Love That Child

Love That Child

While cleaning the clutter around my house one day, I stumbled onto this photo that was tucked in the back of a bookcase. I’m around 20 months old here. I never thought much about this photo, because I didn’t think it was the cutest one—the black dress looked a little, well not like me. At the time of this photo we lived in New York City, so perhaps it was just the NYC black thing. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.

However, this time I pulled it out. I found myself drawn into the photo. I thought about what she was thinking. She was doing such a good job sitting still, while the photographer had her sit on a chair. I considered that this little one started walking when she was only 9 months old and was already potty-trained. She was about to meet her new brother, too. I looked at her little eyes, and wondered what she saw in those days. How she loved going to the park and being on her duck in the Karl Schurz Park nestled on Manhattan’s East Side.

I decided to take this picture up to my bedroom and placed it on my nightstand. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, initially.

I have been told by my body (via adrenal fatigue), good friends, the needs of my children, and my loving husband to have grace on myself, to treat myself, to take care of myself. While this concept was nothing so fresh and new that it led to any epiphanies, looking at this picture of my 20-month self one night, a rush of surprising feelings came. I thought about the life that lay ahead of her. Her presence on this earth. A rush of tears streamed down my face. All I could do at first was apologize to her. I told her that I should have taken better care of her. I should have listened to her, and dignified her with respect, honor and time. I should have been gentle and sweet to her and not exposed her to certain compromises and mistreatment. Oh my, it’s a long list. I felt her looking at me, saying, “It’s about time. I’ve needed you.”

What happened next was simple. I just kissed her. I kissed the photo and held it close to my chest. I felt her sweetness, her energy, her pure heart. And I heard God say, “Tell her you’ll take care of her from now on.” I pulled the little photo back and looking at her and kissing her again said, “I’m going to look out for you. I’m going to listen to you. I’m going to make room for you to live and be loved. I see your pure, devoted heart. I’m so proud of you. I’m so grateful for you. I enjoy you, and I’m so fortunate to be the one that loves you.” It was a while before something sad and heavy lifted from me. I was sort of sweaty from crying. Eventually, what washed over me was some sort of deeper confidence and resolution, an empowerment that I didn’t know was missing.

I was first her, before I was anything else—a therapist, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Jesus’ statement to love God and then to love others as I love myself was no longer some vast web of mystery and confusion. It was streamlined, simple and freeing.
How has this affected my everyday life? Instead of saying, I have to _____, I evaluate: is that necessary for today? Is that true for me? Recently, I was running on the treadmill and spoke to her, “I will run until you don’t want me to run anymore. I’m listening.” In fact, this month’s blog was going to be about another topic, but this is the one my little girl told me to write.

Challenge:

Grab a picture of your younger self. And look at him or her with no agenda. Just notice the details of the photo. What is that little one, God’s precious lamb, saying to you? We cannot rescue the adult without rescuing the child. See what ways you can rescue your little one today. Please feel free to post your little girl and boy pictures and let us hear from you what that child is saying to you.

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

5 Reasons Healing is Weird

5 Reasons Healing is Weird

First, I should introduce myself to you. While there are many ways to describe me, two descriptors emerge as the most consistent. I’m sanguine and I’m a problem solver.

Sanguine folk trend as bubbly, optimistic, exploratory, and fun-loving. While undergoing great loss I have maintained scholarships, completed degrees from challenging institutions, made new friends, hosted dinners, reached out to others in their need, operated a clinical counseling practice, run marathons, had children, gotten married, and given love a ton of chances. I’ve trusted when I’ve wanted to move to Wyoming (mostly because I hear it’s the least populated state).

In terms of problem solving, I call myself “The Scrappy Irish girl. “When there’s a will, there’s way” is sort of my polysyllabic middle name. I’ve been told how strong I am my whole life–that I’m bold, courageous and other stuff Americans hold so valuable. If someone says, drink more water, clean out the closets, wear lipstick, go to church, journal, search within for the missing truth, go to God…the boxes are checked. I will loom endlessly for the missing puzzle piece when working a puzzle. I think you get the picture.

Lately, however, I’m not so “American,” to put it lightly and I realized that this is just as important to communicate as the “let’s go to battle for our sanity, take a stand and choose to pursue the wunderkind you are” message.

I realized that while all of that personal reclaiming and choice is vital so is healing-grieving. I mean the kind of healing-grieving that doesn’t even have words. As I heal, the tears and reflection of my life un-optionally (yep, I just made up that word) just occur. And I’m not able to get around the truth of it with gratitude-based thinking, working out, hugging my children, listening to soothing music, et al. Thus, I thought it might be helpful, maybe even inspiring—if I may be so bold—for me to describe what I mean by letting you know 5 Reasons Healing his Weird.

