The Road to Recovery
Practical Steps to Recovery from Sexual Abuse

By Dr. Miriam Mollering

"Why did my father keep fondling me and telling me it was okay? I grew up thinking it must be normal for fathers to have sex with their daughters; after all, Dad said it was his duty to teach me. As I grew older, I felt dirty and ashamed for I knew it was not right. I blame myself for letting him do it. I feel like "soiled material." I don't want to live. What can I do?"

This is only one example of the cries for help that I've heard from clients who were sexually abused as children. While abuse is rarely an isolated incident, it is always a destructive force. It violates the deepest realm of privacy, forcing its victims into a tangled web of torment, fear, depression, inadequacy and self-hatred that can last a lifetime if help is not received.

Sequestered in a cocoon of denial and secrecy, victims of abuse wrestle with the fear that someone will remove their protective mask and unveil the scars. Any type of abuse whether sexual, physical or emotional encapsulates victims in a devaluing cycle that can hinder and destroy their quality of life and ability to establish quality relationships.

Is there a way to be free from the emotional wounding? Can a person be healed and recover from the devastating effects of abuse? Can the devaluing cycle be reversed so that victims can live productive, happy and whole lives? The answer is "yes."

I can say "yes" not only because of the many clients I've counseled who have successfully conquered the tormenting pain and shame of abuse, but because I too am a survivor of sexual abuse.

A neighbor first violated my private world at the age of ten. I still remember how dirty and devalued I felt. My childhood innocence was gone forever. From that time on my constant companion was a taunting voice that said, "You are no good." I desperately sought approval and affirmation but because I lived in denial and secrecy, no one and nothing could placate the deep pain that governed my life. I constantly questioned the intentions and motives of people and my ability to make good decisions. Life was a lonely journey until my mask was removed and I was able to admit first to myself and then to others what had happened to me as a child.

I found it difficult to attach the words "sexual abuse" to my life. It was not uncommon for me to say, "sexually traumatized" until a friend looked me straight in the eye and said," Miriam, why don't you call it what it is? You were sexually abused." Verbalizing and attaching truth to a situation is liberating and therapeutic.

Recovery is A Process

In recovery and healing we must remember that healing is a process that begins with a decision - a decision to believe in yourself, and believe that you have value. A decision that says, "I want to be free from those tormenting memories. I want those ugly roots that hold me captive and cause me to sabotage relationships and ensnare me in depression and bitterness uprooted from my life."

Once a decision is made, you then embark on what can be an emotionally painful journey. For perhaps the first time in years you remove your mask and come face to face with reality as you allow yourself to confront the hurtful memories of the past. The end result, however, is self-acceptance, freedom and purpose for living.

The journey to recovery is a process that takes time and the time element may vary from one individual to another. Permit yourself the right to heal and the time to heal. You may respond quickly while others may take several months or even years to finally break out of their cocoon and enjoy the freedom that awaits them.

Abuse leaves a trail of pain, guilt, low self-worth, self-hatred, anger, fear of intimacy, aberrant sexual behaviors, bitterness and the inability to trust and establish quality, wholesome relationships. Many clients also express that they have a deep sense of shame. Shame is a sense of being belittled, humiliated and dishonored.

The litany of pain that accompanies abuse may affect your whole life - physically, socially, sexually and spiritually. Soul wounds or emotional wounds take longer to heal than physical wounds and are usually hidden from others. They are personal and private and thus you feel isolated, misunderstood, unapproved and alone because you are afraid to remove your mask and let people see the real you lest you are again violated, abandoned and discarded.

Break the Silence

If you are the victim of sexual abuse I encourage you to speak with someone about it. Someone you trust, believes you and is in a position to help.

Should you decide to seek professional help, be careful in choosing a therapist, counselor or psychologist. Don't be afraid to ask them questions about their credentials, what they understand about abuse and if they believe you can truly be free to enjoy life and do more than just "cope."

Clients have come to me after having been in therapy for years. They have said, "I felt like my psychologist opened me up and then let me walk out of his office to survive. I felt naked, used and abandoned again. He didn't seem to know how to help me do more than 'cope'. I wanted to be healed on the inside but now I feel more exposed and violated than before."

One client expressed that her psychologist exposed the root of her anger but he did not seem to know how to bring healing. The key rests in bringing the person beyond the exposure of pain and into healing from the trauma of abuse. Lasting healing for deep emotional wounds must involve forgiveness.

Wholeness: A reality of a Dream?

Wholeness is not an elusive dream. Recovery is possible. It begins with a decision to believe that you are worthy of love and that you are a person of value. Secondly, you must be willing to remove your mask of denial and dare to confront the truth of the secretes that have held you in captivity. Recovery also involves allowing every painful memory to surface at rate that is comfortable to you.

