*Editor’s Note: Today’s post was originally published in the Spring 2014 issue–a special issue on sexualized violence–of Timbrel Magazine, a publication by Mennonite Women USA. To purchase a copy of this issue for a special discounted price of $5, click here.– RH
I’ve been wandering on a long, winding road of healing since that fateful day in Indonesia. At age 22 I re-remembered my childhood abuse story.
I had read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. For weeks after, it remained on my mind and consumed my thoughts. On this particular morning I woke up, looked over to a side table where the book lay, and thought, “How strange that the boy could have been abused by his aunt, yet he didn’t remember until age 16.”
“Why is that strange?” a voice within answered. “The same thing happened to you, and you still don’t acknowledge it.”
I broke down, had a panic attack. Lying on my Papuan family’s wet bathroom floor I sobbed so hard that no sounds were audible. “My whole life is a lie…my whole life is a lie…my life, it is a lie…” was all I could think. The heat of the pounding blood in my veins was unbearable—the rage, the shame, the guilt. How could I not acknowledge this until now? How could I even trust myself to know that it was true?
That day altered my life forever. It was an awakening on many levels.
I don’t know how other people heal. I don’t know if anyone actually ever completely heals. As soon as I think I’m healed, another deep wound rises to the surface of my consciousness and I once again spiral through layers of junk to get down to the Source of truth.
I do know, though, that the moment I acknowledged my childhood abuse was a catalyst launching me into an incredible dance with the Divine.
Exhausted and unfulfilled with the dogma of Christianity, I distanced myself from the church around age 17. My junior year of college I engaged in a semester-long independent study on the Divine Feminine, which helped reawaken a relationship with God through the Goddess and thereby learn to love a God who looked like me—a God deep within myself. The most profound idea I took away from that semester of study was a Ntozake Shange quote: “i found god in myself/and i loved her/i loved her fiercely” (which I later got tattooed on my body). Little did I know that quote would carry me through this catalytic, yet traumatizing, moment of recognition in Indonesia.
You see, I hadn’t spent life understanding that there was a God in me, a God who looked like me, a God who loved me. The church never told me that. Sure, they threw around the word love, but they never insinuated that the love lived inside me. Instead, what I understood from a very young age was that I was innately bad, something to be ashamed of. Because of this abuse-induced (and dare I say church-induced) shame and guilt that I carried on my shoulders, I set out in the world to prove myself. I consumed myself with A+’s and extracurricular activities, humanitarian projects, and star roles, all in hopes that recognition would somehow wipe away the guilt.
So I tried harder, studied harder, became busier, all causing the deterioration of both my inner and outer self. Once in Indonesia though, there wasn’t much to do. For the first time in my life I was forced to just be. The constant restlessness within that I knew my whole life started to settle. I began journaling daily, entering into a figurative room where I could get to know myself intimately, and thereby get reacquainted with God on an intimate level.
Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk central to reclaiming the Christian meditative tradition called Centering Prayer, describes the process I began in Indonesia as entering “the inner room,” a concept taken from Matthew 6:6 (“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”).
Keating explains that when you enter “the room” of silence within yourself, God begins activating as Divine Therapist, peeling away the layers of emotional programming that have kept you from intimacy with God, uncovering the authentic self that has been hidden or repressed. At the time I didn’t realize this was the process unfolding, but I did know my life had been altered forever.
I didn’t actually start dealing with the abuse until I returned to the States and moved to Pittsburgh where I saw a women’s therapist. During that time something drastically shifted and slowly I began unknotting the ridiculous ropes wrapped around my body, keeping my arms and legs within centimeters of each other, restricting my movements for years. I met with my heart in that silent room and began listening to my higher self, the Divine Therapist urging me to take a closer look at all of the resistances, pathologies, and prejudices I had about God and my own self.
Through a dream that voice told me to collect Mennonite women’s stories of sexualized violence. I heard, “You’re not the only one,” and I knew it to be true. A month later I began this blog.
That same voice told me to leave Pittsburgh, to travel and find freedom and self-empowerment. Though fearful, I did that, too, and became a vagabond of sorts. For a year of uninhibited travel I kept untying the ropes, meeting myself in that silent room, listening for the first time to my needs and to my soul’s song.
As I continued surrendering to the silence, my ego—the self I created out of protection—began to be lovingly removed by the Divine Therapist, leaving me able to enjoy what Paul calls “the fruits and gifts of the Spirit.” I became courageous, willing to sit in the presence of fear, including the fear of tackling my shadow side, a side of myself I’d rather just leave in the dark corners but that nonetheless must be dealt with. I began seeing uncertainty and change as a celebration, opportunities for adventure and for deepening my understanding of myself and the world around me. I began to clearly recognize the “Divine indwelling” within myself, as Keating calls it, which helped me experience healing and transformative energy in my soul. And I began allowing the Kingdom of God to manifest itself in my everyday life.
Swimming through these particular waters has been rough. On that day in Indonesia I traded my seemingly still pond for the ocean’s big waves. But through it (and I’m still speaking from the point-of-view of the swimmer, because I have yet to find an island to beach myself on), I’ve been enlightened to so many truths about myself and this community and world that surround me.
I’ve been challenged. I’ve been highly triggered. Tears surface weekly.
I’ve also been blessed. I’ve been highly loved. I’ve smiled with many, and have broken into belly aching laughter on hundreds of occasions.
And I would never trade that day in Indonesia for anything. Though painful, the road that the journey of healing requires for travel is mysterious, leading one headlong into benevolent forces of nature—stunning sunrises, glorious sunsets, torrents of rain, cleansing creeks, strong ocean waves, desert mountains, deep canyons, and forest fires giving way to new life.
The road exposed me—my vulnerability, my shame, my guilt, my hatred, my anger—and along the way, because the unreal cannot remain in the open but only in secrecy and darkness, those unreal egoic parts of me continue to die.
Through the journey I have become light.