Sucking Pacifiers

This blog is not really a personal journal although I do discuss very personal things in an effort to illustrate points and make connections.  That being said, I’ve had some rough days lately, and I’m sure that they are serving a purpose although I’m not enjoying it at all.

I was abducted, held against my will, and raped for seven days almost twenty years ago.  When I remember it now, the memories are misty and distant, and I am grateful for this.  It hasn’t always been like this.  I spent almost a decade “dealing” with this seven day event, and I wish that I could say that it was entirely behind me.  Alas, it isn’t.  Most of the traumatic body memories have been healed.  When I discuss specific events now, I find that I can talk about them without freezing or choking.  I can cry, and I don’t feel shame.  For survivors of trauma and abuse, this is a mark of progress and healing.  Being able to feel an authentic connection to an event, feel the pain and the grief, and cry for yourself is a necessary part of the healing process.  To be frank with you, it is enormously painful, but there is no other way through the darkness.  There is certainly no going around it.  If there were, I would have found a way.  I am very resourceful in that respect.

There are two things giving me hell currently.  When I was doing the deep work with my therapist, there were specific events from my abduction experience that I would not discuss.  This was not a matter of my therapist knowing about them and my refusing to talk about them.  No, I kept them hidden away because I was too ashamed to discuss them.  My perpetrator forced me to do certain things on threat of death while he photographed me.  So, I did them.  My young mind believed that what I was experiencing at that time was my fault.  That is a victim’s paradigm, and the victim’s paradigm is framed by shame.  Shame paralyzes, suffocates, and starves.  I like to compare shame to the gelatin capsule surrounding medication or vitamins.  We swallow a pill, and this pill has to make its way into the stomach where the outer gelatin shell has to be broken down in order for the contents of the pill to be utilized.  When shame surrounds an event, the shame has to be dissolved much like that gelatin shell before the contents of the event can be accessed and healed.  Unfortunately, at the time I was doing my work, I couldn’t bring myself to discuss that particular event.  It was simply too much.  More layers of shame have fallen off me, and the event has come forward, and I remember it clearly.

I asked a friend who has also experienced an unusually bad event in her life how she would handle it.  She suggested compartmentalization.  That is, however, what I have already been doing.  It’s an effective coping strategy, but I don’t want do that anymore.  So, it’s me and the memory.  We go everywhere together.  It has coffee with me, sleeps with me, cooks dinner with me, showers with me, reads with me.  Obviously, the time has come to do some more deep work, and I don’t like it.

The second thing that has come knocking on my door yet again is the fact that my perpetrator escaped justice.  I am usually at peace with this, but I am not today.  I accept that he abducted me.  I accept that he tried to sell me.  I accept that he raped me and psychologically tortured me.  But, he took photographs while doing those things, and he sent those photographs to me on my 19th birthday with a little note saying that he would always know where to find me.  That is the part that I am finding hard to accept.  I remember burning those photographs in a brown, metal trash can in my college dormitory.  He never did find me.  He disappeared, but I had nightmares for months that he did.  The absolute injustice of the entire situation is taunting me, a companion to the memory that is currently following me around.  I could say, “Go away.  I’ve dealt with you.”  That would be denial, and if you’ve read any of my posts, then you know how I feel about denial.  It’s an effective coping mechanism as well, but if you are looking to live a restored life, then denial is only a rest stop.

My youngest daughter has Autism.  Her 7th birthday is quickly approaching, and she has not given up her pacifier.  Before you judge that, be aware that Autism has limited her abilities to cope, too, and the pacifier was the least of our worries.  The time has come, however, to get rid of it.  Whether she wants to admit it or not, she’s developmentally capable of going without the pacifier.  It’s become a crutch for her, but I know that she is able to comfort herself in healthier ways.  She is finally mature enough to make a better choice.  So, last night I “disappeared” the pacifier.  I told her that the time had come, and she understood.  I explained all the reasons.  She understood that, too, but she still needed to grieve.  The mournful wailing was heartbreaking.  The cry of grief is different than any other cry.  She wasn’t entirely sure that she could make it through the night without her trusted comforter.  You know what? She did, and the first thing she said upon awakening this morning was, “I made it through the night without my paci!!!”  Her confidence in herself grew, and her trust in us grew, too, because we told her that she could do it.  As it turned out, she could.

