Spectator

First, take a little kid. Any age, really, but for me it was at 7 1/2.
Before my mom told me about puberty.
Before I had any grid in which to put sexual acts or information.


So, it happened. Sexual abuse. Seven years later I locked it in a Pandora's box and put it under my bed. Over time it became invisible even to me. I never thought about it and I certainly didn't think I needed to be healed from it. It was just something that happened when I was a kid.

Add to that the sins I entered because of the abuse. I had a lot of trouble with sexual orientation, but I just thought it was because I was a bad person and my bad was leaking through in sexual areas.

Now you've got a Pandora's box of long-standing abuse, wrapped neatly in the grotesque shame and guilt you feel for your own sins since. That is one ugly box you've got there. Even more abhorrent (and hence, invisible) to you than before you wrapped it in shame and guilt.

Then something happens, triggers memories, all those untold memories of evil and all that wrapping paper of guilt and shame you don't know how to dispose of. Maybe it's a smell, like it was for me. Maybe it's an object, a photo, retelling a childhood story, or seeing someone who looks like your abuser. For me, one whiff of a smell sent me swirling downward in a spiral of despair. Spiraling along with me, now glaringly visible, was the box in which I'd stuffed the worst memories of my life.


I was haunted my flashbacks and nightmares of both my childhood abuse and a rape I experienced while in college. I didn't know how to stop them, so I tried to leave this world. It was too painful to go on. The behavioral health professionals who tried to treat me didn't know how to get rid of them, short of keeping me in a constant blurred state using tranquilizers. My family and friends could only tell me how valuable I was to them, how much they loved me, and how much they wanted me to keep fighting and live.

Venus and her moon
Nobody knew what to do about the consequences once the box was opened. A pastor helped me with the guilt and shame, but I was still left with frequent paralyzing flashbacks and nightmares all through the night, so horrendous that I often woke up kicking, yelling, or crying.

And then something magical happened. I talked with another of our pastors, one with a story much like my own. Tears and stories birthed his question for me: Do you have compassion for yourself? My answer was swift and sure, "No." I am a perfectionist of the highest order, so much so that my house is often a mess because I've given up on trying to make it perfect.


What he said to me next turned out to be the key to stop the flashbacks in their tracks. I needed to focus on the child in those flashbacks, not the abuser of whom I was still so scared I hardly breathed during the flashback. I need to have compassion for that child, imagine giving her a hug after it was all over, and telling her how sorry I was that this happened to her, something that should happen to no one and perhaps least of all a pre-pubescent child.


I tried it. It felt awkward. But the emotion was immediate release. Of course I have compassion on that little girl. Of course I'm sorry for what happened to her. And my abuser now lies powerless, buried in a sea of Grace that has stripped her of her weapons and her vengeance. I type these words now, and look for a prayer for that child in the flashback. The Book of Common Prayer Lectionary for June 10th is Psalm 102. A prayer of one afflicted as he pours out his heart before the Lord.
Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord: that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord. He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days—you whose years endure throughout all generations!”...you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you. (exc. Psalm 102 ESV)

I buy an ugly little stained glass panel at Saver's. Because it is what I need to remember today, as I face depression now without the fear of flashbacks, and rebuild what has been torn down in this season of discovery and tragedy. I need now to focus on rebuilding. "All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today."