Addiction and Child Sexual Abuse: One Man’s Story of Healing

 A reader responding to my post on Releasing Resentment touched me deeply with this powerful story of healing and life change. It is my fervent hope that anyone locked in a bitter struggle to overcome child sexual abuse or addiction will find his words and, in doing so, will find the courage to stare down his or her demons.  

[In the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous,] I stalled on step 2 [came to believe that a Higher Power could restore me] because I did not want to do step 4 [searching and fearless moral inventory]. I had a feeling that something in step 4 had me stuck in a self destructive pattern, but I was not sure what it was. In denial, I thought I had resolved and closed the scars of child sexual abuse, but when you’re in denial that you are in denial it tends to cloud the picture. 

During an AA general discussion meeting, I don’t recall the topic, but I do recall the comment that “I had to always look for my part in a situation. If I’m wrong, make an amend. If someone else is wrong, forgive them.” This comment along with “keeping my side of the street clean” was enough to have me leave the meeting in tears.  In the parking lot after the meeting, I was so full of anger, bitterness, and resentment that I unloaded my rage on a trusted friend. I asked him just how the “heck” was I supposed to put all these nice ideas into practice when I was the victim of child sexual abuse. I told him that this might work for every other category of resentment but not for this sort of thing. Before he could answer me, I also told him not to insult me further by telling me that “it didn’t happen to me, that it just happened.” 

As tears filled my eyes, I paused to hear my friends answer. My friend paused as well. It seemed like an eternity before he spoke. As I waited for his response, I could not believe that I had shared with him my secret. I also could not believe the level of denial I was in that caused all of those emotions to finally burst to the surface.  Finally, when my friend began to speak, as he wiped a tear from his eye, he told me that I was not responsible for the abuse, but I was responsible for allowing it to destroy my life. 

For me, this is when my true healing began. I needed time to revisit steps 1-3 that I summarize as “I can’t, God can, and I should let Him.”  Once I admitted my part, I was able to move to accepting my part. Once I accepted my part, I was then able to clear the wreckage from the past based on the various ways I allowed child sexual abuse to keep me in bondage to a self-destructive pattern.  In other words, this is how “keeping my side of the street clean” allowed me to move past the self-destructive cycle of resentment, worthlessness, self-condemnation, self-hatred, and many other manifestations of self rooted in child sexual abuse.  Finally, I was able to understand the part of the serenity prayer of accepting the things I could not change, changing the things I could, and knowing the difference between the two. 

My story would not be complete if I did not share with you how during an AA men’s meeting, a third of the group shared that they had also experienced child sexual abuse. That meeting was so powerful and so much healing took place.  Several months later, a friend shared with me some dark secrets he carried related to his addiction to internet child pornography. Although he was now in recovery, he explained how it was still a struggle. 

The most amazing thing about this situation is because healing and forgiveness had taken place in my life, I was able to look at my friend with compassion and encouragement to help him on his journey through recovery.  I absolutely love the last paragraph in the appendix on the Spiritual Experience in the AA book. This paragraph states “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – Herbert Spencer

Had I shown contempt for my friend, prior to investigation, I would not have been able to reap the benefits of additional healing by placing a face on my child sexual abuser. Additionally, the sharing of my experience with my friend was able to offer him additional healing by placing a face on his internet addiction. 

Praise be to God for this courageous survivor, and may God make steady the footsteps of all who seek healing through him!  

Join the conversation.  Would you consider sharing your story of healing and allowing God to act through you to offer hope to someone in pain?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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5 Steps to Forgiveness

This post rounds up the highlights of the last several posts about what forgiveness is and isn’t, and it outlines steps to release a stubborn case of resentment to clear a path to healing.

One:  Name the Offense

Forgiving an offense does not suggest the offense is acceptable.  It actually does the opposite.  Naming an offense as worthy of forgiveness marks it as unacceptable, and that alone can be a powerful step towards validation, protection and healing.

In the process of naming the offense, we might realize what the offender did wasn’t really offensive at all, but that our reaction missed the mark.  The offender may have made a harmless remark that triggered a harmful memory.  Resentment might drain out of us immediately upon this realization.  If it doesn’t, we have an opportunity to look deeper within for the true source of our resentment.  It might be an older, deeper wound that we are reacting to.

Two: Name my Feelings

When my three tween-aged daughters feel wronged, I encourage using “When you X, I feel Y.”  It prompts the first two steps of forgiveness:  naming the offense and identifying feelings.  In many cases, the offender was acting out of self-centeredness—pursuing his own desires without regard to the impact on others—rather than maliciousness.  When confronted with the unintended consequences of his actions, the offender might feel genuine remorse for his choices.  This sets the stage for the two parts of forgiveness—the offender’s remorse and victim’s release of resentment—to be complete.

If the offender’s genuine remorse doesn’t help pry the lid off of forgiveness, ask if fear of being hurt again is playing a role.  If so, we can think about how to prevent future episodes.  Forgiveness does not obligate the victim to return to the relationship with full trust or even to return to the relationship at all.  If it is a valued relationship, a candid conversation with the offender about how to prevent repeat performances can mitigate fear.  The offender might have good ideas for restoring trust.

