I am thrilled to announce that my book, Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned in Prison, is now available at Amazon and Smashwords, and in a few days it will also be available at Barnes and Noble and other ebook retailers.
The idea for this book came to me about five years ago. I was thinking about a couple things I had learned working as a correctional officer in a men’s prison that helped me in my parenting. The more I thought about it, the more connections I could see. Who would have imagined that working in that environment would teach me things that I would later use as a parent? That’s how this book was born.
So I wrote the book, but then I ran into a snag. It was too short. I didn’t have any more stories to tell and it was too short. What could I do? I “trunked” it which means I stopped working on it and forgot about it for awhile. Then recently I realized that with the emergence of ebooks people are now publishing shorter works–short stories, novellas, and non-fiction shorts. I realized it the time for my book had come.
I took it out of the trunk, dusted it off, and updated it. And ta da! Here it is for your reading pleasure.
Next week, I will return to our regular “Monday Mitzvah” schedule. But until then–leaving a review of a book you like is a great act of kindness. As a reader, I always look at reviews. Books live or die by reviews. And authors? Well, they sweat and fret and hope for good reviews. So if you read my book and you like it, honest reviews are always welcome. Other authors welcome reviews too!
Friends, I know you are probably expecting a “mitzvah” post today. I’m sorry I just don’t have one in me right now. Halloween puts me on edge every year, though I am not exactly sure why. I’m emotionally treading water here and hoping November 1st will come quickly.
I have big plans for November. I recently completed the rough draft of my book Touching His Robe: Reaching Past the Shame and Anger of Abuse and in November I will begin the revisions and polishing. For today I have decided to share an excerpt of the first chapter. Enjoy!
The Jaws of Hell
I looked at the “safety card” in my hand. It was divided into sections: suggestions for coping, kind words from friends, and phone numbers including the suicide hotline. I folded it and put it back in my pocket. It wasn’t enough. Questions reverberated in my mind: Am I God’s Orphan? Did He push me off the train, or just turn away and leave me? I told myself it no longer mattered because I had a plan, a suicide plan. Like Job, I cursed the day I was born.
But it had not always been this way. As a teenager with two alcoholic parents, there was one night my parents didn’t bother to come home. I lay awake frantic that they had either been put in jail, or they were in the hospital. Prayer got me through the night and I began to know my Comforter. From Arizona, where I was born, through my experiences in Venezuela, Alaska, Utah, and Washington, He was my Guide. He led me to a wonderful husband. When a miscarriage at 12 weeks broke my heart, He mended it. When death also claimed a teenage niece and nephew, He wept with me. As my husband’s business failing, subsequent job layoffs, bankruptcy, and foreclosure dropped me to my knees. He was my Staff. When life-threatening health issues frightened me, He calmed the troubled sea in my soul. Truly He was my Bread of Life.
Then, memories of childhood sexual abuse began to surface. I became acquainted with a pain that surpassed anything I had experienced before. And I felt utterly alone. Where was my balm of Gilead, my Savior now? I could not feel Him. I became angry. How could God allow this to happen to me, and why had he forsaken me when I needed him the most?
I grieved the loss of this relationship along with the pain of the past. I turned to the church seeking comfort and answers, but well-intended messages of forgiveness only increased my pain. If I were a better person, I thought, I could forgive. Shame, like a black mold, filled me until one day when I did feel the Savior reaching out to me I turned away from Him. I saw myself as an emotional leper. “Unclean, unclean,” was my heart’s mantra. Without Christ, I was adrift. For a short time, I considered atheism and yet He had been too much a part of my life to let go.
Does this sound familiar to you? Have you felt alone and forsaken? If you have, you are not alone. These feelings are common among survivors. There are examples in the Bible of others who felt forsaken. The story of Job could be our story. Job had done nothing wrong and yet suddenly the jaws of hell gaped after him. Christ, who is our example in all things, was innocent and yet on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
My abuse started when I was about four and continued for several years. I understand your pain. If I could I would just sit with you and listen to your story. I would hear your pain in as much or as little detail as you want to tell it. And I would say I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. That should not have happened.