1. It goes beyond reason.

For those of us who have tried to have life beat, grief is like weather. You can’t beat it or reason it away with what I call objective, positive outlook. Statements I have often told myself, “It could be worse.” Or “The worst is over, it’s time to look at what you can control.” Or “This too shall pass.” Umm, yea, no—that stuff doesn’t work. Like weather, grief decides to descend upon your functioning self and remind you, “Sister, you’ve really been wounded in this area. And no matter what you say, that part of you and your history needs to cry about it.”

2. There’s regression.

It is a hard thing to describe and it can’t be solved with a plan. Little things feel big, like when you see a toddler bawl their eyes out because they really wanted that candy and the parent takes it out of their hand. And, while that sounds humorous as I write it, the feeling of injustice is profound and layered. Also, the things that seem to help could be described as toddler-esque and basic: sleep, America’s Funniest Home videos (please don’t judge me), good food and hugs. I don’t want any pontification, perspective gathering, verses, or songs about redemption any more than a toddler screaming at the injustice of losing her candy would.

3. There is bodily weakness.

I’ve had some surgeries: 2 C-sections, 1 ACL reconstruction and 2 bunionectomies. Not including dental craziness, et al. The deep rest that has been required in the VERY physical experience of healing-greiving is a bit like being in post-op. All of the ambition in the world, won’t inform this fatigue. The fatigue will just be there, like a 500 pound insolent gorilla. It isn’t going anywhere and until you feed it with rest.

4. Friends and family are formed.

It’s no longer optional whether I have reciprocating and/or respectful relationships, which I call the “2R’s.” Those that aren’t those 2R’s just don’t get my energy. And it’s not that I am combing the crowds to determine this, it reveals itself. While interacting with people, I’m observing myself interacting and I’m checking in with my body. My obligation-based thinking melts away. What I mean is that I can’t say, “Well, this is your [insert: family relative/neighbor/old friend] so you have to get along with them.” “No one is perfect and you just have to take the losses.” I literally have not one capacity to be ok with someone who uses me or denies me my truth through some flippant remark, or chastisement. This is very un-sanguine of me, if you get my drift.

5. Your BS meter starts to operate like a seismograph.

It can detect a false person or a person who does not care about you from Colorado to California. In neuroscience, this is called developing the vagus nerve, more commonly known as your gut instinct. The primary loss when one has been defeated and violated in childhood and beyond, is that of disconnection of your vagus nerve to your brain. It stops sending ”gut-instinct” signals because the child—to protect herself—determines that the defeats and violations are her fault, made up in her head, because she’s just being too sensitive, needy, blah-blah. This is called a “vagul break.”

In the child who suffers violation, the vagus nerve can become an impediment to “functioning,” because it’s going to make the child feel things her brain just can’t handle at the time. Hence, relationship and intrapersonal relationship defenses form in the child; defenses like denial, rationalization, spiritualization, intellectualization and other “izations” form one brick onto another.

Good news:

The gut instinct you were born with—the one the makes you cry out in hunger as an infant—gets reattached in this healing-grieving. And BAM! You just can’t do the dance of neglecting yourself or denying that the abandonment or disrespect occurred. Every tear sends battery juice to your BS meter, and now you look at things with your gut. Your body is speaking, like it does to the child. And you can’t ignore it. Just like a baby and toddler can’t ignore it. The vagul nerve goes back online. The BS meter you were born with revs back up again. And the flower grows from the ashes. Yep, life returns. I can’t make this stuff up.

I get that this may not be your experience, but it’s been mine for the past six weeks. And while I wish it didn’t make me do the ugly cry—which sort of scares my husband—it’s strangely reattaching parts of myself that have been broken on the floor. I’ll probably get my mojo back and start being creative and laugh more easily again. For now, it’s the healing-grieving stage, which is just as salient to my personal growth as any other victory, enjoyment, or accomplishment I have ever experienced.

Grief has found those pieces for me that I had no idea were still not attached. Thank you, good grief. Thank you.

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

Crying On The Beach

Crying On The Beach

This article discusses the painful truth of spiritual abuse—a topic I’m passionate about because all too often it wrongly serves as an undercurrent to physical violations against women and children. So many who have sought restoration in a church were either betrayed and injured or the abuses they suffered were made deeper by how the church ignored the pain. Read Christy’s story and see why she wants others to be spared her story with the church.

