“For most survivors, one primary thing, force feeds denial. [That is] They have detached themselves from their feelings. Victims of violent crimes of rape and incest, regardless of their age, often shut down their emotions. This reaction is similar to the shock of physical trauma, in which victims often recall that they felt no pain at first. Abuse victims understandably suffer an emotional shutdown as well as shutting down of the physical pain. The body and the mind both have protective overload devices to be used in crisis. These are, however, intended for temporary use only. The longer they remain in place, the more damage they do. When we as victims of abuse deny our abuse, we are actually lying to ourselves.” -Shelter From The Storm
With the truth of the above paragraph in mind, it stands to reason that if we are in denial, we alone carry the shame of all that happened to us. The longer we carry that shame, the more symptomatic we become, physical – emotional – spiritual – relational – mental, and eventually our systems crash; this happens by design, for our own good.
It is not my fault. The charge of that statement took a while to suffuse a heart… and that’s because of denial.
I’ve learned that I can’t forgive what I deny – And – Denial is not forgiveness.
Today marks exactly a month since I read the police reports from 1983. It provided me excellent perspective to see the sickness and delusion in Don’s and Annita’s thinking but it also entangled me with a bunch of new emotions I wasn’t prepared for. It’s a healthy process to wade and there’s a lot to unravel! It’s taken four weeks to make space and summon courage enough to dive into an aspect of my entanglement, enough to share it with you.
The reality of Don’s and Annita’s betrayal of me felt unbearable at times. I felt betrayed by every person named in the reports. My social workers, the police, the prosecuting attorneys, the pastor of my church. Each of these people are responsible for their part in hurting me. They advocated for comfort in their lies and coverups; left me defenseless and abandoned. How ganged-up-on I must have felt as they all surrounded me as I made my testimony. I contacted my pastor from back then and confronted him with the results of his choices. He sincerely apologized, provided context from his perspective and I was able to release him with healthy closure. One untangled strand.
Now on to the next strand….
My parents painted me as a vindictive teen making a false report, trying to get her way. This isn’t at all who I was, but they were able to make me feel as though I was this person they described and vilified. And after life with them, I behaved the way they treated me. Their actions somehow defined me.
Don’s portrayal of me as a sexual little girl is a flat out lie. I was terrified of men and uninterested in boys until my teen years. It was his grooming and brainwashing that caused me and my body to betray myself at core levels. If there is such a thing as a ‘sexual’ little kid, it is caused and taught through abuse. And if that’s true of any child, it gives no adult the right to pursue a them in sexual ways. No right whatsoever!
Don twisted my view of sex. His actions perverted what otherwise would have been a healthy, natural progression of understanding the physical act of love between consenting adults. The arousal of my body at such a young age was confusing to every sane and rational impulse within me. He made me think about intercourse and consider impulsive ideas I never would have, without his implanting unnatural thoughts there.
The weightiness of guilt and shame that stems from this kind of betrayal keeps a victim feeling stuck, unable to free themselves from the gripping landscape of quicksand they’re painted into. It feels like the only way to resist being swallowed alive, is to run and run and keep on running from it, any way you can. But truth is really the only way out of that trap!
The truth is, I didn’t bring any of this upon myself. He did it to me. He was calculating and vile. He believed I liked it. He believed I wanted it. And he is dead wrong! [My counselor says pedophiles convince themselves that the child is a willing participant. It’s their sickness]
I relied upon Don for my survival. Food. Shelter. I relied upon my sexual favors offering me leverage and his thinly veiled protection of me, from the physical and emotional abuse by Annita. He was the only one who shared the secrets of all the abuse I was enduring, and my only outlet. It kept me isolated from the world. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to do what he asked of me. When I was old enough to really know what was going on, I figured I’d just bide my time until I could escape or die.
Escape or die – those were my choices – and I just never stopped living that way. I had no where else to turn. No place to run for safety. My real mom’s apartment wasn’t close enough for me to runaway to, like I had the day she put me up for adoption.
I wish I would have stayed with the old woman who opened her home to me back then. She seemed nice but there were no other children. I needed my mom and it was too quiet there, alone inside of my loss. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out had I not run away from her. It’s such a shame we can be more comfortable with abuse, neglect and abandonment than with peace and love, acceptance and support.
The ride to the foster home was quiet. My pain was silent but it shuddered the very marrow in my bones. How could my mom do this to me? Whyyyy?
