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Pamela and Alicia are at opposite ends of the same spectrum. Both were sexually abused by their fathers, but that's where the similarities end.
Pamela's marriage lasted almost thirty years; Alicia has lived with a number of men. Pamela is a deeply religious woman whose faith is a cornerstone of her life; Alicia's ability to believe in an all-knowing, loving God ended a long time ago. Pamela controlled and eventually cut off her need for physical intimacy soon after her daughter was born; Alicia has a strong sexual appetite that she desires to feed constantly.
And then there's everyone in between.
In this chapter, we will build a starting point by exploring:
How we are the same, yet different
Why we shouldn't compare ourselves or our experiences with others
How personality issues affect communication
Where we go from here
First, let's set a biblical benchmark.
two opposite truths
Even a casual reading of the Bible reveals two compelling yet seemingly opposite truths.
truth #1: we are all the same.
The first truth is that we are all the same. We have all been created in the image of God, for thepurpose of good, with emotion, intellect, and will. In addition, we all struggle with sin and have the same desperate need for a Savior. As Christians, we are redeemed by a gift of grace and are indebted beyond measure.
As survivors of sexual abuse, we have even more in common. We share a damaged sense of self, who we are, and what we were created for; we have a desire to be valued, validated, and heard; and we look at intimacy through a damaged lens.
Many survivors in the support groups we lead come from Christian homes. One of the earliest and most powerful discoveries group members make is that they are not alone. They discover a community of damaged, hurting people in the church who have suffered the same abuse and humiliation. They discover a community of people who know the same guilt and shame and who have also tried to make sense of the unimaginable.
As group members tell their stories of abuse, tears of connection and empathy come from other group members who know exactly what they're talking about and how they feel. They discover they are not alone. They discover that in many ways, they are all the same.
truth #2: we are not all the same.
The second truth is that we are each unique. Consider:
Your hands made me and formed me. (Psalm 119:73)
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.... My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. (Psalm 139:13,15-16)
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:7)
Not only are you unique but you are perfectly and completely known by your Creator. He understands your hopes, dreams, and fears. Though He intentionally made you the way you are, His perfect design has been damaged and hurt by sin. But take heart! God has a plan despite this, a purpose He has planned for you since the foundation of the world:
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
The following is part of Cheryl's story. It might be much the same as yours, or it might be very different. We hope that if you haven't yet been able to talk about what happened, you will take encouragement from her account and step out to share your past in a trusting place.
I was the oldest of four girls in my family. My earliest memory of my father is from sometime in the toddler years (I remember being in a baby bed) and is of him tickling me. Tickling graduated to my sitting on his lap, being touched some more, and then sitting on top of him in bed. After a time, he began to expose himself, and he started presenting himself as a toy as part of our playtime. It wasn't threatening or scary. He was very engaging and nurturing, and it just became one of the ways we played. There was no reason to think it wasn't how all daughters and daddies played.
My sisters and I sat in his lap or fell asleep on his chest, but I never remember any affection from my mother. She never held us or expressed any love. There was no rocking or kissing good night. Nothing. So because of her emotional detachment and my father's nonthreatening physical touching, I didn't resent (at first) the "playtimes" with him. I guess when you're desperately thirsty for love and affection, anything is better than nothing. Later, this conditioning set the stage for other perpetrators because my desire to connect with someone was so strong.
As my body developed, my father's abuse turned into full-blown sexual intercourse. I remember waking up to a hand over my mouth, with him on top of me. It happened at least two or three times a week. It hurt a lot-I was still in elementary school, and my dad was six foot three. I would cry quietly, still with his hand muffling any sounds. After he left, I didn't sleep a lot. I was practically a zombie the next day at school, exhausted and trying to shut out the previous night's encounter.
I remember pornography in the house. It wasn't well hidden. He would draw dialogue balloons above pictures of people having sex, and it always illustrated the girl in the picture saying, "Please, Daddy," or some such thing.
When we visited my grandparents, I slept between them in their bed until I was too big. During those nights, my grandfather would reach around me and touch and fondle me, rubbing his erection against my back while my grandmother slept. I've wondered if my grandfather also abused my dad when he was little. I recall pictures of my dad as a child. He looked more like a girl than a little boy. If he had been abused, it would explain a lot.
About this time, something happened that became a turning point. I was in the third grade. One evening, all of the students were giving a concert for the parents. My mom and dad knew about it, but I walked to school that night by myself. Each class had its own song to sing, and then the whole third grade came back onstage to sing "Amazing Grace."
When the program was over, the kids ran down from the stage and into the arms of their families. I stood there and watched for a while and then walked through the auditorium and on home-alone.
That night, the scales fell from my eyes. For the first time, I could see that my family was not like other families. It was such a powerful event that even today when we sing "Amazing Grace" in church, I'm immediately transported back to when I was that little girl on the stage. Though I may not be able to sing "Amazing Grace" all the way through today, I'm determined that someday, perhaps not until heaven, I will stand and sing it in praise.
When I started dating regularly at about thirteen, I was very sexually active. There really weren't any boundaries. My dad's nocturnal visits continued-the same dark figure, the same stealthy approach, always with my sisters in the same room. The only consolation I had, if you could call it that, was that the day after one of his visits, I always got to do whatever I wanted. He would give me money to go anywhere, do anything. It was more or less a reward for compliance.
But around the time I turned fourteen, I noticed my father's attitude toward me changing. He had become what I would call a jealous lover. He nailed the windows shut in our room and then painted them black. He restricted my coming and going and policed my boyfriends. One afternoon, one of my boyfriends came over. My dad had been drinking and started taunting him. Pretty soon it was an out-and-out brawl. I ran and hid in my closet. A few minutes later, my dad came to me, bloody and angry. He said, "I hope you're happy. Look what your boyfriend did." And then he said, still breathing heavily, "At least he can't say he was the first!"