A very painful memory has come forward.  The shame that once encapsulated it has dissolved, and that is miracle enough.  Now, I am left to do something with it.  There are keys in this memory to a deeper healing in my own life.  I know it.  The pacifier of compartmentalization has to go.  It has served its purpose and continuing to lean on it will only harm my development at this point.  I am prepared to do some crying.  I already have.  So, what now? My daughter had her dad and me holding her while she wailed.  I held her last night until she fell asleep.  I tucked her in.  We were there to comfort her.  I couldn’t crawl into her skin and reach her at that deep level, but I wouldn’t leave her while she wept.  What about me? What about you? I need my coping strategies.

This is where my faith comes in, and I don’t mean this in a nice, flowery, inspirational way.  I don’t mean this in a neo-conservative Evangelical way.  I mean this in a gritty, where the rubber-hits-the-road sort of way, where if God doesn’t come through for me, then I’m lost sort of way.  Much of my journey has been taken alone.  There have been a scant few who have stayed with me.  They have let me call them, let me roar and process and cry.  Most of the time, they had no answers.  What sort of answer can you give anyway? There aren’t any.  So, in my darkness, I have always turned to God, and He’s always been there.  I’ll admit, a lot of my interactions with God have looked more like a shouting match than pious prayer, but He’s never walked out.  In some ways, I feel like I’m back in the pit again, in the mire.  It isn’t nearly so deep this time though.  I don’t even think I need a ladder or a rope to climb out, but I will have to exert some effort.  It isn’t just a muddy puddle.  So, in my pain, I will turn to the Psalter.  Psalm 139:

1O LORD, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

2You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

3You see me when I travel

and when I rest at home.

You know everything I do.

4You know what I am going to say

even before I say it, LORD.

5You go before me and follow me.

You place your hand of blessing on my head.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too great for me to understand!

7I can never escape from your Spirit!

I can never get away from your presence!

8If I go up to heaven, you are there;

if I go down to the grave,a you are there.

9If I ride the wings of the morning,

if I dwell by the farthest oceans,

10even there your hand will guide me,

and your strength will support me.

11I could ask the darkness to hide me

and the light around me to become night—

12but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.

Darkness and light are the same to you…

17How precious are your thoughts about me,b O God.

They cannot be numbered!

18I can’t even count them;

they outnumber the grains of sand!

And when I wake up,

you are still with me!

As I continue on this road, I make the choice today to believe that no matter how dark it gets (and it gets pretty dark), God is with me.  He might take the form of a loyal and true friend, or the encouraging smile of a stranger at the grocery store, or a bumper sticker that makes me laugh, or a perfect sunset that makes me forget myself for a few moments, or the unconditional love of a pet, or the smell of petunias that stills my mind, or the singing cardinal in summertime that gives me joy, or my husband’s humor, or my children’s antics, or the peace that comes from knowing that when He says that He will never fail or abandon me, it is true (Hebrews 13:5).  I might feel forsaken and abandoned, but I will hold Him to His word.  I will remind Him daily, by the minute, by the second, if I must, and I truly believe that my persistence somehow pleases God because He likes it when we believe Him.

So, just like I threw my little girl’s pacifier away, I’ve had to throw one of my own pacifiers away, too.  The compartmentalization was a very good and useful pacifier for me.  I have been able to do some very good work with that particular memory neatly tucked away in a corner of my brain, but the time has come for further healing and growth.  That coping strategy will only hinder my forward movement now.  I’m fucking scared, but I’m not going to do this work alone.  If you are doing similar work or faced with something scary, take heart.  You needn’t go it alone either.

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