Three: Own my Part

The absence of offender remorse makes forgiveness harder.  The offender may lack the capacity for remorse or, in the case of long past childhood wounds, he might have died.  The thing to do here is to take the offender out of the center of the matter and put God there instead.

We all experience wounding, and for all of us, injuries impair how we treat others.  Taking an honest look at how the wounds we received played a role in the wounds we inflicted, and taking responsibility for the harm we caused others, is a step that is completely within our control.  It is possible that my offender was reacting to some harm I had caused him in the first place.  Or perhaps I turned around and treated someone else badly.  Maybe I reacted to my husband’s self-centeredness with a short temper towards my step-daughter when she trustingly turned to me for help.

This is not victim blaming.  It’s control claiming.  When we turn to God and confess those things we did that harmed others, we come into the realization that we stand in need of mercy.

Four: Ask for Mercy

We act out our relationship with God in how we treat others.  When I think about how I treat God and how God treats me, the chasm is so vast I fall to my knees.  When I can honestly say I care about my own relationship with God more than I care about what my offender deserves, I’m on the home stretch.

This is true even if the person I’m struggling to forgive is me.  When I assent to the idea that what God wants is more important that what I deserve, and if I can surrender to God’s unending desire for relationship with me, I’m on the path to healing and self-acceptance.

Five: Respond to God’s Grace

It is the ultimate liberation to see forgiveness not as a response to our offender but as a response to God’s mercy!  If I am sufficiently focused on the abundance of God’s grace in life, I will drop the earthly resentment I’m clutching so I can stretch out my hands to receive more of his awesome grace.

The wall of resentment limits our vision, and without it we may come to see our offenders’ suffering in a detached way.  I might even see some of myself in my offender’s impaired actions.  Here, we can grow into compassion—not because the offender deserves it but because God has restored us—and pray for our offender to receive grace.

Join the conversation.  Which step do you think is the hardest?  Which helps the most?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Flying Spagetti Monster Back in the News

Pastafarians have been in the news lately.  In case you missed it, Austrian authorities issued a government identification document to a man wearing questionable religious headgear.  It’s a plastic colander, to be precise.  The European Union forbids head gear, unless religious, in official state photographs such as the license in question.  Offended by the religious exception, the pastafarian pressed his case for his religious rights.  

I would not pick a fight with the pastafarians, if I were the Austrian authorities.  Pastafarians are smart.  Clearly, they are poking fun at the new license regulations and satirizing religion, creationism and intelligent design in particular, but their methods are, well, intelligent.  They can abide silly laws (no smiles on EU licenses), but if a silly law treads on the separation of church and state, watch out.  They love logic and abhor misuse of scientific methods.  Confuse correlation and causation and they’ll throw a pirate chart at you.  (They claim the decline in piracy over the past 200 years caused global warming, and they encourage pirate costumery to keep the planet cool.)  

The Flying Spaghetti Monster first made its way onto my radar screen in 2005 when Kansas required intelligent design to be taught as a scientific theory alongside evolution in science classrooms.  Henderson’s classic letter to the school board became an internet sensation.  There were book deals.  FSM writings were gathered into a “loose canon.”   They established pastafarian holidays like Ramendan, when instead of fasting, pastafarians eat nothing but ramen instant noodles, relive their college days, and give thanks that those days are over.  

I applauded the pastafarian movement.  As a scientist, I opposed Kansas’ move to teach intelligent design in science classrooms.  US students struggle enough with science.  Let’s not confuse them further.  As a religious person, I admired the parody of dogma.  The logical consistency would make Aristotle proud. Austria couldn’t poke a hole in it.  As a playful person, I appreciated the versatility of His Noodly Appendage.  Pastafarians epitomize peaceful resistance.  They are watchdogs.  They protect the public interest without costing a cent.  (Ok, you can argue that Austria wasted civil servant hours, and euros, processing a license application for 3 years, but if they had taken my advice in the first place, they would have left the pastafarian alone and just issued the silly ID.) 

Most of all, I appreciate what the pastafarians teach us about form and function.  They mimic the trappings of religion with remarkable acumen.  For some people, that’s all religion is.  A priest I interviewed for my book on confession remarking sadly about the dearth of spirituality among the religious in his congregation.  For some in the spiritual-not-religious camp, the form of religion is an empty distraction, even obstructing encounters with the divine.  For others, the form of religion is like scaffolding, providing a framework that orients and supports us as we do the work of spiritual growth.  I love liturgy.  It gives me direction and focus when I’m on top of my game, and I can lean on it when I’m not at my best.  I feel like just going through the motions creates a space where the Holy Spirit can enter.  Pastafarians remind me that as much as I value the form—across many traditions, both religious and not—the substance is living into relationship with God. 

Join the conversation and have fun.  What’s your favorite thing about pastafarians?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.