Our situation had clearly changed. About three weeks later, I ran away with this same boyfriend to Corpus Christi, Texas. Before long, I was caught with drugs by the police and thrown into a secure juvenile facility complete with guard dogs and a barbed wire fence. My parents didn't show up for three months, and when they did, they said they had waited that long in order to teach me a lesson about running away. After I got home, my father's night visits started again, as did the jealous behavior.
I started looking for an opportunity to leave for good. My mother wasn't aloof anymore; she had become violent. I remember having to lock myself in the bathroom until my dad got home after she split my head open while beating me with a big belt buckle. She resented me, I think, because my sisters-whom I had taken care of for all those years-looked to me instead of her for affection. My aunt and I were condemned for assuming the caregiver role she had abandoned.
By this time, I was making money at school selling drugs. One day I decided to leave home and never go back. I was able to live on the street for over a year, sleeping at a friend's house one night, in someone's car the next, or in a field when neither was an option. My drug use was soaring quickly. I would start with alcohol in the morning and end early the next morning with cocaine, acid, mescaline, or THC. I desperately wanted to escape.
I ended up marrying a guy whose house I slept at frequently. Things were okay for the first couple of years, though I saw right away how badly his dad treated his mom. He would call her stupid or a whore and throw food at her if it didn't taste right. Then he would tell her to clean it up, and she did.
It shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when my then-husband started treating me the same way. It seemed he had to prove himself to his dad, to put his wife in her place just like the old man did. He started drinking more (also like his dad), and the alcohol escalated the violence. He would back me into corners and call me the same names his dad called his mother. He even shoved my face into a plate.
Well, my dad had trained me never to back down. I was determined I wouldn't become a doormat. So when he choked me with a necklace I was wearing, I threw glasses, dishes, or whatever I could find at him. In our last fight, he backed me into a corner and pounded on my left eye. I went to the hospital with a fractured socket and a bruised pupil. I looked like Rocky after his first fight. They drained the blood and relieved the pressure, but my glasses are a reminder today of what that marriage was like.
A few months later, he came home and told me to find another place to live because he didn't want to be married anymore. Almost a year after that, Brad and I met.
Cheryl's abuse involved many perpetrators-her father, grandfather, classmates at school, and husband at the time-and it lasted for many years.
Some survivors we've worked with have shared about single instances of abuse by a trusted relative or family friend. Some have shared experiences of multiple rapes by a group of drunken friends or visiting cousins. Some have vague memories of repeated, methodic abuse that was a part of humiliating and painful rituals watched by a group of people (including family members). Some report being invited to join in sexual acts with a parent and another partner-a third party in a sick fantasy.
Some survivors are reluctant to share for fear their experience does not "measure up" to a horrific-enough standard. But through our support groups, we have learned that people who experience a single event of abuse can have long-term effects just as devastating as those who have experienced years of repeated abuse.
Wherever you have been and wherever you are now, God can bring healing. There is no need to compare yourself, your experiences, or your actions with anyone else. God will meet you where you are:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV)
pause & reflect
Stop for a moment to pray. Thank God for His unique and matchless creation: you! Thank Him for His never-ending, faithful desire to meet you and redeem you where you are. Ask His Spirit to open your heart in new ways to receive His love and acceptance.
it just gets better
At this point, you may be starting to understand a little of your past. Hopefully you're beginning to see that your experience of abuse, no matter the details, is just as valid as others' experiences; that you're part of a community of survivors who experience similar pain and confusion; and that God is with you. Yet you know it's much more complex than that, and one of the signs of that complexity is the fact that there's another person involved: your spouse. Your relationship with your spouse is a lifelong commitment, a lifelong commitment that seems like a lifelong challenge when you can barely make a commitment to get out of bed some days. Although this spouse may be someone who looks at you like you're speaking Greek half the time, he's someone you have to love, respect, and trust. Yet how are you supposed to trust someone who has no idea of what you've been through?
It's hard enough to stand in a church on your wedding day, in the presence of God and people who know you well, and pledge eternal loyalty to another person. To do so carrying the baggage of abuse turns your improbable vows into downright scary propositions.
How have you as a couple dealt with this issue of abuse? Is it a source of constant friction, or the elephant in the room that no one will discuss? Assuming either spouse could have a passive or aggressive personality, there are four basic relational combinations that can determine how couples deal with the issue of sexual abuse. These combinations are shown in the following diagram:
On the chart, circle the quadrant number that best describes you as a couple.
Quadrant 1 couples don't communicate much. They're both afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they say nothing. They're not purposely secretive, just unsure of what to say. Expressing feelings openly has always been a problem, and it seems easier to sweep conflict under the rug than to face tense feelings or risk being hurt.
Both the survivor and the spouse avoid conflict, and who can blame them? They're afraid to be dependent on anyone; dependency is a sign of weakness, and vulnerability has been punished in the past. Both frequently turn inward, shutting out the community, support network, and objectivity they desperately need.
Excerpted from a healing marriage by brad tuggle cheryl tuggle Copyright © 2004 by Brad and Cheryl Tuggle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|A letter to survivors||13|
|A letter to spouses||19|
|Chapter 1||Where are we?||33|
|Chapter 2||Overcoming shame||47|
|Chapter 3||Restoring relational intimacy||67|
|Chapter 4||Becoming complete through love||81|
|Chapter 5||Relinquishing control||95|
|Chapter 6||Becoming accountable||113|
|Chapter 7||Rediscovering sexual intimacy||135|
|About the authors||151|
Posted September 28, 2004