On the Power of Resurrection and the Healing of Abuse

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Early in my healing work, a friend suggested that I rethink who I was before I was sexually abused.

They wondered if I could find the power to remember characteristics or aspects of myself before the abuse that are still part of me today. When I first tried to remember who I was before the abuse, I couldn’t remember any specific traits or memories. I was so young when the abuse started, no older than 5, and it felt like I was trying to recall memories of someone who wasn’t yet a person.

The abuse happened during my formative years, when a child’s brain transforms into what it will become later in life, from our social lives to our emotions to how we show ourselves. relationally. What memories did I form first? Did that memory of learning to tie my shoes at daycare come first? Or was it that first play date at his house? Those early years feel like a surreal juxtaposition of standard markers of childhood and abuse and its fallout. Sitting in my therapist’s office in 2019, I mustered up the courage to revisit these and other childhood memories, surprised to find that I had as many “normal” memories to go through as I did memories of abuse. . Memories of stopping for bagels in the morning before going skiing on Saturdays, running to read the Harry Potter books, or riding scooters with friends to the convenience store for slushies. It was as common as memories of telling my parents I was playing Beanie Babies or Pokemon or jumping on the trampoline at my abuser’s house.

I had avoided thinking about my childhood because I feared I would only remember the moments shaped by childhood sexual abuse – but I had also locked away some of the best and most formative moments of my early years.

Sitting with these memories allowed me to understand how I learned to function in relation to others. During the years that I was abused, I hid what was happening from everyone around me, including my family, classmates, and softball teammates. I was learning and forming beliefs about what friendship was supposed to look like, who I could trust, what love was supposed to look like, and how I viewed my own agency and voice or lack thereof in relationships.

While healing work requires identifying and challenging some of the maladaptive behaviors and beliefs I have adopted as a survival strategy, it also requires recognizing that the abuse I have experienced is inextricably linked to my upbringing. and my personal development.

My own religious upbringing combined with the presence of a culture of purity steeped in Christianity seemed for a time to conspire to deliver the message that I was damaged good, that I was unworthy. I have no recollection of anyone specifically telling me that was something I should think about. My Catholic church’s faith formation program did not take the approach of telling girls that they would be like a piece of used chewing gum or a flower with all the petals torn off that I have heard stories of friends raised in other Christian and Catholic backgrounds. Yet the way sexuality was discussed in my church community led me to believe that what was happening to me made me undesirable, damaged and unworthy. I believed the abuse was my fault.

This narrative was so deeply ingrained that it took me nine years after it stopped to even begin to wonder whether or not it was abuse. Three years later, I finally asked the question out loud to someone else.

Even when I entered therapy and began to label my experience of childhood sexual abuse, the perception of myself as damaged persisted. Nearly two years into therapy, I was finally able to name and believe it wasn’t my fault that I had been abused, but I still expended significant mental energy wishing it would. never happened.

Even in the midst of the #MeToo movement, I witnessed a society becoming a little more willing to believe survivors who come forward, but also more likely to feel sorry for them and focus on their identity as victim or victim. surviving more than any other part of their personality. Especially when these conversations started to come to the surface in Catholic Church spaces, I found most people – and especially those in positions of power within the church – still incredibly reluctant to look at the structures and narratives that perpetuate abuse or create the conditions for abuse. arrive. The Dallas Charter and his approach to safe environment trainings and dealing with allegations, which started working when I was 8, serves only as a band-aid within a church that has ignored systems and cultures that promote abuse in the first place.

I feared that while people would probably believe me, that would be the only thing they saw in me or that I would continually be asked to bring my trauma to the fore to validate a need for systemic change only to be met with reluctance to actually work for this change. All of this created a lingering belief that my life would be simpler if I could go back in time and make sure I never went on that first play date.

It was ultimately my faith that contributed the most to my healing and a change in perspective on how I understood my experience of abuse.

Towards the end of my Spiritual Exercises experience, I found myself drawn to the scripture of Jesus inviting his disciples to witness to the marks of his crucifixion – a passage I had heard countless times before – in a completely news. It is the wealth of Catholic social teaching that emphasizes the life and ministry of Jesus that serves as a constant reminder that we believe in Jesus for more than just his death and subsequent resurrection: although he is an essential part of our belief and an essential part of the story of Jesus, the life of Jesus is much more than the greatest trauma he experienced.

My understanding of Jesus’ trauma, his life, and how he engages with his followers after his resurrection is not meaningful to me as a victim and survivor because I identify with Jesus, but rather because that knowing that Jesus experienced the trauma of betrayal and crucifixion allows me to understand the ways in which Jesus identifies with me. I cannot undo the ways in which the experience of violence in my formative years shaped my identity and my understanding of myself and I cannot go back and completely erase the experience. It is an integral part of my story, and yet it is not my whole story, just as the crucifixion of Jesus is not his whole story. The scars present on Jesus after his resurrection served to affirm that I am well made in the image of God and that the abuses that are part of my history do not harm this image, nor make me less worthy.

The church, too, could benefit from the lessons present in Jesus’ encounter with his disciples after his resurrection at Easter. In the same way that I avoided good childhood memories to protect myself from bad ones, the church’s approach to survivors of abuse asks them to engage with the church with a similar avoidance. When survivors are treated with discomfort and asked—implicitly or explicitly—not to bring their stories of abuse and assault into the church space, they are cut off from all depth and content. extent of church and faith experience due to discomfort with anything other than positive and happy experiences.

Similarly, when survivors are asked to show their trauma to prove that their wounds are real or to prove that the church should take more or different action to support survivors and prevent abuse in the first place, the emphasis becomes their experience of abuse. and hurtful and ignores that these are whole people who yes have stories of pain and suffering, but also have stories that contain joy, hope and triumph .

This Easter I sit with the power of the Resurrection – its trauma and its joy.

God chose to indwell a physical body in Jesus, and it helped me to believe that God intimately understands the full spectrum of human experience, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Childhood sexual abuse carries its own particular type of trauma and hurt, but Jesus who experiences the crucifixion offers me the consolation that He does indeed deeply understand the experience of trauma and suffering. That Jesus, after the resurrection, would still bear the physical wounds of the crucifixion tells me that this experience of trauma is something essential.


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