It was late afternoon when I arrived. I felt sick in my stomach and into my spirit. I couldn’t even think. It felt as though I was dying inside and I couldn’t stand it.
“Can I go to my room? I need to be alone.” She agreed with kindness and showed me the way to my room. I gave up my garbage bag of clothes to the floor and closed the door to let the social worker’s whispers trailed behind me. The house was clean and stark. I enjoy tidy, but in the moment it was a miserable contrast to the mess I felt inside me.
I knelt beside the bed in tears and furry to talk to God and make a promise that sealed off my soul for many years to come.
“I will never love anyone again!” I was certain and it was set it in stone.
I could not accept the abandonment and rejection from my mother. I had to get to her!
“I have to show her what a mistake she is making!”
I opened the bedroom window and climbed out. Under the dimming of dusk, my 8 year old stocking feet just started running and running and running. Like a cat, my instincts led me. I made my way across town to an apartment complex I recognized. It belonged to a friend of my mom’s. How did no one notice a little girl running through the town of Nampa, Idaho – in stocking feet??? My will must have made me invisible and capable.
I was unstoppable. In fleeing, the wind rushing my face was comfort. I felt swift and strong and powerful. In control.
I knocked but no one was home. Fatigue crept in as the sun went down so I sat on the stairs and fell asleep. My mom’s friend walked up a while later to find me there. She roused me awake. I tried to stand but my determination to get home tripped over my desperation. Emotions took control and all I could do was slump and sob and beg for my mom once more.
“Please call my mom and tell her to come get me. Tell her I will be good. Tell her I will do whatever she wants. Just please. Please call her. Tell her I need her to come get me.”
She called my mom and I waited. I don’t know how many hours passed but it was late when the knock rang on the door. I breathed out relief, for the first time all day.
“She came for me! She’s finally here!”
The friend opened the door but it wasn’t my mom. It was the social worker. It was over. My mom would never come for me or call for me again.
My running away that day was probably why they adopted me out to a family who lived hundreds of miles away from Nampa. It was the only way to “keep me” there.
Don, I didn’t want what you did to me. I didn’t enjoy it. My body may have reacted in the way it’s programmed to, with external stimulation, but I – my personality and my spirit and my soul – we didn’t like it. I was trapped, Don. Trapped into reliance upon you. I was in a bad situation and I had to survive. I was trapped by your mental manipulation of me, living a life I didn’t want to live.
Another session of crying was in order as I processed through the garbage in those reports. I writhed there, in bed, steeped in the truths of what happened and how all of it played out. In the midst of my emotional purge, I realized the same feelings I had about Don, are some of the same feelings I have about God.
I am trapped relying on God for my survival and safety. Trapped, the way I was with my adopted dad! Helpless as God does to me, and puts me through, whatever HE wants, regardless of what I want. It feels eerily similar and I don’t like it because somewhere within me I know, it isn’t God who hurt me. I know it’s this element of mistrust in God that keeps me resistant to health, and it holds me back. But if I can’t rely on God to protect me from the actions and sin of others (or myself), what can I trust him for? And if I can’t trust Him for that, what’s the point?
Over the next few days, filled with judgement but open to hear, I conversed with God and questioned him in my heart, as I went about my daily business.
“Why didn’t you stop them?”
“Why didn’t you speak to them?”
“Why didn’t you bring people into my life who would help me?”
“Why didn’t you help me?”
“Why? Why? Why?”
God can only take me as far and as deep as my trust for Him goes, and only as far as I’m willing, because of free will. God gently spoke back to my spirit, answering me with questions, with a resonant tone of truth and love.
“Haven’t there been times when I spoke to you, Teresa? Times I tried to stop you, but you didn’t listen?”
“Haven’t there been times you knew you shouldn’t do a certain thing but you did it anyway?”
“Haven’t there been times when I’ve spoken to you, but you tuned out my Holy Spirit?”
“Haven’t there been times you simply could not hear me?”
“Haven’t there been times I moved within your heart and conscience on someone’s behalf, to help them, but you dismissed it?”
“Have you not hurt others from your unconsciousness?”
“Have you caused harm by operating from the mounds of fear and pain and insecurity within you?”
The answer to all of His questions is, “Yes.” And all at once, the truth quickened my humanity, opened up a precisely measured capacity of forgiveness for Don. Processing the reports within the framework of choosing to trust in God, brought about the beginnings of the transformation and creation of the new heart that God promises. It’s ever increasing and has enabled me to put it in writing, to share with you here, today.
