As a little girl I was able to remove myself mentally from the sexual abuse at the hands of my father by dissociating.
Our mind has this incredible ability to “split” from our bodies when something terrible is happening. It can be an anesthesia to protect us from the worst of the pain.
In my effort to understand dissociation I think of the times my body has gone into shock. For instance I had a car accident in my early 20’s. My tire went out and my car went into the ditch. In the moments after the accident my body was in a state of shock, and I walked up the road without even knowing my back had a slight hairline fracture. This enabled me to get out of the car and flag down someone to help me. In the days ahead, however I was very aware of the pain. Shock was beneficial to me at the time, but if I’d stayed in shock too long I could have seriously harmed myself. Pain reveals to us something is wrong. We need it to live healthy lives.
Dissociation helped me as a child to survive. I remember turning over on my side after the abuse occurred imagining I was on a float on the ocean being rocked back and forth. It soothed my mind and then my body, so I could sleep. Ironically, my abusive father had a copy of the Footprints poem on the wall. I’d read it on the way out of his bedroom in the morning. I would read the line about how when there was only one set of footprints in the sand it was when God was carrying the person in the poem. I comforted myself with the knowledge that God was carrying me through this time when I felt all alone and afraid and that the waves were His arms rocking me to sleep. Dissociation was a gift in this way as a child to protect my mind from the worst of evil that was being done to me.
However, dissociation as an adult has been used by the enemy to enable self destructive behavior. I’m still struggling to understand exactly how it all works. I know honesty and awareness are keys in understanding destructive dissociation, so I’ll start there.
What happens when I dissociate and behave self destructively? This is a hard truth to face. When my pastor talked to me about his sexual desires for me I’d immediately feel this deep sense of shame. Thus the trigger for my dissociation. I can remember going in the bathroom looking in the mirror and seeing someone who didn’t look like me. As I’d start to believe the lie that I was an evil woman destined for evil deeds I’d lose myself in that identity and walk into his office and do sinful things. At times he would say I didn’t look like myself, like there was something strange about my eyes. I think back on those times and they don’t seem real, almost like someone else took over. The dissociation resulted in a disconnect in an effort to escape the pain and reality of what was happening.
Early on in my abusive relationship with my pastor, I remember a less severe episode of dissociation during a phone conversation with him one day. We were talking and he brought up my husband’s upcoming trip out of town. He started to ask for details about when he’d be gone and what I’d be doing. There was a red flag that day. I got upset and demanded to know why he was asking those questions. He told me he was just making conversation and then proceeded to make it out like I was paranoid because of all of the abuse I’d suffered. I remember the shame and guilt I felt at accusing my pastor of having ulterior motives. Things hadn’t crossed any major physical lines at this time, but I know now that red flag had been a warning that something wasn’t right in my relationship with him. When he told me I was being paranoid I believed him and felt ashamed. I dissociated at that point, ignored the red flag, and I recognize now in this dissociation I missed something God wanted me to see. Satan used the dissociation to cover up the truth.
Several months later I went to an eye doctor to get new glasses. I was talking to my pastor daily on the phone by this time. Almost every time I took a trip we talked. On this particular day I went in for my eye exam and was the only one in the back with the optometrist. He complimented me on how pretty my eyes were. There was just something in the way he looked at me. I felt red flags go up. I left his office feeling disturbed and called my pastor telling him I’d thought the optometrist had been coming on to me. He reminded me of how I’d accused him of the same thing. He downplayed the incident, and once again I was left feeling ashamed for having a red flag about someone that in all likelihood was a warning. I dissociated again that day believing that I was too messed up to know what was best for me. Basically, that I couldn’t trust myself. So what’d I do? What I’d been doing all along. I trusted my pastor and continued to allow him to tell me what was best and let him be my god.
