“Typical” for Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors
I was having a conversation with a friend about another friend who had a lot of childhood trauma in her life. This person began describing her and related every psychological “diagnosis” (for lack of a better word) to her history in the light of being “typical” of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). She went on and on about how she had learned all of this, and memory processing, and reprocessing, blah blah blah… meaanwhile I’m stuck on the word “typical”. She of course not knowing of my past didn’t realize she was also speaking of me… so do I fit into the “typical”ness of CSA. Would I be in that same category of all she rattled off.. borderline personality disorder, bipolar, PTSD (ok, I’ll own that one), and on and on. I went 20/22 years being “normal” living life around the mere thought of CSA. It was behind me.. buried, so maybe I had quarks. Maybe I had some denial, and some avoidance… but I don’t think anything “clinical”; until now.
During this conversation, I was also thinking – “You’re preaching to the choir, you don’t have to tell me what the DSM-IV defines Borderline Personality Disorder as… I have it memorized.” I’m a professional, or am I? Am I now disqualified? I know that at the moment I certainly wouldn’t be emotionally able to guide someone through something such as CSA considering how often I’m triggered by stupid things. I wouldn’t be able to take on the responsibility… and not sure if I would ever be able to. Maybe God has a different plan… but that’s not a part of MY plan. But considering all of this, does this disqualify me completely? Should I not even sit for the LISW exam now, after all this hard work? What’s the point if I’ll never be “normal” if I’m classified as that friend classified all CSA as “typical”. Am I “typical”?
Will I always be broken ?
Will I always be “typical”?
Will I ever be “OK”?
And – if people who study CSA automatically think every CSA survivor is typical… then how damaging is that? In trying to discuss this subject with this friend, about the other, speaking academically, of course, trying to explain that the trauma is a security blanket. It’s not that someone is “PTSD” (though they might be) or Borderline, or Bipolar… it’s that sometimes they hang on to the only thing they know. Sometimes that’s the trauma. It’s dependable – you know in the end you’re going to get hurt, and you’ll not be disappointed by a different outcome. Sounds crazy, I know. I don’t attempt to explain or understand it. But letting go of the memories is not only risky because others will “know” but because they’re the security blanket that defines who we are. It shouldn’t be, and I get that, but it is. To break out of that means we have to put something else on. Something else that will probably dissapoint us, or feel so very uncomfortable (love, hugs, etc), or make us not able to go away and be numb. There’s something comforting about having the ability to do that. If you don’t want to feel… boom, you’re gone. How do you explain that to someone who thinks it’s all black and white?
“Just forget it?”
“Think on good things.”
Nothing comes to mind but this.
“Just read a psalm it’ll make you feel better”
It makes me feel like crap because God didn’t stop it…
“You [She/He] have to be healed”
One has to want to be healed… The process can’t start without the desire. If someone wants to stay in their misery because it’s more comfortable, they can’t be forced to heal.
I wish there were a pill.
Or whatever…. There’s not a quick fix. There’s not a “typical” there’s not an anything when it comes to this except that it’s so confusing, it’s so dark, and it hurts so bad. Why can’t they understand how deep it runs. You can’t stop the bleeding when you cant find the artery… and it’s not coming from the artery, it’s coming straight from the heart. When the heart bleeds, it doesn’t take much, or long to bleed out. Balancing on that edge for a very long time doesn’t heal with a patch or a band-aid. The chest has to be cracked open. The heart has to be stopped and sutured then started again… it’s long and intensive and it may be years and still not completely beat right. The typical, which I wish I told this friend is that there is no typical. We all have had different experiences to different degrees. And as much hurt as we endured, we may react totally different in ratio. It’s not fair to classify it as “typical” and actually I’m offended to be put into a classification. The DSM-V should have included it as a diagnosis then, with a set list of criteria. That means there is a set cure.. and there isn’t. I’m not even sure there is a cure. Maybe it’s terminal for some… and not for others. The outcome isn’t predictable, and neither are the effects and side-effects.
So this is what prompted me to ask my counselor Emily what she thought of me personally and professionally. Her reply was this:
“I am privileged and honored to be entrusted with what you shared. I could come up with a dozen analogies to communicate this but none would convey the responsibility I feel before God to have been given a glimpse at His Beloved daughter’s deepest wounds and pain. You are one about whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 25:40… I feel the weight of the responsibility, yet I know that Jesus himself spoke these words as an anthem for you, personally. YOU. Him to you. For you. So what I bear, I know He has gone before us and borne it perfectly. He promises healing and He will faithfully do it. So, my faith is both challenged and enlarged at the thought that THIS is NOT outside the reach of the Jesus’ power and promise to redeem. It takes my breath away.
You have endured tremendous, unjust suffering. You didn’t deserve what happened to you. I am in awe at your tenacity, resolve, strength and capacity to withstand pain. I am struck by how God has led and prepared you for this part of your journey…right down to the trip to your hometown last Fall that led to your seeking counseling and encouragement. God has not missed a step! His timing. His preparation.
Professionally, I see the road ahead and I know the starting line is now in the rear view mirror. Consider that. God has narrowed the path in front of you and He’s given you family and friends to walk with you. He has strengthened your faith and given you His Word to encourage and guide you. “O God, your way is Holy…Your way is through the sea.” He is showing you that He is with you in this. You are not alone.
I am deeply grateful for your trust and I realize that it is not given easily. I will not take it for granted.”
She later added:
“I think you are more prepared than MOST to understand trauma, grief and loss. And I think this process is God’s way of showing you how vital the Gospel of Jesus is to healing from trauma and sexual abuse.”
“I was told in graduate school that the first qualification for being a good therapist was knowing we DON’T have it all together. You and me—we can both check that box. 😉👍❤️”
I was told that too. I’ll check that box a thousand times because I have nothing together.
Thanks for the reminder of that, Emily.