DO NOT FORCE your memories nor try to unlock doors. These may take the form of recurring dreams or "blacked out" memories where you have no recall of a certain time period. Such things may be nothing more than a distraction to keep you from dealing with the real issue, or it may be that you are not ready to see behind those closed doors.

It has been my experience that with the intervention of healing prayer, God allows memories to come to the surface within the framework of what an individual can handle at the time. Every feeling and emotion attached to the memory is allowed to surface and is brought into a place of preparedness for healing. Recalling the specific circumstances that caused the pain is not always necessary, and should not be forced.

Many clients have begun their journey to wholeness encountering intense emotional pain but discover that when another incident is brought to light months or years later it is much easier to conquer the memory because of the healing that has already occurred in their lives. Time does not heal you but in time you will be healed.

Forgiveness

From my own personal experience as well as in my counseling practice, it is my observation that the healing psychology of Jesus Christ can adequately and completely bring wholeness to a wounded soul and stop the vicious cycle of abuse that affects families from one generation to the next. The greatest psychology on forgiveness is found in the biblical teachings of Jesus Christ. This teaching says that if you want healing you must learn to forgive those who have offended you. Leanne Payne says in her book Restoring the Christian soul Through Healing Prayer, "The failure to forgive another is a most formidable barrier to wholeness."

Forgiveness is not an easy task but certainly an essential component to wholeness. Forgiveness does not mean that you deny that the offense took place nor does it imply that you must trust your perpetrators. Forgiveness is given but trust is earned.

Failure to forgive your abuser permits him to maintain a subtle control over your life. You will remain tied to him I an unhealthy way through a cord of "unforgiveness." He is still dictating your responses to life based on what he did to you. By choosing to forgive, whether or not he ever says he is sorry, you in fact release yourself from his grip. Through forgiveness you declare your freedom from the prison the sexual abuse has kept you in. Remember, when the violation occurred you were helpless but now you can choose to position yourself to make quality decisions that are in your best interest.

When I chose to forgive my perpetrators I experienced a dimension of freedom and wholeness that I once thought was unreachable for someone so "soiled."

The principle of forgiveness as a criterion for healing postulates that you release your offender from your judgment, thereby releasing yourself to get on with life and begin the journey to wholeness.

Forgiveness does not mean that you will not report perpetrators to the authorities for they are still accountable for their actions. Several of my clients who were sexually abused as children by parents or others in positions of authority believed it was necessary to seek legal advice, especially in situations where they were concerned about the present safety and welfare of others and to bring a sense of closure to their lives. This would be your personal choice. I would suggest that you be motivated by a desire to help stop the destructive cycle of abuse rather than motivated by a desire for revenge.

The Healing Presence of God

Recovery is possible when you choose to see yourself through the eyes of your Creator, God. When God looks at you he does not see "spoiled or damaged goods." He sees a person of value and worth. Prayerfully allow His love to flow into every wound of your life, choose to release and forgive your perpetrators, and forgive yourself for any hatred of bitterness that you have allowed to dominate your life even though you may feel justified in being bitter.

In counseling clients who have been sexually abused, I have witnessed the most dramatic results in individuals who have focused on Jesus Christ as the Person who can restore them to wholeness, spiritually and emotionally. Just as receiving the grace of God can save us from sin, it can also free us from soul wounds or wounded emotions. Jesus Christ stated, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Luke 4:18).

Jesus Christ came to set us free from every type of bondage, whether it is sin or wounds from the past. He is able to pick up the garbage of our past and remove the effects of it forever from our lives. We do not have to remain a product of our environment.

If you have not made a decision to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I would encourage you to do so. Then, if you decide to seek a counselor to help you deal with the wounds of sexual abuse, I suggest you look for someone who is offering you counsel based upon the sure Word of God - not on some method, technique or philosophy of life from a textbook. Beware of those who rely on 'inner healing' and concentrate on your past, rather than focusing on the One who provided deliverance for the inner person at Calvary. There is no substitute for biblically based prayer therapy and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wholeness involves a deliberate choice, a determined act and a decisive tenacity that propels you to keep walking through the maze of past hurts until your see the light of day shining forth, declaring that you are free at last. Recovery does not depend on your perpetrator's contrition. It involves your desire to be whole, your willingness to forgive and a determination to develop healthy, life-changing attitudes that will make quality relationships a reality for you. Combine these elements with the healing presence and power of God and you too can enjoy life and experience this wonderful gift of wholeness.

 

Dr. Mollering is a counselor and published author with a Ph.D. in Biblical counseling. Currently she is a divisional pastor with Centre Street Church: www.centrestreetchurch.ab.ca

 

 


 
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