But I can’t sit with each of you, so I will do the next best thing. I will share my story, and how I found Christ again. What Christ whispered to me through the scriptures He says to all.
In this chapter, we will talk about the jaws of hell, the feeling of being forsaken, and feelings that cause us to feel this separation. Through the rest of the book, we will talk about scriptures that can help you not only overcome those feelings, but feel a deep closeness to the Lord.
When the Jaws Open
What does it mean to have the jaws of Hell open after you? We can track the phrase back to medieval times. In the Vercelli Homilies (prose believed to date back to the 10th century), Satan is compared to a dragon swallowing the damned. The image was used in medieval art as well. “Hellsmouth”, the entrance to hell, was portrayed as the gaping mouth of a monster. This image was common all over Europe and continued until the end of the Middle Ages. Usage continued later in renaissance theater. An entry would be painted to appear as hell’s mouth and during morality plays actors playing demons would dramatically drag sinners to their doom. Eventually, they simply called any trapdoor on the floor of a stage the hellsmouth. In Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, they called the entire space beneath the stage “hell” and the choir loft the heavens.
The idea continues to intrigue men’s minds. The term jaws of hell can be found in many current day song lyrics. But what does all this have to do with us?
Generally we think of separation from God as being due to our sins. But what if as Job we are separated from God, during a time when we need Him most, through no fault of our own? Could this not be truly called the Jaws of Hell?
Shame is a huge obstacle for us survivors of abuse. Almost immediately as my memories began to resurface, I was overcome with a deep sense of shame. I felt like a rotten apple. People told me the abuse wasn’t my fault. Logically I knew they were right and yet still, I also felt deeply that I was full of worms, invisible to the eye, but spoiled just the same.
Shame did not come into my life alone. It brought a companion, anger. Anger was a really uncomfortable visitor because as a child I had never been allowed to express it. As the spark of anger grew into an inner bonfire, I had no idea how to extinguish it.
Anger whispered terrible things to me. “If God really loves you, why did He allow this to happen?” I knew all the Sunday school answers about why God allows bad things to happen to good people, but those no longer seemed sufficient. This was not a philosophical question, but a deeply personal one.
With the return of my memories, I lost something else–trust. Trust is huge issue for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Most abuse occurs by someone the child knows; a family member or friend of the family. When we are hurt and betrayed in such a grievous manner by someone who was supposed to help us, we learn not to trust again especially authority figures, even God.
A Door Opens
Thus far I have painted a very dismal picture, but there is hope. One day, I told my spiritual leader I could not bear the thought of the Savior approaching me with outstretched arms. I preferred to have rocks fall on me rather than face him.
He pondered that for a moment and then said, “Remember the woman who came to Jesus and touched His robe? Maybe you could do that . . . just touch his robe.”
The words resonated within me like a perfect chord on the piano. Yes! Even though I was full of hurt, mistrust and fear, there was a part of me that yearned for the once close relationship I had shared with the Savior. Perhaps I could just reach out and touch His robe.
Every year I dread Halloween. I don’t know why. I hate orange all year round. And yet, I would like to make Halloween fun for my children (the actual ones). Kathy Broady has some great ideas here. I wanted to do something like this, this year, but just couldn’t quite make it. Maybe next year. Anyone know where I can find a WHITE pumpkin? That would help. 🙂
For most dissociative trauma survivors, Halloween is a difficult time.
Halloween is an expansion filled with horrific memories, vivid flashbacks, overwhelming darkness, and uncomforted fear.
Internal systems flip and change, with those typically lodged in the back finding their way to the front, making the usual everyday feel completely different from before. Working with these dark parts is essential for healing. They may frighten you, but they need your patience, understanding, and compassion for having survived the horrors they had no choice but to endure.
Living through the Halloween season with active PTSD and heavy traumatic overtones may be as delicate and sensitive as fighting for one deep breath after another.
