phrase. And for My Two Cents…. I kissed back too.

    Like

    • I just read your blog entry at lightinhereyes.com — I don’t know what to say.

      That I was different, it was different — I knew better, I was smarter, I knew it was wrong. And I get it, you’re going to go “me too” just like you did in your final sentence above and my heart is going to break because… it just is, but it’s not the same.

      Like

  10. I struggling an eating disorder for past six years, and this article is not true.

    Like

    • Jane Mabille, darling.

      I’ve had an eating disorder for 9 years now. Not that the horror of this ‘thing’ can be measured in years, or that it should.

      I’m not sure if you’re saying that you don’t have to be abused to have an eating disorder because, obviously, you don’t.

      I don’t believe this is what Laura was meaning. I think she was just listing some coping mechanisms that sometimes take place after abuse.

      Eating disorders could fit into a multitude of boxes.

      X

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: It Was Never Yours To Take | Tara Rooks

  12. Laura,

    “The drums of war” My God, yes! You have a brilliant way with words, my Sister in Healing! Thank you for getting up to write every day (or week~you’ve got a frequency going). I could have a day long conversation with you about this topic. We all could. I’ve got some cushioning around me these days that comes from a place of gentleness and allowing and freedom. But I’ve also used that same cushioning before to protect myself. And I’ve also starved myself for live and approval before, too. Your blog went so soft at the end, and that is a self-nurturing and language that we need. Much love to you and your strong, resilient, hard-working body!

    Liked by 1 person

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