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HEALING IS A CHOICETen Decisions That Will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You From Making Them
By Stephen Arterburn Bill Martin
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Stephen Arterburn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe First Choice: The Choice to Connect Your Life
The First Big Lie: "All I need to heal is just God and me."
The following story is true, down to the last detail. It is from a woman who asked that her name be changed only so that those involved would not know her story was in this book. She is an amazing example of someone who made the healing choice of connection. I will call her Rachael. An adolescent extended family member sexually abused Rachael when she was around seven years old. She believes the abuse occurred multiple times throughout the course of a year. When the abuse eventually ended, some of the memories and most of the guilt remained. She blamed herself and was too afraid to tell anyone, so she lived alone with the mounds of guilt and shame that had been inflicted upon her.
Rachael was never able to fully forget, but she was able to disconnect from many of the raw emotions that she had never dealt with. This helped her survive when the abuser would show up and interact with her at family gatherings. During these times, she would tell herself that it was over and she did not need to think about it anymore. The more the time passed, the more Rachael tried to tell herself that nothing needed to be done because it had happened so long ago.
Thoughts and memories continued to come up often, but she became skilled at pushing the thoughts away from the forefront and focusing on other things. She also focused more on "cracking the whip" inside her mind so that the shame of "the secret" would not be exposed and the bad things that had happened would never happen again. If she did her best, she thought she could protect herself from further pain. She shoved the memories, thoughts, and feelings further and further inside her. Her body did not carry the burden of her secret well. As a very young girl, extreme stomach pains became her constant companion.
Making the Choice to Connect
Roughly six years of silence and secrecy passed. Finally, she was able to open up to a very close girlfriend who was the same age. Rachael made her friend promise not to tell anyone, and she never did. Rachael said it felt good to be able to talk to someone about what happened, and even though she knew she was not entirely to blame, she did not take any further steps toward healing at that time. After all of those long years in isolation, she had finally made a choice to heal. She had made the choice to connect with another person and share the secret. It was a start.
When Rachael was sixteen, she made another bold choice to heal. She did something she swore she would never do. She told her mom what had happened. When pressed by her mom for details, she acted as if they were hazier than they were. She couldn't say to her mom specifically what the boy had made her do. Her mom was very disturbed and upset by the information Rachael gave her, but she tried to avoid dealing with the reality of it all and wrote it off as something that had happened long ago. Later Rachael learned that her mother had wondered if the whole incident had been made up because Rachael was a creative child.
Rachael's mother also made another mistake. She reasoned that it either had never happened or had not been very damaging, because Rachael seemed so happy and healthy. The minimization of the incident did not help the healing process for Rachael, but that did not stop Rachael from continuing to make the healing choice to connect.
Opening the Door to Professional Help
A couple of years later, Rachael graduated from high school and attended a local Christian college. During a challenging summer job following her freshman year, she shared her past with another good friend she worked with. This time Rachael's choice to connect struck gold. The friend told her she knew others who had been abused. She told her that counseling had helped them immensely, so Rachael began to think about getting some counseling and shared the idea with her mother.
Her mother had a negative bent toward counseling. She doubted that it would help or was even necessary. She also did not like the idea of not knowing what a counselor might want Rachael to do. Overall, Mom stuck with her "don't rock the boat" approach and deterred her from pursuing it any further. Although her mother once again tried to move Rachael off the path toward healing, Rachael's choice to connect and heal did not end there.
A good friend at school became Rachael's boyfriend at the end of her freshman year in college. In the fall of her sophomore year, they e-mailed each other regularly. Although they saw each other every day, they were constantly e-mailing each other as well, which allowed them to grow deeper in their knowledge of each other.
While writing an e-mail one day, Rachael opened a deeper part of her heart just a crack and shared how she really did not love herself. She sent the e-mail and walked across campus realizing with each step just how true those words had been. Thoughts of the past abuse came into her mind, and she tried to convince herself, as she had so many times before, that "it happened a long time ago—why even think about it now?" The problem was that this time it did not work.