If you have followed my blog for a while, or even if you are new, but looked at the archives, you will notice that I am gradually healing. Too gradually for my taste, but I don’t seem to get a choice in that one. Still, I am grateful for any and all growth and healing.
Still because I want to be authentic, and more especially so I won’t give a false picture to those who are traveling this same path, I have to say: relapse happens. I have days where I find myself feeling awful. It isn’t as frequent as it used to be, but it still happens.
On those days I think, “Oh no, no please not this again!” Because as you probably know, when you get into that space it feels like that is all there ever has been, and all there ever will be. It defies logic, to be sure, but I have come to believe that emotions can be more powerful than logic.
The biggest relapse for me happened recently. I was triggered, and without warning found myself in that place where self-harm seemed like the only way to ease the pain. I felt so torn. Part of me, really wanted to get a knife and relieve the pressure. Another part of me said, “No don’t do it.” At the same time, I despaired because, “I thought I was over this.” In the end, I didn’t do it, but I wept because I wanted to so badly.
Where do such strong feelings come from? I am sure I don’t know. But I have close friends (also trauma/abuse survivors) that have experienced them, and acted on them. Our culture focuses on teenagers that do this, but it’s not just teenagers.
There is good news. The feelings only stayed a day or two. Then they were gone again. I hope that mentioning this will give others hope: it does get better.
If you’re thinking about self-harm, but have never done it–don’t start, it’s very addictive. If you have done it, I wish I could put my arms around you and cry with you. (safe hug) I would tell you that I understand. And I would say:
I’m so sorry for what happened to you. That never should have happened. It wasn’t your fault. I will do everything I can to make sure no one ever hurts you again.
If you need to hear those words, print out this post and put it somewhere private just for you, and know that I would say them to you in person if I could. I’m so sorry for what happened to you. It will get better.
This weekend I had an opportunity to go to a women’s conference. It was called, appropriately, Time Out for Women. There were wonderful speakers and beautiful music. A highlight for me was meeting one of my favorite authors, James Ferrell. I told him how something he shared in his book, The Peacegiver, about David, Abigail and Naman has touched me. When I told him that this story gave me hope, as an abuse survivor, that someday I will be able to forgive, he gave me a big hug. That was powerful. To me his hug said so many things. Things like, “I’m sorry you went through that.” Which I still need to hear. And “hang in there things will get better.” Hugs are powerful. I had forgotten that.
But wait, I want to tell you more about the conference and yet I don’t want to bore you. Let me see if I can share the experience better. Let’s begin with this song by Hilary Weeks, Beautiful Heartbreak:
Oh, did I forget to tell you to get kleenex? Sorry about that., heh heh. I can’t watch it without crying either. The woman who was burned on 80% of her body is Stephanie Nielsen. She is a blogger too, you can read her blog here. Of course, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that since she has thousands of followers.
Does anyone know the name of the woman who lost her family in a war? Tell us in the comments if you know.
Okay, as an apology for making your cry without warning, now I will make you laugh. Well, I mean Kris Belcher will. This video will show you her humor, but she has a spiritual side as well.
Admit it you laughed out loud–literally–didn’t you? I did too, and I’m writing this from work (which means I nearly woke up ten sleeping teenagers! Yikes!)
I’ve set myself up here with what is a hard act to follow–understatement–but it was necessary. You see, with wonderful speakers like Kris Belcher, and great artists and music videos like Hilary Weeks and others, how could it not be wonderful? That isn’t really the reason I had such a healing weekend though.
My weekend was amazing because of authenticity–from the speakers, artists and also from my companions. I went with a group of women from church. Some I knew a little better than others. We got a couple hotel rooms, and would you believe we stayed up until 2:30 am chatting like teenagers?
That late night visiting was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Women getting together, sharing their hearts, sharing their struggles. It was powerful. It was authentic. It reminded me of a similar experience I had not too long ago with a group of friends at Red Robin. We nourished our bodies with hamburgers, and our spirits with vulnerability.