Am I done? Is it easy? No and no. But it’s the best kind of painful progression. It helps me take step after step – Even when the steps feel backward taking.
The facing truth process, helps me rightfully see that the responsibility for my abuse is 100% my father and mother’s. Between the lines of misrepresentation, delusion and justifications in the report, Don also said some things that made me open my eyes to his own brokenness. Certain statements he made, sounded like a bragging father, proud of me, his daughter. Some things he said to the police, made me feel as though there was a place within him that had genuine love for me – though indeed it was very twisted. My eyes opened enough to see that he’s a very flawed and imperfect human being. The truth of it made some room in me for compassion to grow.
I was in denial for so long. I had no feelings about it. I had thoughts about it but the feelings were far removed from me. I denied that sexual abuse screwed me up. I believed, and stated on more than one occasion, that I never missed having a dad. I believed all my issues were caused by what Julie (birth mother) and Annita (adopted mother) put me through.
Through this filter of denial, the only thing I consciously felt for Don was disgust. I found him hideously homely! Nothing about him was pleasing. Reading the report helped me out of denial and put me back in touch with the hurt from it. It put me in touch with the truth of the innocent love and affection I had for him. This is one of the reasons I was so confused! How did I ever have good feelings toward a person who was so destructive to me?
The truth is, I did love my dad. I did hold his hand as we walked. I did put my arms around him for hugs. I did feel comforted by his soft and gentle voice. I did want him to love me and be pleased with me.
I did love you, Don, the way a daughter should love her dad. I did learn to trust you, even as traumatic as your methods were, I was glad when I felt I could trust you. There was a short time I felt safe with you and it felt good. I did want you to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. I did want you to see me off to college.
I did. I did. I did feel all these things. And now I mourn the loss of them.
You hurt me, Don. You betrayed me, twisted up my mind and everything else in my insides. You lied about me, Don. You stole from me. You wrecked parts of me that only God can heal and restore. You made for me a long and painful road, and that hurts. What you did to me is not my shame, Don, and it’s not my responsibility. The responsibility for your actions belong to you alone.
“Assigning responsibility does not mean blaming. Assigning responsibility means speaking the truth in love. Blaming is about holding on to the need to punish.”
-Shelter From The Storm
This is not my shame, Don. And it doesn’t have to be yours either. I see that you were very sick and broken. I acknowledge you are a child of God and there is/was some goodness in you. I no longer want to heave shame off of myself and heap it upon your head, because I’ve learned it belongs to Jesus. Jesus chose to die for our sin and shame, He bears it upon His own shoulders so that we are clean and blameless – shameless in the eyes of God – so that we can love and accept ourselves; in order to love others the way that God first loved us, for His name’s sake. It’s to Jesus I send the shame for transformation and restoration. I pray you’re healing, that you are saved from your sin and your shame.
My counselor told me that forgiveness is accepting, with grace and without blame, the consequences of someone else’s sin. Jesus did this and helps me do it for you. It isn’t easy and it’s not without pain, but I forgive you Don – And I release you to the heart of Jesus.
What can you trust God for, and what’s the point? He breaks you free and leads you out from the bondage of sin. He leads you to healing the damage in your soul by your own sins, and the consequences put upon you by the sins of others. He fills the thirst of your soul. He molds you (if you let him) into better character, holiness, and wholeness. And if you work with him, you move more freely than you can without Him. The Lord waits by you as you become ready to move into Him. He works for your good even through your ignorance and clumsy missteps. He’s here for you and He provides more for you than the abuse took away.
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. -John 8:32
I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. -John 10:10
Dear Jesus – my Savior,
Thank you for lifting the burden of shame and washing my soul clean of its residue. You create in me a new heart. I pray that everyone reading my blog is saved by your grace and healed from the ravages of abuse. I pray that truth penetrates the souls of victims and perpetrators. That it would lead to surrendering to your goodness and the life you intend. I speak truth and confession into places of denial. I proclaim the creation of a new heart in those long-suffering. I call forth your restoration and recompense in each precious life effected by abuse.
Lord, thank you for helping me forgive Don, comfort me through the process of release. Continue to move my heart in the direction of forgiveness for Annita. I know this is the path to healing and to the abundance you have in mind for my life.
Saved. Loved. Alive. Whole.
In Jesus’ name I pray. -Amen