Rachael kept attempting to push the thoughts and memories into the back of her mind, but it did not work. The harder she tried, the more intense the thoughts and emotions grew. She had homework to take care of and exams to study for, but she could not focus on anything except the abuse. She said her mind became like a frozen computer screen, and she could not shut it down. The rest of the day became a time full of mental torment that God would use for her good.
That evening, Rachael was so full of pain and turmoil that she was willing to do just about anything. She had gone to a friend's dorm room to talk, only to find the room empty. She waited for a few minutes, and as she was about to leave, her friend returned from her part-time job. Rachael shared the story of her awful day and her pain-filled past. Her friend listened and then gave her some wise advice. She told Rachael about a Christian counselor who regularly visited the campus. The counselor had a sliding scale for fees, and the school would even help pay for the sessions.
Rachael took the name and the phone number and left a confidential voice mail with the counselor. She was very nervous about the first session, but with God's help and prompting decided to take the risk and chose—for the first time—to connect with a professional who could help.
Releasing the Emotional Flood
To Rachael's surprise, the words almost came out by themselves. She said she experienced at least one moment where she seemed separated from herself—almost as an observer—and watched with amazement at the intensity and range of emotions that seemed to pour out from her. After a powerful hour of self-revelation, Rachael still needed to ask the woman if she thought there was a need for counseling. The counselor replied, "What do you think?" A second later Rachael nodded her head yes, and thanked her. That became the first of many regular sessions in what Rachael called giving the healing process "her best shot."
Much healing and good came into Rachael's life as the connection between counselor and client grew deeper through the next two years. It felt so good to be making progress in an area of her life that had been primarily closed to the world, although it was challenging for her to work through her buried emotions. The counseling and healing process was a major test in her dating relationship, but it was also a blessing. She shared the story of her past with her boyfriend, the first male she had ever talked with about the abuse. He had never dealt with that kind of experience before. Rachael saw his true colors with the test of time, and he was a faithful friend through it all. He did not always know what to say, but he was a good listener and cared about her healing. Both of them learned a lot through the process.
Connecting Through Confrontation
Now Rachael talks of her deep gratitude to God and to all those who poured their lives and hearts into hers. As her peace and contentment grew, so did her courage. During the second semester of her junior year, she was actually at a place in the process where she was able to confront the family member who had sexually abused her. The meeting was scheduled with her counselor, her boyfriend, and the friend she had first shared her story with. It was a powerful meeting that produced another level of healing.
Today Rachael knows there are still many areas God wants her to work on and grow in. She is always willing to get more counseling when needed. Even her mother is supportive of her and now praises her courage to make healthy choices. Her boyfriend attended some of the counseling sessions with her, and eventually they went to see the same premarital counselor. They have been married for more than five years.
Rachael said God knew what He was doing when He prompted her so strongly to seek help and healing. She cannot imagine how her relationship with her husband would be if she had not been open with him about the abuse and not been open to counseling and healing. Well, I can imagine what it would be like. I am so glad Rachael chose to connect and chose to heal.
Facing the Big Lie
Healing is a choice. It was God's choice for Rachael, but for that healing to come, Rachael had to choose to make a connection through the abuse rather than isolate and hide because of it. Just consider for a moment if she had listened to some of the lies that prevent healing: "It happened a long time ago." "You are doing fine; why get help?" There are many more, but the most common of all the lies that prevent people from connecting with others or allow them to stay disconnected is the lie, "All I need is God and no one else." If Rachael had played out her life based on that lie, there would have been a very different outcome. How do I know? I talk to people encased in this belief almost every day.
The "only God" lie is actually a form of denial. It is a lighter layer of denial. The heavier layer only lasts for a while. You can only convince yourself and others that there is no problem for so long, and then reality seeps in and people see your situation for what it is. Outright denial just looks foolish, and you have to retreat. So you give some ground, admit that life has not been perfect, and acknowledge that some of that might have spilled over into adulthood.