Christy’s Story

I recently returned from a trip to California deeply grieving that my opportunity to be interviewed on a large, popular podcast—which focused on mental health and healing—was cancelled last minute for a seemingly trivial reason. My topic was on spiritual abuse, something that is not often spoken about in public. This sent me into a triggered tailspin, which included lots of crying on a public beach where I happened to take his call. (Not my best beach experience by a long shot.)

While my recent cancelled interview was not abusive, it brought up all the old deep-down, gut-wrenching triggers and familiar—but unfriendly—feelings of being unimportant, unheard, and cast aside. It’s these feelings that are connected to spiritual abuse for me specifically. At this point in my life, crying in public is not an issue, but finding safe ways through my triggers from a spiritually abusive past is an ongoing challenge. It’s taken me many years of personal work and therapy to understand and to validate my own experiences.

Spiritual abuse can be defined as abuse committed under the guise of religion, or harm inflicted in God’s/religion’s name. Some psychologists are now focusing on this as specifically one of the most insidious forms of damage, the result being Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I grew up in The Jesus Movement, a subset of the Evangelical movement, in which I was taught, as a small child, about Satan, demons, being in a spiritual war, end-times apocalypse, and that all unbelievers would burn in hell for eternity.

The Jesus Movement was organized around communities (communes), which worked together to help addicts, the mentally ill and others who struggled to function. As a result of community living, our family lived with a cast of characters who were either safe and respectful or who were quite dangerous.

The message I primarily and unconsciously absorbed as a “ministry kid” was that I needed to be “a healer,” “a helper” and at all costs. Boundaries and God didn’t coincide. Pleasing God was about having no limits, no gut instinct, and no voice that contradicted their belief.

Thus, my personal safety, my need for consistency or predictability “washed up on the shore” after years of being storm tossed in the ocean. Trusting God meant being in a turbulent sea with no rutter, no sails, and no compass. Subsequently, I felt terrified by how none of this felt safe and by how God allegedly judged me for being afraid, angry, doubtful, or frustrated in any way that would reflect badly on our faith, community, or mission. My childhood needs didn’t matter. In fact, I didn’t matter. Does this sound abusive so far?

Because I was also taught to fear unbelievers, fear “the world,” as well as the supernatural, there were no outside resources from which to objectively seek new truth. My well-intentioned parents didn’t understand or notice the stress, anxiety, and the nightmares I lived with constantly.

As I struck out on my own as a young adult, I joined ministries and mission organizations, and Bible Schools. I finally got a degree in social work and counseling and became a mental health therapist. During those early adult years, I experienced silencing and disparity based on my gender. This also took form in the way of sexual and emotional abuse, and in ministry contexts. Sadly, my internal formation and past fears did not allow me to fully process or speak out against abuses, because if I did, it meant I was speaking out against God or leadership. In effect, my speaking out would have meant I would have lost my community, and/or be labeled as “bitter,” “fallen” or “deceived.”

I understand now that these old, haunting messages played a large part in my story of staying quiet. I had lived with fear and anxiety for so long that it had become the norm for me. Internalizing it had sadly cost me my health. I also understand now that whenever your gut instinct is dismantled, your body can sometimes react through auto immune disorders, headaches, digestive pain and so on. I have had to relearn how to “trust my gut” in my own spiritual journey, and as a safeguard, validate my intense resistance to being controlled and manipulated. It can still be difficult sometimes to know who and what to trust.

So, even after all my years of intentional healing work, I still found myself crying on the beach last week feeling unheard, and with so much I wanted to say to others who had experienced what I had. In cases like this, I allow myself to grieve and I remember that deeply lonely feeling of having to “shut up and shut down.” I know that shutting up helped me survive my early years, but it’s no longer tolerable to my body or my soul.

Plus, it’s not my personality to be quiet about injustice or healing. I knew my tears last week still honored the younger me who did the best she could to be quiet, and survive what seemed to be a terrifying, no-win existence.

If you find yourself experiencing some of these themes or feelings, I encourage you to find a safe place, or person to explore them. Find a therapist, a support group or a mentor who can listen to you without judging your story. You may need to find a new church or spiritual leader that allows you to question things, or share your harmful religious experiences, or abuse stories. Some of you may need to step away from the faith system in order to do some healing work without the triggers. Whatever you need to do, know that your validation, healing and safety are important to God. Healing work can be hard, but working toward your freedom is always worth it.

