At least, that’s the conclusion I came to when I was about 12 and my father began shattering my world as I believed it should be. Until then, despite the fact that he had been physically abusive since the first time he slapped my thumb out of my mouth because the sucking noise woke him up, I hadn’t yet grasped that fathers can do far worse things than that to their daughters. Until then, I was a good Catholic girl who went to Mass almost every morning, thought receiving communion meant I was being filled with and protected by God’s grace, went to Church every Sunday, sang out the Latin hymns with full voice, helped the nuns at school, and hung on every word our priest spoke in his sermons (though I must confess sometimes it was hard to stay awake!) My parents never stopped me from attending but they never accompanied me either. That was something I didn’t quite understand but then, most kids don’t get their parents, do they.
Now what I’m about to say is most likely going to ruffle thousands of believers and Christians (if I can be so vain as to believe that many might one day read this). But a very dear friend who is also writing a book on her own abuse, finds it very hard to understand why I don’t believe in God and have no use for religion. For her, it is her salvation, her way of coping with the horror and heartache of her life and she prays and praises Jesus daily. I respect her belief. She has many who share it. But I’m not one of them. Nor do I believe that all that is, and was bad in my life is the work of the devil. For me, he (she?) doesn’t exist either.
Both of them, God and the devil, vanished from my 12-year-old psyche when my Father began sexually abusing me. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I prayed night after night that he would stop. I beat myself over the head, telling myself that God must be really mad at me and this was punishment for my sins. And I prayed some more, begging for divine intervention. As for that devil, when I looked at my father’s angry face as he belted me or heard his voice spewing venemous words at me, calling me filthy names just because I was resisting or opposing him, I knew I was looking at the devil. He wasn’t some fiery fiend with a fork burning away in some place called hell. He was a human being taking advantage of an innocent and helpless child, his own flesh and blood, in his own home.
And as the months slipped by and turned into years of mental, physical, spiritual and sexual abuse, all thoughts or belief in a god who would save me from the hell I was living in faded away. The prayers were falling on deaf ears. I didn’t even believe the words I was saying in those prayers. I was praying to someone or something I didn’t know, had never seen or met and as long as whoever he/she was kept allowing my prayers to go unanswered and the abuse to continue, how could I believe? After all, despite the shame and guilt I felt, I knew that under all that, I had done nothing to deserve this. NOTHING! What “sins” had I committed? And for that matter, why did I have to “atone for the sins of the world”? The worst thing I’d done by the age of 11 was wet the bed till I was 7 (wonder why?) or lose my temper when I didn’t get my way at school. For those transgressions, I deserved THIS?! If Christ’s figure on the crucifix brought me to tears, they were for myself, not him. Perhaps his figure was meant to symbolize me and all others subjected to undeserved suffering. As such, it served its purpose but it was nothing more than that to me. I concluded that no amount of praying, no amount of crying would help. The only help I could get had to begin with me.
Phew! That wasn’t easy to write. I can just hear the outrage some of you who believe are feeling and I apologize if this offends you but I don’t apologize for being honest about how I feel. So many of us cannot be honest, are afraid to say what they really think. No wonder there’s so much misunderstanding, even between those who love each other. Because I love the friend I mentioned above, I’m being honest with her and the many others who suggest to victims of abuse that they pray etc. This blog post has also been prompted more by a post I read on a Facebook community page where someone asked “What do you say to someone who doesn’t believe in God about how to handle their pain and shame?” The poster requested that those who reply not tell her to pray. That was of no use to her etc etc. How well I understood her feelings. But what advice could I give her instead? The only advice I can give is what this blog and my FACEBOOK COMMUNITY PAGE is all about i.e. come out from under. Share your pain with those who do care and want to help. There are as many of us as there are those who believe prayer is the answer. Talking about it helps. You may not be able to say it all at once. It’s overwhelming. Do it in small steps. Take it easy. Be easy on yourself. Bit by bit, let your story unfold. And you do start to feel better very soon if you have a willing listener. I saw that happening first-hand with another very dear friend this past weekend as this friend opened up to me. Despite how difficult it was, the joy at doing so was very obvious.
For others, full therapy may be the answer. One of my fellow survivors posted an excellent note on my community page about this recently. She has given me permission to share it with you here. I support her advice. If this is what you need, and prayer or a willing listener, or lots of reading and encouraging sayings aren’t doing it for you, then take her advice which I’ve pasted below. Thanks S.E. for sharing it with my readers.
And let me finish this by re-phrasing my opening headline. For those who do believe in God, believe also that “God helps those who helps themselves”. Healing begins with YOU.
ADVICE FROM A FELLOW SURVIVOR:
For all those who are still struggling to overcome your abusive past: I just want to say how important it is to reach out to your family doctor or mental health professional and speak to a qualified practitioner. There are many programs available to help you through this. Group therapies for incest survivors are particularly helpful. You will learn that, although it can be cathartic to share details about your past, it’s not what happened to you, but rather how it made you feel that should be the topic of conversation. To pour over details and factual stories alone, will not help you heal. Time does not heal. It’s what you do with that time to recollect, recover and reclaim your whole self. While posting inspirational messages and sharing thoughts and information is certainly a progressive step, it cannot take the place of professional therapy. Healing from such an extremely damaging abuse is a long process. It is not easy and you can expect feelings to get much more intense before it gets better. But, I promise you, things will get better and before you know it, you will no longer be haunted every day by those horrific memories and flashbacks. It will no longer monopolize your thoughts in everyday activities. There are very strong emotions that need to be set free; shame, guilt, anger, confusion, unworthiness are just a few that will chain you with insecurities. Take back your power. Put down your load. You CAN reclaim yourself and recover your life.