You are willing to acknowledge that there is something that needs attention. You admit there is smoke but balk at the notion of fire. You admit to something but deny that it needs attention from others. Rather than just stay isolated inside your own solitary cave, you hole up in there with God, expecting God to meet every need and heal every pain. It does not happen, because that is not God's plan. God's plan is for us to connect with each other to facilitate healing in our lives.
If you are like me, you don't really want this to be true. I wanted to make it on my own; I did not want to be open and honest. I was afraid of further rejection when I shared the news of being rejected. I just wanted to be left alone to grieve and whine and whatever else I wanted to do as I limped through this new dark reality that had come upon me. But the faithful efforts of others kept dragging me out of that dark pit and meeting with me face-to-face.
The uncomfortable connection with others became the healing connection for me, and it will be the same for you. You may have some pretty good excuses to not connect with others, but God has some pretty good reasons that will overpower your excuses if you will allow them to. You cannot read what God has to say about connecting with each other and be convinced that He wants us to face our pain with just Him and Him alone.
You cannot read what God has to say about connecting with each other and be convinced that He wants us to face our pain with just Him and Him alone.
God's Truth for Each Other
I invite you to pull out a Bible and take a moment to let God's Word sink in. Here are some convincing scriptures that God's way is for us to work with one another and be there for one another—connected—as we seek healing. Look at God's truth:
Romans 12:5 tells us to depend on each other as one body in Christ. Romans 12:15 tells us to weep with each other, when we often just want to weep alone. Romans 15:14 tells us to counsel and teach each other, when we want to just wait and hear from God. 1 Corinthians 12:25 tells us to care for each other. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to encourage and build each other up. Ephesians 4:2 tells us to uphold each other, when we try to act like we don't need anyone. Ephesians 5:21 tells us to submit to each other, meaning you are to do more than just submit to God. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to stir up love in each other and share it. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us to minister to each other, so God's generosity is shared. James 5:16 tells us to tell each other what we have done wrong—then we can experience healing. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear each other's burdens, when all we want to do is take them to God. Over and over we see the Scripture pushing us back toward each other. Look at all of the healing actions encouraged by God. Look how God directs us back to one another when we want to hide. It encourages us to deepen our connection with others by love, devotion, confession, honor, encouragement, prayer, hospitality, submission, kindness, forgiveness, service, counsel, acceptance, and fellowship. We were born for connection—it sustains us and heals us. Isolation is the way of the fool. Connection is the way of God.
Making the Connection
Have you made the healing choice to connect? Could the lack of connection or the superficiality of your connection be keeping you from the healing God has in store for you? If so, there is so much hope for you. I have met many desperate singles who were desperate and single because they had never made the effort to learn to connect, and many who had learned to connect, but only sexually. I have worked with many stable and satisfied married couples who did not know what they were missing. Their marriages were stable, convenient, and functional, but there was no rich intimacy because there was no deep connection. Connection is the first choice to make in the healing process.
I have worked with many who looked connected and healthy, but in reality they were lonely and isolated and just struggling to get by. Hamilton was one of those who looked good on the outside but was deeply disconnected to everyone around him. As a college student, he finally realized that for most of his life he had suffered in isolation. He told me that in high school he was involved in nearly every activity imaginable: football, band, speech, drama, student council, quiz bowl, key club, academics—you name it and he was in it. People always looked up to him for leadership, voting him student body president, band president, Thespian Society president, and class president. They spoke frequently of what a good Christian he was and how pure he was. They thought he had it together, but it was all an act.
Hamilton had been addicted to pornography since he was eleven, and the shame he felt because people thought he was a good and godly person just drove him deeper into his world of fantasy and lust. He said, "For the record, I usually was a good person, always nice to people and trying to be the good Samaritan." He had never had a physical relationship with a girl. He felt absolutely alone. He had millions of "friends" (he said "acquaintances" would be a better term), but he had no best friend to help him through his problem.
Excerpted from HEALING IS A CHOICE by Stephen Arterburn Bill Martin Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Arterburn. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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