Helpful Guides for Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse

Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart
By: Kathy Escobar

Sacred Wounds: A Path To Healing From Spiritual Trauma
By: Teresa B. Pasquale

The Subtle Power Of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church
By: Ted Johnson and Jeff Vonderveen

Our Contributing Authors
The Last Battle Blog aims to provide meaningful tools and information about the issue of sexual violation. We offer a way to express yourself, as you engage in your own personal awareness and share your strengths with others. Our goal is to cover a variety of topics, stories, ideas, and to create a blog that is beneficial and honoring to those who read it. Last Battle’s contributing authors help make this happen.

The Tethered Mind: Addiction & Trauma

The Tethered Mind: Addiction & Trauma

If you have experienced sexual trauma, and you struggle with addiction, you are far from alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, women who experience sexual trauma are three times more likely to develop drug and alcohol dependence. The National Institute of Health estimates that 2/3 of all people in treatment for addiction report abuse in their childhood with subsequent PTSD.

We know that trauma actually changes the brain at the cellular level.

Addiction also has consequences on the structure and chemistry of the brain. When we combine the dramatic effects of both addiction and sexual trauma, we are left with someone whose brain needs intense healing and rebuilding. A brain tethered to the constant reminder of the hurt we have suffered often creates the need to find something on the outside to organize us to handle daily life.

For me, the struggle with addiction began shortly after my dad left my family, and the sexual abuse ended. I was 12 when I got drunk for the first time, 13 when I started smoking pot, 14 when I started psychedelics, and 15 when I was shooting heroin and snorting cocaine. Clearly, I had a very quick progression into a substance abuse problem that nearly killed me multiple times. There is no doubt in my mind that the addiction progressed so dramatically because of what I experienced. When I got drunk and high, I wasn’t like most of my friends who had their limits. Not me, I always wanted more. My appetite for escaping was insatiable.

Also unlike my friends, my “party days” didn’t end when I graduated from college. By that time, I had lived every day high or drunk for years, and I simply didn’t know how to exist sober. In my twenties and early thirties, I fought to get clean. The cycle of sobriety and active addiction was endless. It never got easier; it never seemed to work. When I was high, I could tolerate life. When I was sober, life was excruciating.

Around the time I turned 30, I faced the greatest challenge of my life. Before this point, when I was high, I could actually remove myself from the pain and darkness. I could tell myself that things would get better, that eventually life wouldn’t feel so hard. Then suddenly at age 30, being high didn’t work. There was literally no drug that could help me escape anymore.

The trauma I experienced in my childhood and later in my teens was no longer lurking in the background. It was abruptly front and center. It became interlaced into every part of my life and my mind felt like it was on fire. I couldn’t sleep without horrific nightmares. I couldn’t go through one day without crying. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin and the panic attacks were debilitating. Every day I was paralyzed by fear, crumbling under the weight of PTSD, not caring if I lived or died.

That life could have very well continued for me but healing happened. A little every day. People came into my life that changed me. Professionals intervened and drew me out of the abyss. Close ones loved me and stood by me. I reached out for God and he met me where I was.

While I honestly feel that I am in a place of peace with my experiences earlier in life, the daily battle of addiction still lingers. In this way, I will forever be changed by my trauma. Because I have experienced recovery from PTSD, it shows me that I can recover from my addiction too. But if I know anything about recovery, I know it happens one day at a time. Every day I have the choice to stand up against the things that try to drag me back down. I know now that whatever choice I make, each day is a new opportunity and I am loved through it all.

If you know an addict and struggle to understand that reality, ask them to help you understand. Don’t judge the addict. Their addiction is not because they lack character or morality. Addicts need connection and community like few others. Addiction is a disease of the mind, and much like PTSD, it requires diligence and patience to recover. If you are like me, you are not alone. Never ever alone. Rest in that. Know it. Let it comfort you.

Our Contributing Authors
The Last Battle Blog aims to provide meaningful tools and information about the issue of sexual violation. We offer a way to express yourself, as you engage in your own personal awareness and share your strengths with others. Our goal is to cover a variety of topics, stories, ideas, and to create a blog that is beneficial and honoring to those who read it. Last Battle’s contributing authors help make this happen.

When I Knew God Got It

When I Knew God Got It

I never understood why I was sexually abused. Does anyone? My struggle was accepting God the father after what happened to me. I was angry with God and pushed Him away. I had grown up in church and accepted Christ as my savior at the age of 8, rebelled at 15, and at age 42 I was still fighting Him.

In January 2014, at the suggestion of my counselor, I went to a group meeting for women survivors of sexual abuse at a local Baptist Church. I came into the group angry and full of resentment. My anger was obvious and I had a wall between myself and group. I do not believe I shed one tear that semester. By the end, however, I had uncovered so many memories and details I was overwhelmed and very depressed. My counselor suggested I take a weekend to myself at a local convent to regroup and try to relax.