I read this article on dissociation: (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pathological-relationships/201211/dissociation-isnt-life-skill). It gave me a lot of clarity on how dissociation had been destructive for me as an adult. The author, Sandra Brown says,
“We can get trained to dissociate and use it against ourselves! Dissociation is when we separate from our awareness ‘details’ of an event. I think this happens with dangerous men as early as the first date when we ‘choose’ to not pay attention to our screaming red flags…”
The shame I felt when my pastor told me I was overreacting caused me to dissociate. My father communicated to me I couldn’t trust myself as well which resulted in dissociation. I knew what was happening to me was wrong in one sense. There’s an internal God-given alarm inside that shouts wrong when we are abused, but our abusers tell lies that silence this alarm to the point we can’t even hear the alarm. My father assured me about the abuse, “Everyone does this but no one tells.” I came to believe that everyone lived a double life of keeping secrets. Some things we just don’t talk about. I also believed my Mom wasn’t able to handle the truth and that I as a child should be able to carry the weight of this secret. I look back and recognize the insanity of these thought processes, yet as a child I felt powerless to do anything except go along with my father.
My pastor was just another authority figure in my life telling me what my father did, don’t trust yourself trust me.
I can spend all my time being angry with the men who have abused me and get no where. As a victim, I’ll be just as paralyzed as I was in the abusive relationship.
I know I have a responsibility to listen to what God is teaching me through all of this. I must force myself to ask the difficult question: Why did I get abused?
At this point, I could come down really hard on myself, call myself stupid, believe I’m some evil woman that turns men into a worthless crust of bread like Proverbs talks about, or merely think I’m too weak to ever be anything but a victim. BUT THIS IS NOT TRUE!
Jesus said that our enemy the liar is out to steal, kill and destroy.
Romans 1:18 ESV
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Satan directs evil men in unrighteous acts to SUPRESS THE TRUTH.
My dissociation numbed the pain of my sin and stole the truth about who God says I am. He knew if he could keep me in sin I’d die and it was his plan to kill me. Every time I dissociated I was not only being self destructive, but also emotionally absent from my family which was destructive for them. My children need me present. In my sin all I could do was cope and call my pastor to keep reassuring me.
So why was I abused? The answer: I have an enemy who hates me. He whispered in the ears of the unrighteous it was ok to be selfish and meet their needs through me. He whispered to me that unrighteousness would give me life. He just wanted to steal, kill and destroy me.
But God had other plans.
Why it all happened I don’t know. Does it have to happen again? No. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sinner and I’m going to sin. I’m going to stumble and make mistakes all along the way. The Christian life isn’t about sinless perfection, but rather about knowing the truth. However, the thought of being locked into another ten years of deception is just not something I believe is possible again. Please God take me home before you allow me to go that way again! I know the truth and I will not unknow the truth. I will beg God for the truth. I will fight to be honest, but most of all I’ll live by faith, not my shallow, feeble faith, but His faith that’s the only righteousness I have. And that’s a gift from Him, nothing I can ever earn.
Dan Allendar says in The Wounded Heart that honesty is the path to change and that starts with humility. The word humility literally means eating dirt. I’ve eaten my share of dirt for the past years. I thought it was steak. Lord, I know I cannot live this life without you. I must strive to be honest with myself, honest with others, and most of all honest with you!
Repentance is also the path for change. And that’s not just I’m sorry for what I did, saying “there is therefore now no condemnation,” and thinking it’ll be ok to sin tomorrow. Paul asks this ridiculous question in Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may avail? Certainly not!” Repentance also isn’t beating myself to a pulp every time I mess up either, thinking my guilty stick beating myself over the head will be sufficient penance. No, repentance is simply recognizing God’s way is good and that He created us for good and TURNING that way.
Romans 12:9 ESV
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
I think dissociation has been a pattern in my life, preventing me from seeing the good God has for me. Since I’ve started to see these truths, it’s like I’m just starting to be aware enough to actually enjoy life. And that is God’s intent!
I pray that God would imprint this truth on my brain so I’ll never forget! I pray He’ll continue to give me the wisdom to recognize my triggers that cause dissociation…The guilt and shame that say I’m worthless and incapable of deciding for myself…That say I’m weird and no one will ever understand me…That say I’m paranoid and should just run right by those red flags.
I am forgiven. I am not guilty. Shame has no place in my life.
I am free. Free to live in truth. Free to ask for wisdom.
I am His. He is mine. I can trust Him. When I call upon His name for help, Satan has to flee.
He has a plan for me…it’s not for evil, but rather for good.
In this awareness, there’s no need to dissociate.
Because no matter what He’s going to be there for me, and because of this there’s always hope.