What touches me most about the Hilary Weeks video Beautiful Heartbreak is all those women sharing their pain. There is something powerful in sharing our pain with one another. My therapist taught me that pain needs a witness, but I don’t often think about how healing sharing your pain can be for others. Too often we get stuck in the mindset of trying to hide our pain and pretend that everything is fine, when sharing is the real healer for our own hearts and those that love us.
So the mitzvah (act of kindness) for today is to allow yourself to be authentic, to be vulnerable with the people that you love. More than your own heart might be healed.
“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is. But if you treat him as he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be. ” Johann Wolfang von Goethe, German writer and politician
This is my favorite quote. My favorite stories, both in literature and real life are stories that embody this idea. Man of La Mancha is one of these.
Man of La Mancha is the musical version of Cervantes book, Don Quixote. In the story, an aging and wealthy man “lays down the burden of sanity” and becomes a knight. His faithful servant Sancho travels with him as he fights enemies (Sancho tries to tell him it is just a windmill) and has other adventures.
Along his path, he discovers “his lady”. His lady, Aldonza, is a fiesty bar maid and prostitute. A very difficult life has toughened her, and she scoffs at Don Quixote when he calls her a lady and renames her Dulcinea. Ironically, dulce means sweet in Spanish, and Aldonza is anything but. Undeterred, he persists in his gentlemanly adoration of her. Many twists and turns of plot follow, but in the end, she begins to soften and act more like a Dulcinea.
Another literary example is in Les Miserables. Remember Jon ValJean is released from prison after nearly twenty years, for stealing a loaf of bread to keep his nephew from starving to death. Now released from prison, he is forced to carry papers that warn all that he is a dangerous ex-convict. That does not help his prospects of getting work, food and lodging. However, a kindly Catholic Bishop takes him in. Jon Valjean returns this favor by stealing the Bishop’s silver and and escaping during the night. He is quickly apprehended by the police though, and returned to the Bishop, who has an amazing response.
The Bishop can see not only the man that Valjean is, but the man he “ought to be and could be”. So he treats him as such. The Bishop tells the police that he gave the silver to Valjean and then gives him the candlesticks also. Because of his kindness, Valjean’s years of anger and bitterness from being imprisoned fall away. He uses this kindness to become a better man. As the story progresses, he is given opportunities to similarly bless others lives, and he does.
These stories are fiction, of course, but fiction often mirrors real life. It is said that Valjean was based on an actual convict who became a business owner and philanthropist. Even more importantly, these stories show us what is possible.
Though it may not feel like it at times, each one of us wields tremendous power. Power to love others, to see their potential and to treat them as if they were already the person they could be. What will you do with your power?
Today, I have a couple special “guests”. You know Oprah, but do you know Brene Brown? If you do you are lucky, as I am to have learned from her. If you haven’t met her yet, allow me the pleasure of introducing you. Dr. Brene Brown is a shame researcher and author of several exceptional books. Please take a couple minutes (less than four to be precise) and then we’ll talk about it.
Note: Brene uses teachers in this illustration about shame, but she did NOT intend it to be a slam on teachers, whom she has great respect for. In a blog post yesterday, she apologized for the misunderstanding.
This video is so important, not only for the obvious message, but because there is a valuable message here for parents about child abuse. If you have ever wondered why abused children don’t tell, Brene just gave you the answer: shame. If the child feels shame–and abuse is very shaming–then they won’t tell. It really is that simple and that powerful. Shame is crippling. Shame is suffocating. And it is so unnecessary.
I think Brene also offers a very powerful solution here as well. No name calling–not even to yourself. I don’t use negative names with my children and I don’t think any of my friends do either, but I suspect we are all guilty of shaming ourselves. I believe (and deeply hope) that if we give our children a home without shame, they will be more shame-resilient as they move into the world–more likely to experience humiliation (rather than shame) and therefore healthy anger–which will be a great protection for them.
So today’s mitvzah is to stop the shaming. Be gentle with yourself. Who knows but you how hard you try? And how much you care your family and friends? So give yourself the gift of kindness.