Armed with my Bible and 2 books on recovery that were recommended, I checked in on a Friday night. The next morning, I sat in their garden and started reading. After about 40 minutes I was directed to a passage in the Bible that changed my heart. In 2 Samuel 13, Amnon, son of David, raped his half-sister Tamar. Neither King David nor her brother Absalom did anything to comfort her and there were no immediate consequences for Amnon. The scene described sickened me, but I caught one glimmer of hope in verse 20, So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother Absalom’s house. As soon as I read the verse I sat back in my chair, stunned. The moment I read the verse I realized God really did understand what I was going through. He knew the damage sexual violation causes, especially the shame and bitterness that develops when it is swept under the rug, with no consequences for the violator. My hardened depression melted into tears.

For the first time in my life hope started to replace depression. I started to see that the light at the end of the tunnel was no longer a train headed my direction. Instead, it was a light full of promise and comfort. My heart for God started to open. His word was reaching in and changing my life.

A year later—embattled by the ongoing process of trust and letting go—an amazing thing happened. During a recent road trip, I listened to a Bible study session I missed during the summer. About halfway through I realized the pastor was headed toward the passage in 2 Samuel where the rape against Tamar occurred. I almost changed the podcast, as I was unsure of my reaction (the prior weeks had been especially tough). Ultimately, I decided to keep listening.

When the pastor started to describe the scene that described Tamar’s pain I started to cry again. In all my years of going to church, I have never heard anyone talk about this passage from the pulpit or otherwise. The compassion in the pastor’s voice when speaking of Tamar and the contempt he showed towards Amnon was genuine. He did not sugarcoat the damage and never indicated it was not a big deal. He understood. The emotion in the pastor’s words made its way through the podcast, through the speakers in my car, and into my heart. I felt dizzy with gratitude. I was grateful I continued to listen to the podcast, relieved that the pastor did not skip the passage, and inspired into belief once again that God let me know He understood. I was sobbing by the end of the podcast.

God’s timing is flawless.

In my struggles over the past few months, I had completely forgotten about 2 Samuel. My hope had diminished and depression started to take over again. I needed the reminder and God provided. A life changing verse from a year ago was brought back to the surface of my heart and it revived my focus. In the days to come there will be hard times, but the reminder of God’s compassion is there. It takes repetition of the truth to learn that who God is and what happened to me are not cut from the same cloth. So I am diligent to remember and thus have written the reference in my journal and strategically placed index cards in my home to keep my focus on the Ultimate Healer—the One who understands my pain better than anyone and can provide strength when I have none.

Our Contributing Authors
The Last Battle Blog aims to provide meaningful tools and information about the issue of sexual violation. We offer a way to express yourself, as you engage in your own personal awareness and share your strengths with others. Our goal is to cover a variety of topics, stories, ideas, and to create a blog that is beneficial and honoring to those who read it. Last Battle’s contributing authors help make this happen.

An Excerpt from My Book

An Excerpt from My Book

An excerpt from my book, From Pain to Power: Overcoming Sexual Trauma & Reclaiming Your True Identity, from the chapter, “I Have Walked Where You Walk”

“My journey of restoration began with a person in authority who finally took me seriously and, unlike others, believed me. I mention this because none of us can do the work of healing and being restored alone. You and I need others who show us they can be trusted, and we need helpers with expertise in a variety of areas to come alongside us in the healing journey. To assist your restoration, I want you to know I stand with you. I don’t promise a quick or easy solution, but I do commit to helping straighten out the questions marks that surround you. I want to help rebuild your confidence, your sense of personal worth, and a clear view of the power you possess as a daughter of God.

You can awaken from the numbness that follows violation. You can be reintroduced to God and his desire to bring about your regeneration. He wants to restore you to the person he made you to be. (It is understandable, if not expected, that you may vacillate in your confidence in God. That is an area we will look at during the journey.)

Having gone through my own dread of trusting someone to care about me and having witnessed the doubt and faith cycles of my family, friends, and clients, I know it is natural to question and doubt. You are invited to think, feel, and express to God what you are really going through. No one here will judge you, and God will not disown one of his children.

Later in the book we will work through concepts, homework, prayers, guided imagery for picturing Christ’s healing, and other practical measures you can use to honor and grow into the person God made you to be. Keep your questions close while you open your mind and heart in the safety and privacy of your reading. Be who you are, doubts and all.

Let’s step into this together, just one foot in front of the other. My daily prayer is that God richly and abundantly blesses you with his restorative comfort and provision.”

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

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